Two Book Reviews

Books , Criticism , Latin America , Russia , Travel Feb 07, 2018 No Comments

The following book reviews were written for The Weekend Australian back in 2016. For whatever reason — probably the fact that I didn’t file them on time — they were never published. I’m putting them out there now for posterity’s sake.

From the review of The Red Wake: A Hybrid of Travel, History and Journalism by Kurt Johnson:

Kurt Johnson’s The Red Wake bills itself, by way of its subtitle, as “a hybrid of travel, history and journalism”. It’s hard for a reviewer whose work on the road tends to blend the same genres — and blend them in some of the countries covered here — not to feel a little envious of the results.

Not that the results are uniformly perfect, nor that the genres in question are afforded equal weight throughout. For a book about the post-Soviet space, which seeks to examine the countries of the former USSR through the prism of their ongoing relationship with Moscow, it seems strange, given the times in which Johnson was writing, that he doesn’t bite the bullet and then go dodge it on the Maidan or in the Donbass, and that he similarly avoids the breakaway Georgian states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (It’s also strange that Russia’s restive North Caucasus region — not only Chechnya, but also Ingushetia and Dagestan, where the centuries-old skirmish between Russian imperialism and nationalist-Islamist sentiments is ongoing — doesn’t appear in these pages.)

From the review of Breakfast for Alligators: Quests, Showdowns, and Revelations in the Americas by Darrin DuFord:

What does it mean to be an “American”? What, for that matter, is “America,” anyway?

On the face of it, the answers to these questions seem obvious. But think about them for even a moment and their obviousness begins to seem a little reductive. For while “America” has long been used as shorthand for “the United States,” and “Americans” for its citizens, these terms are in fact applicable to a much larger geographical area, and a much greater swathe of humanity, than common usage usually allows.

It is this argument that opens Darrin DuFord’s Breakfast for Alligators, the award-winning travel writer’s collection of pieces about his journeys through the Western Hemisphere.

Read the full reviews on Medium.

Matthew Clayfield

Matthew Clayfield is a journalist, critic and screenwriter.

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