Book Review: Far & Away

“Travellers venture forth because they want to experience a place, not just see it.”

In Far & Away, Andrew Solomon collects his essays and reporting from seven continents and 24 countries, over the period of 25 years. He tends to travel to countries when they are going through dramatic change, upheaval, or modernization.

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Solomon visits South Africa after apartheid, Russia before and after the breakup of the USSR, China over the period of a decade, Rio in the years leading up the Olympics, Mongolia as nomads try to keep their way of life, and Myanmar after limited democratic elections.

It’s not only the politics or cultural change that Solomon draws out. He lets people and their stories shine through all the places he visits. He makes friends wherever he goes and shares the stories of people who love where they live, and yet are trying to improve their part of the world. Some essays are full of paragraphs of quotes, but it seems natural to hear about a place through their voices.

One of my favourite essays is about a village in Bali, where a hereditary strain of deafness is passed along to a significant part of the population. It has created a culture where everyone in the village knows sign language and deaf and hearing people are used to interacting everyday. Some people prefer marrying hearing people, and others prefer deaf people. As Solomon notes “like height or race, or other personal characteristics, it has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.” In most places outside of this village in Bali, deafness is seen as a disability, but Solomon shares observations about a place where differences are an accepted part of the culture. It almost seems out of this world.

It’s easy to get into habits at home where time flies by and we stop noticing the world around us.

“Days at home often blur into one another; days in strange surroundings intensify life.”

Travel is one of those activities that stops time because you’re constantly observing everything around you. Solomon observes the world around him with depth, feeling, and detail. Reading this book gave me a renewed appreciation for this vast, crazy planet we call home – I highly recommend it to any true traveller.

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