I rate as follows: 5 Stars = Loved it. 4 Stars = Really liked it. 3 Stars = Liked it. 2 Stars = Didn't like it. 1 Star = Hated it.
As an avid traveler, this book appealed to me as an opportunity to get a another person's point of view on some places I've never been. After reading the book however, I think anyone with a good sense of humor and curiosity would really enjoy this book.
Between being narrated by the author himself, and the auto-biographical nature of the subject, it's an extremely personal account of this smart, funny man's experiences. I found his insights clever and the experiences with the different individuals in each place were very true to the experience every traveler has when meeting up with people by chance on the road.
He paints a vivid picture of each spot he goes to; Iran (to ski!), the US (famous assassination locations and 9/11 sites) , the Ukraine (Chernobyl), North Korea (State organized tour) and Lebanon (his childhood home).
In each location, something strange, shocking, or unique happens; from being stuck in the elevator from hell and his insanely difficult way of extracting himself from it, to being on the same tour to Chernobyl as a man that has a very bizarre reaction to the site, to heading home to Lebanon only to find he may have attended private school with Osama Bin Laden. Every stop of this fantastic tour had it's own twists and turns, and I loved them all.
I was sorry when it was over, and hope for another book by the author soon.
I picked up this book as soon as it came to my attention because there was a time in my life when traveling was my favorite thing, and how I spent every spare penny I could squirrel away. India was always on the wish list, but never came to pass. On average, I tend to enjoy most travel memoirs or stories written by people who have really had the experience of traveling.
The author, William Sutcliffe, did in fact spend about 3 months traveling in India during his gap year, just as the protagonist in this story does. I have no idea if any of the events experienced by the character were shared by the author, but the general spirit of an adventure to a culture really different to your own was certainly very authentic, and told with the humor and affection that I think most people that travel for pleasure look back on their trips with.
Fair warning: there is some discussion/scenes of adult content. None of them are over the top, but it is an aspect of the story. While making the decision on if this selection is a good choice for you, include that in your decision making.
Overall however, I really enjoyed hitching a ride through India with our flawed hero. The level of humor, honesty and accuracy were spot on, and the description of how you look back on the trip after you're back at home could not have rung more true.
It's a quick read (or listen) that left me smiling and remembering my own adventures. The narrator, Tom Lawrence, could not have done a better job and certainly played a huge part in how much I enjoyed this experience.
Having read some of the reviews prior to starting this novel for myself, I was prepared for the fact that the narrative was not strictly focused on the adventure of the hike. For me, that was in no way a deal-breaker; in fact, I prefer the book as it is, showing us Cheryl's back story and history.
In my much younger days, I once found myself out of money and needing to opt for a bus ride from Philadelphia back to Phoenix, instead of traveling by air. The trip ended up being a real revelation for me; because rather than stepping onto a plane at one end of the country and magically stepping off at the other end some hours later, I instead spent days gradually watching the landscape change. When I finally arrived in Phoenix, I understood - in a way I had not understood previously - how I had gotten there.
I thought of that trip a great deal both while listening to this story, and reading some of the reviews that expressed disappointment that more focus was not put on the trail. In my opinion, the real value was in seeing Cheryl's history; in understanding how she had gotten to the place in her life that led her TO the trail. That was what gave the PCT trip meaning for me, and I appreciated being able to understand her full journey - both the journey of the trail, and the larger journey of her life and experiences that led her there.
This story constantly had me day-dreaming of starting a trip like this myself, even while I knew how outlandish the idea would be. The adventure took me in, and I loved it. I'm grateful the author was brave and open enough to share her experiences and decisions, the good and the bad. The journey would have little meaning without it.