Yes, this book is splendid. It is the armchair traveler's erudite companion and the nostalgic traveler's remembrance of an Asia that exists no more. It is the book every contemporary blogger and travel writer aspires to write.
My one complaint is this: The reader clearly made not even the slightest attempt at proper Turkish pronunciation and thus mangled nearly every place name in the first quarter of the book. Did the reader and the editors feel confident that Turkish is such a remote and exotic language that no one would notice? If so, they exhibit a sort of provincialism and intellectual laziness that Paul Theroux would most certainly spit upon. It would have required minimal effort to do the job properly.
I sought this book after hearing a radio interview with its author and was very dismayed to see that she narrated it herself. A computer-generated voice would be less mechanical and grating. Still, I wanted to read the book, which I cannot obtain in print locally, so I gritted my teeth and bought the audio. A regrettable decision: Norris rambles through centuries and over continents, attributing to acedia the rise of Nazism, American consumerism, homelessness, monastic fitfulness, the Columbine killings, general inability to concentrate, and the existence of overseas sweat-shops. She takes some pains to distinguish acedia from depression but fails abysmally to distinguish it from boredom, indifference, sloth, cynicism, and despair. I regret that acedia did not prevent Ms. Norris from completing this book and still more that it did not keep her away from the recording booth.
This is a splendid piece of historical fiction, obviously constructed on a framework of assiduous research. The story of Frank and Mamah's relationship would be melodramatic if it hadn't been real, and Nancy Horan's telling of it captures a perfect balance of drama and restraint.
My one regret is that no one coached the narrator on either German pronunciation (her mangling of book titles and place names was positively jarring) or on her attempts to narrate passages using Swedish and Welsh accents. It would have been better to read the text unaccented than to get it so dreadfully, distractingly wrong. Brilliance Audio was less than brilliant on that front, but the book as a whole is very worthwhile.
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