Photo: Dead Sea

“The best kind of travel . . . involves a particular state of mind,” writes Elisabeth Eaves in Wanderlust.

Photograph by Taylor S. Kennedy, National Geographic Stock

By Don George

Book of the Month: Wanderlust, by Elisabeth Eaves

Wanderlust is a word and a force I know intimately. It’s a compulsion to keep reaching, searching, traveling; it’s an addiction to promise and possibility, the ruin that awaits in the jungle, the stranger who might turn your life around—or upside-down. As this new travel memoir beautifully illustrates, Elisabeth Eaves knows wanderlust intimately too. It is the force that propels her through these pages and around the globe—first to Cairo as an undergraduate, then to Yemen, Karachi, Kashgar, Malaysia, Australia, and on.

Eaves vividly evokes the idiosyncrasies of the places she inhabits—the bleached rubble and bright laundry of Cairo, the rebar-bristling buildings and betel nut-stained sidewalks of Karachi—and also the socio-economic sleights-of-status created by our newly connected globe. She observes how rich Karachi exchange students become middle-class in America and middle-class American exchange students fall effortlessly into the upper class in Cairo. With a visceral intensity, she captures the terror-allure of stretching self-boundaries almost to the breaking point on a trek along the infamous Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea and a spontaneous sail into a week-long squall in the South Pacific. And throughout she eloquently excavates the layers of longing that are the core of wanderlust, “the excitement of disorientation” and the heady, liberating “instant of deliverance” when one is poised between the last place/person and the one to come.

Reflecting on her wanderings, Eaves writes, “The best kind of travel—the kind I wanted to experience—involves a particular state of mind, in which one is not merely open to the occurrence of the unexpected, but to deep involvement in the unexpected, indeed, open to the possibility of having one’s life changed forever by a chance encounter.” Wanderlust celebrates the life-changing possibilities of the world around us and the rigors and riches of embracing them body and soul.

New Book Roundups:

Great Quests

Mark Beaumont set out to break the record for cycling around the world. This quest took him across four continents in a world-record 194 days—a feat he compellingly recounts in his memoir, The Man Who Cycled the World. Juliet Eilperin’s investigation into the relationship between sharks and humans leads her from Papua New Guinea to Hong Kong, Japan to South Africa in Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks. In Indigo, Catherine E. McKinley ventures in search of “the color that seduced the world,” the precious blue indigo dye that played a significant part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

South American Sojourns

John Gimlette takes us to some of the least known places in South America—Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana—in his entertaining and learned travelogue Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge. Just in time to mark the centennial of Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu, Turn Right at Machu Picchu is author Mark Adams’s intertwined narrative of Bingham’s 1911 expedition and Adams’s own retracing of Bingham’s journey along Peru’s Inca Trail; Adams’s journey culminates in a once-a-year celestial alignment—revealed only to those who know precisely where to stand at the right moment.

Mysteries of India

Miss Timmins’ School for Girls, a vivid debut novel by Nayana Currimbhoy, is set at a remote Indian boarding school where, one monsoon night, a body is retrieved at the base of nearby cliffs and the narrator, a young teacher, finds herself a prime suspect in the murder. The Girl in the Garden, by Kamala Nair, is another debut novel that tells the story of a girl’s discovery of a mysterious garden behind an ancestral home in an Indian village, one that holds a long-hidden secret.

If You Liked . . .

. . . Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, check out Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk’s Slavonic take on it, On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe. Stasiuk rides cars, buses, and ferries through Poland to Albania, Slovenia, and other post-Soviet lands—all the way to Babadag, a Romanian town near the Black Sea. Along the way he eloquently meditates on Gypsy life, small countries, and relics of the Communist era.

One Last Thing:

Illuminating the City of Light

I have been enjoying David Downie’s writings about the everyday rites and hidden delights of Parisian life since the 1980s. His newly updated collection of 31 essays and encounters, Paris, Paris, presents the places, people, and phenomena of the city with unequaled intelligence and passion. Downie reveals the poignant past and present of Père-Lachaise cemetery and the subtle lessons of a day in the life of the Luxembourg Gardens. He lovingly portrays the Montmartre haunts of Modigliani, the atmospheric back alleys of the Marais, and the only-in-Paris wisdom and wit of the philosophy cafés. Learned and lively, Downie’s book is an enchanting valentine to an ageless love.

Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at dgeorge@ngs.org.

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