Monday, May 12, 2008

A formidable traveler

Over 40 years ago, Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy published her first book- Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a bicycle. Since then, she has logged thousands of miles, written almost 2 dozen books, and inspired travelers around the world. She has gone to the Himalayas, the Andes, and the jungles of Africa. She is now 76 and her latest book chronicles her journey across Siberia. Silverland: a winter journey beyond the Urals takes the reader into the daily lives and personalities of the people who live along the route of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) railway. Taking nothing but one enormous suitcase loaded with clothes and books, Murphy climbs aboard the BAM and travels out to its terminus at the Sea of Japan (the Trans-Siberian Railway, which sounds more romantic than BAM, follows a more southerly parallel course. She uses this route on her return trip). She relates some very touching stories, introduces the reader to some very interesting characters, and brings the various cultures of Siberia alive in her book. Traveling across Siberia in the middle of winter - alone - at the age of 75 is truly remarkable, and I think this enabled people to open up more readily to her and share their stories. Some of these encounters are depressing (poverty, alcoholism, dying cultures and environmental pollution have taken their toll on the Russians), but people have a remarkable ability to find happiness and pleasure even in the grimmest situations. This book is not funny, but it is charming enough to be a very enjoyable read, and it will make you feel like you are sitting next to Murphy in the overheated railway carriage of the BAM.

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