Books by Terry Pindell

Released: Jan. 1, 1997

An unsatisfying rail-and-plane tour of our southern neighbor, ``a nation besieged by its history.'' Pindell (A Good Place to Live, 1995, etc.) has made a minor specialty of traveling across whole nations—previously, the US and Canada—by train and reporting what he has found along the way. He has done well in English-speaking venues, but his account of his sojourn in Mexico will disappoint anyone who knows the country. Pindell announces but doesn't quite work out some idÇes fixes—for example, that Mexico is difficult to understand because it is grounded in ``ancient pre-Hispanic spirituality'' and that in Mexico ``nothing is what it seems on the surface.'' Evidently lacking Spanish (and despite his native Latin collaborator, Ram°rez Mallis, of Keene State College), Pindell concentrates on just those surface appearances, and, from Merida to Hermosillo, he interweaves an impressionistic account of fruit markets and taco stands with the kinds of historical information that one would find in an encyclopedia. That information is too often half-absorbed, and half-understood; for instance, Pindell offers a staggeringly simplistic interpretation of why the US was able to conquer the nation so quickly in the war of 1846, and he fails to grasp the import of the latter-day Zapatista uprising in the southern state of Chiapas. While trying to be a sympathetic traveler, Pindell often condescends to those he is studying; he is especially bad in dealing with Mexico's Indian population, who emerge in his account as innocent people who are universally reluctant to speak with strangers. (In fact, if you have even a smattering of Spanish, you'll find it not so hard to strike up a conversation with them.) Mexico may indeed be burdened by its history, as Pindell asserts. But what nation is not? His book fails to illuminate that history or to cast any new light on Mexico's present troubles. Read full book review >
Released: July 28, 1995

A happy man goes looking for a happier place to live in this illuminating tour of North American byways. Veteran journalist Pindell (Last Train to Toronto, 1992, etc.) sets off from his longtime hometown of Keene, N.H., to see whether the American golden-age ideal of safe, community-minded, interesting towns and cities is only a dream in this explosive age of riot and disarray. He turns up slices of Eden in disparate places like Asheville, N.C.; Vancouver, British Columbia; Portland, Oreg.; and Minneapolis, Minn., towns and cities that combine a sense of civic duty with a live-and-let-live ethic, where neighborliness and personal freedom go hand in hand. Drawing on an admittedly idiosyncratic rating system that includes points for ``Cake'' (the availability of both natural and cultural amenities) and ``Cheers'' (the presence of inviting public places), he identifies several factors that define good places to live. Among them, he writes, are vital, ``renaissance'' downtowns with more pedestrians than cars; a healthy level of grass-roots community activism that keeps the political scene aswirl; and a ``strong gay, lesbian, or otherwise alternative lifestyle presence'' that brings to the fore what makes a place interesting: simple diversity. We lack an abundance of liveable places, Pindell offers, because our rootlessness propels us to seek adventure far from home and family. Those transient urges are, he admits, at the heart of his peripatetic book; as a self-styled philosopher he meets along the way tells him, ``Keene is a paradise for you. . . because you have been there so long, you are so settled there. You had a job, a family, local friends, and nothing to challenge your soul.'' Full of sharp observations, good reporting, and pleasant anecdotes, Pindell's book poses one such challenge to our souls: making our own imperfect hometowns better, more engaging places in which to live. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 23, 1992

Having written in Making Tracks about his experiences traveling 30,000 miles of US passenger lines, Pindell now heads north, where he rides ``the steel of Canada'' for a year. To Canada, Pindell notes, railways have had an importance far beyond transportation needs. They have, he says, ``virtually the same function in its founding as the Bill of Rights did ours.'' And as he travels, Pindell describes the role that trains and tracks have played in Canadian history. But he is also set on a little pulse-taking as well as giving history lessons, so he talks to his fellow passengers, mostly convivial sorts, who obligingly tell him about their lives, their politics, and their views on the US (not favorable). Pindell begins his odyssey with a trip from Toronto to Winnipeg on the Canadian and contemplates ``the nature of heaven— two thousand eight hundred eighty-seven miles lie ahead of me—the longest train-ride in North America, the second longest in the world.'' He ends a year later with the Canadian's last run from Vancouver to Toronto—a victim of government cutbacks, the legendary train is to be mothballed. In between, Pindell travels northwest as far as Prince Rupert, where there's nothing to do but ``work and drink''; to Gaspe, where the people are predominantly French and resigned to a separate Quebec; to Churchill, on James Bay, where polar bears gather to hunt seals—and to wherever else all the other lines that still carry passengers over the Rockies and through the Maritimes take him. A sturdy piece of travel writing: readable, informative, and surely a railway buff's delight—but not a profoundly insightful or lapidary work. Read full book review >