Vitriol, humor and lashings of insight as British columnist Gill visits a smorgasbord of far-flung places.
Television critic for the Times of London, Gill moonlights as a travel-writer whenever he gets a chance. Here he applies his trademark acerbity to places rather than programs as he roves from famine-devastated southern Sudan to the site of an environmental disaster in Uzbekistan. Gill possesses the journalist’s trademark blend of cynicism and tenderheartedness, but in his hands, the old pairing sings. He can take a bit of tired, disgusting status quo—the dire pharmaceutical shortages in Africa, for example—and whip up a story full of elegant sentences with a fresh, potent sting. “Environmental disaster” doesn’t convey much, but horror is born anew when Gill visits the salt flats that used to be the Aral Sea, drained through a combination of communism and stupidity (the author would argue that this is a redundancy). His portrait of the Dinka as they wait in line for food is painfully vivid. Not all of the essays focus on human cruelty and idiocy as manifested across the globe, however; Gill also shares a stunning little piece about a tropical storm in the Kalahari and an uproarious account of the time he wrote and directed a pornographic film in Los Angeles. He starts by revealing his methods: Don’t take notes, don’t stay too long, don’t do research. “My sort of journalism is all about the surface of things,” he states. It would be wise to keep this in mind when reading his political analysis, or his merciless flaying of Japan and its culture. But Gill’s readers are accustomed to his style, and when Monte Carlo is compared to a “sewage outlet,” it hardly seems that he’s taking on a defenseless foe.
Sometimes shocking, usually smart, always entertaining.