A veteran journalist and travel writer collects pieces dating back to the late 1980s.
Solomon (Clinical Psychology/Columbia Univ.; Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, 2012, etc.), who has won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award, has not assembled these pieces haphazardly. As he notes in a long (44 pages), lovely introduction—and reiterates in the acknowledgements sections—many of the essays required substantial revisions. He also appends to each a short prologue and epilogue, setting the stage, updating us on events and people, and confessing the inaccuracy of some predictions. Arranged in rough chronology, the pieces reflect Solomon’s impressive career. In the early ones, the author deals principally with art and artists (from Russia to China to South Africa), while the later ones focus on issues ranging from economic inequality (Brazil) to sexual identity (Ghana) to autobiography (Romania—his family emigrated in 1900). Throughout, Solomon evinces an intrepid traveler’s confidence, though he sometimes visits places that were life-threatening, from ghettos around the world to Australia, where he nearly lost his life scuba diving. Some essays are very personal, others mostly expository. He tells us early on, for example, that he is gay, but we don’t learn much about his husband (and, later, two children) until late in the text. In between, Solomon globe-trots, interviewing people from all walks of society, from the president of Ghana to impoverished people living in the most distressed circumstances from South Africa to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. The author tried but failed to reach Antarctica, but he did experience an African safari and—in an excerpt from The Noonday Demon, his 2001 book about depression—visited the Solomon Islands to see how some locals dealt with the demon that has periodically tormented him.
Agile, informative, even revelatory pieces that, together, show us both the great variety of humanity and the interior of a gifted writer’s heart.