HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD by Gavin Young

HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Travel agents told him it was impossible. But London Observer correspondent Young vowed to find out ""what would happen to someone who tried to port-hop to some far destination on the other side of the world""--like Canton. So, with no bookings, he began his ""traveler's roulette"" in Athens, ready to take any number of slow boats to China, even if it meant getting stranded for weeks at a time in sundry ports. On, then, to the isle of Patmos, to Turkey on the tourist-laden Samos Express (""the little paper bags flying out of saloon windows . . . were full of vomit""), by night ferry to Cyprus. The big anxiety: how to get through the politically sensitive Suez Canal? The roundabout answer: Egyptian ferry to Alexandria (""To reach the captain's cabin was like a journey . . . through a mob of extras from Les MisÉrables); waiting for a Saudi visa; a stopover in a Port Said hotel where TV is ""compulsory"" even though there's no TV reception; and finally a boat to Jedda--which Asia veteran Young finds suddenly modern (""Was this Chile, Spain, Japan?""). Then, however, with a transit visa about to expire, Young must reluctantly fly across to the Persian Gulf--where he boards the cargo launch Al Raza, an ""inelegant polluter"" which barely makes it (switching from its ""tired"" engine to sails) to Karachi. And more sailing ships await him in Sri Lanka (a storm-periled voyage to the Maldives), followed by smoother trips to Calcutta and Singapore, Chinese New Year in Sarawak, and red-tape problems getting in and out of the Philippines. Along the way, of course, there's lots of time for sightseeing--some of it touristy, much of it reflective of Young's newsman background (penal colonies). And there are a dozen colorful captains to sketch, political situations to chat about, bureaucracies to sigh over. But though Young meets scores of strangers and old pals along the way, only one--a lonely Pakistani in Dubai who sends an urgent message (""I will request to you to bring one 'Doll' for sex for me. That is rubber doll all the body is same like girl"")--is more than a passing flicker. And Young himself, never unlikable, remains quite faceless; so many readers won't much care, towards the end, when he frets over perhaps having to take another plane. Solid journalistic writing, then, with considerable appeal for vicarious world-travelers--but very little Paul-Theourvian style, texture, or storytelling.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1981
Publisher: Random House