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INTO THICK AIR by Jim Malusa

INTO THICK AIR

Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents

By Jim Malusa

Pub Date: May 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-57805-141-0
Publisher: Sierra Club/Counterpoint

Delightful debut travelogue by botanist Malusa, who cycled to the lowest point on each of six continents.

This peculiar quest sent him along routes connecting areas as diverse as Cairo and the Dead Sea, the Australian outback and Lake Eyre. Though Malusa personally devised each of his six expeditions (he traversed every continent except Antarctica), the Discovery Channel Online paid him to carry a satellite telephone and transmit blogs of his travels. Rather than simply a collection of these blogs, his book tells the full story behind them. Riding a bicycle made Malusa much more vulnerable to his surroundings than the average traveler; it lowered his expectations for food and lodging, thereby connecting him with each region’s least privileged residents. Locals from Darwin to Djibouti constantly approached him, offering tea or pastries or just respite from the elements. They were probably responding to the same likable quality that comes across in Malusa’s text. Whether describing a visit with a Bedouin family in the Egyptian desert, a hitchhiking journey with road-kill gourmands in the remotest parts of Australia or a chat with gauchos while trying to escape the brutal Patagonian wind, he always seems well-informed and outgoing. Russia’s icy autumn sent him scurrying into lofty but empty old hotels along the route from Moscow to the Caspian Sea, a remarkably untouristed region in which he marveled at the vestiges of communism and joined two lively wedding parties. Malusa wears his expertise as a botanist lightly here, mentioning flora and fauna but detailing the full panoply of his impressions. This dense yet desultory account moves quickly, never lingering on any encounter for more than a few sentences, no matter how juicy. It’s not as informative as the works of Bill Bryson, but easily as funny.

Steeped in sarcasm and alive to the irony of any situation, observant and wry, omnivorous in the scope of its details and utterly subjective.