Du Cane (Five Animal Frolics, 2002, etc.) provides a breezy memoir of his wide-ranging wanderings.
Beginning with accounts of setting things on fire in his youth in Sierra Leone (“I watched in fascination as my plastic truck went up in smoke”), the author goes on to explain many other notable occurrences in his later life. There is, for instance, his time as an experimental filmmaker and critic, during which he mingled with famous and not-so famous characters of the 1970s, with Bianca Jagger in the former group and Canadian avant-garde filmmaker Kris Patterson in the latter. Closer to the present day, during a 2009 trip to China, he found himself detained due to a swine-flu epidemic. It’s an experience that he recalls fondly in a vignette titled “Go Back to Your Room, You Are Under Investigation”: “Living in the lap of luxury at the expense of the Chinese Government was a fair trade for the loss of my freedom for a week.” All told, the author’s journey is a novel one that takes readers to disparate times and places, both physical and emotional, from an overland trip from London to India in 1969 to a reflection on his father’s death in 2012. He shares these experiences in very short chapters, and as a result, the book moves quickly, revealing bits of wisdom that he’s gleaned along the way. For example, after practicing a difficult-sounding form of tai chi called “Chen Style Cannon Fist,” the author came to learn that “I can satisfy my sense of self-worth in many more effective ways than by leaping up and down on hard floors to impress my teacher.” Many other memoirs plod through the past with painstaking description, but this one glides across its surface. The book is relatively short at less than 100 pages, and although the picture is not always complete (for instance, what made Du Cane turn away from experimental filmmaking?), the ease of the prose allows for an inviting, brisk experience.
A swift, intriguing journey through one man’s unique life.