In a bohemian odyssey set in the 1960s, a young man just out of college backpacks around the world, sampling hash, sex, acid, and illumination as the Vietnam War rages.
In 1966, fresh out of UC Santa Barbara, Ken and roommate Jeb set out to hitchhike to New York City. In New Mexico, Jeb lucks out and catches a solo ride, while Ken climbs in with Lester, a spooky ex-con. Lester gleefully tells of a 13-year-old girl who “cummed in her panties” at a Beatles concert, and he warns Ken to look out for Texas Rangers. Ken lands in the East Village and is soon living with Brenda, a secretary at Columbia University. They marry and set off to backpack the world. Debarking in Ibiza, Ken memorably sees his landlords’ pet monkey carbonize himself as he grabs an electric line. After some hash in Tangiers, the couple reach Italy, where Brenda is groped—a recurring problem—this time in Naples. The travelogue moves on: Byron’s name chiseled by the poet into a marble column in Greece; Masada in the early morning; a Sikh worship service in Tehran; into Afghanistan and hash in Herat. As the narrative turns to New Delhi, its primary strength and challenge become clear: this is an exceedingly rich buffet. But patience is rewarded, as Canatsey (Confessions of a Friendly Anarchist, 2012, etc.) excels at the mesmerizing detail: the monkey’s “palms melted into the wires as electricity coursed through his body, and his body gradually diminished in size as the volts steadily burned away his flesh, muscles, sinews, organs and fat—the greater part of his entire physical mass.” At 400-plus pages, the novel could sometimes benefit from the spicy ironies of a Paul Theroux or the careening freedom of a Kerouac. But overall, Canatsey’s grasp is equal to his reach, and many passages will leave armchair Marco Polos hungering for more.
A rich, exotic journey that will leave you reaching for your passport.