A British adventure traveler’s journey through the tumultuous lands of the Middle East.
A former officer in the British Parachute Regiment who has spent time in the Middle East on and off since his university days in the early 2000s, Wood (Walking the Americas: 1,800 Miles, Eight Countries, and One Incredible Journey from Mexico to Colombia, 2018, etc.) has dedicated his life to travel as a writer and “occasional photojournalist.” Here, the author chronicles his journey from September 2017 through spring 2018, painting a vivid yet troubling portrait of the fraught land and people of the region. Tracing the “fault-lines of the geopolitical arena,” he began his journey in war-torn northern Syria, following the course of the Tigris River, where he was roughly guided into active fighting in Iraq by Amar, a brusque, war-embittered undercover operative. As the author made his dangerous journey east, he writes, the “normalization of violence…made the place so bizarre, terrifying and alluring at the same time.” In the Gulf states, Wood witnessed how oil changed everything for each nation, allowing them power on the world stage yet miring them deeply in a chasm of wealth discrepancy, mainly between Arab haves and migrant have-nots. (The author barely mentions the rampant sexism and misogyny.) After an arduous camel ride through the Empty Quarter of Oman, Wood ascended the imposing Dhofar ridge, skirted the perilous civil war of Yemen, and entered the Somali pirate waters of the Gulf of Arden. Then he traveled through the secretive police state of Saudi Arabia, the serene desert of Jordan, the devastated West Bank, and, finally, the relative stability of Lebanon. Sadly, the author found that the ancient nomadic tribes have coalesced into a modern "affiliation of blood gangs,” locked in bitter wars against each other, corrupted by oil, and fractured by their separate brands of identity.
Studded with intriguing moments but not as entertaining as Wood’s previous travelogues. Despite moments of hospitality and friendship, this seasoned traveler experienced a crushing loss of innocence on a trip that was less a joyful journey than a kind of penance.