A poet follows in the footsteps of Alexander the Great in this memoir.
In 1998, Johnson (Don’t Search, Celebrate!, 2017), along with his Swiss girlfriend Marianne, set out to retrace the legendary journey of the ancient king of Macedonia Alexander the Great. In his introduction, the author reveals a vague desire “to experience, like Alexander, the land he passed through.” But other than wanting to learn “what the land feels like,” Johnson does not go into detail about the couple’s motivations for the trip. Part 1 of this series of travel memoirs records their trek through six countries: Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. Along the way, they stopped at key historical sites, including the Parthenon, Palmyra, and the Great Pyramid at Giza. Each chapter takes the name of the destination visited and opens with a brief itinerary followed by a narrative and photographs. The author’s rushed “we did this/we did that” approach lacks the necessary descriptive embellishments to transport readers. For example, Johnson remarks that the Parthenon is “arguably, the most important ancient monument in the Western world” but spends fewer than five short pages describing the site, with a focus on banalities: “A reasonably priced sandwich shop provides food. Next door is a currency exchange and a closed POST (office). A local dog vomits in front of us while we eat and shortly consumes its vomit.” To capture the experience, the author relies on his and Marianne’s photos, which are standard holiday snapshots with Johnson or his girlfriend often posing in the foreground. But his blunt honesty should appeal to readers—he is unafraid to describe even his most uncomfortable trials: “Tuesday morning is worse. Explosive diarrhea at 11:15 am soils my pants.” Unfortunately, he sometimes provides mere field notes from an intrepid journey, yet to be developed into a full-fledged book. The author leaves too many questions unanswered. For the uninitiated, he neglects to sufficiently describe who Alexander the Great was and why he embarked on his voyage. More importantly, readers will be left wondering what it truly feels like to tour these domains today—the key aspect of the odyssey Johnson intended to discover and convey.
An ambitious travel account that offers scant descriptions of an incredible adventure.