A winding debut memoir about one man’s globe-trotting escapades.
Lang gives an impressively detailed, almost forensically specific first-person account of his ceaseless travels around the world. His story begins at age 16 with an apprenticeship to a plater in Wales, his birthplace, where he learned a trade and acquired an itch to roam. Off he went to South Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Venezuela, Pakistan, France, China and many other exotic ports of call. The memoir rambles peripatetically through the author’s life, with some abiding themes; for example, he followed work wherever it led him and was incomprehensibly prone to terrifying accidents. In Wales, he accidentally caused the death of his father with a 9-inch grinding disk; a thrown bottle nearly cut off his thumb in South Africa; and he almost died in Saudi Arabia from ulcerated tonsillitis. He had several wives and girlfriends with whom he was destined to be disappointed: “At the time, my Spanish was practically nonexistent, and Carolina didn’t speak any English. To me it sounded like a perfect marriage because she couldn’t argue or complain about anything.” He also sought out increasingly ingenuous ways to avoid sobriety (such as growing marijuana and brewing his own spirits in a makeshift still). But most of all, he courted adventure, sometimes of strange varieties: He managed to have problematic encounters involving voodoo in both Venezuela and the Caribbean; in Kazakhstan, he fled the country to dodge a psychotically violent woman with ties to the KGB; and in Iran, he narrowly missed seeing a young couple executed in the street. His judgments, however, sometimes seem too casually dismissive: “Because it was my first time in Venezuela, I didn’t know that the vast majority of Venezuelans lie, have no respect, and never return money to foreigners.” Lang prefaces this remembrance with an entreaty to the reader to “forgive any spelling, punctuation or grammar mistakes you may find in my story.” There are, in fact, many mistakes, but they might have been forgiven more easily if they were surrounded by a purpose-driven narrative. Overall, it’s hard not to find something of interest in a book so full of risky exploits, but its lack of cohesion ultimately proves wearying.
A memoir that’s full of adventure but suffers from a general aimlessness.