Oh, the places you’ll go and the things you’ll see in this debut collection of travel essays.
Simpson offers a lively, inventive, and often hilarious book about her around-the-world adventures. In the first chapter, she double-dog-dares readers to plunge into “A world of bloated goats, warm Coca-Cola, dust facials, and unpredictable sleeping arrangements.” But she adds, somewhat reassuringly, that all is never lost, and that “a native might mysteriously whip out a plasma screen TV and hook it up to some dude’s gold tooth.” The book takes readers on a harrowing tour of a massive Bolivian prison, then island-hops among the assorted Edens of Fiji. Most memorable, perhaps, is a hazardous journey that ends at a hush-hush nirvana deep in the Laotian jungle. All the while, like a blissed-out scout leader, the author implores readers to go now, before all the hidden places are discovered; she’s only writing about the Laotian experience, she says, because it’s already on the Web. Some of her travel stories are more mundane than others; for example, her tale of her stint in the London school system as a sex-and-drug counselor doesn’t seem travel-related enough, nor does her story of picking apples in New Zealand. Still, she usually finds something to write about, no matter the circumstance. How lax is airport security in Fiji?: “I felt like I could have worn a marijuana jacket with a hat made out of dynamite sticks and carried in a bag full of teenagers with price tags stuck to their foreheads.” Still, she never lets readers forget that travel isn’t all Thai sticks, sweet sex, and cocktails on the beach; one chapter here is titled “Death and Vomit.” But she impresses on readers over and over that the benefits far outweigh the discomfort. Although she’s apparently incapable of penning a dull sentence, Simpson does occasionally overwrite (“If there’s a rock ledge, it will make out with my forehead”), but complaining about so much verbal showmanship seems churlish. Indeed, this is the sort of book that one hopes to stumble onto every time one browses the nonfiction section at a local library.
Even the most confirmed armchair travelers will find themselves infected with wanderlust after reading this irresistible compilation.