A drunken challenge pits Hollywood television writers against each other in a bumbling race around the world.
Start with several bottles of 99-cent-store wine. Add a pinch of nostalgia for Old World exploration, a dash of witty (if often juvenile) one-upmanship and a healthy advance from a book publisher. Shake well, and you have this savory cocktail of comedy, adventure and barbed insults. Little planning ensued before Chandrasekaran and Hely peeled off in opposite directions in their madcap dash around the globe, bound by a single rule: no airplanes. Chandrasekaran headed east, making a quick, ultimately unsuccessful detour through Mexico to see a man about a jetpack, while his competitor sailed west on a cargo ship bound for Shanghai. Fluidly and humorously weaving between their two narratives, the book fuses sidesplitting shenanigans with clever dialogue and well-researched history. Along the way, Chandrasekaran succumbed to the ease of air travel, flitting around the world to fall in with a graffiti gang in a Brazilian favela, set up shop as a souvenir hawker in Cairo and revisit the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Hely traveled the rails from Beijing to Moscow before disembarking to ogle Peter the Great’s collection of deformed fetuses in St. Petersburg and to hobnob with B-list Swedish celebrities in Stockholm. Lots of testosterone-fueled razzing occurs along the way, abetted by the authors’ expat friends and pithy text messages sent via clunky satellite phones. The authors, veteran TV comedy writers, make the transition to long-form prose with ease while retaining a Hollywood grasp of what will make readers laugh and cry, often simultaneously. Hely’s Victorian notions of world travel and the glory of bygone eras provide the perfect foil for Chandrasekaran’s glib embrace of the comforts of modern life. Their comically inoffensive braggadocio is akin to your older brother’s tales of his misspent youth; Chandrasekaran and Hely might be slightly obnoxious, but therein lies their charm.
Hilarious travel writing for the chronically snarky.