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DO TRAVEL WRITERS GO TO HELL? by Thomas B. Kohnstamm Kirkus Star

DO TRAVEL WRITERS GO TO HELL?

A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics and Professional Hedonism

By Thomas B. Kohnstamm

Pub Date: April 22nd, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-307-39465-1
Publisher: Three Rivers/Crown

The colorful adventures of a budding travel writer in Brazil.

After pursuing an advanced degree in Latin American studies, Kohnstamm reluctantly took a position as a researcher at a large Wall Street firm. The restless author quickly tired of the corporate drudgery and, after some hesitation, accepted an assignment to update Lonely Planet’s guidebook on Brazil. The resulting book (a “chronicle [of] events that took me from bourgeoisie working stiff with a repressed travel habit to a full-time mercenary travel hack, with all the good, bad, and surreal shit that it entails”) is a wonderfully picaresque journey through the vibrant Brazilian landscape. Following a marathon bender through the streets of Manhattan with his friend, “the Doctor” (one of the book’s many parallels to the work of Hunter S. Thompson), Kohnstamm departed for Rio de Janeiro with little more than his laptop and a few changes of clothes. He awoke the first morning in bed with Inga, a Lufthansa stewardess who proved to be one of many female companions bedded by Kohnstamm, who comes off here as quite the Casanova. Amidst the hard partying and endless nights, however, the author began to realize the difficulty of gathering adequate information about the countless locales he must visit. With his paltry funds dwindling, he reached out to previous Lonely Planet scribes, most of whom were far from reassuring: “Remember that if you are in your room at night writing, you aren’t doing enough bar research.” Along the way he befriended numerous memorable characters: Nils, a baggage handler from Copenhagen and singer for a grunge band, Synthetic Jesus; Inara, a Brazilian beauty who shares an apartment with the author for a couple of weeks (and who turns out to be a prostitute of sorts); Otto, formerly of the Israeli Defense Force; Mr. Yay, so named for his prodigious coke habit; and Bobby, from whom the author buys Ecstasy tablets in an effort to make some quick cash. Readers will relish the countless stories of the author’s misadventures, but Kohnstamm brings more than just anecdotes: He offers a solid understanding of the mechanics of the travel-writing industry and a unique ability to illuminate that world to readers.

Notable for its spirited prose and insightful exploration of the less-romantic side of travel writing. Kohnstamm is one to watch.