A trip through “some of the saddest places on earth” that the author describes as “less sad than revelatory and appreciative.”
After more than 30 works in his genre, prolific, award-winning crime novelist Cook (A Dancer in the Dust, 2015, etc.) tries his hand at nonfiction with a quirky but engrossing travel book of 28 short chapters whose theme—unhappy locales throughout the world—delivers on its promise. In addition to the usual suspects—Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Verdun, ground zero and the former World Trade Center—there are some decidedly more obscure places. Phu Quoc is a small island where America’s Saigon ally kept prisoners during the Vietnam War. New Echota is the former capital of the Cherokee nation in Georgia. Historians often lament America’s forced expulsion of the tribe to Oklahoma in the 1830s; in fact, they endured a death march similar to Bataan’s, with much the same rate of starvation, abuse, and death. As the world’s two leading sites of suicide, Japan’s Aokigahara Forest, at the base of Mount Fuji, and the Golden Gate Bridge share a chapter. Of the former, Cook writes, “since 1950, over five hundred people have come here to die by their own hand. In 2003 alone, one hundred bodies were found by the wood’s hikers and volunteer searchers.” An entire African nation, Ghana, occupies two. It is far from the poorest and not particularly violent, but it is a land of crumbling infrastructure, terrible sanitation, and quietly corrupt leaders who soak up the foreign aid. More than one horror turns up in these pages. A comic-book character today, the real Bluebeard was a 15th-century nobleman in a small French town who raped and tortured to death hundreds of young boys over nearly 15 years until he offended a local bishop.
Insightful, sometimes shocking, and often disheartening.