Another goofy travelogue—and a UK bestseller—by the English writer who, on a dare, once hitchhiked around Ireland with a refrigerator.
Don’t come to Hawks, as you might with just about any other literary travel-writer, expecting to glean respectful social-studies lessons about exotic Third World places and why they seem that way to jaundiced First Worlders. When Hawks takes us to Moldova—that sandwich-thin, Romanian-speaking slice of the former Soviet Union once known as Bessarabia—it’s mostly to complain about the awful food, the horrific drinking habits of the locals, and the absence of reliable telephones, electric lights, and hot water. Still, he’s quick to admit his ignorance of the place. He writes, for instance, that he’d been blissfully unaware of a separatist movement of Russian-speaking Moldovans that declared a “Transnistrian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic” following the collapse of the Gorbachev regime. “All this had gone largely unnoticed by Western observers and particularly by me,” he confesses. “I’d been too busy practicing my serve.” He’d been doing so to bone up for another goofy dare, namely, to find and play tennis matches against the Moldovan national soccer team, which had given the English team a good scare in an international match some months earlier. His account of his travels to Moldova, Transnistria, Northern Ireland, and Israel to track down those worthy opponents may remind some readers of Bill Bryson (except that Hawks is genuinely funny and doesn’t have to reach to get a laugh). The payoff (finding out how the bet turns out) is well worth the occasional dry patches.
Not particularly elevated or elevating, but a lot of fun.