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Snake Lake

Trip Lit: Great Books, Great Journeys

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Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal

October 2010

Book of the Month:
Snake Lake,
by Jeff Greenwald

Journalist and travel writer Greenwald's new book focuses on a decisive few months in 1990 when a slow-seething democratic uprising in Kathmandu suddenly surged against the long-entrenched Nepalese monarchy.

Greenwald's tale is masterfully multi-layered. On one level he evokes the atmosphere of Kathmandu: the markets selling eggplants, tangerines, and onions on one street and tires, plumbing fixtures, and plastic pails in another; the shoppers in baggy daura-suruwals and bright polyester saris, their children chasing metal hoops through the gutters; the incessant rumble of car horns, bicycle bells, barking, braying, shouts; the commingling scents of incense, ganja, jasmine, cow dung, eucalyptus; the edifying mix of transcendent beauty in a shrine and earthy mortality lining the alleyway to it.

On another level he captures the pivotal issues of that time: the corruptions of government officials, the aloofness and ineffectiveness of the monarchy, the frustrations of local newspaper editors, the innocent expectations of the proponents of democracy. And on a third level he portrays the expat community in Kathmandu—journalists, photographers, entrepreneurs, and seekers, all enflamed in different ways by the possibilities of change.

As events political and personal unfold, Greenwald interweaves the evolving tale of the revolution with his own emotional odyssey through death and love toward enlightenment. In the end, his arduous journey deeply illumines our own.

Oregon State of Mind

Benjamin Percy's riveting novel, The Wilding, centers on a camping trip into a remote Oregon canyon undertaken by three generations of males from a dysfunctional family; as their odyssey unravels, nature's beauty and terror are abundantly explored. In her memoir, River House, Sarahlee Lawrence recounts leaving her globetrotting adventures as a wild-river guide to return home to central Oregon's high desert; she reconnects with the land and her father as she sets out to build a log house by hand.

Middle to Far East

In Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World's Richest City, author Jo Tatchell reflects on the tremendous changes this Gulf coast city has seen since she lived there as a child in the 1970s. Years of Red Dust, by Qiu Xiaolong, also tracks the changes through the years—this time along one street in Shanghai, Red Dust Lane, told as a series of linked short stories. The Emperor's River, by Liam D'Arcy-Brown, shares the author's journey along the more than 1,000-mile length of China's Grand Canal by barge, boat, and on foot. Little known to travelers, the Grand Canal is the world's longest man-made waterway and an important transport route.

If You Liked...

…the Best American series, check out the 2010 The Best American Travel Writing selected from magazines, newspaper travel sections, and travel websites. Edited this year by Bill Buford, the anthology includes Avi Davis writing on Transylvania for The Believer and Susan Orlean on Morocco for Smithsonian.

One Last Thing:
Adventures on the Culinary Trail

I hope you'll forgive me for tooting my own editorial horn here: For as long as I have been traveling, food has been a primary passion—and a pathway to understanding a place. So when Lonely Planet asked me to edit a new anthology of travelers' tales, the theme was, well, a piece of cake: life-changing food encounters around the world. And that's the subtitle of the book that resulted, A Moveable Feast. This literary smorgasbord serves up 38 never-before-published pieces, including Tim Cahill examining rooster head soup in the cloud forests of Peru, Pico Iyer meditating on daily bread in a California monastery, Laura Fraser reveling in the marriage of cuisine and culture in Italy, and Anthony Bourdain celebrating the timeless restaurants of Old Manhattan. No reservations needed to partake in this feast.

Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at

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