Published by HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd on 2010
'Somehow, I convinced myself it was a good idea. Somehow, I convinced myself that it was do-able. Now I shake my head...
We drove through the Gobi desert in Mongolia in a snowstorm, avoided an Iranian sedan doing cartwheels on the freeway near Tehran, wove around the shores of the Caspian Sea and navigated the desert in Turkmenistan.
We learned to say thank you in thirty languages and dispensed fluffy koalas to traumatised small children in obscure mountain pockets from Laos to Kurdistan. We kicked an Aussie Rules footy across borders and taught customs officers how to do a drop-punt from Timor Leste to Uzbekistan.
We ate bark and ox blood and worms and pigs ears and eel and curries so hot we nearly fell off our chairs. We bribed police in five countries, ignored parking tickets in another six and got lost pretty much everywhere.
We squabbled over food and farting, snoring and sneezing.
It was total folly and it was the best thing you can ever do. I would do it again and I would not recommend it to anyone.'
In April 2008, Jon Faine and his son Jack closed their door on their Melbourne home and leaving jobs, studies, family and friends, took six months and went overland to London in their trusty 4-wheel-drive. This intelligent and funny recount of the countries they visited, people they met and trouble they got into, is also the story of a tender father-son relationship.
I’m familiar with Jon Faine having heard him on the radio for many years. He’s livened up my morning countless times and I’ve also ignored him as I powered through whatever needed powering through. I’ve also met him on one occasion. When I picked up this book I wasn’t certain what I’d find but I hoped it would be words. And, yes, there were words, lots of them. And lots of really good photos.
This is a thrilling adventure, especially knowing that some of the countries the Faines were driving through were not comfortable with journalists. Knowing that he could be arrested at any time the moment his profession was discovered was one thing that kept me reading. The other thing that kept me reading were the little bits written by Jack.
Jon is a competent writer, he takes you through the day and the problems they faced really well. Jack uses fewer words to get into the situation and make you understand it. Jon talks a number of times about embarrassing Jack by using pantomime to make himself understood as all they can do is say ‘hello’. But it’s only when Jack pops in and describes it that I really begin to understand what Jon meant by pantomime. Here’s the scene as it must have happened on countless occasions. Jon and Jack surrounded by people and there is a language barrier. With no-one to translate from English to the local language Jon starts telling people he’s from Australia by bunching himself up and kangaroo hopping. He then points to Jack, pretends to cradle him and kangaroo hops some more. Embarrassing to a 19 year old? Perish the thought.
Then there’s the chapter Jack writes about visiting Gallipoli. I’ve read books about Gallipoli, I’ve seen movies set in Gallipoli. Nothing prepared me for seeing it through the eyes of a 19 year old male while he’s actually there. He’s the age of many of the men who were fighting and dying there. It’s incredibly moving and having read that I have a much better idea of how close the two armed forces were to each other. There’s one particularly moving passage I marked to show you.
The Australian trenches were on the left of the road, and the Turkish trenches were on the right, barely four metres apart. Four metres apart. Four metres. Four. Close enough to hear other snore or sneeze if the deafening drums of war ever stopped for long enough.
Seriously amazing writing. I really should keep this paragraph for Paratalk or torque but I’m looking at it here, in context. The repetition is what got to me and made me look up and think. I was lying down in bed at the time. I popped my head up and looked through the door to the bookshelf in the hallway. At about five metres It’s an incredibly small distance and not much more than the distance between the trenches. I can recognise some of the books at that distance, but only with my glasses on. Making each sentence shorter as he does just brings that four metres into perspective. I’ve never understood the lack of distance in Gallipoli before, not even when we were at the War Museum in Canberra recently.
I suspect I’m not the only one to have noticed something in his writing. Two years after the trip, and only one year after the book had been published Jack found one of his passages on the English exam. No, he didn’t do the exam, someone must have mentioned it to him.
Anyway. I loved the book. I did enjoy Jon’s matter of fact writing style despite enjoying Jack’s more poetic style more. Just in case you want to read it yourself here’s a link to the ebook. It’s challenging to find a print copy and mine will be staying on my shelf.