I’ve just discovered a travel writer who has the potential to surpass Paul Theroux as my favourite. Jeffrey Tayler lives in Russia and is married to a Russian, but unlike most of his fellow Americans is an accomplished linguist, is willing to undergo hardship and danger. He’s also willing to accept that America does not hold all the answers. He’s travelled widely in Africa, but his main love is his adopted homeland, its rivers and empty wilderness.
In his element with corrupt officials, drunken yokels and natural disasters, he has time to ponder on the future of the societies amongst whom he travels. In his latest work, Murderers in Mausoleums, he asks, as he journeys from Moscow to Beijing along depopulated byways, why the inhabitants detest democracy, while loving the free market. Both countries have little experience of democracy and Russia’s cynicism was strenghtened by the upheavals of the 1990s. They would rather have a brutal dictator in charge rather than have a say in the way they are governed. The results of his analysis are a shock for those of us who think the Western system of government is the best way to rule and for those who think the West will continue to determine the fate of the rest of the world.
A different travel writer is Stuart Maconie. (more…)