Customer Reviews for

The Way of the World

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  • Posted February 28, 2012

    Topical, timeless

    I had checked this out from my local library, via an interlibrary loan. I found this to be so much on point for the world today, that I HAD to purchase it. The bonus is this edition has pictures painted by Thierry Vernet. If you want to know about Afghanistan and Iran today, read this book. I fell in love with the Fiat Topolino that Nicolas and Thierry took on this adventure begun in 1953, and that led me to an image search on the 'net. This translation is so readable. In several places, I had to read passages aloud to my daughter. If stuck on a desert island, this is one book that I would like to have with me to read again.

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  • Posted May 24, 2010

    Like "On the Road," only smarter and with better illustrations.

    Although The Way of the World centers around two male travelers -- one, the scribe; the other, the philosopher-artist -- one struggles to make any useful comparison between it and On the Road. While Road helped create the distinctly American myth of the open road, and how one is transformed by dominating it, the epigraph to World gives a clue to the very different motives behind why the men in this book travel: "I shall be gone and live, or stay and die." (Shakes.) This is an urgent travel at heart, a thinking man's sowing-of-oats. Restlessness at its most basic. There is no choice but to seek.

    Nicholas Bouvier, author of the book and journals on which the book is based, and his companion, artist Thierry Vernet, set out from Geneva in 1953, in the shadow of a world war that has left its bloody prints are all over Europe. They drive east in a beat-up Fiat heading for the Kyhber Pass into Afganistan, the East. They plan to finance their trip as they go: Bouvier through freelancing before there was a word for freelancing (in Istanbul he sells a "long piece on Lapland, with photos for fifteen lirettes. Two meals.") while Thierry exhibits his paintings and drawings -- many of the latter, happily, illustrate the book -- at the seemingly infinite village markets on their route. They make enough only for the roughest accommodations, and so they get by on favors, bribes, luck. In short, they are vagabonds.

    "We denied ourselves every luxury except one," Bouvier writes, "that of being slow." They quickly learn, if they wan to eat, they must win over the people they encounter. Ultimately they find music holds the key. In a stroke of packing brilliance, they bring along a tape recorder. On their many stops, they rarely fail to find an expert lute player or the uncle of an inn owner who plays the accordion for all of a town's ceremonies. One night they stumble on a gypsy encampment in Bojogevo, Serbia. Known to perform the "folksongs of whatever province their in," after rounds of wine and smoked fish, Bouvier brings out his tape recorder as the group plays "the old melodies their village cousins had long since forgotten. Crude, rousing, vociferous songs which told of the ups and downs of ordinary life, poaching, small windfalls, the winter moon and empty stomachs." The next day they return to the encampment and play the recording back to the gypsies. "It was excellent: their voices timid at first, soon lapsing into rustic bellows, irresistibly gay. They listened with their eyes closed in pleasure, smiles on their hatchet faces. Bojogevo had never heard its music issuing from a machine." Is there a better way to make new friends than to hold up a mirror that returns an image at one's best, more creative and free?

    A savvy traveler, Bouvier also writes remarkably well about place. Take Belgrade in summer: "It is a morning city: at six o'clock the municipal watering cart sweeps away the refuse left by the market-garden trucks and the shops' wooden shutters bang open; at seven, all the cafes are jumping." Further, it is a town "where horses bore children's names."

    The strength of Bouvier's prose, and of The Way of the World overall, is the care with which he lays out a double commentary both on what he sees and how he interprets it -- thoroughly, personally. It's this personal tone that hooks the the reader, gets him to believe, if only for a moment, he's

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