From the Publisher
"Kalder has written a brilliantly funny travel book that questions the essence of exploration and the nature of tourism in an age when there's nowhere new to go." Esquire (UK)
"Revelatory." The Times Literary Supplement (London)
"A considerable achievement." The Guardian (London)
"Imagine a Bill Bryson with Tourette's, and you'll have some of the flavour of this spasmodic, deliberately crass, strangely wonderful book." Evening Standard (London)
Most travel writers, like most tourists, seek out wondrous places; destinations like Paris, Venice, Rio, or Tahiti. Self-proclaimed "anti-travel travel writer" Daniel Kaider is different. He searches for dreary spots where no sane man would choose to go; places like Kalmykia, Mari El, and Udmurtia. In this darkly comic travelogue, he records how he fulfilled his Kafkaesque dream: "The only way to get there was to fly in this really crappy little plane, that looked like a waiting room for death. And when we got there, physically, it was just this endless, empty land. There was nobody there; nothing. It was an absolute void, which is what we were both looking for."
When Halder tells a passenger on a train to Kazan, the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, that he and his friends are just tourists, she's convinced he's either stupid or lying. After all, who would willingly visit what turns out to be "a fairly sleepy provincial Russian city distinguished by a big mosque" and a McDonald's? But Halder, a Scottish writer living in the former Soviet Union, is fascinated by the rundown "pseudo-countries" we never hear about in the news, believing them to be symbolic of all humanity. His "appetite for black holes" eventually leads to further travels in Kalmykia, Mari El and Udmurtia. Unfortunately, while his rhetorical enthusiasm remains strong throughout, a certain repetitiveness creeps in. Halder wanders around the depressingly grim surroundings, cobbles together whatever cultural facts he can find online and has mostly frustrating encounters with the locals ("I don't much like talking to people"). And while his real-life misadventures, like a visit to a sacred pagan grove with a high priest he meets through a mail-order bride distributor, are outlandish enough, he still engages in distracting fabrications and daydreams. Halder's refusal to set himself up as an international expert is admirable, but his depiction of the remote republics of a "shadow Europe" remains uneven. B&w photos throughout. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"Kalder has written a brilliantly funny travel book that questions the essence of exploration and the nature of tourism in an age when there's nowhere new to go."-- (UK)
The Times Literary Supplement
"A considerable achievement."-- (London)
"Imagine a Bill Bryson with Tourette's, and you'll have some of the flavour of this spasmodic, deliberately crass, strangely wonderful book."-- (London)
Scottish globetrotter Kalder takes the road less traveled and returns with this gloomy, history-heavy, multi-part travelogue, three years in the making. "The bleaker and more dismal the landscape, the more I enjoy it," says the knowledgeable tour guide, a self-described "anti-tourist" eschewing comfort and banal, overcrowded destinations for the obscure and the unconventional. Kalder visits four forgotten Russian republic "black holes," some seemingly frozen in time, others completely transformed by the machinations of a post-communist Russia. The first stop on Kalder's walking tour is Kazan, the independently governed capital of Tatarstan, previously burned to the ground by Ivan the Terrible in 1552, now boasting a mosque construction site, a gruesome museum of medical oddities and a McDonald's. Second stop: the strange, empty wastelands of the tree-worshipping Kalmykia people. Daunting to locate and mostly stagnant, its sad history of abolishment, deportation and disorientation makes for slow reading. Pagan-dominated Mari El, bordering Tatarstan on the north, proved a slightly more engaging locale. Abundant trees, lakes and "marriage agencies" make up for a resentful populace who have watched their city's demographic change predominately to Russian. Fascinating intercourse with the much-revered, white-bearded, mystical high priest of the Chi Mari shockingly exposes him as a shameless self-promoter with dreams of celebrity. Udmurtia, another Republic assimilated by Russian inhabitants, houses a traditional, indifferent, squalor-stricken citizenry dominated by factories, squatting ice-fishermen and the homeless. This leaden, dreary vacation is finally countered with dark humor when Kalderis mercilessly grilled on camera by a dogged television journalist named Svetlana, posing some tough questions that render him speechless. Kalder is an unapologetically reclusive journeyman-the type who becomes paranoid in the company of complete strangers (as demonstrated by his hostile reaction to the flirtations of a smitten man in Kazan). His cavalier narration works best when taken in small doses, as do the jarring moments when the author openly admits to the fabrication of several dramatically detailed interactions. For armchair sightseers who take their travel books with a grain of salt.
Read an Excerpt
A note on this book:
This book is divided into four sections, four separate but interrelated journeys carried out over a period of several years. To fully capture this sense of time, one ought not to read continuously but rather, upon completion of each section, put the book down, go for a cup of tea, have a nap, take a stroll, that sort of thing. To achieve full results, one ought to put the book down for one year after reading Tatarstan, then for another year after reading about Kalmykia and for a full eighteen months before reading about Mari El. The last gap is much shorter: you need only wait four and a half months before reading about Udmurtia. In total then, it ought to take you almost four years to finish this book, which is not so ridiculous, when you consider that four years is approximately how much of our lives we spend shitting.
On the other hand, you can choose to ignore this advice and read the book in one sitting, forward, backward, sideways, or indeed upside down. It's entirely up to you. I was just trying to be helpful.
From The Shymkent Declarations
(Excerpts from the resolutions passed at the first international congress of Anti-Tourists at the Shymkent hotel, Shymkent, Kazakhstan, October 1999)
...As the world has become smaller, so its wonders have diminished. There is nothing amazing about the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China or the Pyramids of Egypt. They are as banal as the face of a Cornflakes packet.
Consequently the true unknown frontiers lie elsewhere.
The duty of the traveler, of the voyager is to open up new zones of experience. In our overexplored world these must of necessity be wastelands, black holes, and grim urban blackspots: all the places which, ordinarily, people choose to avoid.
The only true voyagers, therefore, are anti-tourists. Following this logic we declare that:
The anti-tourist does not visit places that are in any way desirable. -
The anti-tourist eschews comfort.
The anti-tourist embraces hunger and hallucinations and shit hotels.
The anti-tourist seeks locked doors and demolished buildings.
The anti-tourist scorns the bluster and bravado of the daredevil, who attempts to penetrate danger zones such as Afghanistan. The only thing that lies behind this is vanity and a desire to brag.
The anti-tourist travels at the wrong time of year.
The anti-tourist prefers dead things to living ones.
The anti-tourist is humble and seeks invisibility.
The anti-tourist is interested only in hidden histories, in delightful obscurities, in bad art.
The anti-tourist believes beauty is in the street.
The anti-tourist holds that whatever travel does, it rarely broadens the mind.
The anti-tourist values disorientation over enlightenment.
The anti-tourist loves truth, but he is also partial to lies. Especially his own.
Copyright © 2006 by Daniel Kalder