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Natural Opium: Some Travelers' Tales

Natural Opium: Some Travelers' Tales

by Diane Johnson

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this singular collection of 10 travel pieces, Johnson ( Health and Happiness ) claims she ``almost always travels reluctantly''; she also admits to disliking air travel, which imposes on her the ``feeling of being in mortal peril, suspended outside the world.'' Nonetheless, the writer continually finds herself in transit, often accompanying her husband, a doctor, on business-related excursions to such locations as Cairo, Guatemala and Thailand. In writing, her eye zeroes in on odd situations, and is not easily dazzled: sailing to the Great Barrier Reef, she speaks disdainfully of her boisterous Australian shipmates, then sheepishly realizes their genuine kindness; high on a Swiss mountain after dark, she encounters tour guides who expect her and her fellow travelers to toboggan down a steep slope to their hotel; in AIDS-ravaged Tanzania, she witnesses an immense herd of wildebeest (``So many, and yet each an individual . . . they were like humanity itself''). Johnson writes lyrically, using wry humor and biting criticism. Her honest observations of human nature and sharp, unapologetic style prove refreshing, though at times she takes for granted the privilege of mobility. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Anyone with a penchant for travel will be delighted in these ten slice-of-life travel essays by Johnson. Whether discovering the mysteries of the Great Barrier Reef, observing wildlife on the Serengeti, or accompanying her physician husband on excursions abroad, Johnson brings alive her experiences and encounters with people and places. One of the most appealing features of the book is Johnson's conversational style of writing. She writes as if she is relaying events to a good friend. Natural Opium is an excellent choice for any library's travel section, due to the diversity of locations covered, the caliber of writing, and the book's absorbing entertainment qualities.-- Jo-Anne Mary Benson, Osgoode, Ontario
Roland Wulbert
Johnson joins the exodus of writers thronging to that marginal literary place that is not quite autobiography or short story or essay. "Auto-fiction" it is called by Johnson's beloved French belletrists, who, never having read, say, Paul Theroux, much less D. H. Lawrence, seem to believe they just invented it. Johnson, an accomplished novelist, calls her contributions to it "tales" and in them is concerned with her travels. Unlike such intrepid travelers as Bruce Chatwin or Ted Hoagland, she merely accompanies her husband to his medical conferences, and the persona she assumes is an antitraveler aghast at even the suggestion of danger. When the host of the World Health Organization's International Infectious Disease Council conference in Grindlewald, Switzerland, proffers an after-banquet toboggan ride, she could hardly bring herself "to believe that the organizers intended that this group of doctors, many stout and elderly, or delicate island people, should go outside and hurtle into the night on these dangerous contraptions." The "I" who tells the story is a bit spoiled and sometimes (when, for example, she suspects sarcastically that "Old Black Joe" is "probably politically incorrect") exasperatingly insular. The ambiguity of "I"'s ironic distance from the author adds, however, to the fun of this unfailingly well written collection.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:

Meet the Author

A two-time finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Diane Johnson has drawn comparisons to Jane Austen and Edith Wharton with her comedies of manners about Americans living and loving abroad.

Brief Biography

Paris, France, and San Francisco, California
Date of Birth:
April 28, 1934
Place of Birth:
Moline, Illinois
B.A., University of Utah; M.A., Ph.D., UCLA, 1968

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