Saturday, July 3, 2021

Books I'm Reading: On Foot to the Golden Horn

My son and I walked together to school almost every day when he was young, a distance of about a mile. The sidewalks were generally empty.  Families that lived a block or two away from the school drove their kids. To the average American (at least here in Santa Rosa, California) walking is not terribly popular. Author Jason Godwin, his girlfriend, and another friend (who drops out along the way) resolved to walk a much greater distance, about 2,400 miles, from Gdansk, in Poland, to Istanbul. According to Google Maps, you can make the trip by car in a little over 23 hours if you don't bother to stop. Godwin and his girlfriend took about six months to cover the distance on foot.

They decided to take this journey in 1990, shortly after the Soviet Union fell apart. Many advised them not to go or offered them only half-hearted encouragement along with vague warnings. But go they did. They slept in haystacks, churches, the homes of strangers, and dismal hotels in some of the poorest parts of Europe, where time seems to have passed more slowly than elsewhere in the world. They are met sometimes with indifference or incredulity, sometimes with hostility, but most often with surprisingly generous hospitality.  

Godwin's On Foot to the Golden Horn (Picador, 1993) is a dreamy travelogue written in evocative prose that seemed worth the time it took to read, although I was never entirely sure of the motive that prompted the adventure and the end seemed a bit anti-climactic; Istanbul was the end-point of the trip, but the story ends just as the travelers arrive there. Godwin's mystery series, featuring the eunuch Yashim as the detective, are more informative about the city itself—or at least about Istanbul as it once was. 

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