Almost Home by Janet Brown

 | Thu 15 Aug 2013 16:50 ICT

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First and foremost, Janet Brown’s cross-continental travelogue is a wonderfully understated account of the author’s spiritual, intellectual and literary drift-dive through Bangkok, Hong Kong, Beijing and Penang (in Malaysia). It’s a journey that goes under the skin. Readers are spared the usual tourist sites and are instead taken on a guided tour to the back streets, corner shops and road side eateries of the four Asian cities Brown has called her home. Throughout, the wise eye of a well traveled transnational illuminates small poignant moments, absorbs eccentric characters and documents cultural, social and political quirks.

On another level, Almost Home is a book that addresses the tricky question of where one belongs in a highly mobile, globalized world. Brown suffers from geographic agnosticism. She clearly loves life on the back roads of Asia and would be all but lost in the Far East, if it were not for her children back home in Seattle. She is torn between being close to her sons and following her urge to sail away into the unknown. Of course, her two longings can never be satisfied simultaneously and it is the resulting tension between missing the joys of home and not quite giving in to insatiable wanderlust, which informs the author’s observations and adventures and adds a very personal dimension to the text.

Almost Home is a quiet, charming book, thought up and written far away from our million miles an hour sensory overload culture. It’s a book that deserves to be read in print format; it’s a strange, wonderous object from the East, to be cherished and kept. Open Almost Home on almost every page and the every-day sounds, sights and smells of the Far East virtually jump, float and thud off the page and invite the reader to submerge her/himself in the visions and thoughts of what used to be called an ‘old Asia hand’ when books where still printed exclusively on paper.

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