Better Than Fiction is a compendium of true travel stories write by famous fiction writers and published by Lonely Planet, the guide book company. In this book of 320 pages there are 32 tales, mostly brief, but extremely varied in location and type. It is rare in any collection of short stories (true or fictional) that I like all of the collection, but in this case I thought they were all of a good standard, although I did have some preferences over others.
Favourite contributions include Shooting Pompeii by DBC Pierre (author of Booker and Whitbread prize-winning novel Vernon God Little) about his return to Central Mexico, a place he had visited many times as a young man. The theme of returning is also in Tom Carson's (Gilligan's Wake) segment, entitled The Tin Can, when he returned to Berlin having spent time there in his childhood as the son of a US State Department employee. As you can see many of these stories aren't your typical traveller's tales but journeys these writers have taken.
Travel tales of the more conventional style are here, as evidenced by the piece by Marina Lewycka (A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian) who writes engagingly of travelling independently around Malawi with her daughter. Charles Finch (A Burial at Sea) writes about his time in Cape Town during the 2012 World Cup with some interesting observations of the international fans he met, and how some conformed (or otherwise) to their national stereotypes.
Steven Amsterdam (Things We Didn't See Coming) was affected by his anti-malarial drugs in Sulawesi and went a bit crazy, his amusing story is entitled Confessions of a Coconut-Soup Eater. Joe Yogerst (White Tiger) had me gripped with his tale of how he and his friends stood up to a bully and extortionist from the Sudanese military in The Scarface Express. Another favourite was Into Unknown Climes by Nikki Gemmell. Gemmell went to Antarctica, to the Australian base, on a journalistic assignment where she found and lost the love of her life. This inspired her novel Shiver. Gemmell is not alone in being one of the many authors that I have not heard of before, but will be the first one I look to read again.
Stories include tales set in India, China, Ireland, Solomon Islands, Saudi Arabia, USA, Tahiti, UK (West Sussex), Cuba, Argentina, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria and the fictional city of Hav. The themes vary but what makes it different is that the authors are not travel writers but fiction writers (although some have written non-fiction work in the past) so they approach their contributions differently, and I found their writing engaging as the wove their facts and experience into a story. Recommended to all fans of travel writing, and to those who may have not dabbled in that genre before.
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