My Review of Bombs and Butterflies: Over the Hill in Laos by Jo Carroll #TravelWriting #FridayReads

bombs

 

I gave this book 5*out of 5*

Book Description:

Did you know that Laos is the most bombed country in the world? If Jo Carroll had spent more time with her guidebooks and less with a physiotherapist preparing her creaking knees for squat toilets she’d have been better prepared when she crossed the Mekong in a long boat and stepped into the chaos of Huay Xai. But bombs still lie hidden in Laos’ jungles, in the rice paddies, and in the playgrounds. While young people open their doors to new ideas and possibilities, memories of war are etched on the faces of the old.
What sort of welcome would they give a western woman, wandering around with her notebook? Would they dare let her peer into their secret corners?

My Review:

 It’s a long time since I read a travel book other than looking for excerpts to use for teaching the genre in a workshop.

Reading Jo Carrol’s Bombs and Butterflies: Over the Hill in Laos made me realise what a wealth of entertainment and knowledge I’ve missed out on. And I would have carried on overlooking this gem if it hadn’t been for a fellow writer who recommended this author’s work to me.

 And what a gem!

 Laos is perhaps a place I will never visit but I now have at least an insight to this country still  afflicted by the devastation of war; the people traumatised, often with permanent life-changing injuries. And yet one of the main threads interwoven in the narrative is the kind courtesy that the author experiences from the Laotians. Alongside the often humorous accounts of her fellow back packers, this is a truly personal, empathetic and compassionate account of the people of Laos as much as of the magnificence and breath-taking ambience of the places Jo Carroll travels through.

 I loved one excerpt, one example of this, that made me smile; the way, in one place where Jo Carroll stayed, that she was exclaimed over and admired just because she was a mature woman of a certain age. And the way the teenage girl in the family carefully escorted her up and down the ladder to the room she stayed in – and even to the family outside WC. 

The author’s descriptions, so full of evocative imagery yet so personal, made me feel as though I was walking alongside her. There are many  contrasting scenes. The visit to the COPE centre where prosthetic limbs are made for those so injured during and in the aftermath of the “horrors of the Khmer Rouge”, together with, the descriptions of the museum. The uncomfortable way she watches a film of the almost casual, yet breath-holding, defusing of an unexploded bomb and the faces of the people in the village, “…lined with dread, with the memory of blood and screaming and the fear of dying.”

 She cries; she’s not the only one;  I cry as  I read of her ” misplaced Western guilt”, her “…collusion with the silence that went with this war” and the naive belief I’d also long ago held of “President Nixon’s assurances that the USA guaranteed Laos’ neutrality”, even as the country was bombed.

 That excerpt contrasts with joyful and wonderful descriptions: of the river in Nong Khiaw from her hammock in a wooden bungalow (one of the places the author stayed in away from a group she travelled with at one point). She watches the man peacefully net fishing in the river, the banks richly green ; the swarms of tiny white butterflies. And later she writes of the riotous colours and chaos of markets, of jumbles of fruit, jewellery, spices. throughout this book there is always the evocative use of all her senses. Great stuff!! 

This is a very individual account of travel writing. And it drew me in; I felt her struggle with having to come to term with so much as she travelled around; tourists having their photos taken with what i presumed were drugged tigers. Elephants giving rides to entertain the visitors (this brought back a memory of a ride I had in a zoo as a child; I hadn’t thought of this for years and it brought back an uncomfortable feeling for my lack of understanding at the time – how things have changed in this country… or have they?)  In Laos Jo Carroll battles with her conscience even while knowing the people nee to make a living to exist.

I could go on and on. This is an easy read that transported me to Laos. It won’t be the last I read of Jo Carroll’s travels. 

 I can’t recommend Bombs and Butterflies: Over the Hill in Laos highly enough.

Links to buy:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2tsIJqE

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2gMkyxJ

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My Review of Do Not Wash Hands In Plates by Barb Taub #Tuesdaybookblog

 

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Do n ot wash hands

 

I gave Do Not Wash Hands In Plates 5* out of 5*

To use an adjective favoured by the author, this is a “honking” good read

The Book Blurb (much condensed!)

“Once upon the Land Before Time (or at least before mobile phones), my two best friends and I decided to leave the US from separate locations and meet up in Europe. To everyone’s shock, Janine, Jaya and I pulled it off—mostly because we went to Luxembourg, a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because Jaya was carrying the BS, a blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country’s square footage and was visible on satellite images. We couldn’t possibly miss…

It took over thirty-five years before—in a combination of optimism and failing memories— we recklessly decided to repeat this feat. Hey, we reasoned, now we’ve got smartphones, better credit ratings, wheeled suitcases, medical insurance, and the ability to drink legally. Just to make it more interesting, this time we chose to meet in India, where the odds against the three of us actually linking up were approximately a bazillion to bupkis…

This is the story of three women eating our way across India in search of adventure, elephants, temples, palaces, western toilets, monkeys, the perfect paratha…and the kindness of Indian strangers.”

 

EXCERPT:

“Despite blizzards, cancelled flights, de-icing delays, and an adjacent passenger who had made unfortunate food choices resulting in alarming gastrointestinal events, I arrived in India. The theory was that I would fly in from my home in Scotland, Janine would come from Washington DC, and Jaya would meet up with us at the airport. Nobody who knows any of us thought for a second that this could really occur.

Actual conversation at Passport Control, Mumbai:

Janine: “Well no, I don’t have my friend’s address or phone number. But she’s going to pick me up at the airport. She lives in Gujarat. That’s in India.”

Passport Control: [SO not impressed

I arrived before Janine. As far as I could tell, the Ahmedabad Airport was staffed by the entire Indian army, each soldier carrying a honking huge gun. I grabbed my suitcase and exited baggage control into India. Noise. Chaos. People, dogs, honking horns, more people. More soldiers. More guns. Dozens of sincere men who called me “Sister” and suggested they could take me anywhere on the planet I might want to go.

No Janine. No Jaya. And, apparently, no way to get back into the airport. After several failed attempts at international texts, I realized I could (at heart-stopping expense) send email to Jaya, who soon confirmed that she was on her way and that it was 3:00AM so I should go back inside. Except there were signs everywhere saying you couldn’t go back in.

“No problem.” Jaya explained that rules in India are more like guidelines. “People in India are very kind. Just ask.”

I’ve been living in the UK where rules are inviolate and graven in stone, so I didn’t believe a word of it. But the soldier at the door listened to my plea and waved his AK-Humongo to usher me back inside. There I found Janine attempting to send email or text. I reminded her neither option was likely for two technologically-challenged, jet-lagged, middle-aged ladies in a foreign country at 3:00AM.

In the end, we wandered over to the door and to our mutual amazement found Jaya waiting for us along with a hired driver and a van. Apparently lightning does strike again, because just like thirty-five years earlier, the three of us actually managed to meet up in another continent.

What could possibly go wrong from here?”

Warning: Do not read this book in public.

In true Barb Taub style we are taken along with these three friends to sample the richness of India. We share in the travelling, the people – and the food. Described in such detail that each journey, each experience, each shopping expedition, each meal, instantly conjures up an image. And it is delivered with witty humour, so much so that I was unable to stop cracking up into loud laughter. (hence the above warning!)

 

 

Did I mention mention the food? Barb does … a lot!! Seems wherever the three friends went, their hosts were determined to fatten them up!

This short book is also greatly enhanced by the photographs, courtesy of Jayalakshmi Ayyer and Janine Smith,,we see beautiful buildings, stunning views, indigenous animals and birds, the lovely Indian people – and mealtimes.

  

In halcyon days BC (before children), Barb Taub wrote a humour column for several Midwest newspapers. With the arrival of Child #4, she veered toward the dark side and an HR career. Following a daring daytime escape to England, she’s lived in a medieval castle and a hobbit house with her prince-of-a-guy and the World’s Most Spoiled AussieDog. Now all her days are Saturdays, and she spends them traveling around the world, plus consulting with her daughter on Marvel heroes, Null City, and translating from British to American. ]

I’ve been a follower of Barb Taub’s blog http://barbtaub.com/ and she is one of the funniest writers I’ve come across in a long time. I fully expected the book to be written in the same style and I wasn’t disappointed. I can’t recommend Do Not Wash Hands In Plates highly enough. If you don’t rush off and buy this book, you’re missing out on a great read.

Find copies here:

Amazon.co.uk:

http://amzn.to/1JFZb9s

Amazon.com:

http://amzn.to/1l132SL