Patrick Holland’s Riding the Trains in Japan is for those who have left their rose-coloured glasses behind in a nondescript hotel room in a foreign country, but not their inquiring mind and adventurous spirit.
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Riding the Trains in Japan Synopsis
Travels in the Sacred and Supermodern East
Arriving late in Kyoto Patrick Holland cannot find a room for the night. Homeless and disorientated and in a place where loitering is not encouraged his only solution is to ride the trains. The train journey becomes a thread in book that journeys on rivers in Saigon, mountains in the Chinese Himalaya, lost cities of the Silk Road, mist-swathed cemeteries in Japan and the flat plains of Australia, and subtly questions the nature of travel and identity through reflections on place, mortality and the changing Asian landscape.
This is my second title from talented Aussie Author Patrick Holland. The quality of his writing in his literary thriller The Darkest Little Room earned it a place in my Best Books of 2013 So Far list. This non-fiction piece, also published by TransitLounge, has now placed Holland firmly on my list of favourite Australian authors.
Riding the Trains in Japan by Patrick Holland is so much more than a collection of travel essays.
Yes, he describes the places he has explored and the many interesting characters he has met.
Yes, he shares amusing anecdotes and provides historical context (often with a literary flavour) to leave readers with a better understanding the cultures involved.
But what makes this collection so engaging is just how much of ‘Patrick Holland the person’, Holland has shared with his audience.
Holland’s writing is erudite and mesmerising; philosophical and at times deeply personal. Too often travel narratives take a Pollyanna approach to foreign cultures, I suspect motivated by misguided political correctness masquerading as mutual respect.
Patrick Holland’s lens is unabashedly jaded at times. For me the more objective assessment of the strength and weakness of cultures and individuals, including that of his own as the interpreter, is imminently more interesting and credible.
His similar viewpoint, having grown up in my home town of Brisbane Australia, resonated with me also. In the piece ‘Lost Cities’, his reflections on his time spent in Beijing China were very similar to my own.
“I had first seen the Wall as a student in Beijing and been underwhelmed as one often is at famous and over-photographed sites that no longer have a use apart from their value as tourist drawcards. … That day I could easily imagine that the Wall was fake – that it had been set up on the back of a legend to part tourists with their money.”
And this succinct observation,
“The bus to Chengde was driven much as the Chinese government drives industry, at high speeds around blind corners.”
I too experienced similar thoughts while holding my breathe during several bus rides in China many years ago.
What I found particularly refreshing about Riding the Trains in Japan was its numerous layers of exploration of the topic of travel. In an appealing ‘russian doll’ like tangent, in the title piece ‘Riding the Trains in Japan’ Holland reflects on writing about travel and what motivates us to travel:
“The would-be Basho of today must contend with the truth that 21st century travel makes the traditional travel narrative problematic – at best a kind of nostalgic fantasy; at worst a lie; where the writer carefully chooses those colourful and familiar tropes of ‘travel’ and ‘the exotic’, leaving out the passages and portals – airport lounges, meetings with travel agents, residency in more-or-less like urban landscapes – that furnish him with those few saleable encounters that he deems book-worthy. Travel narratives abound in our time, perhaps because we sense that travel may shortly become impossible: everywhere will be ‘here’; and ‘here’ will not be anywhere in particular.”
I thoroughly enjoyed Holland’s at times profound, at others obscure, musings on the meaning of things – from China’s lesser-known but most powerful enemy, to the real purpose of female flight attendants.
I wholeheartedly recommend Patrick Holland’s Riding the Trains in Japan to those who have already left their rose-coloured glasses behind in a nondescript hotel room in a foreign country, but not their inquiring mind and adventurous spirit.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
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* This book counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2013.
Genre: Non-fiction, Short Stories, Adventure, Memoir
About the Author, Patrick Holland
Patrick Holland lives in Brisbane, Australia. He has worked as a horseman in Maranoa district and in Queensland’s far northwest. He has travelled widely throughout Asia and has studied languages at Qingdao University and Beijing Foreign Studies University, and at Ho Chi Minh Social Sciences University in Vietnam. His novel The Long Road of the Junkmailer (UQP) won the Queensland Premier’s Award for Best Emerging Author. His second novel The Mary Smokes Boys was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin and Age Book Awards. He is also the author of and The Source of the Sound (Hunter) and more recently the literary thriller The Darkest Little Room. Checkout Patrick Holland’s website.
* Receiving this title free from Transit Lounge did not impact my ability to express my honest opinions in the review above.Updated