Friday, May 12, 2006

Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things: An Impossible Journey from Kabul to Chiapas - Gary Geddes

The Basics: Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things: An Impossible Journey from Kabul to Chiapas, Gary Geddes, 2005, 332 pages, hard cover

How I found it: has this service where they give you a page of recommendations based on what you have already bought from them. Since I had bought The Golden Spruce (which was fabulous; I read it in London), it told me I would like this book.

What's it about?: A poet from Sooke, BC is interested in a Buddhist monk from the 400s who may have reached North America far ahead of Columbus. Most academics completely dismiss this theory for various reasons, but Geddes wanted to believe it was true. Little is known of the monk, named Huishen, so Geddes sets out to repeat his route from Kabul in Afghanistan to Chiapas in Mexico. He does this beginning in 2001 so he runs into some 9/11 stuff as well.

Did I like it?: While it sounds like a fascinating idea for a book, I actually didn't like this book that much and was eager to finish it so that I could get on to the stack of library books I had waiting. Since no one knows that much about Huishen, and Geddes didn't really find out anything more about him, the book is really not so much about Huishen but about Geddes, a middle-aged white man, traveling through Asia. Not the most compelling stuff since Geddes' life isn't really that interesting and I didn't identify with him. It seems like Geddes pitched the idea to his publisher, was advanced the money, and then came home with not much to make into a book, but had to write one anyway since he was under contract.

Will you like it?: Doubtful. The premise is an interesting one, but it really doesn't deliver. As far as travel books go, I've read much better ones. The 9/11 connection is interesting, but it is ultimately overplayed since the connection is rather tenuous in the end (Geddes leaves Afghanistan mere days before 9/11 and encounters the Taliban during his visit). The worst part of the book is the sections where Geddes writes poetry from Huishen's point of view that he claims comes to him in a dream. While this technique can be quite successful sometimes (see Atwood's Susanna Moodie poems), here is just comes off as cheesy. As well, Geddes poetic style comes into the book a bit too often, making it actually unpleasant to read at times.

But don't take my word for it: Some editorial reviews and some real people reviews.

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