I learned of this book first from blogger Bookish Beck. This year I was reminded of it by blogger Swirl and Thread. Please be kind and visit their blogs and leave a comment. We bloggers live for comments.
Dervla’s journey took place in 1963–the year after I was born. How interesting to see what the world was like 60 years ago outside of the USA or Europe. I had many strong, independent female relatives and love to travel so I knew this book would be a good fit for me.
Dervla took off on her bike called Roz and headed to India. This, however, was not completely a bike journey. The title tells it all–“with” a bike, not necessarily “on” a bike. There were times out of politeness, sanity, or politics that she accepted rides or boarded a bus or train to get farther a long. In some countries it was completely against the culture for a woman to be alone. In other places threatening men made it quite an ordeal to be alone. She was brave, resourceful and usually very canny about who to trust.
Dervla developed an affinity for the Afghani people–citing the men as “gentlemen” always. Pakistani men often got her admiration, too. She disliked India. This soon after partition and the creation of Pakistan and India that might been a more common opinion–I’m not sure. She got frustrated, but stayed polite, when people mistook Ireland for part of the U.K.
Her journey was often very physically taxing and dangerous. From snow to heat she experienced it all. I’m sure she wanted to quit many times, but did not record much in the way of self-doubt.
Here are some of the quotes that struck me:
“I don’t claim to know the right answer to the under-developed problem, but I feel most strongly that the communist answer is less wrong than the Western.”
Odd to hear about communism from a non-American perspective and to hear it referenced in a good way, but this was 1962 before the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“nothing like religion for spreading ‘brotherly love'”
“having to be noncommittal irritates me more than anything in the world”
I love that she declared a road “jeep-able.” The motor sport of off-roading was in its infancy then, but she saw it clearly.
Paraphrase: The wealth of the West and the poverty of the East are equally detrimental.
I’ve left this book un-reviewed for several weeks. I just couldn’t get a good handle on where to start with it. I admired Dervla’s courage and tenacity on her journey. Her political observations (albeit with 60 years of hindsight!!) sometimes seemed very naive–but would they have been thought so at the time? I’m not sure. She was writing in the era in which the First World discovered what was then called the “Third World Countries” and began sending out a new sort of missionaries–Peace Corps volunteers, VSOs, and similar, going forth to boldly proclaim the religion of free enterprise, human rights, and democratic government. Most of those young, idealistic volunteers would have devoured this book and probably agreed with her.
I do plan to read her late 80’s/early 90’s African book as she goes through Malawi at the time I was serving there as….wait for it….a Peace Corps volunteer. (I was a little older than the volunteers of the early ’60s–I would turn 30 months after my service ended).
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel literature about unusual trips though her prose isn’t always novel-like. I listened to the audio version.
Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy