A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia
Through personal journeys both interior and across the globe, Alden Jones investigates what motivates us to travel abroad in search of the unfamiliar.
By way of explorations to Costa Rica, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Burma, Cambodia, Egypt, and around the world on a ship, Jones chronicles her experience as a young American traveler while pondering her role as an outsider in the cultures she temporarily inhabits. Her wanderlust fuels a strong, high-adventure story and, much in the vein of classic travel literature, Jones’s picaresque tale of personal evolution informs her own transitions, rites of passage, and understandings of her place as a citizen of the world. With sharp insight and stylish prose, Jones asks: Is there a right or wrong way to travel? The Blind Masseuse concludes that there is, but that it’s not always black and white. (Amazon)
The Blind Masseuse by Alden Jones has two different yet equally strong themes. In one respect it is a deeply personal memoir about the role her vast experience travelling to different countries and living within cultures other than that of her birth has played in her life. In another respect, perhaps due to the author’s academic profession, this title considers philosophical questions about what spurs us to travel and ethical analysis of her behaviour and that of others when interacting with cultures other than their own.
While tourists spend their time away from home seeking out the comforts of home, travelers risk — even cultivate — discomfort, because what they want is the thrill of a new perspective…
… For most of my life, I have traveled seeking answers to hard questions. I’ve traveled to understand the human condition in its relativity. I’ve traveled to learn other languages and do my best to understand people across cultures. I’ve also traveled for the high.
I appreciated Alden’s candour in laying bare for readers the nuances of her relationships with others along with her own shortcomings as a traveler, most notably the times she has fallen victim to travel or cultural blindness.
This is a truth about leaving the culture that raised you and crossing into another: We leave home with an arsenal of things we know about the place we’re going. There is no disarming all of what we know, no matter how much touching and kneading and feeling we do, no matter how much we think we’re trying. What makes us blind is what we think we see.
Particularly powerful, and what really hit home for me, was her consideration of the ethicacy of photographing people simply going about their daily lives in the places we visit. I know I’ve been guilty of taking pictures of complete strangers when I have been overseas… did I ask their permission before doing so? Sadly no. Would I appreciate tourists taking photos of me while I was on my lunch break? Certainly not…. Something to chew on indeed.
I did however think that the poignancy of Jones’ observations and the message she sought to convey was weakened a little by over-utilisation of the same travel experience in multiple essays within the collection. Less would have been more for me.
While optional in many pieces, the Afterword is a must read in The Blind Masseuse. It is what pulls all the elements together and provides the reader with the positive takeaways they seek after travelling on Alden Jones’ life adventure with her.
BOOK RATING: The Story 3.5 / 5 ; The Writing 3.5 / 5
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Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir, Adventure
Author Information: Born in New York City and raised in Montclair, New Jersey, Alden Jones has lived, worked, and traveled in over forty countries, including as a WorldTeach volunteer in Costa Rica, a program director in Cuba, and a professor on Semester at Sea. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Time Out New York, Post Road, the Barcelona Review, the Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, WBUR’s Cognoscenti, and the Best American Travel Writing. She holds degrees in literature and creative writing from Brown University, New York University, and the Bennington Writing Seminars, and now lives in Boston, where she teaches at Emerson College.
Alden is the recent winner of the New American Fiction Prize. Her collection of stories, Unaccompanied Minors, is forthcoming from New American Press in 2014.
– Check out Alden Jones’ website
* My receiving this title free from University of Wisconsin Press did not affect my ability to express my honest opinions in this book review.