Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stranger On A Train : daydreaming and smoking with interruptions around America by Jenny Diski - a review (sort of)

I finished the book even before we arrived at KL Sentral today (Dec 21, 06).

This is partly travelogue as well as autobiography by Jenny Diski. Both nicely intertwined and blended well as a flow of a story. She uses her train journey, sometimes I could not help but think the train journey was just an excuse, around the US to act as impetus to reflect on her life. It was not planned that way initially.

It all began when she was commissioned to write a piece on her ‘sea cruise’ on a freight ship Captained and crewed by mainly Croatians from UK to Savannah. Florida. On nearing the US she received a sad news on the demised of one of her good friends. Knowing this her friend in Pheonix, Arizona asked her to come over a stayed for a few days to stay with them which she obliged. She decided to take the Sunset Limited train from Jacksonville to Pheonix. From there she flew back to her home in London. While in London, looking at the US map, she realized it is possible to travel around US by train just like traveling the Circle Line in London. She decided to do just that. She was also encouraged by the experience she had on Sunset Limited. Her second journey was from the Penn Station, New York going anti clockwise to circumnavigate the US through Chicago, Portland, Sacramento, New Orlean and back to New York. The trains were Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, Empire Builder to Portland, Oregon, The Coast Starlight to Sacramento, California Zephyr to Denver, Southwest Chief to Albuquerque, Sunset Limited from Tucson to New Orlean and the Crescent back to Penn Station in New York City. For a train lover I got goose bums just reading the names and I was expecting a very good narrative of the travels. But I was a bit disappointed.

Obviously she got to meet, talk to and got friendly to various interesting characters but her story was spoilt by her telling it by way of her addiction to smoking. Sometimes it works but more often then not some became so obvious. Nevertheless, it is her story and she chose to tell it that way. I just enjoyed the characters she met most and certainly urged me to the limit to want me to take my own long distance train travel.

She stopped at Albuquerque to stay with Bet, a lady she met on the Sunset Limited, and be part of the family for five days. Suddenly after that she decided that her journey has ‘ended’ and the rest of the journey to New York on the Sunset Limited, going opposite direction that rightly pointed out by the author should be called Sunrise Limited, and the Crescent became a monotonous monologue with not much of interesting observation and narratives.

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