Traveling by Book – No-Man’s Lands (Greece)
One thing I pride myself on is being a nerdy traveler. I like to read local history and art books before I leave to give my destination context. That being said, I’m hoping to go to Greece soon and am really forcing myself to consider the mere possibility of reading an ancient Homeric classic. I’d never read the Iliad (hurray, 1000 pages about war*) and only begrudging got through the Odyssey in high school. (Honestly, what I remember of the plot comes from Duck Tales… which may not exactly be accurate.) Thankfully, I was relieved to find Scott Huler’s No-Man’s Lands which delightfully summarizes the Odyssey as a travel journal and was ironically written because he forced himself to read a classic too.
Having struggled through Joyce’s Ulysses, Huler realizes that it all ultimately goes back to Odysseus – the iconic lost traveler. Getting interested in the original Greek version of the story and facing the birth of his first child, Huler decides to retrace Odysseus’s voyage as a personal pilgrimage. What results is one-part travel journal as he stumbles through Greece, Italy, Tunisia, and Malta, and one-part literary criticism as he discusses the plot of the Odyssey, its history and context. The writing is clever and he’s an entertaining narrator. As a storyteller, Huler is conscious of his journey and keeps it interesting while avoiding the potential for constant whining about being lost and living cheaply. It’s a little confusing in the first chapter or so because he starts the narration from almost the end of his journey (how very Homer), but it picks right up and is a quick read. No-Man’s Lands a good summer read for anyone who wants to take a little mental cruise through the Mediterranean and besides, it a lot more fun than reading the Odyssey!
*Technically the Fagles translation is 704 pages which just sounds fantastically long. That being said, the last Harry Potter book is 784 pages. Guess which one sold more copies last year?