Major in political science. Graduate with honors. Fail to find a job. Go surfing in the Middle East.
Jesse Aizenstat is the author of "Surfing the Middle East: Deviant Journalism from the Lost Generation" He also co-produced with an Emmy-winning studio a revolutionary iPad app, titled "Surfing the Middle East."
He has written for many newspapers, blogs at The Huffington Post, and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, and other news-related shows about culture and the Middle East.
To start, Jesse Aizenstat may be a young writer (and according to his own statements a dyslexic one at that), but he is a journalist in the finest sense of the word - and unfortunately journalism of this sort is sadly becoming extinct. When a journalist has the courage to step into the middle of a situation in order to feel it, see it, smell it, interact with it, even take the chance of dying for it all with the goal of reporting to the world from an eyewitness stance, that is the kind of information for which we are hungry. It is one thing to be a snazzy commentator on the television screen, a person with distance and a staff of writers and photographers to create a view of a situation: it is another to have the information from the living in the moment source.
Less the reader gets the idea from the above that this is another serious examination of the ongoing eternal crisis in the Middle East, then that is only part of this delicious memoir. Jesse Aizenstat is a young stud surfer from Santa Barbara, CA who after completing college in 2009 with a major in political science finds it impossible to find work. He had been to Israel and surrounding countries before, but his intense interest in Middle Eastern politics and shenanigans gave him the idea of combining his passion for surfing with his desire to return to the Middle East: his gimmick was to surf from Israel to Lebanon and the only magazine to whom he pitched his idea that would take him on was the Surfers Journal (!), and off he went via Birthright transport (his `in' by being Jewish) to Israel to begin his self-designed assignment. `Second to the American job economy, the other reason I embarked on this adventure was the cold hard fact that for most of my schooling life I'd been dismissed as a hopeless dumbass.Read more ›
Jesse Aizenstat's "Surfing the Middle East: Deviant Journalism from the Lost Generation" is a great book written from a unique perspective. Aizenstat's writing style combines the best elements of travel writing found in the works of authors such as Robert Kaplan with a Hunter S. Thomson-esque attention for detail and situation that is reminiscent of the "Rum Diary" and "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." He very effectively describes the situations that his journeys present to him with both wry humor and a good grasp of the underlying social, cultural, and political realities of the countries that he visits.
Aizenstat has a gift for edgy description and for capturing the good ol'-fashioned irony that he encounters throughout his trip. Importantly, he is not above an honest appraisal of himself, his actions, and his interpretations of the behavior of the people with whom he encounters, allowing the reader to more fully appreciate the manic quality of his travels. The resulting story is both humorous and educational, with characters who are larger-than-life, but not easily dismissed as simple caricature.
This book is a must-read for students of the Middle East, international relations junkies, and people who simply love a great story with a wonderful narrative. Highly recommended.
I'm 61. This is the first enjoyable, fresh, humanistic, playful thing I ever read about the Middle East. Our man in the Levant! Rising above the intransigent, ill humors of The Holy Land. A pleasure to read.
This e-book is a truly unique, interactive experience all on its own, the story entirely set aside. The images and layout only serve to enhance the superb story telling that Aizenstat brings to the table.
As far as the writing itself, Aizenstat's approach represents something both new and old--it is an example of fast-paced, gripping guerilla journalism, something fit for new media formats such as blogs and e-books. It is raw, and adventurous without embellishment, giving readers a chance to read and experience Aizenstat's travels and learn something real about this part of the world. In addition, however, it holds true to the timeless practice of simply keeping a journal of one's travel and adventure, and of traveling not as a tourist propped up by a thick wallet and an English-speaking guide but as a young man full of curiosity, determination, and boldness.
As someone who has traveled to this part of the world before, I can confirm that Aizenstat has captured reality in his writing. He brings the reader the real experience and gives a valuable insight on the region that definitely deserves our attention. And besides, he went through the entire experience dragging along a surfboard, which makes an already interesting trip just that much more interesting!
Surfing the Middle East is a book of endless dicotomy. Subtitled "Deviant Journalism for the Lost Generation," Aizenstat's diary and depiction of his two trips to the Middle East is equal parts eye-opening participant journalism in the tradition of Sebastian Junger and V.S. Naipaul's Among the Believers (the best book I have ever read about the tangled weave of cultures and belief systems in the Middle East) and an at times over-the-top homage to the Gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson (as evidenced most obviously by the opening quote from the good doctor and more subtly by the rampant use of his signature words: "savage," "swine," "fiend," and his metaphorical device of linking drug-tripping adjectives with his on-site experiences). To be fair to Aizenstat--whose idea to surf in Israel and Lebanon while immersing himself in the Gordian knot of what is happening "over there" as an American Jew was as excellently executed as it was extremely evocative in concept--I have spent the past eight years reading everything I can find written by or about Hunter S. Thompson (indeed, as I was reading Surfing the Middle East I was also reading Hey Rube, so the Doctor's typical dialogue and devices were foremost in my mind). Thompson's appeal is his intense Uniqueness, and any attempt to borrow from or otherwise emulate what he so carefully cultivated rubs me the wrong way. It's like trying to paint like Jackson Pollock and pass it off as in any way your own. I have watched with no small sorrow as Johnny Depp sinks into a not-so-subtle cartoon echo of his fallen hero. Sad.Read more ›