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One for the Road: Revised Edition Paperback – October 5, 1999
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After a year working an office job in Sydney, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaperman Tony Horwitz finds himself longing for the open road. Spurred on by a colleague's "Aren't you a little too old for this game?" he sets off on a 7,000-mile adventure around Australia, hitchhiking to Alice Springs and beyond: through desolate mining towns, sheep stations, countless bush pubs (do not attempt to match his beer intake), and the forbidding, Martianesque emptinesses of Australian deserts. On the way he encounters hostile, friendly, and downright strange natives; jumps a train; survives a harrowing accident; and uses his relentless sense of humor to face down a cyclone:
I prop my pack against the fence as a windbreak. Huddled behind it, I pull on two pairs of pants, three shirts, four pairs of socks--my entire wardrobe in fact, except for the dung-covered shirt and five pairs of elastic-waisted underwear. No room for dignity here, at the center of a cyclone. I put the jockey shorts over my head, one pair at a time, fitting the fly over my nose to let a little oxygen in.A wily melange of tenderness, eye-popping lunacy, and occasional white-knuckled fear, One for the Road will leave you yearning to have the never-ending-blue Oz sky above, the flavor of that red, red dust in your mouth, and a tinnie to wash it all down with. --Jhana Bach
"Ironical, perceptive and subtle ... will have readers getting out their maps and itching to follow Horwitz's tracks.... The internal journey is his finest achievement; he allows the reader into his heart, to go travelling with him there, sharing his adventures of the spirit". -- Sunday Times (London)
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He started out like many, seduced by life in megalopolitan Sydney, thinking that the superficial similarites between two essentially suburban cultures mean that there's little for an American to learn from his adopted home.
Life on the road teaches him otherwise.
There's a certain melancholy to life in Australia, which Horwitz comes to understand over his journey; the physical journey across a forbidding continent contrasts with his internal journey as a moden young man, a lapsed rebel, a faithful husband and a sentimentally observant Jew (Is this trip his own wandering in the desert, perhaps?)
I was moved by the story of Horwitz's passage across the northwest of Western Australia (beginnning on page 136). It's here that he surrenders his obsession with getting to the next town, and begins to understand the weft and weave of his surroundings.
The story of finding a Jewish family in Broome with whom to celebrate Passover--an Akubra sunhat acting as a makeshift yarmulke--warmed my heart, simply because I know that any true Australian would be equally welcoming to a displaced stranger.
And the story of Anzac Day the following morning...well, I've never heard anyone capture the curious mixture of joy and pain that marks the Australian Memorial Day as succinctly as Tony did. An ostesnsible victory witout glory--what kind of a nation does this make? He summed it up in three paragraphs or so.
Buy it, even if you never intend to visit Australia. It will help you understand the mind of an eventual Pulitzer Prize winner, and the experiences that opened his mind.
Oh, by the way, Tony, I'm serious about the offer of a beer.
With only a backpack and a sense of adventure, he shares his journey with the reader, skillfully describing the mostly desolate terrain and the people he meets along the way. His sense of humor and instinctive quest for the quirky detail made me smile often and I tried to read this small 206-page book as slowly as possible because I just wanted it to last.
I'm a mature city-dwelling grandmother and it's unlikely I'll ever stand by the side of the road with a cardboard sign and an outstretched thumb (or index finger as they do in Australia) waiting for a stranger to open a car door and share a little piece of his or her life with me. But for the moments that I was engaged in the book, Tony Horwitz brought me right there.
He made me feel the 100-degree-plus heat, the flies so dense he had to squint his eyes. My head swirled with the countless bottles of beer he described drinking as he tried to ignore the fact that most of the drivers who picked him up were drunk. He slept in his clothes by the side of the road, met aboriginals and opal diggers and got seasick working as a deck hand on a fishing boat.
And I also experienced the wonder of it all, the freedom of waking up in the morning and not knowing what the day will bring, the time to relish each moment, and the writer's eye to make the trip real for the many people destined to read his book. Occasionally, the book got a bit slow, but that is not a criticism, but rather just part of the reality of the experience.
I really loved this book. And wish there were more books out there by this author. Hopefully, he'll write another book soon. And I know I'll be one of the first in line to order it.
But I don't think his only purpose is entertain us. I think he also wants to show us the character of the Australian people. He succeeds. We discover a tough, independent, hard drinking, hard fighting, and hard laughing people. He tells his stories so well that we are left changed. We are left with a fresh new look at the what Australia is about.
Read this book. You'll look forward to every new page and when you are done, you are left a little changed. What more could you want in a book?
Though this is Horwitz' first book, one can easily see that his skills as a writer would only improve over the years. His similes, imageries and overall craftiness with the pen make his books a joy to read. That aside, they are also informative of history, geography and culture.
With 7,000 plus miles of hitchhiking through the desolate and barren Outback, to the oftentimes seamy coastal towns, Tony describes every ride with vigor and comical insight. Beer, of course, is the main fervor of his free Australian rides and he drolls out every one of these episodes. He looks at life through lighthearted lenses.
A fun read and he only gets better as the years advance.
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