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Into Africa and Under Asian Skies - wBW Book Review

Into Africa and Under Asian Skies by Sam Manicom

Into Africa
by Sam Manicom
ISBN: 1412054982
Dimensions (mm): 140x216x18
Publisher: Trafford Publishing UK, 2005
317 pages, B&W Photos and Illustrations
Available From: Amazon.com (wBW Affiliate)

Under Asian Skies
by Sam Manicom
ISBN: 9780955657306
Dimensions (in cm): 140x210x230
Publisher: Sam Manicom, 2007
319 pages, Photos and Illustrations
Available From: Sam Manicom for £12.99 + S/H

webBikeWorld.com Book Review by Rick K.


When not one, but two motorcycle travel books arrived, I shuddered.  I've read my share of travel books, and I'll say this to prospective authors: just because you buy a motorcycle and set off on an adventure doesn't mean you can write.

It takes more than a simple narrative of a daily motorbike schedule to make an interesting tale.  Seems basic, no?  But apparently this simple fact is not widely understood.

There's an entire genre of collecting devoted to travel books, and let me tell you, some fantastic books have been written over the years -- books that stand the test of time.  Aspiring travel authors should do some serious research and study to discover this world, long before they swing a leg over a saddle.

A National Geographic article entitled "Ultimate Travel Library" probably says it best:

"It's just a book, just ink on paper.  But be careful when you open it.  There's a universe inside. A good travel book has wings and the ability to transport us, word by word, tale by tale.  It introduces us to the people and places that make travel—and, one could argue, life itself—worthwhile.  Good travel stories are, in a word, magic.  Not only do they show us the world, they help us define our place within it."

OK, I think I've made my point.  Now I'm not saying that Sam Manicom is the equivalent of, say, a Lawrence Durrell or George Orwell (yes, that Lawrence Durrell and that George Orwell); Isak Dinesen or Beryl Markham. 

Sorry Sam, but I do see a lot of Richard Halliburton in these books, and that's a good thing.  Halliburton is one of my all-time favorites, and I credit him with opening my then-youthful eyes to the fact that there's a big, wide, exciting world out there, just waiting to be discovered.

Now Manicom's writing could have gone either way.  I've read more than one motorcycle adventure book that follows the standard practice: 1) Author quits the day job.  2) Author buys a bike.  3) Author takes off on a trip, assuming they're the only ones to ever do so.  And 4) Author assumes that everyone will be interested in a bound version of their diary. 

If that's all there was to it, heck -- even I'd give it a try. 

But as much as I can tell you what not to do in a motorcycle travel book -- or any travel book, for that matter -- it's much harder to put my finger on exactly what should be done.  There's a subtle difference; a smoky line that's crossed somewhere that turns a boring diary into an edge-of-the-chair adventure yarn, and Manicom has done it in these two books.

If pressed, I'd say that to be successful, a travel book surely must go beyond a simple narrative to imbue the reader with the history, the culture and the mood of the place in addition to its sights, sounds and smells.  Yet the author has only words to convey all of this -- a most difficult task.

Sam Manicom did leave his boring job on the isle of Jersey, bought his motorcycle and pretty much began his motorcycling and authoring career as a novice.  It could easily be argued that this was a naive and possibly even a foolish thing to do, but Manicom's light-hearted and typically British understated tone allows the reader to quickly forgive.

He spent the next 8 years and 200,000 miles touring 55 countries in Africa, Australia and Asia on his trusty BMW R80GS (the perfect world touring bike?) and Into Africa and Under Asian Skies was the result.  It didn't take very long at all for the words to carry me from reluctance to ravening after I started.

Along the way, Manicom experienced just about every travel cliché and faux pas you can think of, up to and including the worst-case scenario -- a serious accident involving another person, out in the middle of nowhere.  He was very lucky even to be alive, much less shrug it off and continue on.

You'd think that would be enough adventure for a couple of lifetimes, but after reaching the southern tip of Africa, Manicom decided on a whim to hop a freighter to Australia for more adventure, when the BMW finally gave up.  While the bike was in for repairs, he made a side trip to New Zealand, meeting a woman and falling in love.

In Under Asian Skies, the adventure continues, through Thailand, where he contracts dengue fever and is saved by a prostitute who hopes to save enough money to go to school.  Many more adventures in India and then back home, through Iran and Turkey.

You won't learn much about motorcycles, nor will you gain the insight needed for launching a trip like this.  But perhaps that's what makes the difference, because that kind of information would, in the end, make this a boring read.  Instead, you will be treated to adventures that the vast majority will never experience, and you'll learn a lot about this tiny planet we inhabit.  And that's what makes an adventure tale worth reading.

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