Back when many (most?) of us were practicing “duck and cover” in suburban U.S. grammar schools, Franklin Huffman was experiencing this same world that was rapidly losing its innocence, and in a way that will probably never be repeated again.
The concept for the book was born in 1956, but it wasn’t until 2002 that Huffman finally had the time to sit down and write. This is understandable, because in addition to his time at Cornell pursuing a PhD, careers as a Professor of Linguistics and Asian Studies at Yale and Cornell and as a Foreign Service Officer, Huffman has lived and traveled in nearly 80 countries.
But in 1956, Huffman was a young and idealistic American, back when Americans were perceived and treated much differently in the world, for a variety of reasons. After finishing a stint as a volunteer and French interpreter in Laos, he purchased a BMW /2 and set off to see the rest of the world.
Riding through southeast Asia without maps or a plan, Huffman ended up in New Delhi, where he sold the bike and basically bummed it across western Asia, through Turkey, Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy and all the way to Paris. After spending some time in postwar Europe, he finally arrived back in the U.S. on the last voyage of the Ile-de-France.
Monks and Motorcycles is a wonderful record of those non-stop adventures, and a snapshot in time of a world that will never be again. I couldn’t help but think of Franklin Huffman as a cross between an intelligent Forrest Gump and Richard Halliburton, my favorite adventure travel authors, who also toured in places that were on the cusp of change.
Like Gump, Huffman was seemingly in all of the hotspots of the world just before the world was about to change forever. I can’t imagine an American traveling today through Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan — or just about anywhere else for that matter — all alone on a motorcycle.
Readers should note that the motorcycle doesn’t appear until Chapter 16, and serves only as a minor backdrop in the overall storyline. But the adventures are real and they are very interesting and entertaining. Monks and Motorcycles would be a fantastic book to take on your summer holiday for a delightful read at the beach.