Thursday, November 10, 2011

To Timbuktu

To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story Casey Scieszka illus. Steven Weinberg

Casey and Steven meet while studying abroad in Morocco. They then return to their colleges on opposite sides of the country. After graduation, they move to Beijing to teach English for 6 months before backpacking through SE Asia and then going to Mali for a year, where Casey has a Fulbright to study the role is Islam in education.

There are a few things that make this book transcend the genre of “here’s a tale of my crazy adventures abroad”. One is Casey’s frank honesty in her writing, especially about the strain certain things put on their relationship. The other is Steven’s illustrations-- there’s a picture on every page and I most appreciated the crazy patterns he puts on the Malian fabric (which Casey assures us are not made up.)

They see many problems with gentrification of Beijing and the destruction of the hutong and with backpacking culture (going to a place to see the ‘unknown’ changes it) and they see both sides of the issue without taking sides. I think these issues are often glossed by travel memoirs or writers aren’t self-aware enough to see that they’re part of the problem (especially when writing about how tourism has spoiled a place that you’re a tourist in.) Casey handles such things really well.

They capture China so perfectly. It made me a bit heartsick, actually. Especially when talking about the street food.

It’s a great book, but I’m not sure it’s a YA book. (I read it because it’s a Cybil’s nominee.) It’s mostly a post-college adventure and I’m not sure on the teen appeal.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, Casey Scieszka does mention her father is a children’s book author. :)

Book Provided by... my local library

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