Mark Mordue's Dastgah - "an existential
journal for the
modern traveller" - relates the travels of an Australia
n guy and
his girlfriend around the globe. They go from Calcutta
the UK, to Paris
and New York
. Some of his
are very evocative- the passages in India in particular are
depicted, and the scope of the book makes for interesting
juxtapositions of cultures and experiences. Each country visited has its own section within which there are between three and seven chapter
s, ranging from one paragraph to ten pages in length.
The word Dastgah itself is one taken from Iranian music. It is a form of music where performers improvise vocally or instrumentally on what is described by Mordue as a series of 'tone maps'. It's all about themes reoccuring cleverly, and half-remembered snatches of earlier phrases returning. Mordue says 'that's what I was reaching for, in these stories, how they relate and interconnect to each other.'
At times, however, it seems like less of a travel journal
and more of
a study of people. Mordue is the kind of person who
professes just to
'love people' and consequently spends much of his time
them and their behaviour. Given that this is a travel book -
'travel'- this doesn't really ring my bell.
Mordue seems happier the more deprived an area he's in: he
enjoy sending himself on little guilt-trips about his relative
affluence. Whilst this is a valid point, it's not a strikingly
original one and it gets tiring.
Unfortunately, Mordue seems to believe that he can mask the
his vacuity with trite insights that at first appear
he does have some interesting things to say about the places
and the things and people he sees, Mordue overlays
an Australian middle-class perspective that gets wearying.
the sheer power of his pretension, is what irks me most
book: everything he sees and describes is related to his
Nothing is absolute. Nothing is viewed in isolation. No place is breathtaking for its
beauty, no sight of poverty is moving for the sake of those
suffering. Everything is unusual to him because it isn't
like it is
in Australia. Perhaps I'm being a little unfair: he doesn't
explicitly say any of this, and to give him his due, he does
try hard to immerse himself in the cultures he encounters.
that as a reader you're always aware that that's his
Perhaps it's unavoidable in this kind of thing.
Whilst he is a good writer, he needs to have something to
book feels vacant and almost contrived, as though Mordue is
this trip (and the blurb on the back describes it as a 'head trip round the world') so that he has something to write about. It
that way around. Not as intelligent or interesting as
Kerouac, nor as
witty or observant as Bryson, perhaps Mordue might have
insights into and observations on human behaviour in 30
years time, when he's spent his life watching people, but not now. No