Tales from the Torrid Zone follows what
has become the standard formula for travel books - interesting
facts, mixed with humorous anecdotes and a smattering of
autobiography. Frater makes for a genial companion, and the book
is a reflection of the zone it describes. It is a book that
languishes, gently and seemingly aimlessly, in awe of each place
as it wanders from one tropical destination to another;
sometimes fascinating, sometimes unexpected, sometimes rather
slow. As Frater himself says, "Sometimes, I imagine a mildly
narcotic vapor drifts across the Torrid Zone...it causes a kind
of stupefaction in its victims". The reader can imagine the book
being written in a warm, humid climate with the heat sapping the
writer's energy so that nothing moves too quickly and both
writer and reader can luxuriate in the present while reminiscing
about the past.
There is no doubt that this part-memoir, part-travelogue is fascinating. It is filled with a wealth of scientific, sociological, geographical and linguistical facts, plus an astounding mix of characters and events. Wherever Frater sets foot there is something to see, and something to learn; his keen eye for detail and refreshing objectivity brings it all to life. He does not glamorize the tropics, nor trivialize them; he points out the good points (idyllic tropical islands) as well as the bad (tropical diseases, poverty, corruption, and ecological disasters such as uncontrolled logging) without sermonizing. In short, he tells it as he sees it, and the book is better for that.
This review was originally published in May 2007, and has been updated for the February 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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