47. Following the Equator: Volume I by Mark Twain (1897) 288 p.

gotta get away from these loan sharks!

Following the Equator was written at a time of great financial crisis for Twain. He had sunk all his money into a foolish investment in a “revolutionary typesetting machine,” which failed, and left him a hundred grand in the hole – equivalent to nearly $2 million today. To extricate himself from this debt he planned a global lecturing tour, with the route chosen to emphasise English-speaking countries. The first volume in this travelogue follows his misadventures in Hawaii, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand.

I’ve never read anything by Mark Twain before. I suppose if I was American I would have read The Great American Novel in high school, but naturally I read the Great Australian Novel instead. So this was my first Twain book, and I was given an opportunity to view my own nation, in the late 19th century, through the eyes of an outsider. It was similar to Down Under in a way, as both writers thoroughly enjoy their time in Australia, with plenty of compliments, and observations on the curious nature of the Australian inferiority complex considering the fact that most foreign visitors are utterly enchanted by this country. Both visitors also criticise Australia’s dark past, and for Twain this is no mean feat, considering that he was writing at a time when Aboriginals were considered to be no better than animals. It’s all well and good to look contemptuously on the mistakes of the past from a smug modern vantage point, but to be the man decrying such horrors as they are going on around him is quite laudable.

Twain would be a rare breed for this reason alone – compassionate, progressive thinking, breaking away from mindsets which we today consider abhorrent. But he is a jewel among pebbles for other reasons, too. He’s funny, intelligent, witty, and accessible even to the 21st century reader. It’s always a pleasure to be able to read non-fiction more than 100 years old and find that it is easily understandable and relatable.

Books: 47/50
Pages: 15, 258

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