48. Following the Equator: Volume II by Mark Twain (1897) 337 p.

who do these foreigners think they are?

This second volume chronicling the voyages of America’s greatest writer sees our hero leaving Australasia and venturing across the Indian Ocean to the subcontinent, where he spends most of the book, then devotes a few chapters to South Africa before finishing up on the docks of Southhampton.

I didn’t like this one as much as the first, partly because it was about India rather than Australia, and I’m naturally more interested in hearing about my own nation. India is an awfully confusing place. Twain loves his statistics, and many chapters can be weighed down with them to the point of tedium (specifically when he discusses the Thuggee cult and the Boer troubles). Fortunately, these are balanced out by just as many amusing parts: Twain is unable to pronounce his Indian manservant’s name and thus calls him “Satan,” he refers to the holiest city in India as a “piety-hive,” he claims to kill thirteen tigers in a single day of hunting, and argues that among the many advantages of travelling by elephant is that you are high enough to look in through people’s windows.

Extract, from a railway station in South Africa:

A gaunt, shackly country lout six feet high, in battered grey slouched hat with wide brim, and old resin-coloured breeches, had on a hideous brand-new wolleen coat which was imitation tiger-skin – wavy broad stripes of dazzling yellow and deep brown. I thought he ought to be hanged, and asked the station-master if it could be arranged. He said no; and not only that, but said it rudely; said it with a quite unnecessary show of feeling. Then he muttered something about my being a jackass, and walked away and pointed me out to people, and did everything he could to turn public sentiment against me. It is what one gets for trying to do good.

Books: 48/50
Pages: 15, 595