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Long Way Round by Robert Uhlig (2004) 312 p.

Long Way Round is a fairly well-known TV series documenting the journey undertaken by actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman in 2004, riding motorcycles all the way around the world from London to New York, across very remote and wild terrain in Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Siberia. McGregor was already quite a famous actor, appearing in Star Wars, Trainspotting and Big Fish; Boorman was considerably less well-known, in the shadow of both Ewan and his more famous father John Boorman (the director of Deliverance). Long Way Round turned out to be the largest success story of both their careers.

I’d already greatly enjoyed the TV series, and since I have motorbikes on the brain at the moment, I recently rewatched it and then picked up the book, which is ostensibly written by both of them but is actually obviously ghostwritten. The style is a bit strange, actually – it regularly cuts between Charley and Ewan, prefacing their segments with their names, but there is no difference whatsoever in their writing style (because, of course, they didn’t really write it) and the only way I could ever remember who was talking was to see whether it was “Charley and I” or “Ewan and I” doing something. I’m really not sure why they chose that style.

The book is related in a fairly conversational tone, as though the two adventurers are telling you stories at the pub, and the chronology jumps around quite a bit in the early stages, with flashbacks to the planning sections while they’re already riding through Europe. It’s a very easy and quick read, and one which I found very enjoyable, but I wouldn’t recommend it to somebody who hadn’t already watched the TV series.

For somebody who has watched the TV series, however, it’s a fascinating in-depth look at the journey. There were a lot of things which happened to them that weren’t featured in the series simply because they didn’t catch them on film and therefore couldn’t work them into the narrative; my favourite would have to be Charley pulling two people out of a car crash on the Road of Bones. There’s a deeper insight into their relationship with their two producers, Russ and David, including a crucial confrontation in Prague; there’s also a deeper insight into the two men themselves. Both Ewan and Charley are extremely honest about what they think about themselves and each other: their flaws, their strengths, the things they do that really piss each other off… and the fact that, at the end of the day, their positives outweigh their negatives and they’re still best friends. There’s also appendices detailing the exact mileage and destinations they covered on every day off the trip, and a full inventory of all the equipment they carried on the bikes and in the support vehicles.

Overall, Long Way Round is an excellent supplement to its televised brother, but probably wouldn’t work as a stand-alone book.

The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevera (1993) 155 p.

I’m currently riding through Vietnam on a rickety 1980 Minsk motorcycle, so I felt like a bit of topical reading, and was lucky enough to find this in a second-hand bookstore in Hoi An. It’s a non-fiction memoir detailing the travels of famous revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevera, as he and his friend Alberto travel across South America.

Firstly, I need to clarify something: this title of this book is a goddamn lie. It should just be called The Diaries, because they total their bike within the first 50 pages and spend the rest of the book hitchhiking.

It’s a moot point anyway, because I wouldn’t have enjoyed this book either way. Maybe it’s the translation, or maybe there’s just something about Latin people, but Guevera’s writing style drove me nuts. It’s far too lyrical, too vague, too swept up in itself. It reminded me of the only other Latin writer I’ve sampled, Garbiel Garcia Marquez, whom I found equally unreadable.

If you don’t mind that sort of thing, or if you’re interested in Che Guevera, go for it. Otherwise avoid. Excuse the brief review, I’ve just picked up my fortnightly bout of TD and feel like crap. God I miss the first world.

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July 2010