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Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics (Hardcover)
From one of the most celebrated travel writers at work today—a vibrantly observant, witty, utterly captivating account of a lifetime’s worth of travel between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
Part memoir, part travelogue, all passionate appreciation, Tales from the Torrid Zone begins in Iririki, Alexander Frater’s birthplace. On this tiny island in the South Seas republic of Vanuatu, his grandfather, a Presbyterian missionary from Scotland, converted the inhabitants, his father ran the hospital and his mother built its first schoolhouse in their front garden. And it was on Iririki where, on the eve of his sixth birthday, Frater fell victim to “le coup de bamboo . . . a mild form of tropical madness for which, luckily, there is no cure,” and which has compelled him, again and again, to return to the “seeding, breeding, buzzing, barking, fluttering, squawking, germinating, growing” deep tropics.
His travels take him to nearly all of the eighty-eight countries encompassed by this remarkable, steamy swath of the world. He delves deeply into the history and politics of each nation he visits, and into the lives of the inhabitants, and of the flora and fauna. He is, at once, tourist, explorer and adventurer, as fascinated with—and fascinating about—the quotidian as he is with the extraordinary. But certainly, he does not lack for the extraordinary: dining with the Queen of Tonga in a leper colony; making his way across tropical Africa—and two civil wars—in a forty-four-year-old flying boat; delivering a new church bell to a remote Oceanian island.
From Fiji to Laos, Mexico to Peru, Senegal to Uganda, Taiwan to Indonesia, Frater gives us a richly described, wonderfully anecdotal, endlessly surprising picture of this diverse, feverish, languorously beautiful world—as much a state of mind as it is a geographical phenomenon.
“Chancy, devastating weather is the bad news about the tropics. The good news is that the travel writer Alexander Frater has again been navigating the region, as he did so memorably in Chasing the Monsoon . . . Frater skips lightly among dozens of countries and several centuries . . . He is unfailingly jolly even when–especially when–faced with wretched food and sanitation . . . As in Proust’s epic, this is the story of how a child grew up to become the author of the savory book we are reading.”–Richard B. Woodward, New York Times (Armchair Traveler)“Ranging broadly over this vast area [of the tropics], Frater tells tall tales, gives lessons in history, politics, and economics, and recounts his personal adventures. This world is literally teeming with natural wonders, local characters, and wild stories . . . Entertaining.”–Barbara Fisher, Boston Globe“Frater’s thoughts and conversations reveal the torrid zone on a very personal level. The reader can almost feel the stifling wet heat . . . [A] beautifully written book.”–Library Journal“Tales from the Torrid Zone [has a] jagged edge of authenticity . . . Part memoir, part travel yarn, a hymn to the solar lands where people ‘wear their shadows like shoes’ . . . Frater adopts a tropical profusion of language to match his teeming subject, writing with gusto . . . He’s bracingly willing to take verbal as well as physical risks [but] some of the best things in the book are quieter, more lyrical moments . . . Wide-ranging . . . Impressive.”–Christopher Benfey, The New York Times Book Review“Part memoir, part travelogue, Tales From the Torrid Zone is a pleasing grab bag of a book, a jumble of funny encounters, strange sights, forgotten history and really bad food. Mr. Frater, a genial tour guide and a stylish writer, makes excellent company . . . [A] diverting tour of the earth’s hot zones.”–William Grimes, The New York Times“An outstanding memoir . . . Not everyone born and bred in the tropics likes tropical life. But just as church bells in the tropics have a unique resonance, so Frater himself has the human version of ‘tropical resonance.’ Everything about life in the tropics–food, diseases, insects, religion, rivers, language, drink, forestry, human sweat–is endlessly fascinating for him, reminding him of a story he heard traveling downstream from Mandalay, or filming in Mozambique, or riding a bus into Rarotonga. He finds the smallest details of tropical life so entertaining, he barely notices the attendant inconveniences. Thus he makes the insects eating his grandfather's book-selectively consuming its constituent parts, ‘the spine's sweet glue and crunchy muslin, biscuity strawboard covers, a confit of gold leaf licked from the titles’–sound like regular gourmands.”–Publishers Weekly (starred)