Ma Jian

Is this just a Chinese stream of consciousness or is it more?

We’re in the early 1980s in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. MJ is a 30-year-old aspiring artist who works as a photographer for the propaganda department. His life is becoming difficult: he has a wife, but they have separated, and she took the child; he has a girlfriend, but…


Richard Halliburton

This author has been called the “grandfather of travel writing” – but is he really that good?

At first I really liked this book. RH reminded me of Patrick Leigh Fermor, who set out as a young man to see the world and find adventure. And RH seemed even more extreme in the way was willing to embrace hardship, sometimes apparently looking for disaster. I appreciated that, and I still do…


Nadine Hudson

Why does too much often mean too little?

NH is a woman in her twenties from Switzerland who is struggling with mental health issues, most notably an eating disorder. She decides to embark on a backpacking trip through Asia. She travels on her own for a while, then she runs into a British traveler, marries him, and they continue to go on…

Alec Ash "Wish Lanterns"

Alec Ash

What went wrong when a book can’t exist by itself?

This is not a travel book. It’s a book about China, a book that seemingly aspires to explain a part of China to its readers (think of Peter Hessler, John Pomfret, Evan Osnos, Liao Yiwu, or maybe Rob Gifford. The author of this book, AA, is a young Briton who lives in Beijing as a journalist/writer. He makes friends with…

Fabian Sixtus Körner - "Journeyman"

Fabian Sixtus Körner

Do photos, a lot of countries and a slick design make for a good book?

It is the turn of the first decade of the 21st century, and Fabian Sixtus Körner is a young designer from Germany who wants to see the world. He hears of the German tradition of the “journeyman years”, where young men, after completing their apprenticeship in the crafts, set out to roam about the country and learn from other masters. A sort of medieval “work & travel” if you will, a tradition that is still…

Eric Newby - "A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush"

Eric Newby

Why is this book so legendary when it comes to travel literature?

It is the year 1956, and Eric Newby is an Englishman in his 30s who works in the fashion business. One day, he decides that he’s had enough of it and sets his mind on a mountain climbing expedition to Afghanistan. His friend Hugh Carless, who speaks a bit of Persian, comes along. The problem: neither of them is a seasoned mountaineer. They decide to practice on a few boulders at home first, then they drive to Istanbul and down to Iran. Eventually…

Jürgen Todenhöfer - "Inside IS"

Jürgen Todenhöfer

Why should you read this book now, and why is there no English edition?

Jürgen Todenhöfer is a German journalist with a background in politics and law who takes a strong interest in the Muslim world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the winter of 2014/2015, he decides to contact members of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) in Syria in order to do some on-the-ground reporting. It takes a while for him to establish a basic level of trust, but he eventually receives an official invitation by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the organization. He travels to Turkey with his…

Ding Haixiao - "Ten Years Of Hitchhiking"

Ding Haixiao

What happens to a travel story when you get caught up in old books and theories?

Ding Haixiao is a twenty-something Chinese travel writer who embarks on a trip to the Chinese Northwest. He hitches rides most of the way, sometimes alone and sometimes together with different travel companions whom he either already knows or gets to know on the road. He seems to have a strong liking for anthropology and philosophy, and he is…

Stephen Spender's "China Diary"

Stephen Spender

Is this a coffeetable book or a regular travelogue, and is it worth a read?

At the beginning of the 1980s, during the early years of China’s opening and reform policy, aging English writer Stephen Spender decides to visit the Middle Kingdom. He takes two friends along, one of whom is a painter (co-author David Hockney). They start their tour from Hongkong, and they get to see Beijing, Xi’an, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Wuxi, Shanghai, Guilin and…

Evan Osnos' "Age Of Ambition"

Evan Osnos

Is there a better book to get to know modern China?

Evan Osnos is an American journalist who, after studying China and the Chinese language in the mid-90s, arrives in Beijing in 2005. He is well educated, and he takes his job seriously. He moves into a Hutong, and over the years gets to know a lot of Chinese people from all walks of life. Some are rich, some are poor, some are…

Rob Lilwall's "Walking Home From Mongolia"

Rob Lilwall

What’s wrong with adventure travel writing if we get bored by it?

Rob Lilwall is a British adventurer who has managed to cycle home from Siberia to the UK. This time, he decides to take a buddy along (Irish adventurer Leon McCarron) and walk from Mongolia to Hongkong, which is his new home. The two manage to…

Mitch Moxley's "Apologies To My Censor"

Mitch Moxley

Does the expat experience really keep people from ever growing old?

Mitch Moxley is a young Canadian who decides to go to China. He seems to make this decision rather spontaneously. Upon arriving in Beijing, he takes on a job at an English-language newspaper, finds an apartment, roams the bar scene, takes on a few…

Nicole Roetheli's - "Nicole's Diary: Running the World... Losing Our Marbles"

Nicole Roetheli

Is this in any way comparable to the works of Ella Maillart?

Remember Serge Roetheli, the guy who fabulously ran around the world and wrote a book about it that just wasn’t that good? Well, NR is his wife, the person who kept…

Erwin Wickert's "China Seen From Within"

Erwin Wickert

What’s wrong with the diplomatic approach to writing about a foreign culture?

In the mid-70s, German diplomat Erwin Wickert gets transferred from Romania to China. He has been there before (as a tourist in the 1930s), and he seems excited about it. He stays in Beijing for 4 years, lives through…

Serge Roetheli's - "The 25,000 Mile Love Story"

Serge Roetheli

How can a book about a man running around the whole world be so… bad?

We’re in 1997, and Serge Roetheli has just returned from running all the way from South America to Alaska. He was accompanied by his wife on a motorcycle, and since this “American Challenge” is now behind them, they decide to…