Rob Lilwall

Overall Rating: 4
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Author: Rob Lilwall
Title: Walking Home From Mongolia
Time: 2011-2012
Destination: Mongolia, China, Hongkong
Length: 9 months
Type: walking

No craft of omission

The story: RL 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 secure some sponsors and a deal for a TV show, then they get a trailer and some filming equipment, and they eventually set out to cross the Mongolian grasslands in November. During the next few months of crossing China (on a vertical axis), they run into troubles with some of the local authorities, RL has some issues with his foot, they get sick of each other and split up for a while, they find out the footage they filmed has some quality issues so they have to go back and film again, and they struggle with being away from their loved ones. Also, RL dives a little bit into his Christian faith.

A hard book to judge

Sometimes it can be hard for me to do justice to a certain piece of travel literature, especially when the experience is so similar to my own. There is always the danger of projecting my own ideas onto it: “I have been to China, therefore I know China, so you should write about China in a way that I want!” or: “I have walked before, therefore I know walking, so you should…” – you get the idea.

That being said, I am trying to stay aware of this problem. Countries like China are way too large and too complex to be adequately encapsuled in the space of a single book. Everyone sees little pieces of China, and so everyone is entitled to her or his own piece of China to call one’s own. RL makes an effort by learning a bit of Chinese and describing the things that he sees. It is a bit shallow, but it isn’t bad at all. And of course, the walking experience is different for everyone of us, too.

Why does Rob Lilwall talk so much?

There are a few things that are nice about this book. For one thing, it seems to be a rather honest story. RL tells us about the mishaps and the self-doubts that come along with any expedition, especially one that is as long as this. The adventure itself is fun, too, that’s another thing I liked about the book. I mean, I for one find China an absolutely fascinating place to walk through, right? :)

But unfortunately, there are a few things that are wrong with this book, too. The writing is a bit dry at times. But the main problem is that RL seems to have never heard of the concept of “omission”: leave something for the reader to figure out, and he will love you all the more for it. RL doesn’t do this. He tends to overly self-reflect, like you would maybe in your diary. Like when he and his buddy get into an argument: he could just tell us about the fight and leave us to draw our conclusions about his character and the hardships of walking, right? Wrong! RL explains the whole thing, sometimes sounding like a couple therapist. It is a bit similar when he talks about his Christian faith, which is a hard subject to write about per se. This gets pretty tiring. Or: boring.

Therefore, I’m going to rate this book as a 4/10.

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