ENG / RUS
paperback, 144 pp., 2011
World rights available
There's an old question: When does a tourist become a nomad, or at the very least a traveller? It happens when he begins to feel part of the landscape.
Alexander Genis doesn't only feel part of the landscape, he filters the landscape through himself and presents readers with a satisfying, rich yet also gauzily light distillation of his experiences. Genis, a Russian living in America, is a famous essayist, journalist and cultural commentator, and sees the countries and cities he visits not as points on a map but as parts of a literary and cultural context. His book Nomad is a superb piece of travel writing and an original example of a Russian-language essay collection.
The book divides the planet into the Old World and the New World, as it was in the past, and the lyrical essays are about Europe and Russia, America and Americans. Genis works in every style except the banal, from lyrical confession to philosophical enquiry, cultural criticism to humorous anecdote. Whatever the case one thing remains constant: Genis' ability to transform the everyday into the exotic and impression into experience.
Alexander Genis (b. 1953) is a critic, essayist and cultural commentator, and one of the most influential Russian-language writers of recent decades. He has lived in the United States since the end of the 1970s. He is the author of many books of essays and criticism published in Russia and abroad.
There is nothing more boring than earnest travel writing in which the author uses his itinerary as a washing line on which to string up the knowledge he has acquired from other sources.
Travel writing is a test of a writer's candour, requiring not an intelligent way with facts so much as a cautious one. In an era when the Internet is replacing erudition, this genre becomes a literary experiment that explores how much we differ from computers. Not much, if we keep referring to Wikipedia. A clever plagiarist copies from a guidebook and a naive one from reality. Both are equally bad: A stolen fact can never be passed off as intimate experience, and any sense of reality is completely lacking.
Fortunately travel is a sensual experience that, unlike sex, can be described but never simulated.
All of Genis' scenes and details are accompanied by reflections that expand the framework of what he has just described to the scale of the universe. And in the end, everything comes down to a discussion about humanity and about himself. This is because travel is "an experiment in knowing oneself: a physical journey with spiritual consequences. Entering a landscape, the author changes it forever." Alexander Genis' essays are a selection of colorful postcards that forever changed the landscapes they portray.