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Mark Mordue's Dastgah - "an existential journal for the modern traveller" - relates the travels of an Australian guy and his girlfriend around the globe. They go from Calcutta to Nepal, to the UK, to Paris, Turkey, Iran and New York. Some of his descriptions are very evocative- the passages in India in particular are vividly depicted, and the scope of the book makes for interesting juxtapositions of cultures and experiences. Each country visited has its own section within which there are between three and seven chapters, ranging from one paragraph to ten pages in length.

The word Dastgah itself is one taken from Iranian music. It is a form of music where performers improvise vocally or instrumentally on what is described by Mordue as a series of 'tone maps'. It's all about themes reoccuring cleverly, and half-remembered snatches of earlier phrases returning. Mordue says 'that's what I was reaching for, in these stories, how they relate and interconnect to each other.'

At times, however, it seems like less of a travel journal and more of a study of people. Mordue is the kind of person who professes just to 'love people' and consequently spends much of his time writing about them and their behaviour. Given that this is a travel book - keyword: 'travel'- this doesn't really ring my bell.

Mordue seems happier the more deprived an area he's in: he seems to enjoy sending himself on little guilt-trips about his relative affluence. Whilst this is a valid point, it's not a strikingly original one and it gets tiring.

Unfortunately, Mordue seems to believe that he can mask the depths of his vacuity with trite insights that at first appear profound. Whilst he does have some interesting things to say about the places he goes and the things and people he sees, Mordue overlays everything with an Australian middle-class perspective that gets wearying. This, not the sheer power of his pretension, is what irks me most about the book: everything he sees and describes is related to his upbringing. Nothing is absolute. Nothing is viewed in isolation. No place is breathtaking for its beauty, no sight of poverty is moving for the sake of those who are suffering. Everything is unusual to him because it isn't like it is in Australia. Perhaps I'm being a little unfair: he doesn't explicitly say any of this, and to give him his due, he does seem to try hard to immerse himself in the cultures he encounters. It's just that as a reader you're always aware that that's his perspective. Perhaps it's unavoidable in this kind of thing.

Whilst he is a good writer, he needs to have something to say. This book feels vacant and almost contrived, as though Mordue is making this trip (and the blurb on the back describes it as a 'head trip round the world') so that he has something to write about. It shouldn't be that way around. Not as intelligent or interesting as Kerouac, nor as witty or observant as Bryson, perhaps Mordue might have worthwhile insights into and observations on human behaviour in 30 years time, when he's spent his life watching people, but not now. No thanks.

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