Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: The Turk Who Loved Apples (by Matt Gross)

Recently I had the chance to read The Turk who Loved Apples as I was provided an advance copy (book hits Amazon.com on April 23rd, 2013)to review. Many of you know I am an avid traveler. Often with my husband at my side, frequently with my friends along for the journey as well, and occasionally all on my own I set out for weekend adventures near and far across the globe. I generally log at least 120,000 miles on Delta Airlines each year flying to and from various destinations. With a love of travel and a love of reading I'm naturally drawn to the travel writing genre. And there are some stars (I'm looking at you Anthony Bourdain, Peter Mayle and Bill Bryson)and some fantastic articles, stories, collections, and novels that come out of this genre. Sadly, Matt's latest book is not one of them. Overall, Matt Gross is a credible travel author and guide. He presents an experienced voice in his work for the New York Times and is highly respected in the genre. In The Turk who Loved Apples, Mr. Gross explains that much of his travel writing has been on spec and conforms to his buyers' formatting, structure, and content requirements yet there is a whole world of experiences and observations he's collected on his travels that have value for others and thus he has in mind to share them. I've not read many of Matt's short form pieces but his long form as presented in this book suffers from a style that doesn't deliver suspense, a sense of intrigue, or strong characters to draw in the readers' emotions. When I read travel writing, I want adventure or deep emotional outpourings that I can identify with and Matt's text falls short. In the beginning of the book he details his start in travel writing and recounts his time in Asia & I found myself waiting for the story to pull me in. Disappointment set in as with each page my hopes were dashed a bit further that the material would ever become truly engaging. Finally (finally!), I reached a chapter within which Mr. Gross wrote eloquently about his relationship with his roommates, reflecting on the emotional connections between them and pulling me in to root for him (for him to succeed, for him to love and be loved, for him to enjoy his travels)for the first time. I perked up, satisfied that my patience in grinding through the earlier lackluster sections was now producing rewards. And then Matt detailed his experience with a hooker and his feelings about the situation- both in the moment and afterward and here he lost me again and forever. Do you know how many travel books I've read in the past year where white, educated men from America have seen fit to detail their sex encounters with prostitutes overseas? Three. It's disgusting and shameful. I don't want to read about your post sex-trade enlightenment! I don't want to know about your crisis of consciousness (or lack thereof) and the good and the bad of what you did when confronted with the offer of cheap sex from a woman who thinks so little of herself or has so little to lose that she is selling her body. And I hate the idea that someone who writes about this is going to make revenue from selling his story. You buy a woman's dignity cheap and wholesale, then turn around and repackage it in a voyeuristic story for your audience, selling it to them for profit. If you've paid for sex, confess your sin to God, not your book audience. I never did read about this Turk - the one who loved apples - because I couldn't make it past the wistful story of "that time I caved and bought sex".
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