Reading Eggers’ prose is like a pressure on my chest. A welcome antidote to comfort. There are many reasons why people leave their comfort zones. Often it’s because what was once comfortable no longer feels comfortable. That’s kind of the premise of this book. Once again, Eggers articulates the heart’s confusion, both capturing the drive to escape and inspiring it.
This novel traverses much of the globe as it traces the philanthropic stumbling of the two main characters, bent on freeing themselves of the burden of some acquired cash and a painful memory. What took me to Morocco was kind of similar and that’s why this book stands as my required reading when in North Africa. Recently separated, my heart in tatters, I felt compelled to throw myself into exotic locales and see how I handled it. Death or growth, either sounded tempting. Recklessly, I cast myself over the ledge of Atlantic freight trains as they reeled off for hundreds of metres down impossibly long Moroccan points. Ever since seeing the surf film Sipping Jetstreams I had imagined myself climbing those fractured cliffs in the fading gold of the evening. Remnants of an endless liquid canvas would drop from my soggy frame onto the cracked desert. Needless to say, I had romanticised it. Happy to say, it lived up to it.
Morocco is varied. What you experience on the coast is different to the inner cities, mountains and desert. Jemaa el-Fnaa is the main square in Marrakesh. It caters to all your snake charming and monkey jiving needs. If you long to get truly lost then step into the labyrinth of laneways that make up the souq (marketplace) bordering the square. Wandering rows and rows of claustrophobic lanes and passageways, it truly feels at times that your only way out may be to buy a magic rug and blast through the canvas roof. Make time to sip tea with the Berber locals and buy some of their wares. When it all becomes too much, flee to one of the rooftop restaurants and watch the sun dip over the square and the weirdness unfold below. For a real treat, head to a bathhouse and be scrubbed to within an inch of your life. A hilarious little Welsh man I met whilst their described the experience best. Standing in his undies whilst a woman hurled buckets of water at him, he turned to me and said, ‘It’s like being in The Shawshank Redemption.’
For me this novel flawlessly catches the horrors and triumphs of travel. Frustrating limitations that leave you bewildered that teleportation hasn’t been invented yet. Seemingly imminent danger that subsides, leaving you feeling more alive and sure of why you are somewhere unfamiliar. It’s a reminder that leaving isn’t always running away and that getting lost can be a pretty good way of finding something. There’s no real strong moral here. I think that’s why I like it so much. Travel won’t solve your problems but it will change you. Most of the time, that’s enough.