Tracks, by Genni Gunn.
Travel for me is a comfortable state, a detachment from the trappings of a physical place. It's the motion I crave, the to-and-fro, taking flight and landing, going to cities or countries, towards new landscaped and emotional terrains, because when one travels, the unknown awaits to be discovered -- about one's self, about others, about one's relationship to time and place. - from Tracks -
Genni Gunn currently lives in Canada, but she grew up thousands of miles away in Italy -- separated at a young age from her parents and sister, until at age eleven she was reunited with them in North America. She is a traveler, a seeker, a deeply introspective person. In her newest book, Tracks, Gunn takes the reader to Canada, Italy, Mexico, and the politically charged environment of Myanmar (formally Burma). This is no ordinary book of travel essays -- it is a deeply personal journey into Gunn's childhood memories and relationships -- memories triggered by travel.
In the opening chapters, Gunn grounds the reader in her past and introduces her parents -- two people living in an unconventional marriage, wedded to restlessness and rootlessness. It is perhaps this early dislocation which surrounded Gunn that informs her obsession to travel. In fact, by the end of the book, Gunn makes a full circle and shares her mother's constant migration from one home to the next ... a behavior which leaves nothing behind, a gathering of the detritus of a life lived, boxed and labeled and forced into a moving truck.
But it is the chapters that take the reader to Myanmar which are perhaps the most powerful. Gunn has reason to travel to this difficult country -- her sister now lives and teaches there -- and it is here that perhaps she discovers the most important parts of herself.
And as we progress -- across the water in the black, black night, I also think about Conrad, and Heart of Darkness, and how this journey is a literal journey into darkness, but I have no foreboding, no fear. I am exhilarated by the wind, by the spray of water at our sides, by the brilliant sky and by the darkness itself, which envelops me, ushering me forward. - from Tracks -
Gunn's writing is exquisite and beautifully rendered. She transports the reader to foreign lands by rooting her language in the senses -- visual, auditory, tactile. It is this which transforms her narrative into an emotional journey through time and space.
I was first introduced to Gunn's writing back in 2011 when I read and reviewed her Giller nominated novel, Solitaria (read my review). Although I enjoyed that book, I found myself more connected to the writing in Tracks. With her travel essays, I found myself fully immersed in the personal reflections, the beautiful descriptions of place, and the ultimate message of dislocation, searching for self, and restlessness. In Tracks, Gunn captures the essence of travel -- a journey which does not just introduce new places, but exposes relationships. When Gunn's beloved aunt lies changed from a stroke, it is this idea of travel -- whether it be physical or through the pages of a favorite book -- which informs their relationship.
I've stood at railway tracks, my toes against the ties, while trains approach. Now I sit at my aunt's bedside, my hand in hers, and hold my breath as years lumber past, tuned to the whine of flesh and bone. Today, we journey together through Dante's Inferno, through his Purgatory and Paradise, our eyes wet, our hearts open to each other, to the magic that is poetry -- a language through which we can finally communicate. - from Tracks -
Tracks is a very personal collection of travel essays. Lovingly penned, it is a book which deserves a slow reading.
★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review.
- Rating System
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Excellent
★ ★ ★ ★ = Good/Very Good
★ ★ ★ = Okay read
★ ★ = Not recommended
★ = Ugh! Don't waste your time.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".