To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story
Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg
Casey and Stephen met in college, while they were both studying overseas in Morocco. After graduation, they moved together to China to teach English. And then after the teaching gig, they travelled through Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, before landing in Mali, where Casey had a Fulbright scholarship to study the impact of Islam on the school system.
It sounds like a lot, but the book moves fast. And it’s illustrated (Casey does the words, Steven the pictures), so, you know…less words per page.
The bulk of the book is focused on their teaching experiences in Beijing, and then living in Mali. Some of the teaching stories are hilarious, and this was probably my favorite part of the book. Besides the observations about Beijing, and the frequent gushing over food, and the funny kid stories, there are also reflections on living together, and the frustrations of living abroad. Also, the frustrations of living together and reflections on living abroad. I liked the honesty of the book, that it wasn’t always “OMG I’m living in a foreign country and everything is so, so, so perfect!”
Laos, Vietnam and Thailand don’t get much press time, but the introductions to each county (in the form of brief interviews) were hysterical.
Mali was frustrating for the authors in a number of different ways. It was also the scariest country to read about, since there were some close encounters with the police and locals who weren’t all that happy about Casey’s research questions. Yet the authors still developed some close friendships and were able to portray a lot of good with the bad.
This is a fun take on travel memoirs, especially since Steven’s fairly spare, cartoonish sketches really added to the story. I’m not sure that I would’ve appreciated the book otherwise, since I found the writing to be a bit choppy at times and at other times a bit adolescent (I’m a fine one to point fingers, right?). But together, it totally works.
And so after I wrote this I got curious and googled ‘em both, and they both have blogs. And it turns out Casey’s blog is totally readable…the woman’s got skillz. Well, they both do, but I think that choppiness I was complaining about is more a result of the layout of the book. If I think of it as more like a series of vignettes than an actual narrative piece, then the choppiness sort of makes sense.