THE RIVER'S TALE: A Year on the Mekong

Edward A. Gargan, Author . Knopf $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-375-40584-6

A chronicle of a year-long journey along the nearly 3,000 miles of the Mekong River as it descends from the Tibetan plateau through southern Asia, Gargan's book is a vivid look at the disparate peoples settled the length of the river's path. As the living is often hard on the river, so too is the journey for Gargan (China's Fate), a former New York Times correspondent in Asia: he finds himself sleeping on floors, stranded on rutted highways and arguing with fickle boatmen over the course of his travels. But his own misadventures don't overshadow the larger story of the region, a story of the tension between tradition and modernity in an area long accustomed to the influences of outside forces: "Tibetan Khamba horsemen lathered in yak butter... gallop across endless grasslands rising from the river's pebbled shores, herding yaks as their ancestors did; while two thousand miles to the south, Vietnamese cosmetics salesmen... scoot about on Hondas... hawking American beauty shampoos and face soaps." Gargan's passion for the subject makes him acutely sensitive to the rhythms and details of the communities he visits; it also makes his prose slightly purple. At times so many faces and facts are packed in that they blur as if Gargan were traveling by train instead of the various rickety contraptions he does take. Still, it's an absorbing and informative read for anyone interested in the region. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-375-70559-5
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