cover image An Arabian Journey: One Man’s Quest Through the Heart of the Middle East

An Arabian Journey: One Man’s Quest Through the Heart of the Middle East

Levison Wood. Atlantic Monthly, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8021-4732-5

When travel writer Wood (Walking the Himalayas) reveals his plan to make a 5,000-mile journey through the Middle East, beginning in Syria and continuing through Iraq down to Yemen, to explore how the region’s inhabitants see their future “on the eve of the defeat of ISIS,” his friends and editors are convinced he is going to die, and he nearly does—because of a poorly cooked steak at the best restaurant in Djibouti. The episode characterizes the wandering misadventures and detours Wood captures in this quirky travelogue. Possessed of an intrepid spirit, sense of humor, and willingness to engage with strangers, Wood recounts vignettes that humanize those he meets. He approaches everything from hitchhiking through the Emirates to dodging pirates off the coast of Somalia with self-deprecating good cheer. Sometimes his everyman shtick rings a little false: setting off across Oman, he claims he can “hardly [imagine] a sand dune almost half a kilometer high!” even though he’s written a book about traversing the Sahara on foot (Walking the Nile). In the end, he concludes, “even though I was with people from a culture so far removed from my own, I’d rarely felt so at home.” Those seeking to understand broader geopolitical trends won’t find them illuminated here, but adventure-hungry readers will be enjoy the ride. Agent: Jo Cantello, Wolfsong Media. (Feb.)