Mark Twain, the World, and Me: Following the Equator, Then and Now

Susan K. Harris. Univ. of Alabama, $29.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8173-5967-6
Mark Twain is a tough act for any writer to follow, but Harris (God’s Arbiters), a professor emerita of English at the University of Kansas, does just that in this stimulating recreation of Twain’s 1895–1896 lecture tour. The trip went through India, Australia, and South Africa, providing the basis for Twain’s 1897 book Following the Equator. Harris doesn’t retrace Twain’s exact steps so much as bring a modern perspective to the countries and cultures he encountered in his travels. Thus, she looks at why some of the religious beliefs in India so perplexed Twain, and how he interpreted their funerary customs “through both [the] Christian and capitalist narratives” of his time. Roaming farther afield, she uses the lack of wildlife Twain reports in Australia as a touchstone for commenting on contemporary ecotourism, and Twain’s experience of racial and political ambiguity in South Africa to explore examples of characters in his fiction who are ethnically “inbetween.” Writing with great a understanding and appreciation of Twain, Harris shows how the issues that engaged him in his travels still invite discussion today. This insightful book opens a window on a person and a past that continue to resonate. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 11/21/2019
Release date: 03/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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