cover image Natural Opium: Some Travelers' Tales

Natural Opium: Some Travelers' Tales

Diane Johnson / Author Alfred A. Knopf $21 (234p) ISBN 978-0-6

In this singular collection of 10 travel pieces, Johnson ( Health and Happiness ) claims she ``almost always travels reluctantly''; she also admits to disliking air travel, which imposes on her the ``feeling of being in mortal peril, suspended outside the world.'' Nonetheless, the writer continually finds herself in transit, often accompanying her husband, a doctor, on business-related excursions to such locations as Cairo, Guatemala and Thailand. In writing, her eye zeroes in on odd situations, and is not easily dazzled: sailing to the Great Barrier Reef, she speaks disdainfully of her boisterous Australian shipmates, then sheepishly realizes their genuine kindness; high on a Swiss mountain after dark, she encounters tour guides who expect her and her fellow travelers to toboggan down a steep slope to their hotel; in AIDS-ravaged Tanzania, she witnesses an immense herd of wildebeest (``So many, and yet each an individual . . . they were like humanity itself''). Johnson writes lyrically, using wry humor and biting criticism. Her honest observations of human nature and sharp, unapologetic style prove refreshing, though at times she takes for granted the privilege of mobility. (Jan.)