sometimes witty book reviews
Title: The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China
Author/Year: David Eimer, 2014
Found: On the Rowden White Library ‘new items’ table
Read time: A month between SWOTVAC, exams and essays
David Eimer was an successful foreign correspondent in China for the Sunday Telegraph for five years. During this time and in previous trips, he toured the outlands and border worlds of the Middle Kingdom. From the far western provinces inhabited by Uyghurs and Tibetans to the sieve-like boundaries towards South-East Asia to the river borders between Russia and North Korea. There is almost nowhere Eimer didn’t take himself – solo where possible.
There are fabulous tales of Tibetan temple-raids and sky burials where vultures rip apart the remains of devout Buddhists. Treks around sacred mountains with only one shoe, endless drinks of rice-wine with countless smiling locals. Offers of marriage in the tropics and nights out with drug barons. Strange tales of Mandarin-speaking ethnic-Russians and horrendous travels across deserts and open tundra. Eimer is well-informed and well aware of the danger he placed himself in, yet conveys his earnest belief in pursuing the truth.
Sneaking past security, cycling home inebriated and lost, wondering alone through Uyghur markets, stumbling in on a winter wedding in the middle of nowhere and being welcomed with open arms. Flings with Chinese translators and the offer of girls and safe lodgings in the bosom of major international drug cartel headquarters. Eimer makes solo travel sound epic and actively shuns the travel-group, touristy types. As a young female reading his descriptions of prostitutes as ‘tarts’ and ‘whores’ and how only solo travel was the proper experience – I was a bit incensed. There is no way I could traipse into the Laos or Burmese jungle and be welcomed as a guest of honour. Nor could I down shots of spirits with locals. Intrepid and thorough as Eimer’s travels and writing is, the book sells white-male adventurer as an ideal and idyllic pass time.
Despite this, The Emperor Far Away is an eye-opening and, yes, compelling read concerning the parts of China rarely acknowledged or seen by the West.
Reading suggestion: Best not to read any feminist theory concurrently with this memoir.