Under the Flight Path by Simon Pridmore

Review published on December 15, 2017.

This slight volume of less than 230 pages is subtitled “15,000 kms Overland Across Russia, Mongolia and China”, so you might get the general idea of what this book is about. Pridmore, together with his wife, travelled from Belgium across Europe and into China prior to setting up a new life in Bali. You get the results of their meanderings from Russia to China, bulked out with a few lesser chapters on their travels from Belgium to Russia and a few articles, one at least submitted for a writing competition. The introduction tells you to expect a book for the three types of travellers – those interested in the physical experience, in history or in culture – and furthermore says this book responds to the needs of all of them.

Therein lies the problem – the lack of focus and balance means that this book has a tendency to fall down on all three points. To be fair, it is derived from notes that were drawn up at the time of travel – apparently in 2009 – in fast developing tourist areas of the far east, which means that the practical information offered could well be out of date. On occasion, the lack of memory regarding the detail of the areas visited meant the text was bulked out by facile “emotional” reactions rather than description itself. There is a clutch of poorly produced black and white photos shoved together in the middle of the book that are generally more annoying than helpful.

But I selected this book because I – now restricted to armchair travel – was interested in the areas being covered. Yes, some aspects of the tale were in themselves interesting, specifically in terms of direct reporting on what he actually saw. But having visited some of the cities, albeit over 40 years ago, the breadth or depth of coverage in these places was disappointing. The author’s grasp of the history and wider culture was weak, so his insistence of lapsing into mini essays was a waste of space better dedicated to descriptions of personal experience that were stronger. I confess too I found his temptation to lapse into “jocular” moral responses or interpretations very tiresome.

Hilary White 2/2

Under the Flight Path by Simon Pridmore
9781542666862 pbk Feb 2017

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