Books have always been a source of inspiration, information and even comfort for travellers but until now you could only pack as many books as you could comfortably carry. Luckily for us, e-readers present the perfect solution to this age-old problem and now the traveller’s only constraint is the number of decent ebooks on the market. In this blog series, Cascada scours the internet so you don’t have to, picking out and reviewing the best Patagonia-related ebooks for your trip, to help you choose which to download and which to dismiss. You won't find any guidebook reviews here, this is a space for novels, travelogues, memoirs... anything that will get you in the mood for your journey to Patagonia.
Last time, we started off our blog series on ebooks relating to Patagonia with a review of Simon Worrall’s memoir The River of Desire. In this blog we take a turn in the thriller-fiction genre with The Tourist Trail by John Yunker, with thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
Kindle Edition $3.82
Biologist Angela Haynes is accustomed to dark, lonely nights as one of the few humans at a penguin research station in Patagonia. She has grown used to the cries of penguins before dawn, to meager supplies and housing, to spending most of her days in one of the most remote regions on earth. What she isn't used to is strange men washing ashore, which happens one day on her watch.
The man won't tell her his name or where he came from, but Angela, who has a soft spot for strays, tends to him, if for no other reason than to protect her birds and her work. When she later learns why he goes by an alias, why he is a refugee from the law, and why he is a man without a port, she begins to fall in love - and embarks on a journey that takes her deep into Antarctic waters, and even deeper into the emotional territory she thought she'd left behind.
Against the backdrop of the Southern Ocean, The Tourist Trail weaves together the stories of Angela as well as FBI agent Robert Porter, dispatched on a mission that unearths a past he would rather keep buried; and Ethan Downes, a computer tech whose love for a passionate activist draws him into a dangerous mission.
They do say that the jack of all trades is a master of none, but happily The Tourist Trail goes some way to disproving that adage. Although it fits comfortably within the thriller set, this book is more like a frankenstein genre of its own, best described as nature documentary / eco-warcry / thriller / romance. As a result, most people will find something to like about it, and some will find that it truly speaks to them.
Undoubtedly the most authentic-feeling element of this rollercoaster web of stories is the exploration of the penguin colony at Punta Verde. Yunker spent some time volunteering with penguins at Punta Tombo in Argentinian Patagonia and this first hand knowledge really shines through. If you’re the kind of person who reads to expand their own knowledge, you’ll come away with a veritable treasure trove of penguin-related facts, along with a new appreciation of the hardships of life in scientific field-research.
The eco-warriors (or eco-terrorists, depending on your point of view) are given centre stage in this novel and it can drift towards preaching at times. However, their saving grace is the fact that they too are fallible. They too are prone to petty jealousies, arrogance, self-righteousness and even, on occasion, cruelty to animals. Everyone from the scientists to the FBI agents to the activists to the tourists are equally flawed and conflicted, which lends a refreshing nuance to the usual ‘good versus evil’ characterisation that this kind of discourse generally throws up.
Speaking of flaws, there’s been some criticism of the perceived male chauvinism in The Tourist Trail, and with Angela swooning at the heroic Aeneas's feet like some kind of Mills and Boon leading lady, it’s not hard to see where it comes from. In fact, however, there are an abundance of strong female characters throughout the novel (Lynda, Noa and Annie to name a few) who are at times more focussed, more able and more heroic than their male counterparts. That Angela is taken to passively waiting for Aeneas to emerge from the sea and sweep her off her feet is just a quirk of her character as a human, not as a woman.
As a thriller, the multiple narratives romp along at an exhilarating pace whilst the classic trick of consistently switching viewpoints keeps you pressing on through the quieter passages. The twist at the end probably won't come as a huge surprise as it is signalled from quite a distance. But it doesn’t detract in any way from the enjoyment of watching the ending play out and it gives you the satisfaction of always feeling one step ahead of the game. As such, it will appeal to anyone who enjoys straight cat-and-mouse thrillers, whether or not they’re also eco-conscious.
Ultimately, this is a story of a group of individuals each struggling in their own way to find a path through the conflict of what it means to be human. As animals of instinct we are drawn to consume the earth’s resources and to dominate the natural world for our own comfort and enjoyment. Yet our self-awareness and rationality have led us to question the morality of our interaction with nature, and to understand that our own success is often unsustainable.
The irony of Yunker’s conservationist stance is that anyone reading his endearing descriptions of the penguins and other wildlife at the end of the earth will only be encouraged to take a trip to Patagonia to see it for themselves, becoming part of the tourist trail. But perhaps they will also have a greater understanding of man’s impact on his surroundings and the need to tread lightly.
Read The Tourist Trail if...
- You’re a bit of an eco-warrior.
- You enjoy Dan Brown novels.
- You like a few facts in your fiction.
Have you read The Tourist Trail by John Yunker? What did you think? Do you have a suggestion of an ebook for Cascada to review? Share your thoughts below!