September 01 2020 TBRThe lovely Kaggsy of the Ramblings sent me this book when I mentioned I’d like to read it (and I note that she was very prompt at sending it over to me, a mere few days after she published her review!) I will admit this isn’t one of the two first books on my shelf, which will be read next, I promise, but was a tall book that was getting in the way of my Thirkell Pile sitting comfortably!

Vijay Menon – “A Brown Man in Russia”

(20 May 2019, from Kaggsy)

The narrative of 20-year-old Vijay’s journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway with travelling companions Jeremy and Avi, another American of Indian heritage. Each short chapter about their trip is followed by a TED-talk-style learning point, and indeed this book started life as a TED Talk. These are fairly obvious and didn’t add a huge amount to the narrative, although I was amused by the references to contemporary trendy thinkers and rappers that peppered them: he does state at the end that he wrote the book to make people think, and there were some decent sentiments about kindness, etc. I also found his language hugely over-flowery – it actually surprised me to read that he was born and raised in the US as it was more reminiscent of Indian English than American (that’s not a criticism: it’s a different register of English, a different variant, not any less worthwhile). Although what I say in the parentheses stands, it does get in the way of the narrative at times.

It is however a valuable record of their journey and especially their stays in a couple of cities along the way and then in Mongolia, and of the kindness of strangers and the huge value of kindness. There are many amusing moments, such as when they are sitting in an “Indian” restaurant in Mongolia, constantly being asked by the staff what they think of the food and realising that Avi and Vijay must be the only diners of Indian heritage to have made it there.

Vijay accepts and checks his privilege and is clear on the requirement for the privileged to help those who have been dealt a less kind hand. Then he also reflects on his position as, as he says, a “brown man in Russia” and models dealing with humour and graciousness when confronted with open racism or just questions and queries. I would have liked to have read more about this aspect, as it was very interesting indeed.

I liked the update on their lives since the journey in 2013 that we get at the end, and the fact that they continued to travel together after this trip – presumably with Avi continuing to be the one who got round to learning the language/alphabet required and Jeremy doing his gently mocked ‘white saviour’ bit as necessary. All the photographs were reproduced after the epilogue, which I wish I’d realised when I started reading it.

A decent and interesting book that I’m glad I read.