This travel-book chronicles Twain's pleasure cruise on board the chartered vessel 'Quaker City' through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of religious pilgrims. Twain makes constant criticisms of various aspects of culture and society he meets while on his journey, some more serious than others, which gradually turn from witty and comedic to biting and bitter as he progresses closer to the Holy Land.
needed it: the bold originality, the extraordinary character, the seductive nature, and the vastness of the enterprise provoked comment everywhere and advertised it in every household in the land. Who could read the program of the excursion without longing to make one of the party? I will insert it here. It is almost as good as a map. As a text for this book, nothing could be better:
EXCURSION TO THE HOLY LAND, EGYPT, THE CRIMEA, GREECE, AND INTERMEDIATE POINTS OF INTEREST. BROOKLYN, February 1st, 1867
The undersigned will make an excursion as above during the coming season, and begs to submit to you the following programme:
A first-class steamer, to be under his own command, and capable of accommodating at least one hundred and fifty cabin passengers, will be selected, in which will be taken a select company, numbering not more than three-fourths of the ship's capacity. There is good reason to believe that this company can be easily made up in this immediate vicinity, of mutual friends and acquaintances.
The steamer will be provided with
Starting out as a joshing account of an American's outrage and ignorance at European art and culture, Twain's account concentrates more and more on the poverty, the filth, the cruelty and the hypocrisy of the Middle East and Palestine.
I was surprised to discover Twain was a pious Protestant, who knew his Bible and was genuinely interested in the places he had read about. It made his criticisms of Christians in his subsequent writings (Huckleberry Finn, The War Prayer) all the more striking.
Like most of his long non-fiction, it has some dull spots, but I smiled throughout the book and laughed out loud a dozen times.
Twains criticism of religious theocracy and the insanity of willingly leading a life of religious stupidity is clear in this account among his travels. As early as 1869, long before any accusations of American Empire, we can see a clear account of a westerner's observations of the backward ways of the middle east. Nothing has changed in 150 years. Sad ready but fascinating historical perspective.
This early effort from Twain should not be taken lightly. We are thoroughly entertained from start to finish and Twain's creative mind and his humor is as good as anything else he wrote.
While is wit is razor sharp his judgment however is not developed as in his later work. I've read most of Twain's work and I know he was not a racist. This book however comes off very racist as every culture he encounters is ridiculed.
There is an awful passage where he describes the deformed and handicapped of Constantinople that will make you cringe. Ignore these lapses in judgment (if you can).
This is otherwise a very fine work.
2013 SFR GALAXY AWARD WINNER
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