This is an extremely well done travel journal that reads nearly like a novel for its seamlessness and fluidity. Schaneman can write, for sure. Trans-Siberian is apparently a companion-piece to a larger work, but for the most part it stands alone, covering a few weeks of Schaneman’s after he gets done teaching in South Korea. What follows are brief jaunts throughout China, Mongolia, and Russia, where he befriends other travelers as well as locals. He spends a lot of time writing about the food and about the nights spent drinking with his companions. It’s all incredibly well done and, like I said, reads more like an novel than anything else. The scattered dialogue is excellent and believable. There are a few infrequent moments of self-reflection, but not a whole lot regarding his own (aaaah, not that word!) privilege, as apparent as it may be to a reader.
It was an odd dichotomy: he defends the U.S. (or at least insults Europeans who would be so clichéd as to rip on the United States) and even at the end of the book, when a Russian woman who grew up in Soviet times kind of calls him out on his ability to travel and afford to eat well and all that, there’s no real internal reflection going on there. It’s too bad, because Schaneman is such a goddamn good writer, I’d love to hear his take on the idea of if he even thinks Americans traveling abroad is a luxury at all.
This one comes recommended on the strength of the writing. Whether he’s talking about the people he meets in a Trans-Siberian railcar or taking the backseat in a Russian street race, his writing is confident and captivating. Personally, I just wanted a bit more internal dialogue. I’ll be looking for work from Bart Schaneman in the future. –Keith Rosson (Punch Drunk Press, distributed by Microcosm Distribution, 112 C S. Main, Lansing, KS 66048)