11 March 2018

Book Review: Couchsurfing in Russland by Stephan Orth

It's been a while since I have hosted a Couchsurfer, or surfed someone's couch. Perhaps it is because I have this impression that the quality of surfers have changed in the last few years, or that I value my personal privacy more now, not only at home but also on the road. Anyway, I still find the idea interesting, and so when the sequel to Couchsurfing im Iran came out, I decided to pick it up. This time, Stephan travels to Russia and spends 10 weeks on the road.

Starting in Moscow, the author travels all across Russia, using various modes of transportation, from busses to trains, to aeroplanes and even a horse. And all throughout his trip, he relies on strangers to provide him accommodation. As the author remarked, doing so provides a direct access to the national sentiment, as one is directly interacting with locals as opposed to travelling in a bubble. However, this mode of travel also means that you're under the whim of your host. As much as I don't mind this sometimes, there are also times in which I just want to be alone, and therefore I don't do this as my primary style of travel.

In any case, this book is less a guidebook, and more a travelogue. I liked the way it is written, very accessible, and more objective than romantic. There are other travel writers out there who write as if they are seeking catharsis, or seeking solutions to their problems at home, or seeking "the real Kyrgyzstan" so to speak. Stephan Orth doesn't do that. He didn't write that way when he was writing about Iran, and he didn't write that way when he was writing about Russia either. It allows me, the reader, to come out at the other end of the book and remark how complex Russia as a country is, as is every other country. In other words, he successfully puts into words the complex multi-dimensional aspect of Russia, even though he was just there as a visitor. Even with my travels, sometimes it can be short that you're just scratching the surface. With Orth's trip, it definitely feels like he has gone deep, way beyond what the surface shows you.

Perhaps the fact that I am considering visiting Russia after reading this book is a sign that this book is a good one.

In any case, there's a lot of politics in this book. But maybe because the author is a journalist, it is very objectively portrayed, and not written with an inherent pro-European bias. It does make you realise how different the other perspective can be. And in the post-truth era of fake news and politics, it is all the more relevant. This is after all the world we're living in, this is not fiction.

So yeah, Russia is on my list. I don't know when, but I am considering it. Thanks to this book. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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