Review: The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu by Tom Vater

Reviewed by De Gevallene, November 2021

http://mybook.to/DevilsRoadKathmandu

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Young hippies growing old!  As if it is not bad enough that we lose our youth and can’t go back, we also have to cope with the fact that our youth still reserves the right to hang around and haunt us in unexpected times and places, making a mockery of our older and wiser selves.  Such is the premise of this intriguing novel, which involves quite a few trips of various kinds, but likes to focus on two of them – a youthful one on the hippy trail, and a reprise in middle age.  The quality of both trips is beautifully captured and winds like a double helix round the string of places visited, the remembered and the later versions. 

Actually I’d have read the book simply as a travelogue of the 1970s: for its evocation of time and place and mood, of the anarchic centrality of drugs to that time, of freakish travelers’ encounters, and all of those intensely dangerous half-understood adventures, so lightly undertaken in one’s youth and so troubling later, all redolent,  even in decades-old memory, of those “odd sensations of pleasure and fear, euphoria and darkness”.  

But in the end those things melted into scenery: as the novel unfolded I was seduced by its later plot with the unravelling and rewriting of the past that the later trip entailed.  The past understood in the light of the present, the past collapsing and reforming as something else.  It’s a good plot, with a mystery gradually developing and gradually laid bare, each of its elements hung like strings of beads on characters whose depth and development .is beautifully achieved.   

This is a rich, disturbing tapestry of a book. 

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