An overland journey into the soul, or at least I believe that was Harris’ ambition.
But I wish she had spent more time talking about borders and their differences in kind and effect. There are literal borders, like rivers and mountain ranges that establish separation not just of people but of ecosystems and even weather (the rain shadow of a mountain range, for example). Language is a border, distinct, divisive, and developed by isolation and by deliberation (the Academie Francaise, thirty professors with the hopeless task of keeping the French language purely French). There are political borders that include disparate peoples (the Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region, through which Harris travels). They exclude one people from another for one purpose or another, drawn both deliberately (in the 1920s Churchill helped redraw the Middle East into countries that would sell the UK their oil) and established de facto by event (Mountie Samuel Benton Steele stood at the top of the Chilkoot Pass to keep Soapy Smith and his gang on the American side during the Klondike Gold Rush, establishing a political border which holds to this day). Borders political, real, geographical, metaphorical, and linguistic shape the life of every human being on this planet. A border is even at the heart of American politics in this very day.
This book is rather a singular, interior journey, in which Harris’ opinion of borders feels inchoate, not fully formed, and, especially, enraged. Borders alone don’t destroy the great empty spaces she loves, they only try to keep her from the places on the other sides of them.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.