I’ve already sung the praises of my friend Michael Totten’s previous books, and he continues going strong in Where the West Ends (2012), a funny, insightful, and illuminating journal of his travels through parts of the world most Americans would never dream of visiting.
In this one he writes about his journeys through countries situated on the border of east and west — in both the physical and ideological senses of the world. Starting with a hilarious, spontaneous road trip from Istanbul, Turkey to Iraqi Kurdistan and back, the book moves through several areas of the world where complex interactions between eastern and western religions, cultures, and political ideologies are embedded in the very landscape. The book moves on to detail a nerve-wracking multi-country road trip through the politically and religiously turbulent countries of the Balkans, and then on to a series of episodes involving examinations of former Soviet nations like Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania, and the Ukraine.
Like Totten’s earlier books, Where the West Ends provides plenty of insight into the politics and religions of the areas he visits, and more than a little history. But it’s also, I think, his most flat-out entertaining book, a smooth-flowing first-person narrative about travels through fascinating, underexplored parts of the world. A terrific book for the geographically curious…and, perhaps strangely, I think also of interest to genre fiction writers looking to bring authenticity to their world-building, for it shows that there are places on present-day Earth that are just as complex, surprising, and alien-feeling as our wildest imaginative fictions.