- Published on Wednesday, 15 August 2012 12:59
- Category: Literature
A writer explores a region of the world that is characterized by hostile and tense political and cultural relationships. He writes an evocative and engaging book documenting his travels; a book where the stories do not focus on his journeys on trains, buses, or planes. Instead, this is a story that focuses on a slightly different mode of transportation—a surfboard.
As Jesse Aizenstat would nonchalantly shrug, “Why not?”
What started as a freelance opportunity in 2009 to document a journey around the closed Israeli-Lebanese border is now a spirited travelogue that not only tells the story of his personal journey through the Middle East, but also offers a deeply human perspective of the region right along with it. Surfing the Middle East is an exhilarating account of Aizenstat’s journey through a region that is all-too-often depicted through repetitive and generic narratives. His account is a refreshingly personal one, easily drawing readers in to join him on his journey.
The spontaneity of Aizenstat’s trip is one of the most appealing parts of this story. “I knew the exterior of what I wanted to do,” he explains, “There was this challenge, of can you surf from Israel to Lebanon?” He approached the trip as if it were a puzzle, telling us that he has always been “really good at figuring out a way around the roadblock, [and so I] used that metaphor, and carried it over to surfing around the Middle East.”
“From Northern Israel to Southern Lebanon, it's on the same coast, about 30-40 miles apart from where I was in the two countries, and to get there you have to go back through Jerusalem, through Israel, get to Jordan, fly over Syria, land in Lebanon, change passports, it's this whole nightmare. But on that mission, I was allowed to tell this story, or my version of it, about the Middle East.”
The result is a fun, accessible and completely humanistic travelogue, one that’s strength lies in its emphasis on Aizenstat’s personal stories throughout his journey. “I believe in experience,” he says, “I believe in finding that experience. There [are] parts in this book that confirm the absolute animal in man. [It’s not just] optimistic or pessimistic, I believe in going out and experiencing it. Seeing what it is for yourself.”
As he tells the story of his journey, Aizenstat introduces the readers to people and places that he meets along the way, a collection of people and places that were ultimately a small sliver of his entire trip. “One of the hardest parts about writing a book about experience is that you have so many experiences that can't go in it,” he explains, “And the process of sitting down and figuring out what you, the reader, want to know about is a really beautiful exercise, because it really makes you look at it and look for things like narrative and balance of plot.”
And just as the conversation takes a slightly serious turn, with a charming smirk, Aizenstat quickly lightens the mood, “I'd like to be able to make up some crazy story like the Israeli bikini team asked us to hold lights on a set or something, or we were invited to Hassan Nasrallah's secret lair, or something crazy like that...well maybe it happens. I guess you just have to buy the book and see if it's in there.”By Jafreen M. Uddin, Aslan Media Book Salon Editor
*Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jesse Aizenstat
Buy Surfing the Middle East on Amazon: http://amzn.to/Mqhe4M
Check out the Surfing the Middle East iPad app (it's free!): http://bit.ly/dLUThL