Review: The Green Unknown

The Green Unknown: Travels in the Khasi HillsThe Green Unknown: Travels in the Khasi Hills by Patrick Rogers
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This book reminded me of the fun I had learning about other cultures in my college anthropology classes. I think it will appeal to anyone with a hunger for knowledge about the world and the diverse people who populate it.

The book flip-flopped between reading like a narrative with specific anecdotes about the author’s travels and experiences and more textbook-sounding informative sections. These differences in writing style were made all the more pronounced by the fact that he wrote most of his personal narrative in past tense, while he switched to present tense when giving general information. Those tense shifts were not always predictable, and I found them rather jarring.

I really enjoyed the narrative sections of the book. The author’s exploits were amusing, adventurous, and sometimes a bit insane. I can’t imagine agreeing to climb a cliff face over a waterfall while wearing a backpack! And some of the stuff he ate? *shiver* His descriptions were good, and he had just enough irreverent humor to keep the stories light even when the subject matter could go another way. Editorial mistakes were minimal, not enough to distract, and the pictures were lovely.

The more generally informative sections, in which there was no real narrator but just an overview of information, were colorfully written but had a tendency to be rather verbose. The language was significantly different from the narrative sections, and there were often vague, sweeping statements without specific examples. I much preferred seeing his adventure through anecdotes.

There were a few nit-picky things that grated on me and prevented me from enjoying the book as much as I otherwise would have. The topics were split into chapters, and each chapter had a theme, but the scenes in those chapters were sometimes disjointed and I had no real idea of the timing of events or how they corresponded to each other. There is one character who was sometimes called John Cena and at other times was Stevenson. It’s fine for a person to go by two names, but for clarity sake, the author should have just picked one and stuck with it. There is a place he talked about called, Mawlynnong, ‘The Cleanest Village in Asia.’ Every time he referred to Mawlynnong, he included the full name extension. While it’s a fun fact to point out, and worth saying once, reading “Mawlynnong, The Cleanest Village in Asia” over and over in a passage was quite tiresome and gave the text a mocking tone.

Lastly, the end of the book was a little… incomplete feeling. In the final chapter, the author set out for the village of Kangthong, at the heart of the Katarshnong area. He stated, “I had to reach Katarshnong, for I knew that what I would find there would be worth the risk.” Who knows how he knew that without the benefit of hindsight, but we’ll let that go. What was implicit in that statement was a promise that we, going along on this journey with the author, would also be rewarded once we reached his destination. But, we never did. At least, not as I understood it.

Right before the end of the book, there was a section where the author talked about his preconceptions, the kaleidoscope of memories he’d gained from his travels, and how a person could spend a lifetime traveling through Riwar and never really know it. While reading it I thought, “Ah, this is the end of the book. It sums up his experiences and conclusions very nicely.” While we hadn’t reached the village of Kangthong, he transitioned nicely into his exposition and tied it all together in a satisfying way. It seemed his realizations were what he found at the end of his journey, and his sharing them with us fulfilled his promise.

Then there was another section AFTER that. This section put us back into the narrative and talked about the songs people whistle to each other in the night. It was a very nice bit of information that would have been great if it had appeared anywhere else in the book. Since that’s what he decided to end with, this shifted the promised reward to hearing those whistled songs as the payout he was so sure he’d get. However, since he brought us back into the narrative, I was expecting to finish the trek to Kangthong. Instead, he abandoned me on a hill in the jungle in the middle of the night.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

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