This is a difficult review to write. Why? Because I do appreciate the author in publishing this diary made a very brave decision to do so “as-is.” It must always be borne in mind that all reviews are simply one person’s opinion. There were good things about this book and things that annoyed me but ultimately it is worth the read.
The brave decision for me, was that he decided to transcribe it from the raw material without embellishment or any attention, or possibly regard, to the craft of writing. The raw material being contemporaneous handwritten notes assembled in many notebooks. That decision was either brave or foolish or both. Indeed, one can say the same thing about his travels in Asia back in 1981.
Let me say this at the outset, I applaud Mr. Fear’s decision as the diary in unadulterated form gives the reader the “blow by blow” daily experience of those travels and travails. My use of the word “blow” is entirely devoid of any irony. Does it in this form serve a purpose and/or give the reader value? In my opinion, it does.
Firstly, it gives the reader especially those of a younger generation a feel for the time it is set in. It is an insightful glimpse of the “hippie trail” culture so many young people in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s aspired to sample. Through the author’s style of daily diary entries, the reader becomes absorbed in a vicarious way to sample the experiences of the author.
Secondly, to me, it serves as a powerful lesson to the younger generation of the potential pitfalls of drug use in general and drug use while in a foreign country.
There are no comments or reflections from the author as to “lessons learned.” It would be interesting to hear what he now has to say about the somewhat foolhardy exploits during his youth.
That is one of the reasons I found this book annoying. It was annoying not because of what was in it but because of what was omitted.
Allow me to give a further example of my source of annoyance. The relationship between Rita and the author was intriguing. But we needed, or rather I needed, to know more. Mr. Fear brushed over most of his true feelings about Rita and even worse missed out on great opportunities to employ some dialogue between Rita and himself to ram home just what the heck was going on between them.
My other sources of irritation were the countless and repetitive references to what he ate for breakfast and of course the drug taking. Whether Mr. Fear knows it or not, he clearly was a slave to drugs at this time. Never a day went by without a need to smoke some kind of narcotic whether grass, hash, or opium. To make matters even worse he dropped amphetamines and sleeping pills as if they were Smarties. I also found it irritating he missed out on describing the hallucinogenic effect of the magic mushrooms he tried in Nepal.
The omissions are a shame. With them included, even in a diary format, this book would rate more stars than I can award it.
There was another curious thing I picked up on. I believe it was in the epilogue when the author wrote he feared he had been to frank and opened up too much. No! I disagree. There was not enough opening up because of the omissions I have mentioned.
In fact, the best example of the omissions I refer happens after Rita arrives in India. It is a reference to the author’s sexual relationship. Sex was a problem he had dealing with in this book. The subject was hinted at on a number of occasions but never explored by the author himself. So, no, Mr. Fear you didn’t open up too much. He did tell us that Rita was annoyed because of his lack of physical attraction to her but no explanation of why that was the case. The author then had the temerity to add, “We did chat but she hasn’t learnt how to handle me properly when I’m stoned.” Oh dear!
That statement in itself highlights the priority of the stoner. Weed, ganja, hash first. People, relationships second. I am neither anti or pro-drugs. I am saying it can be a problem.
So much of a problem it can land you in jail. That brings me to the best part of Fred’s Diary. His experiences in a Thai jail and later in a deportation detention centre were interesting. It was also interesting for me to note the author failed to recognise the folly of drug use in a foreign country. Instead, he railed at the “injustice” of the process and the inbuilt corruption in the “system.” Welcome to Asia, Mr. Fear!
More than that, he failed to heed the lesson. He continued to use drugs while incarcerated. Furthermore, he continued after release and in other foreign countries including when in close proximity to Indian security forces in the troubled Kashmir province. It was clear from his own words he could not do without his regular toke.
I also found an irony in his attitude to the heroin addicts he mingled with in the Thai jail. Never me, was his stance. I’m sure those addicts thought the same once when they were using only marijuana. Luckily for Mr. Fear, he did not try heroin, smoked or injected.
Some of the characters he met on his travels were interesting. Yet, I would have liked more about some of the locals he also met. This diary is a good record of a westerner and his experiences in Asia but the social intercourse was in the main with other like-minded westerners. That was a pity. I do believe the author missed a great opportunity to understand the local populace and their culture. On occasions, he demonstrated some naivety in the details of some local norms. For example, the Thai girls who bought their freedom from jail by offering themselves to their jailers. Mr. Fear labelled them all as prostitutes. Harsh! It demonstrated a lack of understanding of Thai attitudes to sex.
The gem scam? Maybe I missed it? Yes, he bought some stones and had trouble selling them but what was the scam? Another example perhaps of the recklessness of youth? That is the essence of this book. It’s an example of what not to do and the author has done a service to all who follow in his footsteps.
One final thought – waking up 9 am or later on most days was such a waste. One can sleep in at home any time. Asia is a magical continent. It comes alive at four and five in the morning. The sights, smells, and noises of an early Asia day are more powerful than any drug.