But, if my hands were empty of honey,
and pearls and gold,
There were treasures far sweeter than
honey, and marvelous things to be told.
This is the true story of a young man’s epic bicycle journey from England to India. Traveling more than eight thousand miles, he encounters all manner of adventure, from the curious company of a butterfly in the wilds of Iran to the aftermath of a coup in Kandahar, Afghanistan—from navigating the foreign yet welcoming Muslim world, where he learns the basics of Islam, to the journey’s end in mystical India, where he arrives at an understanding of what it means to be free.
Idea: Spencer’s coming-of-age piece is a memoir that flows well and holds the reader's interest because of precise, colorful details of the people, places, manners, and food he encounters on his travels.
Prose/Style: Spencer is a very clear, effective, and fluid writer, with a prodigious vocabulary and great descriptive powers that will make his readers feel like they have truly accompanied him on his journey.
Originality: While other authors have written about these kinds of quests, what is unusual and unique here is the individual man, his routes, and the time during which he undertook this huge, strenuous journey: the 1970s.
Character Development/Execution: Spencer appears to be impeccably honest, even growing angry and frustrated when he remains sick for quite a long time and when various locals treat him poorly. He feels "pushed beyond the bounds of his sanity”; however, he always strives to understand the cultures and habits of the people he encounters and is open to learning a great deal about their customs and religion.
Date Submitted: January 05, 2021
Those of us yearning for the feeling of warm wind and the thrill of the open road will enjoy Far Sweeter than Honey, an idiosyncratic travelogue set during the 1970s. The book takes readers on an epic journey from England to the Indian subcontinent in the style of nineteenth- and twentieth-century British travel writers such as Jan Morris. From the perspective of 2020, the world the narrative describes is very much that of the past. Not only have several of the countries the author visited, such as Syria and Afghanistan, descended into world-historical conflicts since he wrote, but the post-war economic prosperity and casual border regimes that enabled cyclists to embark on such trips are historical artifacts. Vivid prose and pencil sketches make this an engaging read.
The protagonist and his cycling companion progress from blown-out bike tires in England to Pernod pick-me-ups on the ferry to Boulogne, France. The author’s descriptive commentary is often amusing, as when he describes his interactions, in stumblebum French, with bemused farmers. These alternate with discourses on topics ranging from the proper way to deal with agitated dogs (bike pumps work wonders), to some excellent Greek wisdom: “When you see food, eat. When you see trouble, run.”
Some of the most interesting scenes in the book unfold in places subsequently wracked by history’s gale winds: Yugoslavia, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. Yugoslavia challenges westerners’ perception of the Communist countries as uniformly repressed, impoverished, and grim: the mother of the cyclists’ Serbian host berates them for not writing their mothers more frequently, and they later encounter young volunteers proudly constructing a highway between Belgrade and Skopje, capital of today’s North Macedonia. The people seem prosperous, the country at peace: what a change the 1990s wrought! The author’s knowledge of history give his descriptions of the scenery a depth often lacking in such works, for example, his description of Herat, a foundation of Alexander the Great. The memoir's main drawback is the absence of more detailed maps showing some of the more obscure places along the author’s itinerary.
This book’s engaging prose, vivid descriptions of places and people along the journey – many of them now inaccessible to Westerners – and judicious use of sketches and photos from the trip combine to make it a compelling travelogue, perfect for a homebound winter.