Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.


Brent Antonson
Ties That Bind
You’re about to ride along on train travels over 12 years, on 16 trains in 13 countries—as diverse as North Korea, Belarus and the United States of America. A father and his two sons took five railway trips over a dozen years and went around the world. They travelled on renowned and unknown railroads, including PKP Polskie Linie, Amtrak, and Russian Railways. They rode trains as varied as the Trans-Mongolian, the Ocean Limited and Ukraine’s Д67. They ventured into unexpected and underappreciated lands, each with one eye on the horizon and the other looking over their shoulder. They navigated family woes and travel woes.
Antonson (Of Russia) recounts his train travels with his father and brother over the course of 12 years—and to more than a dozen countries—in this interesting and amusing memoir. With vivid descriptions and arresting minutiae, he details the landscapes and cultures the trio experienced, alongside the personal transformations that took place during the astounding 15,000 miles they logged on long-haul trains—a journey that he started at age 27 and transported him to a slew of countries, from North Korea to Russia to Canada.

From his globetrotting childhood, where he remembers serving as a cute, five-year-old “diversionary tactic” for his parents’ travels through KGB-controlled Russia, to his parents’ eventual divorce, Antonson chronicles the role travel has played in cementing his familial ties. “We travelled with love and some misgivings,” he writes of the epic journey with his father and brother, while covering the major destinations they encountered through their travels—including notables like Moscow, Chicago, and Pyongyang, North Korea. Antonson adopts the role of a terminal outsider, more local than tourist, while incorporating history, personal memory, and each city’s impact on the trio in descriptions that unfold into a richly textured narrative.

Standout recollections include a 1994 Samsonite store opening in Estonia, despite the citizens having little need for luggage and minimum means to travel, and his summary of the rules for exploring North Korea (no one was allowed to leave the hotel without permission, and the first stop of the trip was a mandatory show of respect at Kim Il Sung’s statue). Throughout, Antonson paints travel as a catalyst for family bonding, though he doesn’t shy away from sharing the gritty particulars that come with circumnavigating the Northern Hemisphere in close quarters with family members. This is a touching tribute to both the people riding the railways and the railways themselves, which “[weave] folklore with history, countrysides with capitals, people with dreams.”

Takeaway: Touching tribute to the transformative power of railway travel.

Comparable Titles: Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-