“60 Degrees North” by Malachy Tallack

Good idea, good writing, but somehow lost me halfway on its way around the globe.

Not that any particular idea is needed to set out and explore the world, but, as far as ideas go, circumventing the planet following the 60th northern parallel sounded interesting. Passing through Shetland, Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Saint Petersburg, Finland, Sweden and Norway would open up comparisons of how different societies deal with isolation, remoteness, harsh climate and the threatening change to the latter.

51t7vn43izl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Malachy Tallack is best at describing landscape. If you want to read about different shades of moss, shapes of stones and the flight of pelicans, this is your book. Sadly, I am more interested in sociocultural concepts and maybe the odd adventure happening on the road.

But from his writing, I gained the impression that Tallack wasn’t the kind of guy to whom adventures would happen. He definitely wouldn’t seek them out. There is too much (and too-often repeated) rambling about his father’s death and other introspective trains of thought, which are really of no particular interest. Almost everybody’s parents die one day, so I failed to see the big drama.

Lost in his thoughts, Tallack was often walking around alone and I felt that in most locations, there were not enough locals whom he met. Even when he meets up with a friend in Alaska, he uses the time to reminisce about their friendship, which again couldn’t interest me less.

As to sociocultural concepts, Tallack is almost exclusively focused on two ideas: home (which he seems to understand as a romanticized feeling for the place where one was accidentally born or grew up) and land ownership (which he is against). His praise of indigenous societies for not having private or any title to land strikes me as superficial, if not naive, for how could societies without a legal system even have or enforce title, except with violence? Also, private property is not all negative. Lack of it makes it much harder to stand up to the group, to be an individual, to be different, for fear of being ostracized and losing participatory rights in the group’s land.

I gave up reading 60 Degrees North after the chapter on Siberia, or ostensibly on Siberia, I should say. It seems that Tallack didn’t even travel through Siberia, although it makes up the largest part of the landmass along the 60th parallel. He reminisces about a former visit to Kamchatka (which again makes him think about home in Shetland, as any other place has done so far) and then adds some Gulag history, apparently taken from books or Wikipedia. Well, there would actually be memorial sites and museums to be visited, former prisoners to be spoken to, researchers to be interviewed, court documents to be studied.

I felt cheated after this chapter and quit. The fear that I would miss anything interesting in the second half of the book was non-existent.

One reason for reading this book was that I had previously had the idea of circumventing the world along the 49th northern parallel, because this is where my hometown in Germany is located (roughly) and because I like the moderate climate that you get up/down there, depending on your geographical point of view, for most of the year. Also, such a trip would traverse interesting places from Paris to Stalingrad, Karlsruhe to Kazakhstan, Ukraine to Sakhalin and then follow the US-Canadian border. If I ever do that, there will be less about dead parents, the color of the water and Shetland, and more about history, society and the random strangers who invite me into their homes, I hope.

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About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Books, Norway, Russia, Travel, USA and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “60 Degrees North” by Malachy Tallack

  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting review. There is a traveling guy wo produces a Youtube called “Gabriel Traveler” who frutstrates me for the very reasons this writer disappointed you. He focuses on landscape, transportation, hotels, logistics, and other boring shit, and almost never engages the locals, and never explores social matters or history. I unsubscribed.

    • There are people who have been all over the world and all they know is how many kilometers they traveled, how much they spent, how many hours each trip took them, in how many cities and countries they have been and in how many hostels they slept.

      In some of my articles, I have added “practical advice” at the end, mainly to dispel myths that it’s hard or expensive to get somewhere or that there is no public transport (many travelers get ripped off by that misinformation, which is just trying to get them to book an organized tour or hire a taxi). But this is never the main point of the article. The main point should be observations, thoughts, encounters with people (if there are any) and I like to add some background information, some of it learned on the spot, some of it from books read before, during or after the journey.

      The latter two points are also the reason why I am generally skeptical of travel videos, at least for my purpose.
      – I find it weird/uncomfortable/impolite to shove cameras into people’s faces. Often, I don’t even take photos of people whom I meet, let alone videotape them. I feel like I get a much more genuine interaction because of that.
      – Without tons of prior research and a proper script, I find it hard to show social matters, history or the politics of a place in a video. Of course it can be done, as documentary movies show, but that’s way beyond the abilities of a traveling YouTuber. I therefore think that this kind of deep and researched travel reporting is best kept to articles or books.

      I have begun to put some of my videos on YoutTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvzomKaqSlQYVGN2cipvM1w?&ab_channel=AndreasMoser , but it’s really more of a side show or a dumping ground for videos that I need to illustrate a specific point in a blog article.

  2. ensnaturae says:

    A curious notion that anyone needs own a chunk of planet… in order to be an individual?! Isn’t renouncing the world’s stuff, a common goal of many best thinkers and leaders, past present and future, not least the bloke who lived in a barrel/jar..whole World Citizen,.Diogenes?. How appealing is it, to see that piece of earth, (currently under the control of a man demonstrating rock bottom EQ)..guarded like a buried old bone, from being shared with you and your fellow world citizens? There’s no bit of the planet I want to see more privately controlled, than less.
    Less is best, with the good of all as first account, of course.
    “Since the appropriation of a resource as private property affects everyone else’s position (imposing duties on them that they would otherwise not have), it cannot acquire full legitimacy by unilateral action: it must be ratified by an arrangement which respects everyone’s interests in this matter. So the force of the principle requiring people to act so that external objects can be used as property also requires them to enter into a civil constitution, which will actually settle who is to be the owner of what on a basis that is fair to all”…(from the Stanford Philo site).

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