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Review

Around the World on Minimum Wage: An Account of a Pilgrimage I Once Made to Tibet by Mistake

By Andrew Struthers

April 19, 2016

Review By Howard Stewart

 

Andrew Struthers self-identifies as “L’Étranger” of the “F___book™” age and I’m prepared to believe him, though I’m not sure how Camus might see it. For that matter, what would Camus make of F___book™? Struthers however, nails it: F___book™ is a “virtual panopticon,” a perfect prison where no one escapes the jailer’s scrutiny. Unlike Jeremy Bentham’s vision however, today’s in-mates keep watch over each other, ensuring that all feel observed, even when they’re not. But I digress and this little nugget is where Struthers ends his book. I mention it only as an example of the eclectic trove of valuable jewels strewn along the reader’s path, a head spinning kaleidoscope of similes and other (often mind bending) images throughout the book. So many in fact that that the author should never have got away with it. But somehow, he has, haut la main, even if he has surely become persona non grata in Wales.

It took me a long time to get into this book. Not because it isn’t engaging – it was one of the most rewarding reads I have had in a long time. I just couldn’t see the BC Studies connection. Struthers begins mostly with his in-laws and others on Tofino’s Chesterman Beach and I suppose that’s why BC Studies was interested. The promised journey around the world eventually takes us to Struthers’ native Britain, then Japan, where he and his Guinevere teach English (for much better than minimum wage), and on through China to the Tibet, Nepal, and India of the 1980s. But long before he got on the plane, I was hooked on his manic stream of the sublime, the sublimely ridiculous and much that lies strewn somewhere between the two — especially the delightful graphics — that eludes classification.

What genre does Around the World fit into? None that I can think of. It is something of a hybrid spawned of Gulliver’s Travels, William Kotwinkle’s classic, The Fan Man and National Lampoon magazine. One reason that it took me so long to review — I missed my BC Studies deadline for the first time — was that reading this book was like being force-fed kilos of Schwartzwaelder Kirschtorte. And the fare gets richer when Struthers comes ashore in the mysterious east, in search of coverings for the Great Wall of his mind, first among the giant babies of Japan, a place “as matriarchal as a barbershop quartet,” then the seamy feudal Buddhists of Tibet, where the air is “thinner than a Welshman’s smile” and old men gape at him when he speaks, “as if they’d seen a talking horse.” Finally, the hashish driven excesses of his descent down the south face of the Himalayas, where he is almost carried away by the bloody flux. Part of the challenge in trying to digest this tome is Struthers’s endless, seemingly effortless, cryptic erudition. Matthias Rust, the young German amateur pilot, who landed his little plane in Red Square is “as despondent as (Goethe’s) Young Werther,” as inept and lacking in sense as Wilson (Woodrow, I think). Such flourishes — I can’t even remember how we got sidetracked to Matthias Rust in Moscow — probably help explain why it took Struthers thirty years to get it all down. We’re lucky he persevered, as Around the World on Minimum Wage is bound to be an important contribution to this genre, once defined. 

REFERENCES

Camus, Albert. 1942. L’Étranger. Paris: Gallimard.
Kotzwinkle, William. 1974. The Fan Man. New York: Avon.
Swift, Jonathan. 1726. Gulliver’s Travels.  London: Benjamin Motte.

Around the World on Minimum Wage: An Account of a Pilgrimage I Once Made to Tibet by Mistake
Andrew Struthers
Vancouver: New Star Books, 2014. 304 pp. $24.00 paper