Writers’ Web review: Russian Documents, Mongolian Dust by Rensina van den Heuvel

This review was first published on Writers’ Web, which is an awesome site providing free reviews of books for budding writers. Writers get the chance to see what people think of their books and book-lovers (and budding professional reviewers) get to read and say what they think. It’s win-win. It rocks.

Russian Documents, Mongolian Dust is a travel memoir of the author’s incredible journey driving from Korea to Switzerland through Mongolia and Russia. The story is told in the first person, in a loose diary style. Beginning with retrieving the four-wheel drive from a shipping container in Pusan, Korea, we follow Rensina and her companion Allen through their daily adventures driving across country, camping in the wild and negotiating a huge range of cultures and languages. From the rock hard and tasteless Mongolian cheese to the ten centimetres of makeup on a Russian vegetable-seller, the premise cannot be anything but compelling!

From the beginning, it was clear that the book had been written using diary entries made throughout the trip, which was made in the latter part of 2007. This brought a real immediacy to the writing, and punctuated with the author’s personal style, Aussie colloquialisms and beautiful expressions, it was enjoyable reading. The idea of a trip of this kind is so interesting, but I must give credit to the writer’s abilities and say that her style really did contribute positively to the pleasure of reading. However, there are many spelling, grammar and punctuation errors throughout, and some of the syntax is a little ‘bumpy’ with a few consistency issues making things a little puzzling at times. The author really does have a gift for words, though, and it would really detract from the story if her voice was in any way dulled by heavy editing. It’s extremely difficult to translate a diary into prose, especially when it comprises over 200 pages!

The author’s description of her encounters with various special people along the way and her spiritual connection to the places she travels through is just beautiful. Her insight and openness when it comes to sharing her personal experiences, emotions and thoughts really makes the book worth reading. My criticism of travel writing is usually its lack of personal touch, that I desperately want to know about the person travelling, but this does not apply to Russian Documents. It is the perfect balance of personal reflection and compelling storytelling. Having read through, I can now understand the choice of title, but I still find it a little off-putting, however accurate.

After reading Russian Documents, I definitely have no desire to go to Russia! The drunks, the rubbish, the attitudes, the corruption, what a place! But Bulgaria and Mongolia sound extraordinary and this book has brought me a great deal of insight into these oft overlooked places.

Anyone with any interest in other cultures or travel would really enjoy this book. I think being Australian helped me enjoy it, but the Aussie-centric expressions and anecdotes are not out of reach for those unfamiliar. Overall, this is a brilliant story, compelling and fascinating, and I would hope the author can work with a good editor to really polish it up and bring it the audience it deserves.



Author: curiosikat

Writer, editor, linguist, social historian...

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