Thursday 11 April 2013
Dervla Murphy, One Foot In Laos
One Foot in Laos is one of the 'mature' Dervla Murphy books. First published in 1999, it is far more political than her early travel memoirs. Some may find this off-putting, I consider it a welcome improvement. If you browse through recent posts on this blog you will notice that I am in the position to judge - I've been immersed in the Dervla Murphy world for quite a while now.
This is not to say that her earlier books are below par, oh no. It's just that, like wine, Dervla's writing improves with age. Consciousness, political or otherwise, tends to grow as the years go by.
Laos in the late '90s as seen through Dervla Murphy's eyes was an enchanting land, with friendly people and stunning natural beauty. Unfortunately, shadows are also present in this picture and the author doesn't attempt to hide any of them, just the opposite.
UXO, or unexploded ordnance, must surely be named the greatest menace of the country. Laos has the unwelcome distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in the world (in proportion to its population). Plenty of the bombs that rained on the country during the Vietnam War failed to explode. Those grim 'souvenirs' maim and kill even today. Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme's website confirms figures quoted by Dervla in the book, and these are truly heartbreaking statistics. Even more heartbreaking are Dervla's descriptions of her encounters with UXO victims. No, One Foot in Laos is not exactly a cheering reading matter.
Environmental damage is another blight threatening Lao land. Forests are fast disappearing, to emerge again as furniture in wealthier countries. Numerous dams, planned or already in operation are negatively impacting lives of millions. In accordance with her trademark conservationism, Dervla Murphy rages against the destructive development projects with enough passion to convert many readers back to green lifestyles.
While humanitarian/environmental activism takes up a lot of space in One Foot in Laos, there's certainly plenty of it left for descriptions of culture, customs, cuisine (quite exotic) of Lao people and colourful adventures of a certain Irish traveller.
A gem of enlightened travel writing.