Review: The Blind Masseuse, by Alden Jones

About the book, The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia

The Blind Masseuse

The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia is both an eloquent memoir of the author’s journeys through Central America, Southeast Asia and Egypt and a thought-provoking exploration of the role travelers play as outsiders in cultures they inhabit temporarily.

What, asks Jones, distinguishes between a traveler and a tourist? Is it acceptable to “consume” another culture as a means of entertainment? Especially if doing so helps support an oppressive government?

Woven into a suspenseful narrative about the author’s own coming of age amid a defining wanderlust and a gender-neutral approach to romance, The Blind Masseuse gives an addictive, transporting look at the many aspects of life, civilization and travel that are neither black nor white.

Buy a copy from Amazon.

About the author, Alden Jones

Alden Jones

Alden Jones is an award-winning writer and faculty member at Emerson College’s department of Writing, Literature and Publishing. Since 1995 she’s combined teaching and writing with extensive travel to destinations such as Cuba and Costa Rica, where she lived for extended periods, and France, Italy, Japan, Cambodia, Burma and Egypt.

Her awards include the latest New American Fiction Prize for her forthcoming short story collection Unaccompanied Minors. Her short stories and travel essays have appeared in numerous publications including The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner and The Best American Travel Writing.

Connect with Alden

Twitter: @jones_alden
Goodreads: Alden Jones

My Thoughts:

Whenever I read travel memoirs, it’s with mixed feelings. Part of me is excited to live vicariously through the author’s experience. Another part of me is envious of that experience. Reading The Blind Masseuse, both of those parts were actively engaged.

Alden Jones writes a vivid story. You could feel the heat, and taste the lard, in Costa Rica, feel the motion of a cruise ship full of students, and taste the cold Coke in Nicaragua (not necessarily in that order).

Likewise, her personal journey from blissful single life toward a more committed one, and eventual marriage, were written with candor and enough detail for the reader to feel like Alden was a good friend, without that story competing with the travelogue.

At one point in The Blind Masseuse Jones mentions that it was Spaulding Gray’s monologue Swimming to Cambodia that sparked her interest in Cambodia in the first place. I, too, am a big fan of that monologue, and Gray’s search for the perfect moment. (To this day, I have his line, “He won’t drown; he’s from South Africa!” in my head whenever I hear about water accidents.) That commonality really helped me connect to the author, and to her story.

I also really responded to the author’s distinction between travelers and tourists. As someone who began as a tourist and would like to be a traveler, I really appreciated the nuances she demonstrated, though I had to chuckle when she found herself in a decidedly “touristy” role.

If you want a travel memoir that just tells you where to go and what to see, this book is probably not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to feel as if you’re traveling with Alden Jones, you will love The Blind Masseuse.

Goes well with An ice cold coke and a bean and cheese burrito.

Booking Through Thursday: Travel


On Thursday, October 7th, Booking through Thursday asked:

When you travel, how many books do you bring with you?
Has this changed since the arrival of ebooks?

There are three things that determine how many books I bring with me on a trip: why am I going, where I am going, and how long I will be gone. If I know I’m going to be spending ten days on one of those Royal Caribbean cruises, for example, I know that having books to read is essential so I’ll bring as many as I can. On the other hand, when I was in San Francisco for a novel-writing workshop I only brought a couple of books, because I knew I’d need to be either writing or sleeping in my down time. When I visit my mother in Mexico, I bring a mix of books I haven’t read, which I’ll read in the evenings or while sunning on the deck, and then leave, and books I’ve already read, because she lives in a town where finding English-language books is difficult and Amazon deliveries aren’t possible.

I’ve only had my Kindle for a month, but I’m already in love with it, so chances are I’ll choose it over real books in the future, unless there’s something that a) I want to bring to my mother or b) isn’t available. I will say that it’s the lighted leather cover that really MAKES the kindle for me. Without the cover, it’s nice; with the cover, it’s phenomenal.

Bookmarks: Dakota: a Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris

I originally read DAKOTA years ago, just after I’d left South Dakota – I think. I remember thinking that it helped me to understand these prairie women, who can talk about jello salads and cattle with equal ease, who can pluck their own geese, and mix up homemade acne remedies without a thought. It helped me to understand my father-in-law, and to see that church communities are so tight night, in South Dakota, at least, in part because when your nearest neighbor is miles away, it’s comforting to know you have a bond with someone, even if that bond isn’t having lunch once a week, but singing hymns together each Sunday.

Norris’s work is non-fiction, and the language isn’t difficult, but the concepts are almost profound.

I think anyone moving to the prairie from a major city should be handed this book when they get their new driver’s license.

A Dangerous Dress

by Julia Holden

I bought A Dangerous Dress after reading Julia Holden’s other novel One Dance in Paris a couple weeks ago, and exchanging comments via her MySpace page. She’s kindly consented to do an emailed interview for me, when she has a few free moments, and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy it.

Anyway, this book shares with the other a trip to Paris, and is still a chick-lit coming of age story, but there are no trips to anything like Caesars Palace this time, though there is a movie set, a news set, and a bank involved.

The lead character, Jane, is working in her uncle’s bank, and feeling a bit humdrum, when she gets a call from a French movie director (who happens to be her college roommate’s father), asking her to please come to Paris and find the perfect 1928 dress for the star of his film. Her expertise, he says, comes from the college paper she wrote years before, about her late grandmother’s very own flapper dress – a dress so exotic, so unique, that it is literally dangerous. Dangerous in that edgy, seductive sort of way.

The dress is, of course, merely a catalyst. Jane jets off to find love, adventure, new skills, more adventure, and a lot of self-awareness, in an entertaining read that goes by way too fast.