Occasionally books come along that demand your concentration and demand discussion. This is one. And yet, although full of philosophy and reflection, it is a page-turner in the classic adventure travelogue genre.
We join Christian Brix and his 660 Ténéré as he’s about to leave Kenya, (having ridden there from the UK – his first book ‘Unseen Walls’), and embark on a ride around Asia; Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Laos, Burma, Nepal and finally India.
Within the 204 pages there is the excitement of struggling on unmade tracks and facing physical challenges generated by climate and geography, but also struggling with changing moods. It’s something that happens to almost all of us, but which is rarely discussed due to the 24-7 ‘happy-times social media façade’ most people feel compelled to portray, and which everyone is forced to endure.
Don’t worry this isn’t a moan-fest, far from it, it’s a compelling read and certainly better crafted than his first. It is intriguing to experience the honesty with which he describes the developing social dynamics he witnesses in group travel, because for both China and Burma/Myanmar he is forced to ride with tour groups and Government-sanctioned guides. And then he continues into Nepal with two guys who each have their own very different cultural and riding expectations as they make their way to Europe.
A book which covers the historic social shaping of an area without referring to Wikipedia is a breath of fresh air. So too the illustration of how each experience impacts personally on the author rather than dry factual reportage. Take the book’s title for example. I had never considered anything positive might come from Pol Pot’s awful slaughter and ‘year Zero’ philosophy in Cambodia and yet here Christian is finding clarity and understanding for his own internal frustrations. Year zero and absolute honesty provides liberation on the road as it does in philosophy.
There are one or two sections where I may have urged some editing, but in all this is a deeply moving book balanced with motorcycling excitement and some richly-engaging beautiful descriptions of his surroundings. It certainly stands out from the crowd, will inspire many and will definitely generate discussion. Few books since ‘Zen and the Art of…’ have been as forthright at tackling the ‘big’ questions and ‘East to Zero’ is certainly more accessible.
The cover is as unconventional as the content, but I hope you’re brave enough for the challenge. The rewards are plentiful.
Published by author 2021