Although subtitled ‘reflections on a gracious people’, the thing that’s most striking as this book progresses, is the gracious nature of the author. It’s difficult for anyone to write about travel through Vietnam without mentioning the ‘American war’, or displaying some partisanship, but somehow Bransby has created a book which encapsulates the essence of motorcycle adventure, while simultaneously addressing the historical elephant in the room with a delicate humanism.
He doesn’t employ a list of historical facts or anecdotes, yet plenty of information is interwoven between, or because of, the huge amount of local population interaction he strives to maintain as he travels. He manages to make every daily experience a moment of real human engagement and does this in part because of his insightful observations. Everything from watching the slow ritual creation of a cup of iced coffee, to interpreting the doleful eyes of a young masseuse, I am tempted on occasion to go so far as to call Bransby’s descriptive prose simply beautiful. There are no pictures in this book and there is absolutely no requirement for them as the writing creates everything.
He’s using a locally sourced 125 Honda dirt bike, which proves perfect for the terrain, and if you’re after adventure motorcycling it’s all here: bull-dust, rocks, jungle, muddy single track routes all tackled in rain or oppressive heat. So too is the dodgy food, remarkable characters and insalubrious lodgings, but then there’s something else that’s very special. At the end of each chapter there are short extracts from a handful of books and diaries written by individuals who directly experienced the war in Vietnam. There is no need for comment, no need to labour points, but there is clear illustration of the reason for Bransby’s choice of book sub-title.
Executing this ‘extract’ idea could have been awkward and unwieldy but has perhaps produced a masterpiece in the genre. If the definition of a good book is page-turning engagement, it’s achieved here. If it’s quality entertainment that inspires the reader to get out there and be brave enough to confront fears of isolation by respecting everyone from street dweller to head of state, it does that too.
Book review by Paddy Tyson
Paperback 279 pages £8.29
Published by author (2017)