Tracks by Robyn Davidson

I’m out of the habit of reviewing, so my next few reviews may be short ones.

I watched the recent film adaptation of “Tracks” before I read the book, even though I already had a copy of the 2012 edition (with new postscript).

cover image courtesy of GoodReads.com

I try very hard not to be negative when I review books. Writing is hard. Writing a book is even harder. Everyone who manages to publish a book has done something admirable and worthy of respect.

With that said, some books are better than others, and some author-narrators are simply more likable and relatable than others.

If you read any other reviews of “Tracks,” you will likely come across the question, “why??”

This is one of the main issues with the book and the story. This is not a novel, so there can be no plot holes, but a memoir of a journey with no explanation of the reasons the journey was taken is a bit confusing.

Ms. Davidson undertook a huge challenge, and she maintained a high level of integrity in regards to her original intentions of the trip and how the trip actually played out. She had to make some sacrifices for financing and safety, but ultimately, she did what she set out to do–walk across the Australian desert with four camels and a dog. It’s really quite impressive. It took a great deal of fortitude.

It’s simply hard to understand exactly why she did it.

Fortunately, even without the underlying reason, Ms. Davidson’s account of her adventure is exciting, enthralling, and memorable. Her writing is clear and compelling, skillful and mature.

There is a major issue I have with this book, which is a personal response, directly related to the beliefs and values I bring to the table when I read any book. We all read through our own filters of experience and personality.

The author claims to treat her camels “like glass,” to spoil them and coddle them. She expresses adoration for them, and recognizes humanlike traits in their behavior. She does, however, beat them. At times, it’s merciless and completely out of control.

She acknowledges that she loses it sometimes when she disciplines or punishes them, and then feels remorse, but that doesn’t undo or excuse the abuse.

The task she set for these animals was arduous. She had them heavily laden with all her necessary belongings, and brought them through territory that had inadequate food and water. Her camels lost considerable weight during the trek, especially the one who was nursing her baby during the journey.

Ms. Davidson attempted to stop the baby from nursing once she had determined that it was too old to need its mothers milk, because the mother was allowing herself to waste away in order to feed her offspring.

This seemed unnecessarily cruel to me. To bring a nursing mother and her baby on the journey appeared impractical to me, and the author would not have needed to prevent the mother from weaning on her own schedule if she had not demanded so much from the animals and found that it was taking too hard a toll on the mother camel.

Ultimately, the lack of stated reason for such an immense undertaking was problematic for me because of the stress on the camels. Ms. Davidson “broke” feral camels, piled them high with food and personal items, half-starved them, and worked them to exhaustion, for what?

Simply to satisfy some angsty urge–a very middle-class white urge, if I might add–that she won’t even divulge in her detailed account of the experience.

Not only that, but she killed several bull camels that she encountered while out in the desert, fearing for her safety. If she hadn’t taken it upon herself to be out there on her own for no logical reason, she would not have needed to end those lives. It was a complete waste, necessary only as a result of her self-serving escapade.

Putting all that aside, as much as possible, Ms. Davidson does display a very strong empathy for the displaced black aboriginal people of Australia, and brings a great deal of attention to their status and treatment.

With all things considered, this aspect of the book makes it worth reading. I learned quite a bit about the culture and history.

I want to repeat and emphasize that this was a well-written and absorbing memoir, with good information and food for thought. I simply could not feel much compassion for or interest in the author herself.

In my opinion, the film paints a much more palatable picture of Ms. Davidson, though still exposing some of her shortcomings.

For the cultural backdrop and political history, I recommend the book. For the story itself, the travel and adventure aspect of the thing, I recommend the movie.

image source: heyuguys.com

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About Elizabeth M. Lee

I am a compulsive reader, an emerging writer, a musician, an artist, a feminist, and an enthusiastic home cook. My husband and I follow a vegan diet and lifestyle, try to live low-impact, and enjoy a simple life.
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One Response to Tracks by Robyn Davidson

  1. Pingback: Books, Books, So Many Books | elizabethly

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