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by Richard Joseph
Stoic Press, NY - ISBN: 0-97–07301-0-1

It often takes a traumatic experience to alter a person’s life. So it was with Richard Joseph. At just under 18 years, he was brutally mugged while waiting with his girlfriend at the bus station in Queens a few days before Christmas. The result of Joseph’s experience is Transcend, a book that reaches out to readers on many levels.

This isn’t a book for the snobby readers of the New Yorker, although Joseph does seem to go off the deep end towards the end, philosophizing way over his head. Basically, Transcend is a book for the average person–not pretentious and down to earth–who may not have ever thought about the meaning of life. Roughly written in spots, it tells about life as it is–at least for the most part.

Joseph takes his readers on a journey of self-discovery beginning with a trek down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Along the way, he discovers the limits fo his endurance as he hikes loaded down with more supplies and equipment than he needed in the hot desert sun. Its on this adventure that he gets his first taste of hostels and some of the characters who populate them.

His wanderlust teased, Joseph discovers he wants out of New York and takes a teaching job in Korea, where he meets Jes, another teacher also filled with wanderlust. The two eventually set out on a remarkable backpacking journey through Asia beginning in mainland China, then through Vietnam, and Thailand and a myriad of other countries. It’s in the travel section of the book that Joseph shows off some of his best writing.

In the dirty villages of mainland China, Joseph shows his readers what China is really like–far from Beijing and the tourist attractions. It’s here that he begins to be sensitized to the world around him as he and Jes slug through dusty towns and sit on hard wooden seats for long overland train trips.

From China, Joseph and his female companion venture to Vietnam, experiencing the warm hospitality of a Vietnamese family and discussing the Vietnam War.

But China and Vietnam are nothing compared to the overwhelming humanity of India. Joseph is drawn to Varinisi, the holiest of Hindu cities. His descriptions of the Hindu funeral rites are some of the best in this book. He and Jes immerse themselves in these practices, taking readers to the death waiting rooms and funeral pyres along the banks of Ganges. At one point, he and Jes find themselves in a boat floating on the river while bodies of dead cattle and humans drift by, the surface of the river coated with the gritty ashes of loved ones recently cremated on shore.

While Joseph’s travels change his outlook on life, and, thus, transcend from a non-feeling city boy to a mature man, he doesn’t stop on the high note of exhaustion after visiting India, but devotes the last third of his book to pontificating on this change in his attitude like an amateur philosopher.

Readers will enjoy this books pithy travel narrative but will soon tire of the author’s philosophizing towards the end of the book.

Buy this book...


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