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
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
From China, Joseph and his female companion venture to Vietnam,
experiencing the warm hospitality of a Vietnamese family and discussing the
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
Readers will enjoy this books pithy travel narrative but will soon tire
of the author’s philosophizing towards the end of the book.