Thomas Kohnstamm


Thomas Kohnstamm's "Do Travel Writers Go To Hell"

mediocre gonzo

[note: I’ve been reading a German translation]

The story: in 2004, Thomas Kohnstamm, a wall street guy in his twenties, accepts a new job offer: to write a travel guide about Brazil for The Lonely Planet. And so he roams around Brazil for a while, always on a tight budget and an even tighter schedule, all while trying to live up to his new job.

The story revolves around the difficulties and the temptations he encounters on his way.

Thomas Kohnstamm talking about deadlines

The book is gonzo in the lamest sense of the word. Kohnstamm talks quite a bit about sex and drug abuse, sure. He even writes in a character called “doc” who vaguely resembles Hunter Stockton Thompson’s “lawyer”.

But all of this pales in comparison with how much talk there is about deadlines. Kohnstamm travels to this place or that place, and he has to turn in this article or that review, and he feels stressed and shitty, and after a while I, the reader, feel stressed and shitty, too.

a generic kind of crass

Judging from the title, I wasn’t really expecting this book to be full of interesting observations on Brazil, so that wasn’t the problem. For me, the problem was that even the gonzo content felt a bit generic. It didn’t seem heartfelt.

Maybe the dirty parts weren’t dirty enough? Maybe Kohnstamm’s inner conflicts, albeit existing, weren’t clear enough? Maybe it all felt a bit shallow? Either way it bored me.

who might want to read this

Kohnstamm’s feat of traveling around Brazil on a budget is okayish. The story is neither good nor bad. He tries to meet deadlines, sure. The writing style is okay. There’s some info about the backpacking scene and about how guide books like The Lonely Planet work, and that’s it.

If you’re looking for some light entertainment that is just a bit naughty, or if you’re particularly into the inner workings of guide book writing, this one might be for you.

Also read: Charles Bukowski, for more interesting writing on sex (and more interesting writing in general).



Author: Thomas Kohnstamm
Title: Do Travel Writers Go To Hell
Time: 2004
Destination: Brazil
Length: 2 months
Type: backpacking

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