At a school like Wittenberg, study-abroad students and experiences are common. Travel blogs are often written for family and friends, or anyone who may be interested, as a means of self-reflection and entertainment. People are drawn to the unknown, to the foreign, to what is different from them. Although a book-length travel narrative may seem appealing, “I of the Sun,” written by Richard Arthur, is a complete miss in capturing what it means to experience another culture.
From the beginning it is confusing as to why Arthur purchased a one-way ticket alone to Southeast Asia with apparently no funds other than to “work in a night club,” “hardcore party,” and for sex and rock ‘n roll. Never does the reader get a true sense of the people he meets or his surroundings, as the focus remains on him alone.
The book is 360 pages of self-indulgence that is of hardly any interest to a reader. As Arthur says right from the beginning when he describes his experience at a bar (one of his first important stops on his life changing journey): “I got to chatting to some engineers…but I seemed more interested in them than they were in me,” perfectly describing how it feels to read the book.
Arthur never attempts to better himself, or learn, or at least find some kind of change within himself because of the people he meets. Instead, he opts for fond remembrances of alcohol and pretty girls and musings such as, “our Universe expanded into being from a state of extreme heat and density with unknowable power and force.”
It is difficult as a reader to feel sympathetic for a narrator who seems to use larger generic themes so clumsily, as he never fully explains why his proclaimed philosophies have any sort of connection to his experience in Southeast Asia. I have to wonder why, if he was so destitute and poor, he decided to leave his job to bar hop in another country when he could have done so on his own and spared himself a plane ticket.
While the elements of the book may hold some interest to young adults, especially those desiring to travel, it serves more as a cautionary tale of how to not spend one’s time abroad. Never before have I seen an author plug his work so shamelessly before, not in such a dramatic manner, marketing his own so-called misfortunes to make a buck. The format of the book itself is distracting as dialogue is written in the middle of paragraphs, words are randomly capitalized, and the chapters are obscenely long.
For readers interested in non-fiction, I recommend reading anything by Joan Didion, who focuses on the real story: the people and places around her, their struggles, their successes, and their everyday life. I would also suggest Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” a literary classic, or, for your own self-indulgence, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.”