Book Review: Inside Tracks by Rick Smolan
I felt impressed, enchanted, moved, encouraged, and uplifted by this truly wonderful work.
It is one of these rare books that not only inspire but empower you. That’s on the one hand to do with the stunning images (and the large book format clearly contributes to make them feel so powerful) and on the other hand with Robyn Davidson’s personality. “I’d like to think an ordinary person is capable of anything,” she says. And, she not only says it, she lives up to it.
Robyn Davidson, born 1950, is an Australian writer, who, in 1977, trekked across the Australian outback with four camels and a dog. Her journey was made into a film. The book Inside Tracks is divided into “The Original Trek” and “The Movie”.
I vividly remember reading her account of this trip many years ago. And while I do not recall any particular details, I since then carry images of the Australian outback in my head that instill in me a longing for vast deserts and orange skies.
Well, from Rick Smolan’s photographs I learn that the skies over the Australian outback are by no means orange (soil and rock formations often are).
“This book is deceptive,” Rick Smolan writes. “It might appear to be the adventure story of a young woman’s 2700-kilometre solo trek alone across Australia’s outback, but it is, in fact, about a completely different kind of journey … the story of what happens when you discover that the most dangerous terrain is not external but internal.” I do not doubt his words yet the problem is that photographs cannot show the internal world, for photographs, by their very nature, show what can be seen, the external world, that is.
Moreover, although the photographs in this book attempt to document Robyn Davidson’s trek, they actually document the photographer’s journey. “… Rick’s photos are a record of his journey, not of mine,” Robyn states in her postscript.
I thought it particularly interesting that for years Robin “felt uncomfortable looking at Rick’s photos, and seldom did.” Today that is different. “I love them unreservedly now. They may have supplanted true memory, but aren’t they wonderful? And perhaps the journey was never mine, could never have been mine. From the get-go, it belonged to other people, just as an author’s text will have as many versions as there are readers.”
To face your fears, this is what this book is about. “The whole texture of what I wanted to do was to be alone, to test, to push, to unclog my brain of its extraneous debris, not to be protected, to be stripped of all the social crutches, not to be hampered by any outside interference whatsoever.”
Salman Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton came to mind, in which he mentions a passage in Robyn’s only novel Ancestors that portrays a lover as an unpleasant, sadistic character. (Davidson and Rushdie had a three-year long relationship) When asked whether this man was modelled after Rushdie, Davidson said: “Not as much as in the first version.” She’s really quite a character, this woman!
Rick Smolan visited her numerous times during her journey. On his third visit, they were sitting by the campfire when Robyn suddenly demanded: “When are you going to get here?” whereupon Rick, flabbergasted, said: “Robyn, I’m sitting here right across from you.” She stared at him and said: “No, you’re not. You are worrying about the film from your Taiwan assignment and where you are going to drop your car in two weeks when you leave me, and whether your photo is going to be on the cover of Time next week. You show up out here and then you are everywhere else but here. If you are going to come, then be here with me and not lost in your head the whole time.” I love that!.
She wasn’t only with camels and dog on her trek but encountered tourists who “were a constant source of irritation. They would snap pictures, pester her with questions or treat her like an outback sideshow.” And, she encountered Aborigines, Mr Eddie for instance of whom she said: “He was sheer pleasure to be with, exuding all those qualities typical of old Aboriginal people – strength, warmth, self-possesion, wit and a kind of rootedness, a sustantiality that immediately commanded respect.”
I feel enriched for having spent time with Inside Tracks; it is a book I have a deep fondness for.
For more info and to purchase the book: www.insidetracksbook.com