Andrew Solomon s previous two books, Noonday Demon on depression and Far From the Tree on having children very different from you your image of what they should be , are among my favorite nonfiction works of the past decade or so They are long as hell, but I frequently and unhesitatingly recommend them whenever the subjects come up For a lot of reasons, but mostly I guess because Solomon takes these vast topics and brilliantly fuses both historical and cultural overviews with intimate reporting on individual lives So even though I knew going in that Far and Away was simply a collection of magazine pieces starting I guess the early 1990s and through 2014 all are slightly reworked or expanded, with intros and codas that update the material I still wanted to see what the man had to say.The theme here is societies nations cultures on the brink of change , which can mean the lives of artists in Russia, South Africa, China, and Afghanistan under various regimes rituals among remote tribes of Solomon Islands Libya before and after the fall of Qaddafi Antarctica in the throes of warming that sort of thing Some of it feels a bit like school, and I must say my favorites pieces were the chapters pulled from his books he s also a bit forgetful that not everyone can spend thousands tens of thousands of dollars and tour the world just because travel is essential for understanding the human condition but Solomon is so smart and charming, clear eyed and self effacing, insatiably curious and generous with his insights that, for the most part, he pulls it off Mostly for fanboys though. In Andrew Solomon Built Barricades And Faced Down Tanks In Moscow With A Band Of Russian Artists Protesting The Coup After Gorbachev S Resignation In He Was In Afghanistan Following The Fall Of The Taliban In He Travelled To Myanmar To Meet Ex Political Prisoners As The Country Slowly, Fitfully Pushed Towards Freedom We Find Him In Greenland In Researching Widespread Suffering From Depression And On The Quest For A Rare Bird In Zambia In Far And Away Tells These And Many Other Stories Of Profound Upheaval With His Signature Brilliance And Compassion, Solomon Demonstrates Both How History Is Altered By Individuals, And How Personal Identities Are Altered When Governments AlterA Journalist And Essayist Of Remarkable Perception And Prescience, Solomon Captures The Essence Of These Cultures Across Seven Continents And Twenty Five Years And Tracks Seismic Shifts Cultural, Political And Spiritual He Takes Us On A Magnificent Journey Into The Heart Of Extraordinarily Diverse Experiences, Yet Shows Us The Common Humanity Uniting Peoples And Places All Over The World What this guy doesn t know isn t worth knowing He goes everywhere, talks to everyone, and reports back So this is a collection of his travel articles covering seven continents in twenty five years There s no general theme that I can tell The articles are as varied as his description of being left adrift at the Great Barrier Reef to spending time in Moscow with artists at the first Sotheby s auction there He talks about a trip to Antartica and a ceremony in Senegal where he was covered in ram s blood as a part of a cure for depression It s an amazing journey and he s an interesting character. Far and Away is a nice mixture of things it starts out with pieces about artists in Russia and China, for example, but there are also some pieces written for travel magazines which are about the travel and the places itself It deals with the astoundingly beautiful and the shockingly awful and Solomon can pull this off because his writing is just so good and captivating He doesn t romanticise or generalise and tries to approach everyone with interest and empathy, which is always a good starting point in my book.The only thing this book misses is also what makes it so varied it s not very cohesive He talks about snorkeling in a divine location in one piece and meeting victims of rape during war in the other I really like the diversity of the topics but these large shifts in tone, topic and gravity could also make it a bit less appealing but I guess that s up to the individual reader It also helps if you just lay aside the book sometimes if you re not in the mood for either levity or gravity in a specific moment that s what I did. I have been following Solomon s writing for years and find it increasingly compelling Curiously, many of the texts selected for this volume were written over two decades ago, yet his voice speaks to me as if he were across the table having coffee That s how relevant and prescient his observations were are Even so, it felt strangely current to be reading reflections in print form not a tweet on the terrorist attacks on the Bataclan last November.The chapters on China, Taiwan, and the former USSR were less meaningful for me, perhaps because of my own lacunae in the politics, histories, and arts of these regions I don t fault Solomon s writing at all rather, I ve decided to explore these topics extratextually and return to the book once I do Think about it only the most skilled writers ever accomplish this I look forward to tackling another of his major works. Far and Away is a collection of Andrew Solomon s remarkable articles about his worldwide travels over the past 25 years Although the articles report on these travel experiences, this is certainly not a light weight or trivial travelogue Rather, Solomon writes in a very intimate and perceptive manner about individual people, their economic and political situations, art, culture, and social change Other reporters may provide an overview of some of the locations and events covered in this collection, but they do not contribute the singular level of insight, understanding and wisdom that Solomon does This is an informative and thought provoking read with a great deal to consider and absorb Highly recommended.Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book. Excellent memoir based on journalism done in the 1990s and 2000s updated One of my favorite authors He blends his journeys through a variety of countries with observations of changes over time. Warning this isn t a book review as much as my story about this book Some years ago at least 15 , my depressed then husband handed me Solomon s The Noonday Demon in order to for me to understand what he was going through he has since been diagnosed with something else but that s irrelevant here What happened I read The Noonday Demon with great interest from cover to cover yes, I ve had the blues myself at times too When we divorced, I kept the copy ha haaa Sowhen I heard this book and title mentioned on the New York Times Book Review Podcast where most of my book list comes from I knew his name I had no idea that he had any expertise other than depression So when my book group was looking for titles for 2016, I spontaneously shouted out this title I did not know what a grand choice it was My book group consists of a wonderful group of liberal minded, well travelled, and very well read Unitarian Church attending women It was a HUGE hit Everyone found something in it to enjoy and think about For our book group dinners, we prepare a meal based on the location of the book This one had many choices I ve been to Greenland and knew that raw seat meat or fermented auk was out One of us has travelled to Afghanistan and one to Syria Su also found the Afghan people warm and friendly Three of us have knit good to send to Afghans for Afghans in the past There was my choice I prepared a lamb dish, a chicken dish, chai, and a spiced rice dish and we feasted If you like to travel and read about parts unknown, this is a great read I listened to the audio version, read by Solomon Don t let his deep voice, a but plodding at times, put you off His elocution is wonderful, he does not read too slowly, he does ALL the accents, and delivers humor well If you aren t interested in avant garde art, skip the first chapters but stick with it It s worth it. Well, it was not exactly what I expected, and sometimes the reading was quite tedious and weird, but I liked quite a lot in this book anyway and still think that Andrew Solomon is one of the most original and deeply thinking modern journalists I would be happy to read of his books and, especially, to have them in paper form at home probably some day I will Far and Away was claimed to be a collection of stories about different countries nations that are undergoing some landmark changes in their history, culture, social development, etc It also encompasses a wide range of places and time points from Russia in 1990s to post genocidal Rwanda to rapidly modernizing China to post Taliban Afghanistan to Brazil fighting poverty and violance to arising and stumbling Myanmar, and so on Looks very interesting and promising, right The problem is that the collection is quite inconsistent and somewhat lazy, from my point of view Probably, I just did not understand many important messages and the beauty of subtle metaphores in some of the stories, but I had an impression that the author simply gathered together all his articles about travels into various countries, both serious journalistic tasks and his personal trips around the world for rest and pleasure Sometimes the material collected during such travels was absolutely gorgeous in terms of the category of Reporting from the Brink of Change, as I understand it, and they were interesting, informative, thought provoking but sometimes I had a feeling that many of the stories were included in the book just for volume and for an impression of a larger diversity Moreover, the structure of the book is quite confusing, and I believe that the first stories are the most strange and discouraging ones yes, especially about Russia and I presumed that it would be one of the most interesting for me Talking about paramount changes in a society through its art might be a very cool idea, and I really, really tried to embrace it, but it s quite boring and bewildering to read about art rather than to look at it, you know Not to mention that, again, often the messages of Reporting from the Brink of Change looked too subtle for me, probably because of the lack of the necessary informative historical cultural background.In any case, it was a good slow reflective reading, and I eventually learned quite a lot of very interesting stuff from it As I said, the book might look very discouraging from the beginning, and some particular chapters just do not match with the whole concept of the brink of change, but there are many and many really interesting stories, either quite comprehensive in the description of a society or paying attention to some specific but very distinctive and peculiar aspects of a society.I also think that many of the things that were described and discussed there are extremely important and valid for modern Ukraine which is one of the first candidates to be reviewed as a society on the brink of change, and I am somewhat disappointed that Andrew Solomon did not choose Ukraine for this book as well.For example, one of the repeating messages in the book is the thought that the societies that were previously oppressed by their own governments or foreign colonizers and are formally free now have to fight for this freedom every day, fight diligently and fiercely, because the democracy is a collective effort of all the people, and it must be learned, worked out, actively processed with due attention to all national cultural historical specifics of the nations, and so on That s why no democracy can be imported in principle it is always a huge work for the society, which also often simultaneously suffers from wars, internal conflicts, poverty, heavy burdens of the history, and many other problems, depending on the society That s why democratization is so difficult and unevenly paced in different countries and sometimes, unfortunately, is not very successful at all Those are very important observations that we, Ukrainians, are not realizing properly, but we should think about it a lot and discuss this stuff among ourselves, because the societies that are already democratic just do not understand the very problem of becoming democratic and cannot offer any meaningful help in this Examples from different countries with different experiences of democratization processes are very useful for proper understanding of the very principle of the democracy.As always with Andrew Solomon, I saved a ton of quotes, but it would be impossible and inhumane to copy all them here, so I ll just list some of the aspects I liked found the most interesting Unexpected for me problems that South Africa has due to its multiethnicity and multi language policy, and the overall bureaucracy issue there There is also a hugely important problem of apartheid firstNo one in South Africa will publicly acknowledge the absurdity of anything but apartheid, because apartheid is so much worse than whatever is wrong with the country now But everyone is aware of spending a great deal of time in an absurd theater of symbolic respect Surely, the country has a lot of other problems and challenges, but apartheid may be a thing that stays on the way to the proper attention to these things I feel that we, Ukrainians, also have such apartheid first things in our society and it s a big taboo in our minds We should overcome it some day A very peculiar case with Chinese art from the National Palace Museum in Taiwan and a lot of cool background information about the historical and cultural identity of Taiwanese people and their relationships with China Again, many acute parallels with Ukraine Russia West relationships and identity problems Everything about China China was presented in several articles about random things, but each contributes something interesting and important to our understanding of this society Among those, I was especially striken by reflections of intelligent people about the legacy of Mao and the Cultural Revolution Similarly to Soviet times and Stalin, the Cultural Revolution and Mao are imbedded into people s minds as something great, important, amazing, and, most remarkably, as something indispensable, essential for their identity Surprising and reflective things about depression among Greenlanders and its specifics Problems with adjustments to a new, post Taliban society in Afghanistan I was especially moved and inspired by the personality of Zamzama Shakila I even googled her picture on the Internet, because you should SEE some people in your own eyes, you know Nevertheless, women are still afraid to go without cover on the streets there, and public women who appear on television, for example are murdered And, still, here we also have a beautiful story about the music that helps to break the silence in the country still full of fear Such little stories really give a vibrant feeling of the society, don t they You perceive the country in a much complex and meaningful way Very interesting story about Brazil overcoming its favela problem Really, it s so fascinating and full of empowering lessons, that I do not undestand why I haven t heard about it before it should have been in articles, movies, and blogs all around the world Again, we NEED this experience here, in Ukraine we do not have favelas, of course, but we have many comparable things that should be eliminated through a united work of force police, army, government and love social services, education, integration Mind blowing accounts about recent history of Myanmar and Libya Those are very complex and detailed stories, with many surprising discoveries and, again, parallels with our society and its current problems and challenges I would say that these chapters look to me the most authentic with respect to the original idea of the book, Reporting from the Brink of Change, and I would be absolutely happy if the whole book consisted of such overviews about different nations.In conclusion, I cannot recommend this book wholeheartedly as I said, I myself sometimes had a hard time reading it, despite my great loyalty to Andrew Solomon, but I am glad that I finished it and learned so many interesting things I would love to discuss many aspects from the book with somebody, but I understand that the book is not an easy experience. Stories about the places the author went, some are interesting, some are kind of boring some have deep thoughts , some just shallow fun Here are a few quotes and notes I marked down when reading the book Three days in August Page 61 The artists found out long ago that the way to combat a government that presents lies as if they were the truth is to tell the truth as if it were joke An awakening after the Taliban There is a kind of joy that can be known only by people who have grieved deeply happiness is not only a quality of its own but also an effect of contrast Song of solomons Marovo lagoon, the world largest island enclosed lagoonMuseum without walls , Japan Benesse house on Naoshima islandCircle of fire letter from Libya Qaddafi is very happy to have corrupt people working for him, a Qaddafi insider said to me He d much rather have people who want money than people who want power, and so he looks the other way and no one threatens his total control of the country Corruption is a problem, and sometimes a solution.