In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
27 March 2006
By Jason Luttrell
United States of AmericaSalt Lake City, Utah, United States of America

In A Sunburned CountryAll I intend to say is that Bill Bryson has done it again: he has crafted an informative travel journal infused with his signature wit and humor, and has provided me with a reasonable ken regarding the peculiar oddities of Australia. And this book was the first in a long time that made me laugh out loud. It also gave me the great pleasure of annoying my roommates and friends while I created "storytime" at the dinner table, reading passages of In A Sunburned Country to them. I doubt they (or I) will ever sit to eat our breakfast of eggs and hashbrowns without thinking that we are happily devouring an embryo, because that's the kind of humor that saturates this book. It is used to justify, explain, and delineate what a peculiar, lucky, and forgotten country that is Australia, and Bill Bryson has nailed it on the head.

The running jokes throughout the entire book, such as drinking urine if you're stuck in the outback, or the peculiar pain of the wicked box jellyfish, make the reader immediately realise that this is one well-written, planned, and structured book. Most travel diaries and journals rarely live up to this caliber of organisation. For instance, in the first few chapters Bryson mentions a Japanese cult (by the name of Aum Shinrikyo) that may have set off an atomic bomb, to illustrate the fact that a lot goes on in Australia, but the rest of the world never hears about it. This cult, however, is not mentioned again, until the last third of the book. For me (and I suspect many), this meant that I had to search my brain for where I had heard the term "Aum Shinrikyo" before. The entire book is full similar examples. This is a tactful ploy by Bryson: not only does he give you an immense amount of information, but he illustrates this information with the most obscure, quirky pieces of evidence to ensure you never forget it.

Not only is the book well written and organised, but it is descriptive and beautiful. In his own odd way, Bryson shows us the uniqueness of Australia; the side not usually seen in guidebooks but, somehow, as if magically, all of our expectations of Australia are met. After finishing this book, I still feel as though Australia is a lucky country; it is a beautiful country full of young, attractive people (with addictively sexy accents); and it is still alluring to anyone in the Western world. In fact, it may even be more alluring now after reading the book.

Most books concerning Australia spend pages on Sydney, and even more pages on Uluru (better known as Ayer's Rock). Some will even mention Melbourne. Bryson, rather, takes us across the country, through the outback, on the legendary Indian Pacific Railroad. He drives from Darwin in the north of the country straight down to Uluru. He spends a significant amount of time in Adelaide and Canberra, as well as all the way up the northern coastal towns such as Cairns. In effect, he gives a highly comprehensive view of Australia. And he describes it all so well. One of the highlights is his journey through the Daintree National Forest. The language used to describe the trees, the sounds, the people, and the catwalks through the canopy are perfectly apt. This is one of those forgotten areas of Australia that most tourists never see.

The same can be said for Adelaide, which Bryson describes as a beautiful glimmering city. Unfortunately, most people couldn't tell you where Adelaide was on a map of Australia. Many Australians probably couldn't even point it out, even though it is one of the large cities. Adelaide and Daintree are some of those forgotten areas to most Australians, just as Australia is one of those forgotten areas to much of the rest of the world. And why shouldn't it be? As Bryson cleverly points out on page 304, Australia doesn't do anything to get our attention: "It doesn't have coups, recklessly overfish, arm disagreeable despots, grow coca in provocative quantities, or throw its weight around in a brash and unseemly manner."

So, if this book is so great, why does it only rate an 8 out of 10? Though it was published in 2000, Bryson rarely talks about any of the problems Australia currently faces, namely, the forgotten Aborigines. Certainly, he talks about them and the massacres of centuries past, but what about their current plight? Most importantly, what about their culture, their extremely unique languages, and the spiritual dreamtime that is the crux of their belief system? Only a paragraph or two touches on these topics. What makes this worse is that Bryson lambastes previous authors for hardly commenting on these topics, yet he does it himself. It is certainly true that not a lot is known about these subjects, but certainly they are deserving of more than a few meager paragraphs.

All in all, Bill Bryson has mixed a near perfect cocktail of information blended with description, on the rocks with his wit and humor. It's not likely that many people will forget about Australia after reading this book, nor will they forget about the dangers of traveling in Australia, such as the aforementioned box jellyfish, whose sting will make you scream even after you are sedated and unconscious. Now that's descriptive and memorable!


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brainwavez.org Opinion
Rating: 8/10
Key Facts (Review Copy)
Author: Bill Bryson
ISBN: 0-7679-0385-4
Publisher: Broadway Books
Edition: First
Year: 2000
Format: Hardcover book with dust jacket
Pages: 307
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