The surreal deal

<strong>Manchán’s Travels: a Journey Through India</strong>

Manchán Magan<em> Brandon Books, 288p

We first meet Manchán Magan in the Himalayas, where he passes the time by drinking his own urine, hallucinating visions of angelic choirs and inadvertently instilling gay pride in a young leper. Then he is asked to present a Gaelic-language travel film, and so begins a surreal journey.

The book’s scope embraces the sublime and the ridiculous, taking in the crumbling palaces of the maharajahs, Hindu funeral rites and an aggressive troupe of hermaphrodite dancers. What saves this account from absurdity is the writer’s respectful handling of his material. While the narrative is often humorous, at times hilarious, Magan never opts for a cheap joke at the expense of the situation he is describing. Moreover, there is no breathless backpacker prose: he has an evocative and elegant turn of phrase, whether describing the “police-issue moustaches” of border guards or the courting rituals in a western-style cocktail bar in Delhi.

Most intriguing are the sporadic discourses on Irish history and the Gaelic language. While these may seem jarring in a book about India, the two cultures are in fact skilfully interwoven. The ability to bring together disparate elements with such lucid conviction is key to Magan’s skill as a travel writer.

This article first appeared in the 15 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, An abuse of power