Author: Sue Perkins | Publisher: Penguin
A few years ago I was asked if I’d like to make a documentary on the Mekong River, travelling from the vast delta in Vietnam to the remote and snowy peaks of Tibet. Up until that point, the farthest East I’d been was Torremolinos, in the Costa Del Sol.
Here’s the thing: I am scared of flying. I have zero practical skills. I can’t survive if I am more than a three minute walk from a supermarket. For the last seven years I have suffered with crippling anxiety. I bolt when panicked. I cannot bear to witness humans or animals in distress. I have no ability to learn languages. I am a terrible hypochondriac. Oh, and I am no good with boats.
So I said yes.
As an avid ‘Bake Off’ fan (before they did that dastardly thing and moved it to Channel 4, of course – I’m a purist and Noel Fielding creeps me out), and an English person, I was of course well aware of Sue Perkins. She’s become something of a national treasure. National treasure or not, I rarely read celebrity autobiographies – but she is very funny on ‘Bake Off’ and I do love a travel book. So I was quite excited about East of Croydon, and my anticipation was well rewarded – it’s an extraordinary book!
First off, East of Croydon is, as you would expect, laugh out loud funny. Really, truly, funny. Don’t read this book on the bus, because people will think you’re a lunatic. I absolutely howled. But for all that is so funny – it’s not an easy read. The book is based on the author’s experiences during the time she was filming a documentary about climate change in the Mekong region. Expect stories about animal abuse, extreme poverty, and small children living in the worst conditions and with the worst situations imaginable. it’s also intensely personal, which is both the set up for a joke and, again, intensely sad. I had to put East of Croydon down several times and come back to it, because it made my heart hurt just a little bit.
What makes East of Croydon so extraordinary is not just the story itself (which is remarkable, even by travel book standards), but the writer’s capacity for emotional resonance. The book is as much a journey for the reader as it was for Sue Perkins. The characters she meets on her way are wonderful, varied, interesting, funny, awful, and kind. The places she visits are nothing short of spectacular, and she creates a wonderful picture of them for the reader. It’s a visceral and challenging read.
I adored this book. It’s an incredible story, richly, emotionally, and honestly told. It was educational, without being preachy. I was completely blown away and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Have you read any good travel books lately? Recommendations, please!