14 October 2002

Book Review: One Foot in Laos (1999), by Dervla Murphy, ***


Dervla Murphy had planned to trek through the high mountains of Laos, far from the country's few motor roads, but she soon encountered complications. In Laos, however, the people compensated for all that went wrong. Murphy presents her glimpse of a unique culture in this account of her journey.


Good travelogue but questionable opinions. The author has a keen eye, is curious and knows how to share her emotions through her words. Her travelogues are always informative, and this is no exception. I have read it after my own trip to Laos and enjoyed it because she helped me see things, even retrospectively, that I had not seen, and also provided confirmation for what I did see and notice. She goes out of her way to find how people live, to get off the beaten track, to meet those whom tourists avoid and spares no effort to do so, giving up every comfort and even safety. I have done a little of what she has done, so I can admire the effort.

I do find she is too uncritical of the regime and her openly declared far left ideological bias is evident in every paragraph. I don't share it, but that does not bother me. We all have our prejudices and she has hers. I still think the travelogue part of the book is highly valuable, even unique. As for political and economic issues there are many other sources one can find and draw one's own conclusions.

She also makes frequent references to a few academic studies of Laos, but neglects many others. Perhaps she chose those that fit her theories best. In any case, again, she is free to choose her sources, and this is not an academic book, so her selectivity did not bother me. I have of course read other books on Laos to enrich my own opinions.

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