I had the great privilege of reading a book sent to the DC family recently with the request that we review it on the site. I was thrilled to do so, and I have written a review below.
Before you read it, however, I want to make a case for why I was chosen, and why I wrote the review that I did.
First of all, I am a writer myself. Professionally, I am a freelance writer/photographer, and aside from my day to day tasks, I have written four complete novels, and I’m rounding the corner on book number five. That said, I do not claim to be a literary genius…only a literary nerd. An English degree from the University of Maine—blocks away from Stephen King’s home, and his alma mater (make your own judgements about his writing)—will turn you into a book snob right quick.
So I tried to write this review as both a cyclist and a writer. The cyclist part of me was into it. The writer part had some difficulties with the book. I think it’s worth reading if you’re not so picky about grammatical stuff; the cultural aspects of the story are cool, and the cycling scenes are fun…well worth the read. But if misplaced commas and sections of clunky narrative set you on end, skip this one.
Okay, enough disclaimer. The review:
JACKFRUIT by David Nghiem
Winter has arrived, and for me, that means prime time for an overactive imagination. I can see myself riding my bicycle all over the world, discovering ancient ruins and leaving the day-to-day doldrums behind, if only for a little while. For all my dreaming, though, my job is still waiting for me, my dog still needs to be walked, and dinner isn’t going to cook itself.
David Nghiem went beyond imagining. He packed up his bike and his bags and he flew south to ride across Latin America, and he recorded his journey in his new book, Jackfruit. The premise lends itself readily to daydreamers such as myself, and I was excited to dive into his account of his travels and what compelled him to leave in the first place. The adventure begins in the U.S., as David struggles to find purpose and to develop meaningful relationships, and he does a fine job of reaching out to any of us who have had more than just doldrums after our structured worlds in educational institutions ended.
From there, the transition becomes muddled. The impetus for his journey starts with a strange encounter with a bird at the home of his parents, a bird that seems to be supernaturally speaking to David: get out. Spread your wings. Fly. See. Do. Yes, a call to action! We all need this!
David leaves for Latin America to escape the tedium of daily life, and when he arrives, David battles illness, racism, ethnocentrism, and hostile terrain. The stage is set for a conflict, an epic journey into the mysterious world and into the mysterious self.
That is about as far as I got. While the story’s premise is interesting—and at times quite compelling—the writing is choppy and grammatically horrific. This is a decent story in need of some serious editing. Stephen King wrote in his book ‘On Writing’ that the final draft of a manuscript should be the first draft minus ten percent. At 455 pages, ‘Jackfruit’ needs to be slimmed down by about 25 percent, not because the story is uninteresting, but because too many asides do not propel the plot forward, and the reader becomes bogged down in excess characters, inane anecdotes, and haughty diatribes.
His forays into theorizing the origins of certain ruins in South America are quite interesting, if not for the occasional hard-fisted knocks on anyone who disagrees with his theories. He has a solid grasp on complex issues and is often quite adept at explaining them to the common man, but he alienates some readers by essentially scolding them for being ensconced in their own worlds, much as most of us are. I would rather be guided into a new world than told I am not open-minded enough for it, encouraging me to go home rather than hop on the saddle on the bike next to David and join him on his journey.
Nghiem is obviously a thoughtful and educated man; he is an adventurer and an astute observer of humanity. Unfortunately, he is not a writer. His story is one that needs to be told, and it is one that can be told compellingly, with fantastic grace, with the gentle and steady touch of a seasoned writer, which Nghiem simply is not. A ghostwriter could save this book, because the story is itching to extend an invitation to us to ride on down the dirt roads in South America with David.
Check the book out for yourself on Amazon and make a decision for yourself. It may speak to the inner adventurer in you, so be careful: plane tickets may be in your future.by