The Dark Tourist: Book Review
‘Dark tourism is the act of travel and visitation to sites, attractions and exhibitions which have real or recreated death, suffering or the seemingly macabre as a main theme.‘
I have to admit that over recent years, Dom Joly, had all but vanished from my radar but, the above line describing his new book meant he was about to make a welcome return.
Of course, I knew he’d spent time embracing life in the jungle and I’d also heard whispers of him travelling the globe getting paid to get pissed but, it wasn’t since the, still, magnificent Trigger Happy TV that the man himself had played a leading role in my leisure time. To be fair though I had heard rumours that my own star had faded slightly in Dom’s life too, so I guess we’re equally to blame.
Anyway, forget all that as he’s returned to my life with a bang via his own unique take on the ever popular book genre known as travel. Only rather than taking us to secluded slices of paradise keen to welcome the weary traveller with open arms and a mango smoothie, Dom takes us to some of those places that instil a sense of dread at simply hearing the name. Beirut -check, Iran – check, Cambodia -check, North Korea – check, Chernobyl – check and a tour of assassination sites through the U.S.A. – check. It sounds like the sort of tour a particularly inept manager organises for his ageing Rock Band in the hopes there’s an untapped market yet to embrace their cacophonous charms, but in the hands of a self confessed ‘Dark Tourist’ like Dom Joly it becomes an absolute delight from the opening ski slopes of Iran to the final chapter homecoming in Lebanon.
Dom tells his tales as though he’s sat opposite you in the local boozer, each page flows along beautifully, punctuated by rich wit, drama and the writer’s own deep enthusiasm for the people, places and culture shocks he encounters. As the final few words leave the page there’s a feeling that you’ve actually met some of the characters involved. Po, the proud but worried guide in North Korea and Sergei, taking tourists into the danger zone in Chernobyl were particular favourites of mine. Of course at the climax of the adventure I also felt I knew a lot more about Dom himself and, despite his occasional glances down his nose at some of the folk he meets (mainly the hotel staff in Kiev) I left the tale with a great fondness for him, so he’ll be made up about that!
The destinations themselves are captivating and deeply interesting. North Korea is by far the most surreal while the dark history of Cambodia really hit home, Lebanon sounds beautiful and, actually, just read it, you’ll have no regrets, and with Dom Joly as tour guide you’re in better hands than he ever was.