Mark Twain has been my favorite author for a long, long time. I’m ashamed to say that it has taken my this long to get around to reading The Innocents Abroad. I now consider it the best of his non-fiction, and one of the funniest books I have ever read.
It’s essentially a travelogue. In 1867, Twain set sail on a pleasure cruise. The book opens with the flier advertising the journey, and is accompanied by many exclamation points. How could he resist?
The trip takes Twain and his band of “Pilgrims” to the Azores Islands, Jerusalem, Syria, France, Italy, and much more. Twain’s patriotism is proudly on display here, as of course, every single thing he sees and experiences gets compared to the American version.
In many ways, Innocents Abroad reminds me of The Clumsiest People In Europe: Or, Mrs. Mortimer’s Bad-Tempered Guide To The Victorian World. The difference is that Twain’s hilarious remarks on the desolate landscapes of Syria, or the endless tide of beggars howling for “bucksheesh!” everywhere he goes, or the grift practiced by many of their guides, is based on real travels. When he laughs about how every single town he stops in is selling the actual Crown of Thorns or the nails from Calvary’s cross, it is laughter based on experience–he has seen “unique” relics, over and over, with his own eyes.
Mrs. Mortimer just wanted to say a bunch of nasty things about people and places she had, almost without exception, not visited. It makes for a funny book, but I wound up laughing more at her than about any of the things she said. I haven’t traveled anywhere, and her book does not serve as a vicarious tour guide.
The Innocents Abroad does exactly that. Whether he loves or hates wherever he is, and whatever he is doing, Twain can back up his assertions, and he does so in the best possible way. He is also inimitable when describing annoying traveling companions.
If you’re a fan of Mark Twain, I think you’ll love the book. Like most books by Mark Twain, it is hilarious and you can learn something from it. If you’re not, I urge you to go in knowing as little as possible. I’ll leave you with my favorite story from the book.
There is great excitement about arrive at the port from which they will visit Athens. But alas, it is quarantined. I didn’t gather whether the quarantine was military, political, medical, etc. Only that aren’t allowed to go and see the Parthenon.
That night Twain takes a small boat and several of his companions and they sneak into the city. While there, trying to keep a low profile, they keep getting sidetracked by grapes on various vines, making themselves more and more likely to be caught. The best line in the book, “And my valor become utterly uncontrollable,” occurs during these scenes.
I could go on all day, but I don’t want to spoil anything else. If you like travel, travel writing, or humor, you’ll find something to love here.
PS: This book also appears on the list of free Kindle books.