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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

April 25, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

THE WAY OF THE WORLD by Nicolas Bouvier, translated by Robyn Marsack (Marlboro Press: $20.95; 309 pp.) "Under the magnifying glass of the Baluchi sun, we discovered England in Quetta in much the same way as the Gallo-Romans had found Greece in Marseilles: an enlarged and simplified version of a particular cast of mind--and lifted from its context of bricks and fog, it was more disconcerting, somehow, than anything we had encountered." That's too complex a sentence to be considered typical of Nicolas Bouvier's travel book "The Way of the World," but it captures nicely the volume's tone; thoughtful, mysterious, a bit poetic. About the same time Jack Kerouac was crisscrossing the U.S. with Neal Cassady, Bouvier and his artist friend Thierry were driving from Yugoslavia to Pakistan in a decrepit Fiat Topolino with equal literary effect . . . though with an antithetical prose style, "The Way of the World" being alert and shambling where "On the Road" is nervous and hurtling. There are few pages in Bouvier's book that don't contain at least one notable sentence--credit, at least in part, translator Robyn Marsack--whether the Swiss author is describing fish emerging from an underground stream in Iran or a Serbian sculptor's thriving business, courtesy of the monolithic statues commissioned by the Communist government. Bouvier's descriptions of the car troubles encountered en route are often hilarious--the travelers once hitched a ride on an Iranian truck whose brake system, downhill at least, was a boulder tied to the rear bumper--but my favorite episode involves the attempt in a Turkish town to get an extended weather report. Bouvier and Thierry are directed, resourcefully, to the boarding school nearby, where the students produce letters from relatives detailing a recent storm's impact on their home villages.

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