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Towards the end of last year, author David Nghiem contacted us to see if we were interested in taking a look at his book Jackfruit: A Bicycle Quest Through Latin America (Bangor, ME: Booklocker.com, 2009). Being a fan of bicycle travelogues, I of course said YES!
Jackfruit is the story of Nghiem’s personal and spiritual journey through Central and South America. The author had finished a research project for NASA and was doing some soul-searching to determine his place in the world. Something “spoke” to him about getting himself and his bicycle down to Peru to kick off a lengthy trip. The author tends to ramble at times, particularly in the chapters leading up to the start of his journey. Throughout, there seems to be a lack of cohesiveness — as if Nghiem has so much to tell that he doesn’t really know where to start (or stop). Also, the English-composition tutor in me (during my undergraduate years, I tutored English-comp students) cringes at the punctuation and grammatical errors peppered throughout the text. Both of these detractions suggest that the author was in desperate need of a better editor.
But fear not: despite the grammatical problems and the rambling prose, this book is packed with glorious descriptions. Nghiem is extremely talented at painting the people he met, the situations he found himself in, and the terrain he rode through. Much of the descriptions are simply breathtaking, and those parts kept me slogging through the rest of the book. That slog can be tough; Nghiem brings up a variety of sub-topics that tend to fizzle out on their own with no resolution. In particular, there is a recurring bit about ancient symbols and an ancient earth-based power source I was dying to hear the conclusion to, but alas, that storyline petered out.
At his best, Nghiem captured the personalities and the generosity of the people he met along the way. He seemed to have a great ability to make real connections with these people and those interactions are some of the most heartwarming tales of his journey. This book isn’t for everyone; it is sparse on the technical details of bike touring, and the flow/grammar problems can be difficult to overlook at times. But, if you appreciate a good story about adventure in exotic locales, it might be worthwhile to track down a copy of Jackfruit.