India: The Shimmering Dream
Book review | Veloce Publishing | Max Reisch | Puch 250 | Vienna | Bombay
In our time we've read a lot of motorcycle travel books. Robert Pirsig's Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance got us started. That led to Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels. That led to The Rugged Road by Theresa Wallach (which, for complicated reasons, we never finished).
Somewhere along the way we also read One Man Caravan by Robert Edison Fulton, then Dreaming of Jupiter by Ted Simon, then Lila (which is a follow up to Zen and the Art—but isn't actually about motorcycling at all), and we took a look at The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto "Che" Guevara but couldn't sustain our interest. And there were a few other books that came and went and slipped our minds.
But right now, we're 95% of the way through India: The Shimmering Dream by Max Reisch (1912 - 1985), and it's up there with the best of the best. Unless this book falls off a literary cliff in the final 10 or 20 pages, it'll deliver us satisfactorily to a long awaited destination (and we'll update this review when we get there).
It didn't promise well, however. When the slim volume dropped through the letterbox we glanced at it, flipped some pages, looked at some grainy images, ummed and ahhed and stuck it on the pile. But over the next day or so we delved a little deeper, and then one night there was nothing on the telly worth watching, and it was raining, so we got reading in earnest.
The title was familiar, we agreed, and soon we remembered that Panther Publishing (Rollo Turner's outfit) published this book back in 2010, or maybe earlier. But Panther recently closed its doors and disposed of most of the stock, and it looks like the rights to this one went to Veloce. That's who's publishing it now.
It's a shame about Panther, incidentally. The company was a small, independent business and had some very interesting titles. But it's Veloce's moment now, so we'll stay focussed.
India: The Shimmering Dream tells the story of Austrians Max Reisch and Herbert Tichy, two students who for various reasons decided to ride from Austria to Bombay; the first overland motorcycle trip to India, we're advised. This was 1933, note (the same year that Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany), and the chosen vehicle for our Austrian chums was a shrewdly blagged 250cc Type T Puch.
India, back then, was still a magical place to many Europeans. True, the British had been there for generations. And not just the British. But it wasn't the India as we now it today. There were still mysteries and cultural shocks and nothing that you might today call a tourist trail.
Heavily laden with tyres, clothing, cameras, tools, water, oil and petrol—and bearing all the optimism of a pair of hopeful, irrepressible, live-for-the-moment 20 year olds—these guys threw practically all caution to the four winds and sallied forth into a little known wilderness.
The trip took these intrepid voyagers across south eastern Europe through Yugoslavia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Balochistan (as it was then; it's now part of Pakistan) and then into India. Bombay was the end of the line. At that time, in large swathes of the planet, motorcycles were still unknown, which in turn meant that for thousands of miles these guys were on their own with no dedicated support network (as they found to their deep concern when the wheel spokes began popping and left them with oval hoops and a seriously rutted road in the middle of nowhere).
But at various points they did have friends and/or supporters. Beyond that, it was all dust, mud, broken asphalt, rutted byways and full-on deserts.
What makes this book so compelling is the attention to detail. The topography descriptions, the wildlife, the personal living conditions, the food, the health issues, the dangers, the specific motorcycling problems, the weather, the dozens of cultural insights (many of which are very relevant today). And there are a few other surprises too.
The original manuscript was written in German. Apparently it lay dormant for many years and was rediscovered and translated by a woman named Alison Falls—and she did such a good job that it's easy to imagine that she was actually there on the journey. Only once did we spot what we thought might be a misplaced translation; notably a phrase that we thought ought not to be there (and it was so trivial that we've since forgotten what it was).
The rest of the tone, the voice, the nuances, the humour, the pathos, the excitement and the despair is just perfect. Through the pages we steadily get to know Max and Herbert, and we care about these guys and want them to succeed in their quest.
There's a lot more we could say about this book. But that would spoil this voyage of discovery, and it's a trip that pretty much all motorcycle journeymen and journeywomen will want to make. That's our view, anyway. And even if you're simply an armchair traveller, this book will keep you interested, amused, entertained and edified for thousands of miles.
It's just excellent.
▲ Max Reisch aged about 48. We know little of his later life. But we do know he made other overland journeys, by car if not by motorcycle. However, if you read German, there is a Max Reisch website with more biographical information. And that's Max immediately below with the 250cc Puch that carried him and Herbert so far, and so faithfully.
The book is published in paperback. The dimensions are A5 (210mm x 148.5mm). There are 224 pages and 96 pictures (B&W). The ISBN is: 978-1-787112-94-0. Veloce is asking £14.99 plus P&P.
Check with Veloce for eBook details if that's the way you want to go. But this is a book you might want to hold in your hands rather than read on a screen.
Whichever option you chose, we'll be very surprised if you don't feel it was worth every penny. It's just a great little tale that deserves the telling.
Max Reisch died in 1985. We've got no word on Herbert, but if you read this book, you'll bring them both back to life, if only for a little while longer.
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Copyright Sump Publishing 2018