In a Sunburned Country is Bill Bryson’s entertaining memoir on his travel through Australia.
If you, like me, have always had a strange fascination about that country down under, there’s an excellent chance you’ll enjoy this book. If you also like dry-witted humor and a strong dose of irony, then this book should probably be the next book you read.
The author, Bill Bryson, is an American-born journalist who lived half of his life in England essentially writing color pieces about things from an American perspective for the London Times. He has a very interesting style of writing and a combination of British humor and American sensibility that makes for a highly ironic perspective that comes through in all of his writing. If you’ve read any of his books, you’ll already know what I mean.
In this tome, Bryson focuses entirely on the Australian continent. Starting with historical facts and statistics that set up Australia as a strange and wonderful place, he then covers his travels around the country. His travel style is to hunt for gems in a particular area with scientific, historic, or cultural interest and he discusses briefly the interesting things he finds along the way. His discussion doesn’t just cover a single trip to the continent down under, but rather combines anecdotes from all of his trips.
Along the way he finds a way to squeeze in colorful descriptions of the peoples of Australia and their general character through individual specific historic examples as well as personal experiences and statistics. He similarly gives a picture of each of Australia’s great cities (and several smaller ones) and states. You’ll find some interesting, if confusing, discussion of the Australian political system and it’s relationship with mother country England.
Periodically, he comes back to historical facts about the country including it’s “discovery” in the modern world. Later he talks about it’s original “discovery” by ancients who became the aborigines. He gives a fair amount of discussion about the aboriginal people and their strife in the country. A sad discussion, but handled well and with compassion. This is the type of discussion I doubt you’d find in any other book on Australia.
Overall, this is quite an excellent book. It moves quickly and keeps you entertained along the way. If you have the pleasure to get the unabridged audiobook version, you’ll be listening to Bryson narrate the book himself. Not all authors do a good job with this. Bill Bryson excels, though.
My only criticisms of the book are as follows: apparently it was written in 1999 or so. That dates the book in some areas (the political discussion) and probably impacts his discussions of the major cities. This isn’t a huge detractor. The first time I read the book was 2004 and none of that was notable. Now, however, it calls itself to your attention occasionally. My other criticism is that there is the occasional gratuitous use of curse words. Some are understandable, but many if not most just seem gratuitous and unnecessary. (Hence the 4 instead of 5 stars.)