Share

Lost paradise

Lost paradise

Reminiscing the America that once was - the land of ideals and natural beauty

Manjula Padmanabhan
August 28 , 2014
03 Min Read

To the outsider, the culture of the United States appears deceptively accessible. Through its news-media, its literature and its popular music, its cinema and its politics, the country seems forever to be exposing itself, like a cabaret artist, like a monument, like a neon light, to the rest of the world’s gaze. And yet, as Timothy O’Grady reveals to us as he undertakes a 15,000-mile journey by car, on a circuit around the perimeter of his native land, it is more complex and mysterious than almost any other nation in existence.

 

Starting in New York City, he works his way north and westwards, the dial of his internal radio pointing now to musicians, now to writers and thinkers, now to friends and personal reminiscences, now to details of landscape, architecture or philosophy. He stops in San Francisco and returns to Europe for eight months before resuming his journey, moving east and south, going all the way down around Florida before turning north towards New York once more.

 

There have been several precedents for his book, in the sense that many authors, from Alexis de Tocqueville in the mid-19th century to Mark Twain at the turn of the 20th, from Henry Miller between the two World Wars to Robert Pirsig in the ‘60s, have attempted to create personalised maps of the United States. O’Grady’s project is a little more ambitious and perhaps also more successful in that he manages a complete tour of the property, so that by the end of it, for a few moments we catch a glimpse of the whole astounding prospect. Of course, our perspective remains similar to that of an ant staring up at a Botero sculpture, all bulging curves and astonishing textures, but for that instant when we end the journey with him, we feel our minds extended and our understanding enriched by all that he has seen and thought, remembered and endured.

O’Grady’s narrative style is smooth and intelligent, requiring the reader to remain clearly focussed across all the miles of highway that he drives through, all the detours into small towns and all the sharp, well-turned portraits of people he encounters along the way. His passion for music draws him through dusty backwaters such as Hibbing, Minnesota which was the birthplace of Robert Zimmerman, better known to the world as Bob Dylan, while his interest in golf, billiards and baseball permits him to engage with strangers in a natural, uncomplicated way.

O’Grady’s perspective is that of an American expatriate born in the ‘50s, a man who has lived away for 30 years, in Ireland, London and currently in Spain. His memories of early childhood are fond, but the fact that he moved away, after leaving the US for the first time at the age of 22, suggests that his restlessness went deeper than mere ennui or lack of choices. The idea of making a journey of this sort was awakened in the late ‘70s but not followed up till long after his country had changed from the buoyant, hopeful place he remembered growing up in, as a boy in Chicago, to the ‘darkening’, as he calls it, that fell over the country during the Reagan years. He approaches his task with the diffidence of someone performing explorative surgery on his own body, to see if he can locate the root of the malaise or at the very least, provide a true description of it. In all his distaste, however, there yet remains a lingering sweetness left over from the memory of his happy childhood and a deep nostalgia for all that’s been lost from that paradise of natural beauty and idealism once synonymous with the name ‘America’.


All Tags

Here to there

Explore Directions(Routes) and more...
to Go

Other Editions

Outlook’ is India’s most vibrant weekly news magazine with critically and globally acclaimed print and digital editions. Now in its 23rd year...

Explore All
  • Check out our Magazine of the month
  • Offbeat destinations
  • In-depth storytelling
  • Stunning pictures
  • Subscribe