Bill Bryson’s ‘In a Sunburned Country’

In The Art of Travel Spring 2018, 11. Second book, Sydney by AnnabelLeave a Comment

When I describe my experience in Sydney to people back at home, I find myself conflicted with how to frame it. While I love the beaches, the food, and the near-perfect weather, ever since the day I landed in Sydney there has always been something a bit off. I’d attribute this unfamiliar feeling of disconnection to the jet lag or homesickness, however on my weekend trips exploring Australia outside of the city I feel just as engaged and at peace as I would at home. I tell my friends here that the entire city feels like some sort of computer simulation that I’ve been dropped into. I’ve been struggling to come to terms with this state of disconnect, and it wasn’t until I read Bill Bryson’s ‘In a Sunburned Country’ that I recognized my sentiments being echoed in a concrete fashion.

Bryson’s novel focuses on his journey throughout Australia, from the cities to the deep outback to the Great Barrier Reef. While I haven’t traveled to half as many places in Australia as he recounts in his journey, this book served as an inspiration for me to take more initiative when it comes to exploring this country for all its beauty while I’m still here. His descriptions of what it was like to really take in the beauty of Australia really captured me. I’ve never read a full travelogue of this nature before. Usually the books I read in my free time that I tend to connect the most are memoirs or even a quality historical fiction, so I wasn’t expecting much from this novel. I was pleasantly surprised by the way Bryson’s writing always managed to place me where he was. I don’t consider myself a ‘nature’ girl by any means so it was nice to live vicariously through a lot of his experiences and I gained a lot of inspiration from his different adventures.

One of my favorite portions of the novel was definitely the ‘Crossing Australia’ chapter, where Bryson basically examines the crazy measure many explorers go to in order to learn the land. When discussing one explorer who drank horse urine, Bryson writes, “ Stuart and his men retained equally fond memories of a time, on the brink of starvation, they found a clutch of dingo puppies and boiled them up in a pot. They were, he wrote, “delicious!” Why people repeatedly subjected themselves to such ordeals is a mystery that surpasses understanding.” The humor Bryson uses throughout the book really engaged me and this chapter was a great example.

What definitely stuck out and related to me the most as a reader was when Bryson recounted his experiences in Sydney. Bryson really captured the overwhelming feeling of ‘so much to do, so little time’ that tends to through me off in this city, and I was relieved to realize I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. Australia is such a vast and varied country that I love to explore, however sometimes I feel like I’m not spending my time in Sydney well enough. I highly recommend this novel to anyone that plans to travel this country, as not only is it filled with helpful advice, but it really aided me in validating a lot of my unsure feelings. Through this novel, I feel less anxious about everything the city has to offer, and I’m more confident to explore it one step at a time.


(Image: Outback; Source: Style Magazine)

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