P.J. O'Rourke travels to hellholes around the globe in Holidays in Hell, looking for trouble, the truth, and a good time. After casually sight-seeing in war-torn Lebanon and being pepper-gassed in Korea, P.J. checks out the night life in communist Poland and spends the Christmas holidays in El Salvador. Taking a long look at Nicaragua, P.J. asks, "Is Nicaragua a Bulgaria with marimba bands or just a misunderstood Massachusetts with Cuban military advisors?"; has a close encounter with a Philippine army officer he describes as "powerful-looking in a short, compressed way, like an attack hamster"; and concludes, "Some people are worried about the difference between right and wrong. I'm worried about the difference between wrong and fun."
No doubt about it: P. J. O'Rourke has a bizarre sense of fun. "What I've ... been," he writes in his introduction to Holidays in Hell "is a Trouble Tourist--going to see insurrections, stupidities, political crises, civil disturbances and other human folly because ... because it's fun." Forget Hawaii or the Poconos--O'Rourke gets his jollies in places like war-torn Lebanon where he is greeted at the border by a gun barrel in his face, or Seoul, just in time for election-day violence. Wherever he goes, however, O'Rourke takes his quirky sense of humor, laser eye for detail, and artful way with words: a Philippine army officer is "powerful-looking in a short, compressed way, like an attack hamster," and the Syrian army is described as having "dozens of silly hats, mostly berets in yellow, orange and shocking pink, but also tiny pillbox chapeaux.... The paratroopers wear shiny gold jumpsuits and crack commando units have skin-tight fatigues in a camouflage pattern of violet, peach, flesh tone and vermilion on a background of vivid purple. This must give excellent protective coloration in, say, a room full of Palm Beach divorcees in Lily Pulitzer dresses."
O'Rourke's flip, sarcastic style isn't for everyone, of course; the concept that anyone could find sightseeing in the Beirut or El Salvador of the 1980s fun might prove offensive to more than a few readers right off the bat. But love him or hate him, P. J. O'Rourke knows how to tell a good story, and if you like your travel writing laced with more than a little cynicism, Holidays in Hell could be just the book you've been looking for.
IrishPenJen (United Kingdom) (2009/10/09):
In Holidays in Hell America's funniest writer takes on the role of tour guide with hilarious results. In this darkly satirical take on the travel writing genre, O'Rourke reports from trouble spots around the world; 'A Ramble through Lebanon' and 'Christmas in El Salvador' may sound unpromising, but when subjected to O'Rourke's blackly comic treatment they become gloriously entertaining inversions of the standard travelogue. The perfect antidote to political correctness, Holidays in Hell is also a clear-eyed look at humanity, or man's lack of it, around the world.
A career as a journalist with Rolling Stone magazine has taken O'Rourke to all four corners of the globe and provided him with plenty of ammunition to fire his black sense of humour. Unashamedly provocative, his musings are always bitingly witty - whether he is commenting on the violent quelling of a student demonstration in South Korea, cursing sea-sickness when covering the America's Cup or describing a hellish holiday in a centre run by TV evangelists. (Kirkus UK)
What the papers say:
'The first few pages of this book made me laugh so much I dropped it on my month-old baby... Holidays in Hell is a splendid read' EVENING STANDARD