Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Wet and the Dry by Lawrence Osborne

Title: The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey
Author: Lawrence Osborne
Themes: travel, alcoholism
Rating: **1/2

Plot: From "Drinking alcohol: a beloved tradition, a dangerous addiction, even “a sickness of the soul” (as once described by a group of young Muslim men in Bali). In his wide-ranging travels, Lawrence Osborne—a veritable connoisseur himself—has witnessed opposing views of alcohol across cultures worldwide, compelling him to wonder: is drinking alcohol a sign of civilization and sanity, or the very reverse? Where do societies and their treatment of alcohol fall on the spectrum between indulgence and restraint?

These questions launch the author on an audacious journey, from the Middle East, where drinking is prohibited, to the West, w

An immersing, controversial, and often irreverent travel narrative, The Wet and the Dry offers provocative, sometimes unsettling insights into the deeply embedded conflicts between East and West, and the surprising influence of drinking on the contemporary world today."
here it is an important—yet perhaps very often a ruinous—part of everyday life. Beginning in the bar of a luxury hotel in Milan, Osborne then ventures to the Hezbollah-threatened vineyards of Lebanon; a landmark pub in London; the dangerous drinking dens on the Malaysian border; the only brewery in the alcohol-hostile country of Pakistan; and Oman, where he faces the absurd challenge of finding a bottle of champagne on New Year’s Eve.  Amid his travels, Osborne unravels the stories of alcoholism in his own family, and reflects on ramifications of alcohol consumption in his own life.

My Thoughts: Osborne's short memoir on Drinking, predominately in the Middle East and North Africa, is rather rambling but full of interesting historical and societal facts. I enjoyed the sporadic inclusions of alcohol-in-history that Osborne peppers through his travels through the Middle East-searching for illegal alcohol.

Osborne relates his own alcoholism, although the reader is never quite sure how he truly feels about it. Even as he describes the deaths of loved ones who abused alcohol, he never quite connects it to his own alcoholism. He admits that Islamic countries have valid reasons for creating "dry" states, but cannot quite escape the lure of drunkenness...for even a single day apparently. As another reviewer says, it is very morally ambiguous. He seems to worship alcohol, and this is some feeble attempt to praise it's benefits against Islamic practices.

While I found this meandering memoir rather entertaining most of the time, and the "non-fiction/historical" facts absolutely fascinating; I must admit I found the "memoir"-ish parts rather boring and sometimes downright condescending (pg. 32 comes to mind). I think Osborne would make a wonderful writer of social/historical texts, but in this tome I found him self-indulgent, condescending, and plain unpleasant. I have no qualms with alcohol, but the way he glorifies the drunken state rubbed me the wrong way.

Osborne, Lawrence. The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey. New York: Crown, 2013.

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