In this state travel isn’t celebration but a kind of mourning, a way of dissipating yourself. He moves around from one place to another, not driven by curiosity but by the bored anguish of staying still.
So writes Damon Galgut in In a Strange Room (Europa Editions), a 2010 Booker Prize finalist.
Disney endings Galgut does not do, and that’s why I love this book so much.
His eponymous protagonist is a wanderer. But as stated above, Damon the character doesn’t travel strictly for pleasure. Take the first section, in which Damon roams around Greece to forget a failed relationship back in his native South Africa. On a deserted country road he meets Reiner, a gruff German. Two years later, Reiner travels to South Africa to visit Damon and the two embark on a rigorous trek and power struggle through Lesotho.
A couple years later Damon finds himself in Zimbabwe, where he plans to travel for a fortnight. But then he meets a trio of French-speaking travelers and ends up following them through Eastern Africa for weeks on end. Traveling doesn’t come easy to Damon, especially in Africa. He’s detained at borders while his travel companions are waved through. He meets other foreigners who make disparaging statements about South Africans, as if they’re absolved of any wrong-doings themselves.
In the final section, which mainly takes place in India, Damon tries to help a friend in need, but ends up in a life-and-death nightmare.
A renowned South African writer, Galgut doesn’t waste words. His minimalist style and lack of punctuation and traditional dialogue, along with alternating between the first and third person, lend to the tragic nature of his stories.