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Book Review: A Trance After Breakfast: And Other Passages by Alan Cheuse

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The best travel writing carries us along on a soul-journey. It dramatizes how the heart learns about itself in relation to the world, making the foreign familiar and the familiar slightly foreign. As author Alan Cheuse states:

… because along with extra shirts and underwear, we always bring with us that which is usually impossible to leave behind at home, which is to say, ourselves, our spirits, our, if you will, souls.

Writers reading Cheuse always learn something about being a better writer. We learn about structure, beauty, the unique turn of phrase no one else would use, we learn to write directly to the reader.

In reading A Trance After Breakfast, you'll learn how to take your travel experience and make something it more. We observe Cheuse's simple narrative style, which succeeds because of his ability to remain aware. In doing so, he makes something more of himself because of his travels.

Most pieces in this book have appeared elsewhere, such as Gourmet, The San Diego Reader, and literary magazines. We tag along as Cheuse travels in Mexico, Bali, New Zealand, and less exotic locales, full of shared insights.

Two of the longer pieces, "Port of Entry" and "Mexican Rabbi," which explores Jewish cultural life in Mexico, first appeared in The San Diego Reader. We see Cheuse as an extraordinary combination of the wandering traveler and self-described pilgrim. He tags along with the border guards in his poignant essay, "Port of Entry," observing San Ysidro Port of Entry, often called the world's busiest land border crossing. Cheuse lets us observe U.S. Customs officials as they manage the border crossing traffic. We peer into the lives of the border agents, who work two shifts each day, and witness the sad and scared eyes of people caught in desperate attempts to escape from Mexico to America, which he calls the "United States of Helpless Dreamers."

A Trance After Breakfast is a fine blend of travel and personal essays, and a model of narrative non-fiction only a good story-teller could weave.

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About Helen Gallagher