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Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle…
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Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle (edition 2010)

by Dervla Murphy

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Title:Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle
Authors:Dervla Murphy
Info:Eland Publishing Ltd (2010), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:Non Fiction, Travel, Autobiography

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Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

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Full tilt was Dervla Murphy's first book to be published. It describes her journey to India in January to July 1963, equipped with little more than the most uncomplicated bicycle she could find, a change of underwear, a toothbrush and a revolver. The title is slightly misleading, as we are told very little about the journey from Ireland to Turkey: this part, including the famous contretemps with the pack of wolves is covered in the first ten pages or so, and she only really starts to describe the journey in detail from the Iranian frontier onwards.

In effect almost all the book is about her time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two countries that she particularly enjoys. Iran and India have their good points too, but for Murphy they're not a patch on their neighbours. There's probably something of a Thesiger-like element of romanticising tough, masculine cultures about that preference. On her own website, there's a quote from the New York Times describing her ‘indomitable will … and almost Monty Python-like stiff upper lip’ (both amply demonstrated in this book) — very possibly only someone used to nomadic life in the Himalayas could match up to her standards of toughness. But she clearly also finds contact with local people an extremely important part of travelling, and that is something that works particularly well for her both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In remote areas the local people welcome her into their homes on equal terms, probably responding to the simplicity of her travelling style; in the cities she charms her way into the homes of the upper classes. People in India and Iran don't quite respond to her in the same straightforward "man to man" way (although the book ends before she's really had a chance to get a feel for India).

Something that struck me about Murphy's approach is that she notices farmwork and always tells us in a very straightforward way about what people are doing in the fields, what the crops look like, what condition the animals are in. It's never presented as picturesque background activity, but she always talks about it as though she understands how these things fit into the way the local people make their living. And when she doesn't understand why they are doing something, she evidently takes the trouble to ask about it. Probably this has something to do with her background in rural Ireland, but it made me wonder whether it struck me particularly because so many other travel writers are urbanites for whom a sheep is a sheep?

The style and construction feel a bit rough around the edges, ranging unpredictably between raw farce, lyrical descriptive passages, thoughtful analysis and gritty adventure, in a way that seems to go very well with Murphy's evidently rather forceful and eccentric personality, and her tendency to do things she would definitely be advised against if she were so foolish as to ask for advice before doing them. She comes across as someone who travels for her own satisfaction and writes about it because she wants to share the pleasure she takes in what she experiences: I'll definitely be looking out for some more of her work (she's written some twenty books in the last fifty years, so I don't know how I managed to overlook her for so long).
  thorold | May 7, 2014 |
Inspiration and fun, as always. ( )
  Tifi | Apr 22, 2013 |
The highlights of this travelogue are undoubtedly Afghanistan and Pakistan. Readers who aren't acquainted (through her many later books) with Dervla Murphy's hard drinking, hard riding lifestyle might find this story a bit of a muddle. Take into account that this is essentially a first work by someone who travels in order to travel, rather than to write a comfortable book about travelling, and you might find her occasionally awkward or dry style less jarring. Unlike many who do something extraordinary and then write a passable book about it, Dervla Murphy then spends the rest of her life in (seemingly) constant motion, cycling and drinking her way across continents with as much aplomb as you or I'd go down to the shops. And yes, her writing style became smoother, and her insights into local cultures and issues very sharp indeed. What shines through in this early narrative though, and which is common to all of her work, is her fearless attitude and tremendous empathy for the people and cultures she travels through, and in many cases becomes a guest to. It is true that Dervla's insights may be at times naive, and certainly not informed by a university degree in political science or anthropology. But for just those same reasons, her commentary on tribal and village life in Afghanistan and Pakistan have considerable charm and value as an 'authentic' record.

Few writers wrote so well about travelling in this area in 1963, the only comparable journeying - to my knowledge - was by the Australian Peter Pinney who recorded 15 years of travel through Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas in a series of books published in the 1950's and 1960's. Almost any of Dervla's books are recommended, but this is one of the best to start with. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in 'rough' travel, or seeking insights into the people of Afghanistan or Pakistan. ( )
  nandadevi | Apr 8, 2013 |
An interesting account of Murphy's travels through countries such as Peria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, on her way from Dublin to Delhi. The journey itself sounds commendable enough; however, it is the choice of countries in the light of past events that makes this book so compelling.
(January 2008)
  Tselja | Jun 16, 2010 |
Despite the title, this travelogue pretty much ignores the journey across Western Europe, and sums up the Balkan nations and Turkey in a quick introductory chapter. There's also little about the final destination of India. So the book focus exclusively on cycling across Iran (or Persia as the author calls it), Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The book is adapted with little modification directly from the author's journals (a bad idea according to my writing teacher Giles), which she did not keep earlier in the trip. Due to the journalistic nature of the writing it can be a bit dry, although the amazement I have for an Irish woman cycling solo across continents in 1963 and the incredible things that happen to her keep it interesting despite her writing style. Also, there's a certain dramatic irony each time she enters a village that today is mentioned on the nightly news, or she discusses the resentments of the local populations against the interfering Russians and Americans. I am a bit put off by her arrogance, and despite her professed admiration for the Asian cultures she meets, and her disapproval of Western ways in relation to him, she still often sounds condescending and ethnocentric. Even if a lot of the journey is missing, she probably got the best parts, and I'm glad it kept the book short since I probably would not want to read more in the same vein (and still enjoy it).

"The house reveals what some might describe as the poverty of Afghanistan but what I prefer to call its simplicity, since poverty denotes a lack of necessities and simplicity a lack of needs." - p. 69 ( )
1 vote Othemts | Jun 25, 2008 |
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(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:48 -0400)

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Shortly after her tenth birthday, inspired by an atlas she was given, Dervla Murphy decided that she would one day cycle to India. Almost twenty years later she set out to achieve her ambition on her bicycle, Roz. Here she describes her journey and experiences. Originally published: London: John Murray, 1965.… (more)

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