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08.06.08

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Phaedra

The Ridiculous Race

By Richard von Busack


In alternating chapters, two TV scriptwriters, both vets of the Harvard Lampoon, attempt to show up Phileas Fogg even while not referencing Jules Verne's masterpiece by name. The first prize is a glass of 40-year-old Kinclaith single-malt waiting for them back in L.A. (This whisky, from a since-shuttered distillery, can't easily be found retail. I see on eBay that a '67 bottle sold for 599 euros. You can do the guestimation.) Steve Hely, who works on American Dad!, heads east on a freighter for Shanghai, followed by an illegal road trip to Beijing and then a ride on the Trans-Siberian railroad, which turns out to be less than sex on wheels. Vali Chandrasekaran, a writer for My Name Is Earl, flies off to Mexico, Rio, Egypt and India and Cambodia, despite this bet's strict ban on airplanes. The two are rakish wits with a good eye for the terrain. Even if he welshes on the bet, Vali is a brave, genial explorer who will wander into any neighborhood and make friends. The book seems to be making the point that there are two worlds to circumnavigate: a rich world, like the one Hely enjoys in Scandinavia, and a poor one, which Vali explores, as he grouses about Egyptian beggars or memorializes the victims of the Khmer Rouge. If this were a contest of wit, though, Steve would win every time. He seems to do more book research and thus is able to get in a little more enlightened laughter at what he sees on his travels. He is particularly rich summing up the folly of trying to do the tourist thing, such as drinking airag, fermented mare's milk, best known as Genghis Khan's favorite tipple. For those not going to Mongolia this year, Hely suggests a way to re-create the flavor: "Get some half-and half and a can of warm Sprite. Mix the two in a glass. Let sit for a few days on top of your radiator." (Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran. Holt, 336 pages, $15 paperback)


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