Unruly Places, by Alastair Bonnett

Unruly Places
Years ago, I read a strange travel memoir by Daniel Kalder, Lost Cosmonaut, which sparked a love in me for travelogues of places most people don't visit. When I saw Alastair Bonnett's Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies, I jumped at the chance to review it. Over the course of this philosophical meditation of place and our relationships with it, Bonnett takes us to pirate towns, floating man-made islands, massive avant-garde art projects, dead cities, Siberian utopias, and other geographical oddities.

Unruly Places is a book for deep thinkers. As Bonnett travels the world, he ponders what spaces mean and represent for us. A fox den he finds in his native Newcastle leads him to ponder how we share our space with indigenous wildlife. The Nowhere Festival in the Spanish desert makes him wonder about places that only exist for a brief time before disappearing entirely. Bonnett does write about how many of the places featured in this book came to be, but the focus, for the most part, is not on history. (After a while, I started to skim the philosophical maunderings because I wanted more of the history.)

My favorite parts of Unruly Places have to do with historical locations. Bonnett laments over lost Old Mecca. I had no idea that so much of Islam's most holy city had been replaced in the last few decades. In writing about Old Mecca, Bonnett meditates on our veneration of old places. Another place Bonnett writes about, Derinkuyu, is such a fascinating historical oddity that I've just put it on my bucket list. Derinkuyu, in Turkey's Cappadocia region, is a medieval underground city. Another of my favorite places was the twinned cities of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. The map at the Baarles looks like someone nudged the elbow of the cartographer because they each have enclaves in the other country, due to their tangled medieval history and property rights.

I detected a lot of melancholy in Unruly Places because so many of them are dead, dying, and disappearing due to disaster, economics, politics, or climate change. Many of the places can't be visited—Wittenoom, Western Australia; Hobyo, Somalia; Pripyat, Ukraine—because they're just too dangerous. By writing Unruly Places, Bonnett preserves something of them and takes us along for the ride. This book will force you to think about place in a way you've never thought about it before.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for a fair review. It will be released 8 July 2014.

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