Strange Bewildering Time

Published in February 2023 by House of Anansi Press.

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“This is the best kind of travel memoir—a rethinking and deepening of a journey made years ago. The older and wiser Mark Abley meets himself as a young man and the result is an account of the world, then and now, that is eloquent, rueful, and profound.”
Elizabeth Hay, author of Late Nights on Air

“This poetic memoir … Abley gracefully captures a sense of his youthful innocence. Readers will marvel at this nostalgic travelogue. “
Publishers Weekly

“A wonderful book about travel during a time on the threshold of change in the world. Strange Bewildering Time lives up to its name and Mark Abley writes of his travels from Istanbul to Kathmandu, and everywhere in between, with eloquent detail, wit, and wisdom.”
David Farley, author of An Irreverent Curiosity

“Open this book and you’ll get wafts of sandalwood and spices, of sun-baked roads and thumb-worn pages, and a touch of hippie sweat. Mark Abley’s Strange Bewildering Time is a gauge of how people have shaped the world and how the world shaped a wide-eyed poet. There’s nostalgia, humour and melancholy throughout this story, warm and honestly told. And as much as it is a look at how a young man changed, how relationships and experience can sometimes make the past seem foreign, I felt the older man very much alive in this – not so much a tale of someone looking back at a former self but of someone eloquently showing that if we keep our desire to search and express, the best parts of youth don’t die.”
Colin McAdam, author of Black Dove

“This delightful blend of travelogue and memoir swept me away to a foreign land: the late seventies. Youthful and privileged, Abley and his travel companion understand little of the decolonizing world and people they meet. But with his signature wit, critical candour and empathy, Abley’s older self offers context and the wisdom of hindsight. An absorbing portrait of regions in rapid transformation and a couple of young outsiders bemused by hospitality, sights and sounds they encounter on their trip of a lifetime.”
Shauna Singh Baldwin, author of What the Body Remembers

Strange Bewildering Time is a literary travel book in the tradition of Bruce Chatwin, Jan Morris and V.S. Naipaul — with a twist. It describes an overland journey across part of Asia that Mark made in the spring of 1978: a time when the Shah still sat on the throne of Iran, Afghanistan was still at peace, and Himalayan glaciers had not begun to melt.

As well as describing the places Mark visited and the people he encountered, the book also evokes the “hippie trail,” exploring its impact as well as the illusions of the youthful vagabonds who travelled along it.

Writing Strange Bewildering Time after so many years was possible only because Mark always kept the three slim notebooks that contained (in tiny though legible script) the daily record of his journey.

In January 2023, the Toronto Star published an excerpt from the final chapter: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2023/01/22/i-travelled-the-hippie-trail-in-its-last-year-four-decades-later-where-did-it-lead.html