The Rum Diary
Hunter S. Thompson
Began in 1958 (published in 1998)
On a bootleg bookshelf in Ho Chi Minh City I went to move a book to look at some titles underneath. You see, they were layered slightly overlapping binding over the pages of the book under it.
Needless to say, I created a domino type effect that made the entire row fall.
The first book that caught my eye was The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson. Now rewind to 2009. I was in Peru on a volunteer trip for two weeks with a group from Keene State College. It was early morning and I was looking through books on a shelf in the common room of our hostel in Lima. And what did I pick up and begin reading somewhere in the middle? The Rum Diary.
Fast forward. I am back in Vietnam. This time I am on a boat snorkeling. We have finished lunch and the boat is heading back to the island. A German man I finished the last of the watermelon with is sitting in a chair on the upper deck. What is he reading? The Rum Diary.
Now back to the bootleg bookstore. As a perturbed shop owner helped me clean up the books I held onto Hunter S. and I bought him.
The book was a bootleg. Completely photocopied and $2 (40.000 dong), but part of me wondered if that sort of anarchy suited Hunter S. Thompson and that he’d overlook his estate on Earth not making any money off my purchase.
I think he approved.
So I read it.
Here is a review:
The Rum Diary deals with a paradise or what should have been a paradise, but was somehow not. San Juan, Puerto Rico is Paul Kemp’s destination. He is a young journalist in his mid-twenties already disenfranchised with what he has done with his life. In a sentiment that I can understand, he feels that his time for greatness has past.
He leaves for Puerto Rico to write for a fledgling English newspaper in the city of San Juan. In the midst of ocean, palm trees, and beautiful beaches; Kemp never finds his satisfaction and his journey in the novel is one of constant restlessness. That search for a greatness that never falls into your lap.
It is the ultimate arrested Odyssey, the isolated island where Kemp can find no rest.
The novel is a beauty. It captures that nagging voice in all of us that is disillusioned in our youth out of college by what hasn’t happened and it lives in the paralytic fear of what will happen (or not happen).
We age, we die. It is grim, but it is there.
Thompson gives a voice to the debate. Kemp (Thompson) walks that line between being penniless and unknown or rich and sold out. A phony to borrow from JD Salinger.
So Kemp drinks, to see what happens. Kemp gets into fights, goes to a carnival, sleeps with his friends ex-girlfriend, sells out a pristine island paradise for profit all in the name of discovery. What is he and where is he going.
The novel was a quick read and it was rich. Thompson’s voice clearly comes out through Kemp and it remains a testament to the restless soul. It pushes the against that boundary that we know we shouldn’t cross, but wonder what would happen if we did.
Coming away from this review I will leave you with a quote from Paul Kemp (Hunter S. Thompson) that is at the center of the book. Give it some thought and then pick up a copy (bootleg or not) of The Rum Diary.
I sat there a long time, and thought about a lot of things. Foremost among them was the suspicion that my strange and ungovernable instincts might do me in before I had a chance to get rich. No matter how much I wanted all those things that I needed money to buy there was some devilish current pushing me off in another direction-toward anarchy and poverty and craziness. That maddening delusion that a man can lead a decent life without hiring himself out as a Judas Goat.
-Hunter S. Thompson (Paul Kemp in The Rum Diary)