By now, anarchist travelogues have almost become their own genre. Especially US-American anarchists exploring Europe have left a number of accounts, from zine articles to books published with established radical presses. Peter Gelderloos now adds his contribution with To Get to the Other Side: A Journey Through Europe and Its Anarchist Movements. In this case, the text is published as an online book, accessible and free to download at togettotheotherside.org. The format is not the only thing that is noteworthy about this release, though. So are the contents.
Many US-American travelogues, anarchist ones included, have a tendency to "exoticize" that which they are describing. Exoticism can go two ways: either a place is hopelessly romanticized, or entirely misunderstood. To Get to the Other Side steers well clear of both ends. Gelderloos illustrates cultural differences without essentializing them, and his efforts to learn about the places he visits and to embrace the surroundings he encounters are remarkable. (Gelderloos learns the languages, too, beating one of the most common anti-American stereotypes in the process.) Yet, the author always keeps an honest outsider's perspective, which makes good travel writing so exciting, as it allows to portray places, cultural idiosyncrasies, and, in this case, political scenes in ways that remain hidden to those entirely wrapped up in them.
Personally, I largely have to base these impressions on the opening chapters of the book, in which Gelderloos writes about his travels in Germany and Holland, countries which I'm highly familiar with (particularly Germany). Most of the other places described in the book several Eastern European towns, Thessaloniki and Athens in Greece, and then, at length, Barcelona I only know from passing. However, I feel safe in assuming that Gelderloos' keen observation does not fail us there either. His stories echo and complement many I've heard from other visitors and long-time residents.
The longest part of the book is dedicated to Barcelona. Considering that Gelderloos was arrested there and found himself in a long court case related to his political activities, this is hardly surprising. The episode offers an important insight into the absurdity of anti-terrorism legislation that has engulfed many European countries. However, this is far from the only relevant political issue discussed in the book. Gelderloos records many interesting and thought-provoking conversations about anarchist goals, tactics, and strategies, and adds a number of documents, translated from several languages, to illustrate his reports.
Apart from the politics, To Get to the Other Side is a wonderful travel book in its own right. While it never turns into the publication of a travel diary crammed with details that can hardly hold your attention for more than five pages, there always remains a strong personal dimension that distinguish the chapters from mere journalism. I definitely felt empathy for the protagonist, and the unembellished tales of spending nights at bus stops in wet sleeping bags brought back many memories of my own travels. Particularly enjoyable was the fact that we are not confronted with a solo male traveling superhero, still the gimmick of so many travel accounts. Citing the "silly embarrassment" that Gelderloos felt when cycling with his dad for a week should suffice as proof well, even mentioning the fact that he traveled with his dad at all should!
Finally, congratulations to whoever prepared this book for online publication! The design confirms that online publishing does not have to be soulless, cold, and ugly. The pages are well drafted and inviting, and include graphics from flyers and posters to hand-scribbled maps and photographs. Also, basically all chapters are kept at a length easy enough to navigate on a computer screen. Seeing work like this certainly makes you believe in the possibilities of the internet as far as high-quality DIY publishing goes.
In short, there are many reasons why you should check out To Get to the Other Side especially when it's only a click away!