The Tourist Trail is the story of people driven by a mission. Angela Haynes studies penguins, hard, tedious, and isolated work that breaks her heart because she is documenting their decimation. Robert is an FBI agent who has a dedication to justice that is brought into question by his empathy for the cause of those he has been hunting. Aeneas is a leader of the Cetacean Defense Alliance, a fictional and inexact analog of the Sea Shepherd Society, using direct action to stop illegal whaling or the fraud of whaling through phony research vessels. Ethan is a computer programmer in love with Annie, an environmentalist. His mission is to get Annie to love him as he loves her.
They all come together in the Antarctic Ocean where they discover that people with a mission often have to pay a deep personal price for their beliefs. That is if they want to do right, not just be right.
If I have a reading obsession, it is the Antarctic. I have read travel memoirs, histories, and just about everything, even the fictional diary of a cat and oh, hell, did it make me cry and cry and cry. I have never thought of tuna the same way again. I am also someone who criticizes the purists who make the perfect the enemy of the good and who prefer losing to imperfect victories. I think of Rebecca West who wrote:
Often I wonder whether I would be able to suffer for my principles if the need came, and it strikes me as a matter of the highest importance. That should not be so. I should ask myself with far greater urgency whether I have done everything possible to carry those principles into effect, and how I can attain power to make them absolutely victorious. But those questions I put only with my mind. They do not excite my guts, which wait anxiously while I ponder my gift for martyrdom.
The people in this book act to carry their principles into effect and yes, they suffer personal losses. They are, in their minds, doing right even when in some ways they are not being right. There are important ethical questions asked in John Yunker’s The Tourist Trail and the answers are not obvious and not easy.
While Robert is conflicted, dismayed and disgusted by the murder of the whales, he does not question the accuracy of the eco-terrorist label for organizations whose tactics are economic sabotage and harassment, not murder. I would have liked him to think about that question. Aeneas seems single-minded and he would be more interesting if he expressed the cost of his dedication. Ethan is a tragic figure, though probably more tragic for male readers than for women who might think he’s a stalker. Angela, for me, is the most intriguing. Her heart is broken by penguins and and by people, but she never loses her strength of purpose.
I received a copy of The Tourist Trail from the publisher through a LibraryThing drawing. This is the second edition recently released in advance of coming sequel called Where Oceans Hide Their Dead which comes out next year. I didn’t read the preview because then I would be impatient for the sequel and then find the sequel less engaging because I read the first few chapters already. I am terrible that way.