FAR COUNTRY: STORIES FROM ABROAD AND OTHER PLACES, essays by Timothy Kenny reviewed by Beth Johnston

by Timothy Kenny
Bottom Dog Press, 144 pages

reviewed by Beth Johnston

In the preface to Timothy Kenny’s new essay collection, Far Country: Stories from Abroad and Other Places, Kenny links his stories to the new journalism of the 1960s, the work of “Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, and Joan Didion.” Yet although Kenny positions himself as Didion, personal and revealing, he more often echoes New Yorker journalist John McPhee. His essays hold back, shield the author’s character, and confess little. The best of them capitalize on Kenny’s strengths: carefully observed detail, compelling stories, and flair for sentence. But only a few of them require Kenny to risk baring himself and his responses to distant places.

Kenny is a former USA Today journalist and a journalism professor who has worked abroad since 1989. He’s seen a lot: Belfast during the Troubles, Berlin right before the wall fell, Sarajevo during the siege, and Kabul as Afghanistan is rebuilt. He’s interviewed Vaclav Havel in Prague and fought off feral dogs in Kosovo. His character feels like the movie version of a Western journalist abroadhe’s Mel Gibson in The Year of Living Dangerously or Stephen Dillane in Welcome to Sarajevo. Kenny himself might resist the comparison, since, he notes, he “was neither a war correspondent nor a traditional foreign-based journalist . . . [but] a reporter fortunate enough to travel overseas frequently.” Still, Kenny is true to journalistic type: he’s jaded enough not to be shocked by what he sees, pragmatic enough to resist heroism, and reluctant to indulge in unbridled idealism.