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Word Traveling: On Emotions and Eula Biss’ “No Man’s Land”

It is hard, admittedly, to finish a creative nonfiction book. Perhaps because they are driven by emotions—often dominantly singular, negatively singular: hatred, loss, anger. These emotions wittingly, consciously creep into the reader and weigh her down with heaviness and sighs, rendering her helpless and boneless to the point that taking a break from the book is necessary. That is how I feel mostly with narratives detailing collective pain: diaspora, slavery, racial discrimination, corruption, death, violence, injustice. James Baldwin’s. Jamaica Kincaid’s.  (And perhaps Joan Didion’s. No, I haven’t read the pile of Didions for the sheer reason that it is not the right time yet.) Their hatred is collective. They are invested, involved. It is, rightfully, too much. It is all right to put down the book, read a chapter of two of the nearest novel, before moving on to another essay of painful history.  Kincaid’s “A Small Place” is too slim a book, but god, it took me two months to read everything. In retrospect, it was not the best book to bring when backpacking. Kincaid expects, wants, wants the reader to experience her “small place” for a country’s pain. The reader can’t escape from her wrath, anger. Her words are open wounds, and they ask you to feel them in your skin. And there is no other way of reading it but to feel. The anger her book contains is appropriately oceanic, and you the reader needs to rest from swimming.

But here is Eula Biss—a writer who combines the art of emotions and the science of research: from researching a single word “apology” on New York Times to the history of the telephone poles in the US.

What makes her works stand out is the balanced employment between the collectively political and the personal. Dili siya mananghid. She offers no apology with the absence of transitions. Her paragraphs swing, zigzag, see-saw between what is collective and what is deeply personal.

This treatment is rather effective to feel what has to be felt without the unnecessary drama, without, as my writer friends would say, the maoy.

To be updated. . .

Eula Biss’ “No Man’s Land”


Jona | Backpacking with a Book

Hi, I'm Jona! I write stories and poetry and take a lot of photos, which I'm too lazy to upload. If you want to receive some photos that I don't share here on the blog, please leave your email here. I'm crazy about cats too. Feel free to browse through BWAB, and I would love it if you say hi! For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com For more stories about BWAB, check here. Connect with us through

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2 Comments

  1. Jherson Jaya says:

    I first love reading before i realized my sleeping romance with traveling. I stopped for a while focusing on my newly discovered love affair with buses, trains, boats and the like. Right now in a track combining both (with all my corporate shit). Soon, maybe, ill ask you for a humble recommendation.

    Great read here! Short but concise with emotion and genuine love for reading.

  2. […] P.S. So Jona, it’s not only you who thinks that the worst travel moments are the best stories to tell (Word Traveling: On Emotions and Eula Biss’ “No Man’s Land”). […]

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