Book Review: Tragic Shores by Thomas H Cook

Tragic Shores
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A note to my readers: None of us can travel during the current coronavirus crisis. However I am continuing to post content for you to enjoy at home and to inspire your future travels. Happy reading and stay safe!

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Tragic Shores is the first non-fiction title by Thomas H Cook, a prolific crime and suspense novelist. It is a travel memoir with a difference, an account of the author’s visits to “dark places”, places where sometimes unimaginable levels of human brutality and suffering have occurred. But the purpose is not to invoke misery: it is a quest to find light amid the darkness.

Tragic Shores
Tragic Shores, a memoir of dark travel

Travelling with his wife, and sometimes his daughter, Cook visited more than thirty countries over a period of many years, seeking out the sites of suffering rather than more conventional tourist destinations. He went to well-known sites like Auschwitz and barely known ones such as the former Cherokee lands of New Echota. He dug deep into places like the Place de Grève in Paris, whose sombre history is overlooked by modern day tourists. And sometimes a place led him to reflect on a particular subject, for instance the suicides from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Everywhere he went, he tried to pull meaning from his experience, often coming to surprising conclusions.

I have to confess at this point that I rarely visit dark places when I travel. I feel that there is a fine line between experience and voyeurism, and I am uneasy about tragic places becoming tourist attractions. We all need to understand the atrocities of our shared past, but I prefer to read, and think, on my own rather than to participate in a collective experience. However, every traveller is different, and we all find meaning in different places. I found Tragic Shores persuasive in its message. It was beautifully written, challenging and always thought provoking.

“I have come to thank dark places for the light they bring to life,” the author begins, and he concludes that “the homage we pay to dark places ennobles and enriches us”. I was bound to agree with him that understanding the true nature of a place is an antidote to superficiality. And there was something life-affirming about many of his descriptions, like the transcendence of hope over suffering at Lourdes.

Ultimately, this book seems to say, if you travel with an open mind there will be lessons to be learnt. Read it, and decide for yourself.

Tragic Shores: A Memoir Of Dark Travel by Thomas H Cook is published by Quercus, 2017, 978-1849163262

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Tragic Shores by Thomas H Cook”

  1. I must say that I agree with you. The voyeurism in visiting places like Auschwitz disturbs me a bit. My husband and I are taking a cruise in Cambodia early next year and we have decided not to take up the option of visiting the Killing Fields for just this reason. History should be remembered but I’ll let others get the close up photos.

    1. I have to say that the author’s description of Auschwitz makes it sound as if it’s quite well done, with no souvenir shop, etc. But some of the other sites do seem rather tacky.

  2. The book looks amazing, but I’ll bet it was hard to read; all the evil in this world…then again, it should all be remembered in the hope it can be prevented in the future.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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