Jeff Glor talks to Andrew Blackwell about "Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted Places."
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Andrew Blackwell: It was an accident. I had been traveling through India, and ended up spending a couple of days in Kanpur, which had just been declared India's most polluted city by the national government. Not exactly an award you want to win. But somehow I ended up really enjoying myself there, despite all the untreated sewage and industrial waste. And I became a little obsessed with figuring out how I could have had such a good time in such a crummy place. To be sure, there was educational value in seeing environmental issues up close, instead of reading about them in a magazine; and it was inspiring to hang out with people who were living with and combating their city's problems. But eventually I realized that the real reason was that Kanpur simply has plenty to offer a visitor besides pollution. It has some good restaurants, and a nice temple complex, and a scenic riverfront--even though the river was full of arsenic and feces. Most of all, because a place like Kanpur is supposedly such a dump, you're always the only foreign traveler there... and there are always good deals on hotels. That was my realization: that there are these absolute gems out there that no traveler ever bothers to visit, because everyone thinks, with some justification, that they're just too gross.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
AB: That my destinations were as nice as they were. I fully expected to be viscerally grossed out in the process of traveling for this book, and it almost never happened. The pollution was always present, but I found it surprisingly easy to get in touch with whatever was welcoming or fun about a place. Even a city like Linfen, China--often referred to as the world's most polluted city--has an energetic civic life that really sucks you in. Provided you can handle the smog, of course, which is just horrendous.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
AB: Working on documentaries.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
AB: "The Gift" by Lewis Hyde. "Zona" by Geoff Dyer. "The Cornbread Mafia" by James Higdon. "Travels in Mundania" by Lizzie Stark. "The Taliban Shuffle" by Kim Barker.
JG: What's next for you?
AB: A vacation, I hope. I'd love to go back to Chernobyl or Linfen without having to be working on a book the whole time...
For more on "Visit Sunny Chernobyl" visit the website.