Video Companion to the Book:
Interview – Australian Public Radio:
THE BONE MAN OF BENARES
In 1971, Terry Tarnoff left the United States with sixteen harmonicas and didn’t return for eight years. He was one of a new generation of expatriates who were fed up with the war and their own culture, who began “dropping out” to venture off to the remotest and most exotic outposts of the world. The Bone Man of Benares is an account of his raucous and revelatory journey. It’s a tumultuous love story, a spiritual odyssey, a cultural chronicle, and a rollicking escapade all rolled into one.
Tarnoff is a fevered, risk-taking writer with an uncanny ability to render place. Reading his book is a visceral, transportive experience where you find yourself trapped in a hotel room in Bangkok with strung-out Zed, falling in love with Annika in the snow drift that is Stockholm in the winter, playing harmonica in an African club in Mombasa, smoking a chillum with the lepers and sadhus in Benares, trance-dancing with Tibetans at a death ceremony in Manali, being surrounded in your car by Masai warriors in Tanzania. With an outrageous sense of humor, a repugnance for things that critter or slither, a taste for drink and drugs, a healthy dose of pathos, and an untamed love of love, music and people, Terry makes a sublime arm-chair travel companion.
PRAISE AND REVIEWS
“The Bone Man of Benares is the kind of sweeping, atmospheric epic they just don’t make any more. Terry Tarnoff renders this engaging young-man-on-the-road saga with the heightened élan of a bangi-abusing Paul Theroux or hippied-out E. M. Forster. In the grand tradition, The Bone Man of Benares stands out as the best kind of contempo literary globe-trotting. It does what a great novel should do – leave you feeling like you’ve been there.”
“Terry Tarnoff is a writer whose every word, like a great blues master’s instrumental solos, pulls you into his world. The Bone Man of Benares is the extraordinary real life saga of a modern day harmonica-playing Don Quixote, telling us his story with irresistible gusto and élan. Tarnoff makes you feel at home as you ride by his side on his global tour, sharing one incredible adventure after another. The trials and tribulations of romance and self-discovery, all set in exotic locales, make this adventure tale alternately engrossing, touching and hilarious. From the very first page until the last, it is nearly impossible to put the book down, and even more enjoyable to reread the second time.”
“I laughed (rollicked) my way through The Bone Man of Benares. Terry Tarnoff is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, maybe because so much serious depth underlies the humor. Lots of people made those road trips in the 60’s; few got any lasting insights out of them. Tarnoff clearly has.”
“For those who lived through the several-years-long Summer of Love, Terry Tarnoff’s The Bone Man of Benares will provide satisfying doses of wincing nostalgia. For those who didn’t, here is an entertaining manual of what they missed.”
“Sure to arouse envy in those, now gray, who neither tripped at home nor took the disorienting trip to the Orient: a facile, vivid, novelistic yarn.”
“In 1970 Terry Tarnoff left America with the feeling that his country had strayed from any useful path and went looking for a better one. The tangled journey that followed lasted eight years, much of it in Africa and much more in India, planting seeds in Tarnoff’s psyche that have borne luscious fruit in The Bone Man of Benares. The author’s down-to-earth insights and self-deprecating humor keep you right with him throughout this psychedelic safari.
“The journey reflects the insanity of the times, as the protagonist runs into everyone from monks smoking hash to African blues musicians. Music weaves throughout the narrative as Tarnoff, an accomplished harmonica player, jams with all kinds of fellow musicians during his travels. Music can be heard in his writing style as well. Tarnoff will suddenly switch gears and dive into a page-long stream of consciousness without punctuation, sentence structure or attention to tense. These sections provide the book’s high points, revealing many of Tarnoff’s most emotional and spiritually intense moments in equally intense prose.”
“Terry Tarnoff’s The Bone Man of Benares takes us back to the author’s youthful subcontinental sojourn circa 1971, alight with sex and drugs both hard and soft; big, hairy bugs; and tragic missed connections that wreck people’s lives forever. Bali, Africa and Europe also figure in this tale of a time when faraway roads shimmered more with promise than peril, when gods and ganja competed fiercely for the attention of young Americans abroad.”
“It is obvious from the first pages that Tarnoff not only has a prodigious storytelling talent but also literary flair and sensitivity. The impact of the Vietnam War, the hippie movement, and the repercussions and ramifications for the whole of South East Asia are all explored through very personal recollections. Tarnoff’s beliefs are central to the story, with the charged and tense atmosphere of troubled people and countries evocatively portrayed through careful and sensitive use of language. Riveting and emotionally charged, with moments of black humour.”
“There is something charming about Terry Tarnoff. He’s the most un-American American you could ever meet. No patriotism, no jargon, no self-conscious hipness. Just an innocent eager to feel and experience the world. The result is a truly great travel book where the life of the traveller is centre stage and the experiences along the way are the constantly changing backdrop.”
“Author Terry Tarnoff is an engaging young man on a globe trotting adventure. He leaves the US with a change of clothes and 16 harmonicas and does not return for eight years. Along the way he takes in such diverse places as Bangkok, Stockholm, Tibet and Tanzania and finds love and spirituality.”
“This part-travel guide, part novel is reminiscent of Bill Bryson on acid. The writer Terry Tarnoff spent eight years travelling the world. He went to blues clubs in Amsterdam, through the jungles of Africa, all with just a bag and sixteen harmonicas. With vivid descriptions and larger than life characters, this book is the ultimate love story to the wanderlust. It will appeal to everyone from old hippies who vaguely remember the 70s to young wannabe travellers. Forget Jack Kerouac, this book makes you want to quit your job and discover the world.”
“A must-read for would-be intrepid travellers, with rich descriptions of our ever-inspiring planet.”
“A rip-roaring reminder of the age of flower power when anything seemed possible; a trip down memory lane for some, envy lane for others and maybe inspiration street for a few.”
“A travel adventure in the 1970s when global tourism was in its infancy, a different beast from the kinds of adventure that travellers experience today. If you are too young to have done the original overland journey or spiritual odyssey, this is a stomach-churning insight into what you missed.”
“It’s a top read… a brilliant account of a foolhardy young American’s travels in the Seventies.”
“Top Recommended Travel Books: The Bone Man of Benares by Terry Tarnoff. For those who romanticize and look back fondly on the 1960’s, there is probably no better travel book in the world than this one. Terry Tarnoff was a young graduate in search of adventure, who went to Europe and fell in love. After completely messing up his relationship and destroying his love for no good reason, he set off in search of peace, travelling the hippie trail from Europe into the Himalayas and all the way to Indonesia. This is another travel book which captures the mood and vibe of a time long past, one which gives you a glimpse into another era. From the tea houses of old Istanbul to the mud-brick monasteries of Kathmandu, this book will have you screaming with laughter in one chapter and holding back the tears in the next – it’s hilarious, heartbreaking, deep, shallow and just about every dichotomy a story could be. From pulling off a leper’s finger in India while smoking a pipe with him to overcoming his broken heart in a magic-mushroom induced psychosis in Bali, it’s difficult to image a travel story more packed with ‘Holy f***’situations than this one. Get it. Don’t hesitate. It’s among the best of all time, despite being relatively unknown!”