Beneath the Lantern's Glow:
Sketches and Stories from Southeast Asia and Japan

by Candace Rose Rardon

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. ISBN 978-1-490-50364-6.
Reviewed by Juliet Porton
Posted on 11/01/2014

Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

From an early age Candace Rose Rardon had a love for the road less traveled. She was already an experienced world traveler when she booked the trip of a lifetime: six weeks to explore Japan and six countries in Southeast Asia. As an artist and writer she was used to traveling with a sketch book and journal in tow but for this trip she knew she wanted to compile her sketches and words into a book.

Beneath the Lantern's Glow contains 20 short essays, each with less than one page of text, briefly illuminating an experience or observation during the journey, and matched with an accompanying watercolor painting from the scene. The essays are collected chronologically, though with very few facts about the itinerary included you need to check the headings on each page to orient yourself. The book's title refers to the glowing red lanterns that seem to follow Rardon everywhere on her trip, bringing a sense of continuity to the journey even when she finds herself among such different cities and cultures.

This book worked for me on two levels. First, it made me want to learn more about the places she visited. I believe that travel writing is a success not just when it makes me want to pack my bags, but also when it makes me want to delve deeper—to read a book, see a movie or talk to someone I know about a place and its history. In one essay on her visit to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, marking the Killing Fields in Cambodia, Rardon is able to do both, as she shares basic historical facts while expressing her awe, helplessness and hope.

Second, this slim book works as a travelogue of a young woman exploring the world on her own. As she is touched by the kindness of strangers, or gives in to that inexplicable desire to get lost in a unfamiliar place just to see what there is to find, I thought often of the value of travel—not just for the fun and adventure but for the confidence and open-mindedness you take away and keep as your own internal souvenir.

Upon arriving in Vang Vieng, Laos, Rardon isn't impressed by the scenery or the social scene she's greeted with, but she is learning from her travels to sit and be patient and let the beauty of a place come out in its own time. Eventually over a few coconut shakes, the monks rowing down river in their saffron robes bring delight, and the mountains cast their own spell.

In Angkor Wat, Cambodia, she recounts the pleasure of getting up at dawn to hop on a bike and try to explore the site alone as if she was the first to ever see it: "I know all such discoveries have been made by now; but I like to pretend sometimes there's still ground out there to break."

Rardon's accompanying artwork, intricate sketches with dreamlike watercolors overlayed, is lovely and complements the subject matter. Each sketch includes small handwritten notes emphasizing certain points of the drawing. The book also contains a few photos of people Rardon met along the way and a few travel tips for each country she visited.

I'm only left wishing that Beneath the Lantern's Glow was at least twice as long because I wanted to hear so much more and see more of Rardon's artwork. At its current length we don't get to learn much about the author and miss much of the travel diary feel I was hoping for. Some of the handwritten notes that accompany the sketches were placed in the folds of the book or were otherwise difficult to read but those things could easily be fixed by a publisher. This self-published book has the potential to grow into something bigger and Rardon's talents certainly deserve a wider audience.

Candace Rose Rardon is an illustrator, artist and writer originally from Virginia. She received her Master's degree in travel writing from Kingston University in London. She has written for many travel magazines and blogs and creates custom artwork for publications and private clients. Visit The Great Affair, her website.

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