My Mercedes is (Not) For Sale – Jeroen Van Bergeijk (2006, Broadway Books, New York)
I always get a kick out of travelogues, and this one is no exception: in My Mercedes is (Not) for Sale, Dutch journalist Jeroen Van Bergeijk takes a 1988 Mercedes Benz 190D from Amsterdam to Ouagadougou, through Morocco and the Sahara Desert, to the heart of West Africa, in order to sell the car in the lucrative African used car market. It’s a harrowing journey, full of mechanical breakdowns, agonizingly lengthy waits and torments at border crossings, and seedy neighbourhoods – he even survives a political coup in Togo. He attempts the trip as a solo venture, but picks up guides and travelling companions along the way – some more “helpful” than others. Details about the landscapes he passes through (sand, sand, everywhere, and roads that would kill most cars dead), the people he meets, and regional historical facts are couched within a chronological timeline of his car’s particular past, from the assembly line in Germany through several ownerships. (Van Bergeijk even tracks down all the previous owners and interviews them to uncover their thoughts about the period of time they each had the Benz). As he pushes further into the heartland, the goal of selling the car seems to take a backseat (couldn’t resist) to the actual journey itself, and it’s a fun ride-along for the reader.