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Thomas King explores the trials of travel in new book 'Indians on Vacation'

Thomas King says he takes pleasure in planning vacations. He just doesn't like going on them.

Thomas King says he takes pleasure in planning vacations. He just doesn't like going on them.

The acclaimed author said he enjoys searching the web for must-see sites of a far-off city, checking out the availability of flights and hotels, and calculating the cost of his travel itinerary.

But when it comes time to book, King would rather see the world from the comfort of his home in Guelph, Ont.

"I can have a little espresso at my desk, and look all this stuff up, and it often feels like I've travelled there," King, 77, said in a recent phone interview.

"If I don't travel again, I don't know that I'll miss it."

This weariness of wanderlust animates King's new novel, "Indians on Vacation," which hit shelves Tuesday.

The story follows Canadian couple Mimi and Bird on a peripatetic mission across Europe to recover a family medicine bundle that a long-lost relative absconded with a century earlier.

As they drift from one destination to the next, the two must navigate their conflicting tourist temperaments.

Mimi, with her trusty guidebook in hand, believes that travel is "broadening." Meanwhile, Bird, like the book's author, is skeptical that there's much to be gained by straying too far from home.

"When we travel, a lot of times, the thing we come away with is we've been entertained," said King.

"I don't know that we feel any differently towards the people that we see on our travels. We find them interesting, sometimes even exotic. And for a moment, perhaps we have a kind of broadening. But I think by the time people get home, that's tightened up again."

If anything, travel can show that prejudice knows no borders, said King, who was born in the U.S. and is of Greek and Cherokee descent.

From mountain towns to major cities, King said he's often confronted by racist stereotypes of Indigenous Peoples while abroad, including a photographer in France who asked him to pose with a pool stick as if it were a spear.

"What they want is that inauthentic historical image that Hollywood has made up over the years," said King.

"It's always the one kind of Indian they've got because the others don't play well visually. Me in a T-shirt and a pair of walking shorts — God forbid anybody see me in walking shorts — that just doesn't do it."

In writing "Indians on Vacation," King said he wanted to "play against type" by depicting Indigenous characters who are well-off enough to travel the world, while still engaging with the historic inequities that have made such portrayals a rarity in popular culture.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has closed down borders, King won't have to endure airplane food, forced photo-ops or guided walking tours any time soon.

But he still longs for a time when he could plan his dream vacation — then decide not to take it of his own accord.

"I don't need to go to Ireland," King said. "But I don't like the fact that I can't."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2020.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press