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Book review – Quondam – Travels In A Once World, by John Devoy - WillCycle
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Book review – Quondam – Travels In A Once World, by John Devoy

I reviewed many cycle travel books, and like all good cycle travel books, the story isn’t about the cycling. I’d go as far as to say that cycling is only relevant, because it allows you to travel at a human pace. That simply means you experience the world you’re travelling through in a far more intense, and personal way.

Quondam is not your normal travel book, and you may as well know this from the start. To begin with, it only tells part of Devoy’s journey, but far more unusual than that, it was written decades after the journey. Quondam recounts Devoy’s travels from Cairo to Nairobi.

In this always-connected world of ours, Quondam is the tale of travels in a pre-digital world, when keeping in touch meant writing a letter, and navigation didn’t consist of simply following instructions from a GPS unit.

Devoy cycled 33 000 kilometers, over two years, from Ireland, to the far north of Norway, before turning south, heading for Cape Town. Setting off on the 1st of April, 1985, Devoy – though clearly a hardy soul – could scarely be described an experienced cycle tourist, at the start of his journey.

This book is honest – brutally so, in parts – and is far more than simply a retelling of a bike ride. Travelling on an Irish passport seemed to have been a help to Devoy, in a post-colonial world, in which those travelling on British passports received a somewhat different welcome.

What strikes me is the serenity with which Devoy took on absolutely life-threatening situations. During his journey, he caught Hepatitis, yet continued travelling. After recovering from Hepatitus, Devoy was infected with plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest strain of malaria. Diagnosis only happened at the stage at a stage where 75% of patients never survive the disease.

It’s an incredibly human story, with deep insights into the world through which Devoy travelled. Many travel book rapidly become dated, and of their time, but this one I believe will remain timeless. It tells an incredible tale of grit, determination and bloody-minded sheer stubbornness.

I have no doubt that you will enjoy reading this book, and I cannot wait until I can read the follow-up, telling the rest of the story, especially as that will involve Devoy travelling through countries and landscapes I know, at a time when I was still a schoolboy. The good news is that, when I met Devoy in May ’23, he was working on writing the next book.

Quondam – Travels in a once world is available here, and also directly from Devoy himself, at If you order directly from the author, you can get a signed copy.

Do yourself a favour and read this book.

5 thoughts on “Book review – Quondam – Travels In A Once World, by John Devoy”

  1. Hello, and fair greetings to you from west Cork. Until a friend pointed it out, I was blissfully unaware that this very nice review of Quondam was here. I do hope you are correct about the book being a ‘timeless,’ addition to the genre. Dervla Murphy said much the same which was heartening for me to hear that from her. So thank you. I hope you also enjoyed the photos with the page numbers…oh, and yes, I am working steady on the sequel, a harder nut to crack, I can tell you. Blessings and stay safe. Yours respectfully , John Devoy PS. feel free to get in touch!

    • Wow, thanks for the update, John. I’ve read Dervla’s first book, and I can see why she likes you and your book: you were cut from the same cloth.

      I expect I will re-read Quondam a few times, and I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel!

      • Dear Will, and mon Dieu! – 12the Oct last year, you replied and I never did! Shocking!!! My apologies. But, as my 3 young adult children keep reminding me ‘Da, your a dinosaur..’ I think you can guess what they mean by that. Ha! I’ve even phased out F’book etc. Anyway, I found myself examining your site as a young Irish man tells me he might cycle around Britain later in the summer and I thought yours would have s’thing for him. It does and I shall pass it on to him.
        As to Dervla, yes, I spoke with her just pre-Xmas, She’s doing fine and keeps telling me how I should ‘promote Quondam more than I am. In fact Ted (Simon) tells me the same and I tell them both to stop bullying me!! I think Q will make its own way in the world. Those who ‘discover’ it will have an honest good time. As you said, Will, yes, please do re-read it. Over and over, from veteran readers, most of whom are non cyclists, they tell me it wasn’t until a 2nd read did some of the subtle penny’s drop! As you alluded, there’s more in there than ‘meets the eye!’ For example – the structure has a ?? psychological aspect, taking the reader quietly without they realising, from Light to Dark, Yin to Yang, from deep civilisation in Egypt to the depths of militia-mayhem in east Congo reflected also in my own personal tale. There are many others subtle points in there, for those who read it slow and even out loud! I direct you to one review on Amazon from a veteran American cyclist, Tom Bilcze, and one by a guy who calls himself Adventure Scott …good ones I thought. Please do use my email to drop me a message, I promise to reply sooner than I am doing now! Take care Will and if you are ever in beautiful west Cork …call in.

        • I’m going to side with Dervla and Ted here: Quondam is such a wonderful book that more people deserve to read it, so you should promote it as much as you can.
          It will always be one of my two most favourite travel books (sorry – can’t pick between Quondam and Dervla’s 1st book) and I firmly believe that anyone who reads it will enjoy it just as much I have.
          Thank you for your kind words.
          Kind regards,

          PS: I edited your email address out, so you don’t get oodles of spam email, but I’d happily put it back in if you preferred.

          • thanks Will, oh you can put it back in. I don’t mind. keep well.
            Yours John

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