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AA Gill may be the most notorious restaurant critic in the Western hemisphere. Among the many vicious critics who fling lacerating insults at London's eateries, Gill of the Sunday Times cuts deepest. In the States, he is perhaps best known as the critic who, in Vanity Fair, compared star chef Jean-George Vongeritchen's dumplings at his New York restaurant 66 to "fishy, liver-filled condoms." And folks think American food critics are harsh ...

But Gill pursues a parallel interest in between his crème brûlée-curdling rants: global travel writing. His first-person, stream-of-consciousness style is particularly suited to this genre, as aptly demonstrated in AA Gill is Away (Simon & Schuster, $14 paperback). "I want this collection to be an antidote to travel writing," he states in the introduction. "There are no solutions in here, not many comforting tales of coming-togetherness."

Instead, there is disturbing, passionate, offbeat observation. His essays on Africa, a favorite destination of Gill's, cast no illusions: "The great thing about the Kalahari is that it hates you. It doesn't have a welcome mat or a lei to drape over your shoulder or a complimentary glass of sangria." In Argentina, he hones in on the Latin Catholic mores: "The girls are beautiful and bewitching, and they maybe know ways of not having sex that even the Vatican hasn't considered."

His thoughts on America? Characteristically blunt, yet surprisingly positive. "In Europe freedom has always meant saying and thinking things. In America it means doing things and making stuff. Which is just as profound and a whole lot more useful." His coy essay, "When DD Met AA," wherein he infiltrates the California porn industry, is one of the most, um, juicy tales in the book. You'll learn a thing or two -- as you do from each of his uniquely realized anecdotes.

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