Picks and Pans Review: Translating L.a.

UPDATED 09/26/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/26/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Peter Theroux

Where others see only earthquakes, fires and crime, Peter Theroux regards Los Angeles as a city of endless delights. This vision, brought to life in Translating LA, is a tonic to current hysteria that has made L.A. one of the more popular cities to analyze and bash.

Theroux, who came to the city after nearly 10 years as a journalist and translator in the Middle East, has written Translating LA as a series of tours that are most surprising for their seemingly serendipitous quality. As he explores the beaches, the valleys, the inner city and hinterlands, he lets L.A. be L.A., capturing moments that help define this megalopolis. In Beverly Hills, he happens upon a Lebanese woman speaking French to her baby, who is crying for juice in Arabic. At the Forest Lawn cemetery in Hollywood Hills, he pauses to consider three Rastafarians photographing the sarcophagus of Liberace, and in Santa Monica he talks to a homeless woman hawking screenplays from a shopping cart. Theroux also informs us that flights between L.A. and New York City are the least favorite for flight attendants because of the incessant bicoastal kvetching. Rather cavalierly dismissing the "ethnic advocacy groups" who have turned the subject of L.A.'s diverse cultures into the city's "biggest bore," Theroux insists that L.A. is "about feeling good"—and offers Angelenos many reasons for doing so. (Norton, $21)

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