“Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” The first essay in Geoff Dyer’s new book White Sands asks these questions through Gauguin’s painting of the same title, which shows several Tahitian women in various poses of recline. Dyer travels to Tahiti in pursuit of the artist and the answers to the questions he scrawled in paint in the corner of his masterpiece. Dyer doesn’t find answers in Tahiti, any more than he finds that painting in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (it's on loan at the time of his visit). Rather, the questions follow him into each essay collected in White Sands, and into each unique destination.
Dyer makes many pilgrimages, to land art like Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field and to the abandoned house of a favorite writer. He pursues the Northern Lights to the darkest reaches of Norway, picks up a hitchhiker in the vicinity of a high security prison and makes a friend in the Forbidden City. As he travels Dyer examines Gauguin’s questions through the lens of the places he passes through, until they meld into one over-arching inquiry: what do the places we inhabit tell us about ourselves? Dyer weaves reflections from his childhood that center around particular places into the collection, adding to the poignancy of his search, as he begins “to work out what a certain place—a certain way of marking the landscape—means; what it’s trying to tell us; what we go to it for.”