This month, I’ve been participating in a community reading program. For that annual event, people are invited to read a book chosen by the planning committee. There are activities such as book discussions and it all culminates with a presentation by the author. It’s one of those things I’ve always intended to do, but never got beyond the thinking about it stage. So I kind of surprised myself when I signed on. What was different this year? The main thing was that I was intrigued by the book selection, Jennifer Wilson’s memoir Running Away to Home.
The long subtitle pretty much sums up what the book is about: Our Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters. Jennifer, a travel writer and mother of two, was frustrated with her frenzied, materialistic world of work, soccer practices, swimming lessons, and shopping trips to Target all fueled by caffeine from Starbucks. “Is this the American Dream?” she wondered. “Because if it is, it sort of sucks.” Her husband shared her dissatisfaction and her spirit of adventure. So they set off with their two young children, headed for the small Croatian village of Mrkopalj (MER-koe-pie) in search of Jennifer’s family roots and a simpler life.
Surprisingly, Jennifer, who is the most passionate about travel, is the one who had the hardest time adjusting to the unstructured lifestyle and to living on Croatian time where things get done whenever. (The rooms that were supposed to be ready for them when they arrived for their four-month stay were still a work-in-progress.)
Gradually, Jennifer did settle in and became immersed in the daily life of the village. She wrote with humor about the community and the friendships they formed there, and I loved her descriptions of the area. She also did a great job of building tension. At first, there are only roadblocks as she researches her family roots, but the story builds as she uncovers clues and begins to make progress.
I was tempted to skip some of the early sections about Mrkopalj’s history. I didn’t because I sensed it was an important part of the story, and I was right. I got more interested in the history as I learned more about Jennifer’s ancestors and began to see how the past had influenced their lives. I always say that I never cared much about history until I started writing biographies. But putting real people into the history makes it come alive, and that is the case with Jennifer’s story.
The book ends in Mrkopalj, so now I’m looking forward to the final part of the community reads program, Jennifer’s presentation. I’m hoping she’ll talk about what life is like for her family now that they are home again. I’m wondering how, or if, the trip changed them.
As much as I enjoyed Jennifer’s story and admire her spirit of adventure, I know I’ll never have a similar one to tell. I’m too much of a homebody. A week of vacation and I’m good for at least a few months. What about you? Would you leave everything behind to live in another country for a period of time? Would you make a journey like that with children, or would you prefer to travel on your own or as part of a couple? Or maybe you’ve already enjoyed your own adventure. I would love to hear about it.