Biographies, biographers, and interesting people

Posts tagged ‘Croatia’

Running Away to Home, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about participating in a community reading program. The book the planning committee chose was Jennifer Wilson’s memoir Running Away to Home. The final event for the reading program was a presentation by the author. I was looking forward to that because I wanted to know what life has been like for Jennifer and her family now that they are home from their journey to Croatia. I especially wanted to know how the trip had changed them.

I didn’t need to ask the question. Another woman beat me to it. The nods from people in the auditorium clearly indicated that the question had been on their minds as well. Jennifer’s first response was that she and her family were relieved to be home again and they easily fell back into their regular routine. Her two children who had been homeschooled by their dad in Croatia were eager to get back to school with their friends. Jennifer was happy to go back to her travel writing.

Was I the only one who felt a little disappointed with that answer I wondered? So much had happened in Croatia, and Jennifer wrote about it all so eloquently in her book. I didn’t want to believe that the trip had not changed their whole family in some significant way. I was not the only one who wanted more. Someone else in the audience tried again asking the question in a slightly different way. Certainly the trip had changed them in some ways she suggested.

With the press for more details, Jennifer talked about small changes they had made. After spending four months in Mrkopalj where villagers raised almost everything they ate, the Wilsons started a garden in their yard. They have also learned to live on less. They no longer shop as recreation and they don’t hoard. More recently, they moved to a smaller home. But most of all, Jennifer says she has a new appreciation for her life in the U.S. She understands now how hard it was for her ancestors to immigrate to this country, and she fully appreciates the sacrifices they made. For instance, after her father settled in the U.S., he never again had contact with his family in Croatia. Jennifer has also seen how different her life would be if her ancestors had stayed in Croatia.

Another woman wondered about Jennifer’s children. They were only 4 and 7 years old when they made their journey to Croatia. “Do you think they’ll remember the trip when they’re older?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Jennifer replied. Then she expressed her hope that the trip will help them learn to value travel as she does because it’s important to see more of the world.

Jennifer ended her presentation with a challenge for all of us. She said she and her husband had spent nine months planning for their trip. There were many times during that period when they had doubts. But always at the back of their minds there was a voice urging them forward. She challenged us to listen to our own inner voices and to push doubts aside to follow our hearts. It’s a risk, but the rewards can be great.


Running Away to Home

Running Away to HomeThis 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.

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