The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

By Nicole Galante

Author: J. Maarten Troost

Title: The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

Publisher: Broadway Books

Publication Date: June 8, 2004

Length: 272 Pages

Price: $10.20 on Amazon




A lighthearted tale of extreme wanderlust, The Sex Lives of Cannibals chronicles the adventures of Maarten Troost and his fiancé as they abandon their cushy lives in DC for the remote atoll of Tarawa in the equatorial pacific. To accurately envision the scale of Tarawa, think of the smallest and most remote land you can imagine—and then cut the remoteness and the land area in half, and then in half again. This is Tarawa: just over 100 square miles, the largest atoll in the Kiribati (pronounced “Kiri-bas”) Islands, smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, along the equator.


Straight out of grad school and in search of adventure, Maarten and his fiancé Sylvia quit their jobs in Washington, DC upon Sylvia’s hiring by an international nonprofit. They were shortly thereafter sent to Tarawa, the adventure they’d been hoping for. Maarten, well, he planned to come along for the ride, relax, and maybe write a novel; and come along for the ride he did, but relaxation and writing? Not so much. Tarawa was anything but what he expected. It turns out that the equator is, well, hot. So hot, in fact, hat Maarten has a difficult time remember what it feels like to not be drenched in sweat.. The cultural differences between him and Sylvia and the I-Kiribati were steep. Maarten explains that he could get on board with drinking at all hours of the day, but defecating in the water for everyone to see was a hard no. Other things were less easy to pick and choose: Maarten and Sylvia ate fish for nearly every meal, because apparently, as he found out, shipping resources to a small atoll in the middle of the South Pacific is harder than it seems; they listened La Macarena on a two-year endless loop, because just like the food, there was little musical variety; and they learned to live in close proximity with bugs, and stopped blinking over picking ants out of their food. They wanted adventure, and adventure they surely encountered.


Despite these challenges, Maarten and Sylvia stuck it out in Tarawa for nearly two years. Through his insightful and comical narrative, Maarten paints a picture of his life in a new home—albeit, a strange home—that taught him about friendship, culture, and community.


Review and Reflection:


Travel writing can sometimes be dry, too factual and tedious to get through. As a reader, these are the very characteristics that turn me off of most travel writing; so, needless to say, I expected a lot from The Sex Lives of Cannibals when I began reading… and I was certainly not disappointed. Troost’s narrative is witty, charismatic, and funny. Side splittingly funny, to be precise. The very setting of Tarawa can seem depressing to most at first glance. Not only is it small, but it is also heavily polluted and depleted of important resources. It is so small and overlooked that most historians and readers only associate Tarawa with a bloody battle from World War II (“Battle of Tarawa – World War II”). Despite these characteristics that would make most, myself admittedly included, run as far from Tarawa as possible, Troost embraces that which is unfamiliar to him with humor. It makes for a lighthearted book that is easy for all to enjoy. Even if you can’t relate directly with life on Tarawa, you can relate with Troost’s clever humor.


Readers should not mistake the overwhelming humor of Troost’s narrative for a lack of depth. I learned as much as I laughed while reading The Sex Lives of Cannibals. Each chapter in this book addresses a different aspect of life in Tarawa. This includes the nation’s history, the ways of its people, and important political and human rights issues that currently plague the people of Tarawa and beyond. Consequently, insight into Sylvia’s work with the I-Kiribati government reveals the complexities of foreign policy and problem solving. I’d venture to say that the majority of Americans don’t know the first thing about life in the South Pacific. I couldn’t imagine a more animated way to learn than through narratives like Troost’s.


Many customer reviews of The Sex Lives of Cannibals accuse Troost of being too funny, too all over the place ( They assert that his humor is overbearing. Some even go as far as to criticize Troost of appropriating a culture by using the I-Kiribati as the punchline of his jokes. Furthermore, each chapter is interconnected in a loose way. While the book never felt disjointed to me, some reviewers felt like the overall narrative lacked a common thread, and an overall point.


After an in depth read of The Sex Lives of Cannibals, I choose to take these criticisms with a grain of salt. In fact, I argue that they are too narrow, and analyzing Troost’s thoughtful narrative through such a scope limits the important themes to be gained.


Beyond the humor lies a deep appreciation for the I-Kiribati culture. Troost’s adventure into the South Pacific began quickly, and he dove in headfirst. It is for this reason, I believe, that the overall contents of the book can be interpreted as disjointed; however, the nature of good travel writing is usually spontaneous. The spontaneity of Troost’s journey to Tarawa allows for a narrative free of most ethnocentrism. While he does come to the atoll expecting one thing and receives another, the narrative never takes a negative turn for the worst—not even when Maarten gets fed up with his neighbors defecating in the ocean. It is this “pure” line of inquiry that shows how appreciative Troost is of the people and culture that adopt him. Humor aside, the narrative its and intentions are genuine.


Not only does The Sex Lives of Cannibals introduce readers to the spontaneous nature of traveling and an appreciation for those who are different, but it also echoes with important messages of community and friendship. Maarten explains how interdependent the I-Kiribati society is, so much so that is throws Americans like me for a loop. A prime example of this is the bubiti system, the practice of declaring that you would like to have something that belongs to someone else, and that someone else is obligated to give you what they desire. Similarly in Tarawa, boundaries are often ignored, resources are shared, and the overall atmosphere is low stress with little competition. None of this is familiar to Maarten at first, but over the course of his two years he learns to appreciate this new way of doing things. Along the way, he even makes friends in the most unlikely of places. Cultural differences mean little to Maarten or the people of I-Kiribati, who are always welcoming, despite the little they have to share.


The story of Maarten and Sylvia Troost is by no means common. Furthermore, the culture of the I-Kiribati is guaranteed to be unfamiliar to most who choose to read this book. Despite these two facts, there is so much to learn, so much to gain, and so much to relate to in The Sex Lives of Cannibals. It’s more than a funny book, or a series of anecdotes: it is a valuable narrative about an interesting group of people, and all the oddities that happen when wanderlust casts you adrift in the equatorial pacific.


References: Staff. “Battle of Tarawa.”, A&E Television Networks, 2009,

“The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific Paperback – June 8,



Tracks Essay Review

By Laura Dunbar

Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback, written by Robyn Davidson and originally published in 1980 by Vintage, is 288 pages and can be purchased for $15.95 at Barnes and Noble.


Tracks tells the journey of Robyn Davidson, a 27-year-old woman who travels across the Australian desert to the sea with just four camels and her dog. Davidson starts her trip with little money and little plans, simply taking a train and arriving in Alice Springs. While there, she instantly takes notice of the treatment of Aboriginal people, saying, “The blacks were unequivocally the enemy,” an observation that she sees more and more after embarking on her trip, and a cultural aspect that she thoroughly explores throughout the entirety of the book.


In order to cross the desert with camels, Davidson first needs to learn about and acquire camels of her own, which leads her to Kurt, owner of a camel farm. Though Kurt treats Davidson horribly and eventually drives her away, he teaches her a lot about camels and instills in her an undying love for the animals, whose company Davidson soon learns she prefers to that of people. Davidson eventually acquires her own camel and trains them to accompany her on the trip. She gains funding from National Geographic, with which comes the presence of a photographer, Rick, who meets up with Davidson multiple times throughout her trip, despite her dismay.


Davidson goes on a portion of her trip walking alongside Eddie, an old Aboriginal man, whom she grows a strong friendship with. Along her travels with Eddie, she finds herself shedding her old European ways, and becoming a different kind of person. She becomes so intimately connected with the land, with the Australian country, that she is able to feel things on a gut level, is able to decipher relationships between everyone and everything. The person she was before the trip soon becomes the enemy.


Finally, with the help of Rick and others, Davidson reaches the end of her trip at Carnarvon—the sea. She and her camels are mesmerized, and spend the final week of the trip on that beach, celebrating in its waters. She was devastated to see her trip end, and experienced immense culture shock at her arrival home, and then to the United States. She fears that the mentality she gained on her trip will never return, and feels almost separate now from the woman she was then. She ends her book, however, by saying, “Camel trips. . . do not begin or end, they merely change form” (261).


 Larger Cultural Implications

Something interesting about Davidson as a narrator is that she is not inherently likeable. She does not have a specific reason to be going on the trip, and it left me wondering who, in their right mind, would choose to trek across so many miles completely alone. Her aloneness throughout the book almost made her unrelatable, as she repeatedly talks about the fact that she prefers being alone than being with others and that she prefers the company of animals to humans. Through the process of reading her journey, however, I realized that her difference to myself is part of what made the book so fascinating, as I was able to learn about a concept so foreign to myself. She also gains likeability in her conversations about deeper, cultural implications, and was able to make me really examine the culture that she explored.


Throughout her book, Davidson does a great deal of cultural examination. Davidson thoroughly explains the way that the Aborigines are treated in Australian society. They are constantly put down and society makes it impossible for them to rise back up, as their lands are taken away and their education is not prioritized. When Davidson originally went on the trip, a goal of hers was to somehow change this view of Aborigines, to prove that their culture is important and interesting and should be well appreciated, but found herself unable to immerse into that culture. On page 167, Davidson says, “No white person can fully enter Aboriginal reality and the more you learn, the more you’re aware of that vast gap of knowledge and understanding.” Despite her inability to completely penetrate the Aboriginal culture, Davidson was still enlightened multiple times throughout the trip by what these people were like. The people that she met, like her companion Eddie, did not fit the standards that had them so low on the Australian totem pole. She says of him, “And I wondered as we walked along, how the word ‘primitive’ with all its subtle and nasty connotations ever got to be associated with people like this” (164). Davidson hoped that by sharing stories like this, by explaining the ways of the Aborigines, she could somehow change the negative perception of them.


Davidson thinks that her efforts to change Aboriginal treatment were unsuccessful, but I disagree. I was a reader that went into this book with little to no knowledge of the treatment of Aboriginals in Australia, yet found myself shocked with some of the stories she told of their past and present. If I ever were to travel to Australia, I would abandon the notions of belittlement of these people because of the image that Davidson created of them in her book. If she was able to form my mind in this way, I’m sure that other readers were affected as well.


Just as her depiction of Aboriginal culture informed my life, Davidson allowed it to inform hers as well. She says towards the end of her trip, “And once again I compared European society with Aboriginal. The one so archetypally paranoid, grasping, destructive, the other so sane. I didn’t want ever to leave this desert. I knew that I would forget” (202). Davidson obtains a fear so relatable to all who have traveled before and after her, one that I relate to myself. After spending a semester abroad in Italy, I became starkly aware of the differences in my own culture and the one that I was now living in. I adopted a new way of being, as one does when traveling. I remember that fear on the plane back to America that I would lose this new self, that I, like Davidson, would forget. It is a fear, however, that is unavoidable, for both myself and for Davidson.


Davidson’s book explores another large implication in the perception of women, which becomes clear to her in Alice Springs. She says, on page 18, “One does not have to delve too deeply to discover why some of the world’s angriest feminists breathed crisp blue Australian air during their formative years, before packing their kangaroo-skin bags and scurrying over to London or New York or any place where the antipodean machismo would fade gently from their battle-scarred consciousnesses like some grisly nightmare at dawn.” In Alice Springs, Davidson learns of an unparalleled misogyny, and attempts to fight the image of women with her trip.


Davidson feels, however, that her trip did the opposite. She wanted to prove to women that they really could do anything, but found herself branded as someone who could do things that others could not. Davidson explores the treatment of girls and how they are made to believe that they cannot do everything, that fear must ground their every action. Though she worries that she failed to combat this idea, I disagree. After reading her book, I think she made it clear that fear should not control choices. As a woman myself, I am aware of the inherent fear that is bred into girls at a young age that inhibits them from achieving certain goals. I believe Davidson’s trip was inspiring, and Tracks definitely has further implications for women at large.



Inquiry and Research Methods

Davidson employed methods of active research. In the entire first section of the book, she is learning how to work with and train camels. She learns a lot in this process, and even comes face to face with real, life threatening fears during it, like when her own camel, Dookie, became wild and almost killed her. Davidson’s methods challenged my typical mindset of research and inquiry, which typically were limited to sitting behind a computer screen and looking up information. Davidson was able to learn so much simply by going out, by putting herself into a new culture, by traveling.


Davidson asked many research questions regarding the treatment of blacks in Australia. She included a lot of background information in her book about Aboriginal people’s past and how their treatment today affects the lives that they live. She wondered why this was, and though she knew that she did not agree with their poor treatment, she did ask the question of what these people were really like. Davidson’s method of answering this question was by going out and traveling through Aboriginal towns, meeting Aboriginal people, and learning all about their culture. As I discussed previously, she answered these questions successfully by making making Aboriginal friends and understanding their culture in a deep, although still separate, way. She did not take a broad route in answering her research questions. By relating her findings to specific people that she met, Davidson was able to relate the Aboriginal people to her readers. I felt as if I really knew these people that she came across, and felt as if they were ma

king an impact on my own life as well as Davidson’s. She successfully got across to readers why the treatment of those people was so misplaced, so wrong.


Davidson also teaches readers a lot about camels. Though she anthropomorphizes them, she is able to get the audience to truly appreciate the animals, to fall in love with these animals in the same way that she has. Before reading Tracks, I understood camels as giant, smelly, spitting creatures. After the book, however, I see how they can be loved as pets, as companions, as massive, majestic creatures who command respect. The camels truly felt like developed characters as in a novel in Davidson’s book, and she was able to create a bond between them and her readers.



Personal Research

Prior to reading Tracks, I had a very limited understanding of Australia and its culture. Although that was part of the reason I chose the book—to learn about a culture completely foreign to me—it did make some of my reading challenging. When I think of Australia, I think of developed places that are similar to the United States, like Brisbane or Sydney. This culture was not, however, what Davidson was exploring. I had to do a lot of research pertaining to the Aboriginal people of Australia and the towns in which they live. I looked up a lot about where Davidson traveled and how those places differ from the other parts of Australia, although Davidson provided a much fuller picture of these people through her first hand accounts.


Davidson was funded by National Geographic, so I also looked up the article that was written about her and the multiple pictures that were taken of her. I was fascinated looking at the pictures, seeing real life versions of what Davidson spoke of in her book. It is interesting to note, however, that Davidson claims these pictures do not communicate the true story, do not seem representative of her trip in the way that she sees and remembers it. I do believe that after reading her book, I was able to cultivate an informed idea of what went on behind the pictures, so that they meant more to me than they may have to someone who did not read her book. I think this underlines just how personal of an experience travel really is, and that it is extremely difficult to capture one’s feelings during their travel.


Tracks has also been made into a critically acclaimed film, and though I haven’t seen it yet, I am greatly looking forward to it!

Possibly the World’s Greatest: A Review of The Almost Nearly Perfect People

By Andrew Scott

In the digital globalized age, the Scandinavian secret has gotten out. The once stereotyped quiet and content peoples of the North have come to fame as having crafted a Huxley-esque utopia of socialist framework, fishing trade, and Volvos. The region has emerged as a leader in global happiness, education, and equality for decades now and the rest of the world is starting to catch on to this success. Each country can easily pick a headline declaring their people “The Happiest on Earth,” or their cities “The Greatest City in Europe” with something to the effect of the Scandinavians are doing something right that the rest of us can’t comprehend.  However, the paradise imagined of the natural North has had a rocky history. The economic pressure, wartime strife, and recent surge of immigration have all created chinks in the Nordic armor.  Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, and Icelanders may all carry some distant Viking related genes, but they are hardly as unified as the picture painted by modern media displays. Travel writer, Michael Booth, seeks to find out what makes the Scandinavians reliably continue to tick like a grandfather clock in his 2014 book The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.


About the Author


Michael Booth is a British journalist, traveler, and food writer who has been employed by such renowned outlets as Conde Nast Traveler and Independent on Sunday. His 2010 book, “Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know About Cooking” was a critical success and began the partnership with Picador Publishing continued into this travelogue. Having over a decade’s experience in Scandinavia, Booth’s wife and children are all Danish, as well as endless travels across the region. Booth’s interpretation of the region comes from a place of respect for the culture, love of the people, and undeniably skeptical about the policies and “utopic” essence of the systems. In a series of research based chronicles of his travels across the region, the author dives deep into the crux of each nationality without forgetting how they all intertwine.




One of the immediate takeaways from Booth’s discoveries is that the Scandinavian’s have resounding differences from country to country. Often this region is given blanket descriptions: blonde, tall, and pop music sensations. Or Vikings, love for German engineering, and bushy beards. While the Scandinavian countries don’t have the blatant descriptors of their people like their fellow Europeans the Italians, French, and English, they do have subtle intricacies that differentiate themselves in a variety of ways. Detecting the differences amongst the region can be a much more difficult process; however, the differences are there, underneath layer after layer of winter-weather clothing and reserved contented protection. To begin, each country has their own discrete characteristics: Norway is blessed with oil revenue that will last for lifetimes, Denmark has the happiest and patriotic people on Earth, Icelandic people are so few and far between that they are easily only separated by one or two degrees, the Finns have an identity crisis between Swedish and Russian roots as well as a crippling anti-depressant dependency, and the Swedes are some of the most focused people on equality that manners are almost completely thrown out. Each country has a unique relationship to one another across the history of Europe spanning centuries, a fact that doesn’t allow generations to pass without remembering the tumultuous relations of the past.




The differences between the peoples of Scandinavia are listed in detail within the context of “The Almost Nearly Perfect People;” however, I believe that one of the chief and unique components of this text is it’s skeptical and insightful look at the problems that have plagued the region. The first thing that most people think of when they read or hear about Scandinavia is the socialist political format that has been attributed to creating some of the most equal nations in the world. It is also attributed to the outrageous tax scheme that many see as a sacrifice for the greater good of society. If your health insurance, education, and (in an overwhelmingly high percentage of cases) your job is all paid for by your taxes, one has an incentive to pay. Particularly in the cases of Denmark and Sweden, the taxing and political system has seen both great success and failure. Both economies have flourished and tanked. The people are constantly being told that they system will fail; yet, they continue to produce such high ratings and success. Some skeptics will notice that pirating, credit, and other solutions to the tax problems have all been implemented by the people creating a potential issue for the future. All this being said, the one key feature of the Scandinavian identity is their contentedness and acceptance of what is fair which allows for a taxing system like this not to run into issue with class.

Another issue that has crept into the limelight in recent years is their immigration policy and racist political movements. Much like in America, an alt right political group has gained some traction running on a platform that discriminates heavily against the Muslim and Middle Eastern immigrants that are flooding into the countries. These groups believe that their culture is in danger and that they will lose their jobs, resulting in some hate speech that isn’t what the stereotyped normal is for the Scandinavian region. Some of the countries are dealing with this problem in better ways than others. Sweden’s government run media has blocked any representation from these parties in a truly Orwellian decision. The countries denial of the issue has resulted in a much more flawed and hampered socialization of the immigrants coming into the country. On the other end of the spectrum, Denmark has allowed for these alt right ideas to make it into the media (like the United States), but the immigration and integration process has been proven to be much smoother. These countries that for centuries were undesirable living locations, home to only the few homogenous groups, are now having to deal with the flood of other cultures. This will be the true test for the success of Scandinavian utopia.




            Booth calls out Scandinavia for all of its faults, all of the flaws in their system; yet, he still believes that they are the world’s greatest chance to save us all from collapse. Not just because of their environmental policies, but their heart, resilience, and cooperation. Booth in a comedic end to his research states that he hopes the Nordic United Nations or some sort of partnership doesn’t eventually happen because he fears that they would easily crush the rest of us. The Scandinavians are a rare breed of people: industrious, compassionate, content, and equals. They have built a stable societal foundation for the generations to come, nations that are focused on the humanity in these frozen tundra. Booth’s comedic expose on the ins-and-outs of the people provided for a natural immersion in the culture of a people that he struggled to understand; however, by the end of the project he had a great fondness for the people and a deeper respect. I have come to a greater appreciation of the people through this reading experience, and to supplement it I began to learn Danish. Booth is the perfect author for me personally. His sarcastic and skeptical tone throughout the travel research matched my opinion going into this subject matter. The viral Facebook memes of the Scandinavian countryside utopia had to be too good to be true, they must be strictly click-bait for the gullible progressive. While some of these elements are certainly dramatized; the superiority, equality, and prestige of the region is the chief epitome of Western culture, but certainly not without sacrificing some purity. These places hold the globe’s attention now for great reason, they have so many groundbreaking societal experiments going on. With all the success that has come their way, they still seem like they could use the help of others, some ideas from nations that are slightly different. Almost nearly perfect, but certainly as close as one might get.

Just Across the Intercoastal

By Claire Gaskill

Discovery Doesn’t Require Transportation


Travel writing is the product of a journey. The twists and turns, ups and downs, and discoveries and setbacks of travel are compiled into paragraphs allowing others a peek into a journey created by exposure to the other and personal growth. As curious readers, we seek the writer’s perspective on his journey, whether his destination is known or unknown to us. Personally, as a student and a reader, I sought a new perspective on the familiar South Carolina low country I knew from my childhood. A basic internet search put Pat Conroy’s The Water is Wide: A Memoir on the map for me. Originally published by Boston: Houghton Mifflin in 1972, this New York Times Best Seller contains 322 pages and can be purchased both online and in brick and mortar for just shy of $13.


Not Just a Story about the Low Country


            Pat Conroy, a Citadel graduate with the aspiration to join the Peace Corps, returned to teach high school students at his alma mater in Beaufort, South Carolina. When his Peace Corps acceptance letter failed to arrive, Conroy became convinced he could make a greater impact teaching on the South Carolina barrier island of Yamacraw. Fictional by only its name, Yamacraw Island refers to the real life Daufuskie Island, the location on which Conroy’s book is based.


            The story is set in 1969, a time when racial division, especially in the south, was commonplace. However, upon experiencing Yamacraw for the first time, Conroy was able to count the number of non-African American citizens on just one of his hands. And, with access to the island restricted to a single boat and travel around the island limited to dirt paths where “only one car could traverse the road at a time,” it was not just ethnic diversity that was lacking; jobs, socioeconomic opportunities, and resources were also not plentiful (Conroy, 19). Stuck in a trend of generations of citizens with failed dreams and inadequate education, the school’s leadership felt as though Conroy was an answered prayer for the school.


            The book details Conroy’s experience integrating his modern teaching style into a two-room “attractive and simply constructed white frame” school house that has only seen one teacher, who also serves as the principle, for years (Conroy, 20). Mrs. Brown, who was an African American woman working in what was detailed as a white man’s world, was traditional in her teaching style, integrating capital punishment and considering manners to be the primary curriculum. Working to meet the requirements of the state instead of teaching the information, Mrs. Brown’s teaching style clashed entirely with Conroy’s. Conroy soon found out that “the children hated Mrs. Brown’s guts with their complete power of hating.” (Conroy, 159)


            Conroy helped the students open up. He discovered their character and adjusted the curriculum to meet their knowledge gaps and needs, telling the students “they had to look upon themselves in a different light.” (Conroy, 54) He even integrated field trips to the mainland, a teaching tactic unheard of for these students up until this point. Conroy worked to prepare the students for life after graduation and wanted to give them the skills to have jobs on the mainland in an effort to break the generational cycle of economic struggle.


            His career on the island was first threatened when it was brought to the school district and leadership attention that Conroy was not following the school’s teaching policy. With support of the parents, Conroy was able to hold on to his position. However, after being fired later on, he filed a lawsuit which he lost on the basis of school policy, ending his time on Yamacraw Island. Highlights of Conroy’s island experience include the struggle Mrs. Brown faced as a minority, challenges of creating cultural change, and perceptions the others had of the mainland.


Culture through Primary Education


            Although this book shows us an inside perspective on the remote island of Yamacraw (Daufuskie Island), as readers, we are experiencing Yamacraw through the lens of children and the educational experience. This is unique because of the extreme innocence children have. Their perspectives are primarily shared without a filter, and their opinions are raw. Conroy is also not just a short-term island visitor who is interviewing and discovering with the sole purpose of detailing his experience through travel writing. Conroy came to the island with the primary goal of helping these children. In order to do this, he could not just gain a surface level understanding of the children he is teaching. Instead, to accomplish his all too important objective, he had to learn their practices, understand their flaws, and determine how to best fix problems. Through this process, Conroy gained a cultural literacy and applied his understanding, which he goes on to later detail in a book (the secondary purpose of his travel).


            That being said, how do we know that Conroy is truly culturally literate, not just informed about the dialects and learning gaps among the island students? In order to teach the children, Conroy had to go through the initial struggle of realizing his prior teaching style needed to be adjusted to fit the educational needs of the island children. He then was able to transform his teaching throughout the book via his understanding of the culture. Teaching is challenging when you are a member of the culture; in order to effectively teach in a culture where you are the outsider, cultural literacy is essential to success. Conroy’s effective teaching to the local children and the bond he formed with the school community demonstrates he reached cultural literacy. This documented journey through cultural discovery and understanding leading to cultural literacy and its application is what makes this memoir travel writing.


            One of the aspects of this travel writing that I struggled to comprehend was why Conroy was willing to publish such a powerful piece at the risk of harming the students’ idea of “normal” by exposing the flaws in the local education system to society beyond the confines of the island. Conroy was culturally literate and lived the culture each day at school. He knew how uninformed and ill prepared the students were for their potential mainland experiences after school. Yet, he was still willing to detail the flaws within the culture, knowing, as an educator, that this publicity would change the way the school system functioned. In doing this, as a reader, I feared that this would negatively allow the mainland culture to infiltrate the island and undermine its culture, which was so strongly solidified based on the physical barriers that come with existing on an island. The implications of this book are unwarranted cultural change through educational improvement and greater mainland exposure.  I find it interesting that as a culturally literate outsider, this is a side effect of the book that Conroy was willing to accept. However, Conroy’s dedication to the improvement of the island educational system and lifestyle probably outweighed his concern of cultural change.


Unlike Anything I’ve Seen


            The book is a more unconventional approach to travel writing in comparison to my prior exposure. Travel writers such as Anthony Bourdain and Paul Theroux travel with the intension and purpose to write. Conroy, on the other hand, travelled to find a purpose in his career that led him to help children through education. The mere thought of the book became entirely secondary. This makes his “research” of the island less conventional and more free forming. His method of inquiry was through his teaching; he discovered the culture primarily on a need-to-know basis to successfully do his job. Therefore, his “research questions” included what are the interests of the people of the island?, what is the career path for a resident?, what differentiates island citizens from mainland citizens?, and what drives the island citizens?. However, since his method of inquiry was very discovery and usage based, his “research” questions also, most likely, consisted of his daily thoughts and queries during his time teaching. For example, even questions like how much do the citizens know about America? and how literate are the citizens? were research questions provoked by daily experiences in the classroom.


            As a reader and student of travel writing, I found it refreshing and more authentic that Conroy’s travel experience was not a series of interviews or predetermined adventures, like that of Bourdain and Theroux. I was inspired by the reflective nature of his writing, uncovering the island to the reader through a series of anecdotes and a storyline that makes you not only feel connected to the location but also the others that inhabit it. While reading, I developed empathy for the other, a feeling that is not usually provoked by travel writing formed with a more conventional inquiry process.


            Conroy wanted to teach the audience about his experience. Daufuskie Island is primarily unknown. Even Conroy, who lived a boat ride away from the island, was unfamiliar with its culture. By detailing his experience, he was able to put Daufuskie Island on the map and allow the public to understand the struggles of the citizens, bring to light the racism and socioeconomic injustice, and demonstrate how a lack of a proper education can prevent future success. In doing this, Conroy works to get the audience to appreciate the value of education and change while also writing to gain a more public consideration for the people of Daufuskie Island.


Beyond the Book


            As mentioned above, I decided to read this book in particular to gain an additional perspective and further my knowledge on an area I am so familiar with. That being said, since my foundational knowledge about the low country and Pat Conroy was fairly established, I decided to conduct additional research both while reading and after reading.  I decided to do this instead of researching prior to reading because I felt that I did not know where my knowledge gaps existed. Reading the book allowed me to identify them, and researching provided me the information to fill them.


            The main thing I researched was what is the developmental status of Daufuskie Island today. The book made the island appear to be almost a foreign land to the mainland, and I wanted to determine how much of that still holds true. I also thought that this may allow me to understand the implications of the book, as addressed above. Based on my research, I learned that the education system has been refined. A handful of full time residents attend primary school on the island, and then travel by bus and boat to Hilton Head Island for their secondary schooling. This more integrated approach to education requires a commute of over an hour during the high school years, but it helps assimilate the students more than they were in the book. This is a product of the issues addressed publicly by the book as well as the change in time period. As for the island itself, the book mentions that there were limited career opportunities on the island. As a business major, I am fascinated by economic development, and I wanted to determine if that still holds true. Today, the island’s main economy is tourism based. The island website describes a beautiful, authentic, and remote island getaway experience that indicates it is a destination unique to those along the east coast. That being said, my research did not include history or geography. I felt that I needed to answer deeper questions, and I was already very familiar with the geography. Furthermore, Conroy did a great job of addressing the island history through his own inquiry.


            My favorite part of additional research was diving into the reviews. It is easy to see that this is not just a praised book but a loved one. Reviews included words like “enlightening”, “impressed”, “magical”, and “reread”. Conroy is touted as a praised storyteller, a strong writer, and able to address historical topics in a less historical setting. Overall, this book, the associated reviews, and my additional research have made Daufuskie Island a must visit location for me, and it has now earned a spot on my bucket list.





“Beaufort County Schools.” Beaufort County School District,


Conroy, Pat. The Water Is Wide: A Memoir. Bantam Books, 1972.,,


Daufuskie Island, SC, Lton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce & Visitor and Convention Bureau, 13 Oct. 2015,


MarCom, Tucker. Enjoy Historic Daufuskie Island, SC,


“The Water Is Wide.” Goodreads,

“The Road to Little Dribbling” Essay Review

By Jessica Mohr

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first: “The Road to Little Dribbling” by Bill Bryson, published in 2015 by Anchor Books, is a just-shy-of-400-pages text detailing a practiced travel writer’s adventures in Britain, both as a tourist and, eventually, as a citizen. Just following the table of contents is a simple map of England with the relevant cities and nearby bodies of water marked for easy reference, should you get lost while reading. Each chapter, named after a different region or city on the island, details Bryson’s ongoing trials and tribulations associated with being an American in Britain.

What drew me to this book in particular was the time I spent living in London as a requirement for my participation in the Elon Teaching Fellows program. I was a secondary English education major in a past life (the first three years of my undergraduate career), and the fact that Elon wanted to offer me a small scholarship and a prestigious fellowship made it, at the time, a no-brainer to pursue that line of study. Eventually, I did drop the major, but that’s a story for another day. In the spring semester of our sophomore year at Elon, the entire Teaching Fellows cohort was required to go abroad, either to Costa Rica, London, or a country whose native language is your major (i.e. a double major in Elementary Education and French spent the semester in Paris). Since the rest of my English Education peers were going to London, I did as well. Since I had this experience living in London, and traveling around the United Kingdom, I decided it was a good idea to choose a travel writing book about these areas.

We spent just over four months, from January to April, living in a beautiful flat in South Kensington, which was spitting distance to the Gloucester Road and South Kensington tube stops. It was one of the most amazing, transformative, and educational experiences I have had while a student at Elon. I’d never lived anywhere other than the same 10-mile radius in Apex, North Carolina, and the only other places I had visited in the country were Washington, D.C. and Springfield, Pennsylvania where my grandparents lived. I guess you could say that hopping on a plane to the comparatively huge city of London, England was shocking to my smaller-town, Southern mind. However, once my initial culture shock and jet lag wore off, I began to really enjoy myself in this new city. It was fun learning all the quirks of the city, as well as London’s distinct personality, through taking classes, living, and working in London.

While I haven’t spent nearly as much time there as Bryson has, and I’m sure he will continue to rack up more days in the U.K. in the future, my study abroad experience allows me to speak about London as somewhat of an insider. I joke with my family that I wasn’t close to being a native, but, by March, I was scoffing in annoyance at tourists as I speed-walked to the tube twice a day to get to and from work. This is where the bulk of my “research” about the city comes in; first-hand experience. When Bryson discusses the Circle line, and how it is both a slow-moving enigma and definitely not a circle, I thought back to my own experiences with the line. It’s weird and unpredictable and kind of a dump, especially compared to the Jubilee or District lines. Rather than referencing specific bodies of research done on London itself, my experiences and reflections on the time I’ve spent in the city will serve as my primary source of

information. If nothing else, writing this paper will definitely make me nostalgic and want to go back as soon as possible.

My “take” on this book is that its author needs to relax a little bit with his casual elitism. I understand that he is an elderly white individual with a lot of privilege and fame to his name that undoubtedly contribute to the way he speaks about others, but, to me, that only explains his prejudices; it doesn’t excuse them. The general sense that I got was that Bryson is one of those oblivious old white people who just wants things to “go back to the way they were in the good old days,” where segregation was still a thing and women didn’t wear shorts above the knee, lest they be branded with a scarlet A. But at least gas was only a quarter a gallon, amiright? What I’m trying to get at here is that Bryson seems, strongly, to look down on younger generations and their mannerisms. As a person of said younger generation with some of said mannerisms, I didn’t too much enjoy reading about his snooty opinions about the kinds of pop culture I consume, or how stupid we all are because only some of us can’t point out America on a map. That last one, fine, I’m a little appalled as well, but that won’t stop me from defending my geographically challenged peers!

What frustrated me the most about Bryson’s attitude towards the younger generation was actually very early on in the book — section II of the prologue — when Bryson is discussing his learning curve when it comes to British society. He talks for a few pages about how “I am constantly at a loss in this new world,” and “It is a place full of celebrities whose names I don’t know and talents I cannot discern,” among other things. This is a common theme of conversation, that I am willing to bet my student loan debt on, that just about everyone else in my generation has had with someone from Bryson’s generation. For me, this conversation comes up a lot with my grandparents and other extended family; they make some sort of nested-in-truth joke about “oh millennials these days with their cell phones and Kardashians,” and proceed to shit all over my generation for no other discernible reason other than they’re upset that we understand how an iPad works, and they can’t figure it out to save their lives. This pissed off grandparent vibe comes out a lot when Bryson looks down his nose at modern pop culture, which is not something I really care for at all. Something that he needs to understand is that young people today can have a variety of interests, including media that others may deem “trashy” or “vapid,” and still be interesting, well-rounded, decent people. Just because someone enjoys watching Keeping up with the Kardashians from time to time doesn’t automatically make them someone of lower intelligence than someone who doesn’t. With all the nonsense that’s going on in the world today, who doesn’t need some escapism from our childish orange overlord every now and then? Some people like to read books, some people like to go for runs, some people like to binge watch Star Trek, and some people like to turn their brains off and watch reality television. They all have the same potential for assholery as the other.

With this book, Bryson is attempting to give an accurate and detailed account of what it was like for him to live, travel, and investigate in Britain. His adventures to citizenship and travels around the island may be the closest some people get to a trip around England, or perhaps they are using this book as an intro course before jumping headfirst into a trip of their own. His question going in, as it seems to me, would have been “how can I explain British culture across

the island from my perspective as an American?” Overall, this seems to be the goal of Bryson’s account of his own adventures through unfamiliarity with the culture through to eventual citizenship and feeling more like a “local.”

When it comes to the overall genre of travel writing, I believe this book most strongly engages with the traveler/tourist interacting with the “other,” or someone who is unfamiliar to them. Bryson could have gone to a country that is significantly different from his home country of America, which I’m sure would have made for a very different kind of book, but he chose to visit another white-dominated, English-speaking country. Despite this, he still managed to make it sound like he was a stranger in a strange land.

This was odd to me because, when I lived in London, I didn’t feel as out of place as it seems Bryson felt. When I encountered someone different from me, either a British native or otherwise, I didn’t feel inclined to talk about it like I was a white cultural anthropologist deep in the bowels of Samoa for the first time. Granted, the culture outside of London is indeed a little eccentric — I couldn’t understand my Irish host even though his wife swore he was speaking English — but I was always relatively comfortable and adapted relatively easily to the small, occasional quirks that came up. Thinking back, the only times I was especially uncomfortable with what was happening was any time I was in an airport, but that was only because of my paralyzing fear of flying. The people rarely made me twitch to the point where I felt like a complete outsider.

In the grand scheme of things, Bryson’s overall lack of adaptability when it comes to new cultural differences leads me to believe his cultural literacy needs to be questioned. Going in, I was told that he was a great travel writer with many years, experiences, and adventures under his belt; I expected him to be a wise, understanding individual who has obviously learned a lot from his travels. Instead, this book read as if it were written by someone’s curmudgeonly grandfather who hasn’t left the 20-mile radius of his home town except for maybe the occasional business trip to South Dakota.

In order to be considered a culturally literate individual, Bryson would need to reflect on his experiences a little more and learn to understand that difference does not equal deficit. Just because someone is different than him, and may be treating him differently than he has grown used to here in America, doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to be an equally brilliant and well-rounded individual as he believes himself to be. In order to facilitate my own understanding and enriched reading of the book, I made sure to read a small handful of reviews of the book before I purchased it. My first stop was Amazon reviews, as that was from where I ordered the book. I also read some reviews from Goodreads, which, after reading the book, I found myself agreeing with. Lastly, and unsurprisingly, the reviews within the book were glowing recommendations which praised Bryson’s “humor.” In terms of research regarding history and/or geography, I was fortunate enough to have my own firsthand experience with England to look back on. Instead of staring at a map on Google Images, I went back through the Google Drive folder that contains all the photos I took during my semester abroad in London in order to refresh my memory of the city. When he discussed towns and areas that I was not familiar with, I looked up images and maps to ensure I had an accurate mental picture of where he was taking me.

This review may come off as scathingly negative of Mr. Bryson’s mannerisms, writing, personality, and general existence on the planet…oh, who am I kidding, that’s exactly what it is! There’s no “but” there. Obviously, I am not a fan of Bryson’s. I must reluctantly admit that his perspective, no matter my opinions on how he imparts it with the rest of the world, is certainly a unique one. I doubt there are many other travel writers out there who share both his level of celebrity and cynicism, which can be an interesting way to look at international travel when you are a white American. If you’re an average Joe looking to gather all information possible before hopping on a plane to Heathrow, please promise me that this won’t be the only book about England you read before going over there. England is so much more than what Bryson portrays it to be. If you’re an old, pissed off grandparent type, have a ball! I’m sure you’ve been angrily shaking your fist at me the whole time, if you even made it this far. Enjoy yet another old white man agreeing with your worldview. Regardless of who you are, do us all a favor take Bryson’s words with a grain of salt. The United Kingdom has so much to offer Americans as a multicultural travel experience; we just have to let it.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, An Essay Review

By Jenny Kane

In 2012, Cheryl Strayed, formerly Cheryl Nyland, published a memoir of her personal account hiking the 1,100-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) when she was a lost and broken 26-year-old in the summer of 1995. The title of the book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, in itself represents the purpose and direction of the book as an archetypical, travel inspired memoir. Since its publication in 2012, Wild has become a New York Times bestseller and can be found in most book stores today. The hardcover edition is 336 pages—seemingly lengthy, but overall reviewers agree that it’s a fast read. It was published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a small, American firm that has been around for over one hundred years. Although it retails for $11.29 from stores like Books a Million and Barnes and Noble, I was able to access it used for $3.99 off of Amazon. The accessibility of the book expands even further with its movie debut in 2014 starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl and Laura Dern as her mother. Reese Witherspoon produced the film as a spark to her movement that focuses on reshaping the image of women in the United States. Regardless of its multimodality, in both the memoir and the movie Wild captures the fear and vigor of one young woman pushing against all odds on a journey that hurt, strengthened, and ultimately healed her. That personal journey with self is what makes this book the perfect travel writing example. Her key point is that life doesn’t wait for anyone, and the book’s main purpose is to motivate all of her readers to keep moving no matter how unfair life may seem. Without the will to continue moving, travel is lost, and so is hope.


In several interviews with the New York Times and The Guardian, Strayed comments that the seventeen-year interim between those events in her life and publishing this book was crucial to the rhetorical effectivity of her writing and “ability to grow and reflect”. The aging of her field notebooks and journals are what strengthened the life story she had to reconstruct through writing this memoir. Inherent to the writing process for this particular piece of travel writing was rhetorical reflection on some of the most painful and powerful points of her experience and picking apart her psyche to portray the events as they actually happened. Through this style of anecdotal storytelling, Strayed successfully lends the audience the ethos, pathos, and logos necessary to emote the blunt truth of her situation. Before she hiked the PCT, Cheryl was working as a waitress, separated from her husband, and helplessly mourning over the premature loss of her mother to lung cancer. It was only when she hit her absolute low—her addiction to heroin—that she knew she had to make a radical change. The fake surname that Cheryl developed, “Strayed,” speaks a lot to her identity and life experience as a woman who overcame injustice and failure through physical and mental isolation as a function of travel. Today, Cheryl is an American essayist, podcaster, traveler, and soul-searcher. She has now written four best-selling books and has published many of her essays in popular magazines such as the New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post. Wild is her most profound book to date, as it represents her own account of her life as it really happened, not withholding any of the detail.


Strayed says the goal of her journey was to find “radical aloneness,” a mental and physical state in which no other program, job, therapy, or place could give her. In Wild she states “alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was” (Strayed, Chapter 8). This example is enough to show how impressive of an author Strayed is. It’s personally inspiring to me that a woman with little to no writing experience could produce such profound and poetic diction that has now reached millions of readers. Another personally impactful line from the book was: “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me” (Strayed, Chapter 4). In my own experience with travel, I find it hard to be vulnerable with the culture and with aspects of my identity that I usually hide away. After reading Wild, I am newly inspired to let the geography and culture shape me more and bring out those vulnerabilities. Strayed is pleading with the reader that overcoming a fear is the first step to growing as a traveler and individual.


Her book starts similarly to how her journey started, with a series of beginnings. One was her decision to hike the PCT after finding a book about it “with a blissful waterfall on the front,” a second was to actually follow through with that decision and purchase all of the gear she would need and conduct research, and a third was to actually put herself at the foot of the trail in the middle of the Mojave Desert. However, it wasn’t until after her hike that she realized that her true beginning was the day she discovered that her mom had cancer. After laying out these pieces of her journey, Strayed uses the remainder of the book to take the reader through a loop of rhetorical analysis and reflection of the past events of her life as they relate to her journey on the trail. No one could prepare her for the news of her mother’s passing when she had already battled so many personal feats throughout her short life thus far. But it was this news that first sent her down a meek road, full of disappointment. Hiking the PCT for Cheryl meant escaping the source of heartache that she was familiar with and being forced to confront it in an unfamiliar landscape. Thus, Wild is an example of travel being used as an outlet to explore identity and individuality, and that is what Cheryl was able to harness through her own journey.


After doing some research of my own on the Pacific Crest Trail, it becomes clear pretty quickly that it is no place for a novice hiker. Cheryl was exactly that at the beginning of the summer of 1995. She had no idea how she would complete the journey from the Mojave Desert to the forests of Washington State, as the trail is loaded with untouched and awe-inspiring biodiversity that most people never get the chance to experience. The people on the trail are usually either experts on the geography, skilled hikers and outdoorsmen, or hunters, all of which Cheryl was not. However, when she did interact with any of these groups, she at first approached them with her appropriated reaction of fear and distrust. By the end of the trail, and book, she meets a group of hikers and spends the night with them. It is then, at the end of her journey, that she is able to let down her walls and allows herself to be vulnerable, something she hadn’t done in a long time. Both the close-knit culture and the dangers of the trail forced Cheryl to challenge her previously formed identity, and to look at life through an open lens.


Very little of the book is actually devoted to Strayed’s childhood and the actual event of her mother’s death. Strayed uses a theme that reminisces the life that aligns with various events and hardships she faces on the trail. The emotional scenes she does give about her past are incisive and full of pathos: “crying in a public bathroom after her mother receives a diagnosis of incurable cancer, her mother crying in the next stall over, neither saying a word to the other”. This is the only paragraph she gives but it is enough to bring the reader to that moment and empathize. Most of the book is subtler and focused on the details of life hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She states “the wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods,” before diving into tales of enormous backpacks, friendly fellow hikers and treacherously icy mountain paths (Strayed, Chapter 2). The audience also begins to realize here the deeper meaning of this “wilderness” as a more complex, psychological metaphor. Although nothing was particularly extraordinary about her hike along the PCT, her travel writing is relatable and motivational to all readers who may be going through similar events in their lives. Cheryl Strayed purposes this book as a means for readers, especially women, to empower themselves as individuals through travel, and synonymously through soul-searching. 


This memoir has had a personal impact on me as a novice to both life’s hardships and travel. It has inspired me to address both the mental and physical obstacles in my life and to not let those obstacles define who I am. Furthermore, my values and upbringing have helped give me a perspective of my own and, thus, the impact this memoir has had on me is individualized, as is every other reader’s. I first had watched the movie and was extremely inspired by the message and emotion within the film. While reading, I had the tendency to picture some of the scenes from the movie, but I do not see this as an impairment to the significance of the book itself. Instead, the movie acts as a guide for my mind to explore the author’s journey. I feel a personal connection to the author and her message in that I understand how embracing and isolating oneself in nature can act as a therapy for some of life’s hardest moments. As a fellow woman, Cheryl Strayed represents an amazing role model for me and other women as she motivates her readers to empower themselves through travel in nature—bringing herself down to the bare bones of her identity.


The primary research I conducted before reading this book involved understanding the Pacific Crest Trail, its landscape, its dangers, and its culture. Similarly, to follow up on some of the fine details Cheryl Strayed describes in her memoir, I made sure to look into each stop along her journey to help bring a real image to the words on the page. The PCT is more than just the geography. There is an entire association that surrounds itself on the ideology of ecological preservation and community—something that Cheryl found inspiring and uplifting when before she had never even thought to be a part of such a culture. Next, I researched Cheryl, her interviews, and as many reviews as I could possibly find on her book and the movie. I found that her personal interviews and book reviews were pretty spot on with the film, which was surprising and impressive. Overall, I discovered an author who has successfully written a multifaceted book that takes travel writing and places it at the heart of the human psyche and life as a human being. Each reader gets their own experience in reading the book and watching the movie and is effected in a different way. Cheryl herself is trying to show her readers and the public that life is hard, but it is the only life we are given so it is important to embrace it and enjoy it; and more importantly, that some types of extreme travel can cure even the most painful aspects of life.

An Essay Review of Wild by Cheryl Strayed

By Dani Halliday, 2016

Cheryl Strayed’s life was thrown for a loop when her mother died. She could not deal with the pain of being alone, that she seemed to be the only one in her family at all distraught, and sought out some unsavory ways to cope with her pain. She cheated on her husband, leading to a divorce (a very amicable one though). She got a new boyfriend, Joe, who got her into using heroine as another escape from reality. Finally, after getting away from Joe, Cheryl found a book on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and so began her journey to walk the entire thing.

Cheryl was lost in her life and the PCT gave her some direction. Her worries and stresses had a reason and she met others who were going through the same physical journey as her. She was able to do what many thought was impossible for her, yet she proved them wrong. She completed the PCT and found peace with her mother’s death through her journey.


The hike itself was probably my favorite part of the book. It was funny, full of energy, and you could feel her healing throughout her journey. As a woman, I was very interested in her solo hike and her ability to struggle through it alone. Granted, she wasn’t alone. The hikers had her back and she always found people to help her, whether it was giving her a meal, a new book to read, or a ride to the next leg of the trail. All of the hikers had a reason to be on the trail; no one just hikes it just because they can. Cheryl notices immediately that Doug has been through something difficult, but we don’t learn what. Albert, who was hiking with his son, wanted to hike it before he died as a lifelong dream. Having a reason, whether a dream or as an escape, is a main aspect of hiker culture on the PCT.

The hiker culture in this book shows the amount of comradery you can feel with someone whom you’ve never met before. Cheryl felt so much pride when Greg passed her on the trail and already knew her name. It validated her as a true PCT hiker. I loved the aspect of trail names: the Preppies for Doug and Tom, the Statistician for Greg, Matt and Albert were the Eagle Scouts, and Cheryl herself was the Hapless Hiker, due to her lack of experience. She even named her backpack, Monster. The hikers knew it as Monster as well.

One aspect of the hiker culture I was fascinated by was the women on the trail. Stacy and Trina were two women that Cheryl traveled with for a while. There were other women who she met, but they traveled with their husbands/boyfriends. Stacy and Trina hiked together for a while and split up, leaving Stacy to finish by herself. Stacy and Cheryl were very different, and I think that Stacy was more of the “real PCT hiker.” Cheryl was more concerned with how the others viewed her the entire time, while Stacy was focused on the hike. After my first trip abroad, to the Andes Mountains in Peru, I have wanted to hike the whole Inca Trail. I did two days-worth, but the whole thing is something I feel I must do. I don’t know if I could be like Cheryl and do it alone, but I would like to think I would be more like Stacy in how I cared more about the trail and the hike, rather than how I look to the world around me. There is not too much out there about solo female travelers on a rigorous hike. I feel as if the best way to research it is to do it yourself. Maybe I will join their ranks one day.

Cheryl Strayed is not her real name. Yes, she changed her name after her divorce, but Strayed is one that she chose. There is so much symbolism in her name. She had strayed away from her old life and was looking for a new path. The irony of people reading the necklace her friend gave her as “starved” instead of her last name gave it a little humor, but the relevance of her name is significant. Names are of great importance in this book. Cheryl needed to change her name to become a new person after everything she had been through in her pre-PCT life. She had strayed away from who she really was after the death of her mother and needed to find herself once again, and the PCT helped her do that.

Cheryl needed to travel alone so she could really reflect and figure herself out. Being alone does that to you. Being alone in a forest or barren desert must be even more difficult. There is no hiding from yourself when you are alone and Cheryl recognized this. This was a personal journey to prove that she was still capable of accomplishing things and that she could be without her family. She needed to be alone to prove it to, not only the people around her, but more so to prove it to herself.

The overall point of the book is to show how the journey on the PCT healed Cheryl of all of her woes and problems, but this was not the case. Yes, she came to terms with the death of her mother and that she and Paul would remain friends, but nothing else, but Cheryl did not change nearly as much as I had expected. Throughout her journey, she always had to be seen as pretty and desirable to the men she met. She wanted to be one of the PCT hikers, but then she also wanted them to want her sexually. She mentioned her minor sex addiction at the beginning of the book, but she did not grow out of this while on the trail. I expected more from her. At the music festival in Ashland, she immediately got dressed up and found a man to have sex with, whom she would never see again. She brought an entire roll of condoms on the trail with her. Even though the other hikers took them from her, there was no way anybody would have used an entire roll while hiking. At the end of the trail, of course a man came up to her to give her his number, and she never called him. Cheryl had to be desirable all the time, she had to fit in all the time, and she had to have people thinking about her all the time. She did not grow up nearly as much as I had hoped for throughout her journey, which is one huge criticism I have for the book and the author in general.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail showed the personal journey and the physical journey that Cheryl Strayed went through on her hike. Four months alone exposed the inner strength that she was unaware that she had. Even though she destroyed her feet, lost almost every one of her toenails, and came out of it flat broke, Cheryl accomplished what many thought was an impossible feat for her. I strive to have this inner strength and the emotional and physical journey that she went through made this a good piece of travel writing worth reading, especially for a young women who feels she may be straying away from who she is.


Chery Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Vintage Books 2012, 315 pages, $15.95

So, You Want to be an Explorer: An Essay Review of Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams

So, You Want to be an Explorer: An Essay Review of Mark Adams’
Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time

By Molly Spero, 2016

Title: Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time

Author: Mark Adams

Publisher/Date: Dutton, 2012

Length: 1-292

Price: $16 

The Basics: Synopsis

Praised by National Geographic as “a serious (and seriously funny) travelogue,” Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, Mark Adams ingeniously weaves together three narrative threads – his own travel, Bingham’s parallel journeys, and Spanish colonialism during the Inca Conquest – to answer the question, just what was Machu Picchu? Adams, a magazine editor at a traveling publication follows the path forged by Hiram Bingham III, who is famed for “discovering” Machu Picchu during an expedition into the Andes Mountains of Peru in 1911. A century later, Bingham is recast as a villainous huaqueros, or grave robber, who stole priceless artifacts and claimed undeserved credit for finding the archaeological site. Aware that he had never even slept in a tent, let alone trekked hundreds of miles through the Peruvian forest, Adams entrusted “hard-as-nails” Australian adventurer, John Leivers, to guide him. Adams hikes, climbs, and slogs through the Vilcabama region of Peru to his ultimate destination of Machu Picchu. Armed with a guide, a group of muleteers, Bingham’s journals, and indigenous local farmers (among many others), Adams quests to illuminate the mythology of Machu Picchu.

La Hora Peruana: Peruvian Time

Adams quickly discovers that Peruvian standard time is synonymous for tardiness. La Hora Peruana, Peruvian Time, is “the code, indecipherable to North Americans, by which Peruvians determine the latest possible moment that is acceptable to arrive for an appointment” (42). Hiram III, a man who was so astute about time management that he had designated hours for “reading for fun,” found this to be a particularly annoying cultural phenomenon (223). However, unlike Bingham, I am accustomed to this practice, as my stepmother is from Bolivia. She and my dad sent their wedding invitations with a time 3 hours before the actual ceremony to just her relatives, knowing that stragglers were still expected. All of South America seems to treat time similarly.

The theme of time is ever present throughout the book. While South Americans refuse to be slaves to the clock, North American culture values expediency, always striving to accomplish more in the least amount of time. Hiram Bingham III’s ambitious drive came from his grandfather and father who were missionaries with little to show for their dedication. Bingham learned the importance of self-promotion. Adams summarizes the motivation behind Bingham’s relentless need to explore: “If a man was going to work that hard, the world ought to know about it” (17). Hiram III certainly earned his celebrity by managing his time to the fullest. Between 1911 and 1915, he led three expeditions, finding Machu Picchu and many other major Incan sites. However, this rush to make his mark on the world may have been his undoing.

History is Written by the Victors

Adams asserts, “…Bingham has been accused of exaggerating the details of his expeditions…” (55). Evidence for this is provided in Bingham’s 1948 travelogue, Lost City of the Incas (now a misnomer). This book, the most famous version of the story, romanticized Machu Picchu, creating a classic adventure tale and editing out the boring sections such as catalogs on canned goods. He editorialized the “discovery” narrative by sanitizing the part that gave credit to Lizarraga, a local farmer whose name and the year 1902 were etched into the wall of the Temple of the Three Windows. In addition, he lied about the University of Cusco professor having information about the ruins.

These few instances of many exaggerated half-truths by Bingham should not completely color your opinion of him. Adams points out the difficulty in separating fact from fiction. For example, “virtually all the sources available are Spanish accounts of stories that had already been vetted by the Inca emperors to highlight their own heroic roles. Imagine a history of modern Iraq written by Dick Cheney and based on authorized biographies of Saddam Hussein published in Arabic, and you’ll get some idea of the problem historians face” (47). History involves many narratives – many of which are never recorded – but often a dominant narrative becomes embedded in the culture and society. Bingham’s narrative just happened to emerge as the dominant history, largely due to the romantic embellishments that embodied The Explorer.

Of course, readers realize through Adams’ dry humor that history is about perspective. He understates, “The arrival of Europeans in the New World was not a major cause for celebration in the Andes” (105). We feel embarrassment as we are confronted by the genocide of ancient Incans by Spanish conquistadors. Although discredited as the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu gained its fame from being mythologized like Atlantis, the fantasy underwater kingdom. As an outsider Bingham painted Incan descendants as “savages.” Adams recognizes this cultural clash writing, “The Peruvians crossed barefoot, Bingham later recalled, ‘using their somewhat prehensile toes to keep from slipping,’ a description that managed to compliment their bravery while not-so-subtly comparing them to monkeys” (177). White explorers have historically been known for depicting natives as primitive, wild creatures and Bingham was no exception.

He also fell prey, like many other explorers, to confirmation bias. Adams overtly explains Bingham’s incessant desire to prove his Grand Unified Theory: Machu Picchu was both Tampu Tocco, the location of Incas’ creation myth, and Vilcabama, the Lost City of the Incas. His determination to prove his theory led him to only confirm new evidence that reinforced his theory and reject or ignore evidence that contradicted it. I admit I’ve also fallen into this trap, and I cannot deny that it is convenient. The trouble for Bingham was that proving his theory required exporting artifacts back to the U.S, and there was no way he was leaving them behind.

Claim to Fame: The Controversy of Peru vs. Yale

Bingham led a total of three expeditions to Peru sponsored by Yale University, and later the National Geographic Society. The head of the National Geographic Society, Gilbert Grosvenor, instructed him to bring Incan artifacts back to the U.S. in order to be displayed in the Yale’s museum. However, in response to Bingham’s 1911 exploration, Peru solidified its stance toward its national heritage and prohibited the exportation of artifacts from its country without official consent (204). A compromise was reached, allowing Bingham to export all the artifacts he found back to Yale upon the condition that Peru could demand them back whenever it wanted.

According to Adams, “Anticipating the legal trouble that would arise a century later, Lima’s newspapers portrayed Bingham as a Yankee imperialist looking to steal the country’s treasures and dispatch them to Yale” (208). This negative image would be wielded by former first lady of Peru, Eliane Karp-Toledo, whom Adams interviewed in a Barnes and Noble in suburban Washington, D.C. Controversy stirred when Peru brought Yale to court in 2007 over Yale’s refusal to honor the agreement to return the artifacts to Peru when requested. In Februrary 2008, Karp-Toledo denounced Bingham’s inheritance in an Op-Ed column for The New York Times, claiming the agreement between Peru and Yale reflected Yale’s “colonial way of thinking” (211).

Adams seems to perhaps sympathize a bit with Bingham, writing, “I asked as diplomatically as possible if perhaps Bingham was being used as the whipping boy for other interests” (213). In my mind, Bingham is a victim – albeit not an innocent one – but worthy of sympathy. Yes, I believe it is incorrect and unjust to suggest he “discovered” Machu Picchu since there were three families who were living at the site when he arrived – even he admitted this fact. But, I think the controversy that politicized the hostility between Yale and Peru fifty years after Bingham’s death earns the explorer the benefit of the doubt. Yale declined to honor the agreement, while National Geographic sided with Peru. I’d speculate that Bingham, with his obsession-like desire to be memorialized in history, would have also sided with Peru if it meant his reputation, as a hero, remained intact.

Karp-Toledo responds, “I think the politician in [Bingham] ate the adventurer in him. That’s too bad” (213). After reading her Op-Ed, I agree with her assertion that Yale demonstrated colonialist values by ignoring the request of Peru. Although it does not excuse Bingham and Yale and National Geographic Society for their past actions of exporting Incan artifacts, the early-to- mid 20th century courtesies and political relations were not framed with the same understanding we have today of oppression. Today in the U.S., especially in academia, we are (supposed to be) more sensitive to the colonial/imperialist narrative and are more vocal about recognizing the injustice. For me, I am confused about why Yale resisted returning the artifacts to its rightful country – even if there was not an agreement – when academia espouses cultural literacy and cognizant of types of privilege. Many more sources arose in the aftermath of the controversy and painted Bingham as a villainous scoundrel who walked – no stomped – all over the Peruvian government without a care and focused only his own career ambitions.

“Martini Explorer”

Unlike Bingham, Adams’ goal in exploring Machu Picchu was to follow a path already trekked and to prove to himself that a city man could turn into a “serious traveler” (13). According to John, the hard-as-nails Australian guide, Bingham was a “bit of a martini explorer,” which was “a euphemism for a traveler who fancies himself tough but who really expects a certain level of comfort” (5). Adams considered himself a different type of explorer, “Mr. Travel Guy,” who is dressed in a cheesy safari outfit and forgets the “Wear Two Pairs of Socks Rule” (55).

Adams critiques the commercialized tourism industry through the voice of John, the embodiment of the serious traveler and explorer. John complains to Adams saying, “Travel today is ticking things off: ‘Whew, I’ve done Machu Picchu, now I can get drunk…It’s a real problem now—people don’t know how to enjoy life. They want hedonism, short-term thrills’” (145). Through the trip, Adams realizes that time should be appreciated and as cliché as it is, slow down to smell the roses. I think that is were Bingham went astray. He was in such a hurry to make a name for himself that he got caught up in the tourism need for grand, romantic adventures that accomplish a goal. Perhaps Bingham needed to embrace Peruvian Time.


Just what was Machu Picchu? That is the driving question of the entire book. Adams presents so many theories and speculations of Bingham and other scholars posed to solve the mystery of Machu Picchu that I have a hard time keeping up. Some evidence points to the city’s purpose as either a hideout in the jungle, a religious site, or the emperor’s royal estate. For Adams, he sees Machu Picchu as interconnected with the ancient Inca Trail, dotted with Incan ruins that create the sublime. Johan Reinhard, National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence, succinctly places the Inca Trail in its proper context, “You can’t finish the Inca Trail and NOT know that this was the end point of a pilgrimage” (198).

Despite the verdict on Bingham, I agree with Karp-Toledo when she admits, “If I were to give Bingham credit for one thing, it was that he brought knowledge of Machu Picchu to the world” (213). Regardless on which theory is right or what the purpose of Machu Picchu was, we must acknowledge Bingham’s contribution as not the “discoverer” of Machu Picchu, but perhaps its illuminator.


Adams, Mark. Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time.

Dutton, 2012.

Hunting Dinosaurs: An Essay Review of “In Patagonia”, By Bruce Chatwin.

By: Will Stiefel


Patagonia has always drawn interest when it comes to its history, isolation, and general mystery. Located at the farthest point accessible by foot in South America, Patagonia is shared by both Chile and Argentina. Though the region lies in both countries, it may as well be its own entity; stretching through vast, untamed landscape considered to many as the most impressive on earth.

Travelling this extremely remote, mysterious region, Bruce Chatwin examines what it is that drives humans to roam. Simultaneously, he details his accounts of Patagonia riddled with history, humanity, and geography. The novel may not read like a typical adventure story, but its assorted anecdote, history, and experience give the reader a deeper look into what draws people to Patagonia and all other far reaches of earth.

To those who have never traveled there, Patagonia might as well be a different planet. Century old legends described the region as the home of modern giants; there are even thought to be extinct dinosaurs still roaming its grass plains and dramatically carved ridges. However, with numerous expeditions funded to prove these rumors, they have almost all been proved false.

This is where we find Bruce Chatwin in his defining text, In Patagonia, setting out into the remote stretches of the territory to decipher the history behind an old piece of dinosaur skin. Originally hailing from Great Britain, young Chatwin admired a piece of skin his grandmother claimed to be from a brontosaurus. Her cousin, Charles Milward, had reportedly found it “preserved by the cold, dryness and salt, in a cave on Lost Hope Sound in Chilean Patagonia” (Chatwin 2). Differing opinions on the validity of the skins origin and acquisition sparked Chatwin’s curiosity with Patagonia. With the threat of the cold war reaching England, and a newfound interest in geography, Chatwin eventually found himself setting foot into the faraway region. Overtime, Chatwin learned that the skin was not that of the brontosaurus, but rather from a mylodon or giant sloth. This, however, does not stop him from presenting an account of his travels through Patagonia that help answer many questions those uninformed have had about the region.

The population diversity of Patagonia, and how it came to be, intrigues Chatwin. To begin exploring Patagonia’s people, he must start with those who originated in the region—primarily, the Araucanian Indians. These Indians once considered “fierce and brave…scared the Spaniards out of their wits” (Chatwin14). However, reading through

Chatwin’s encounters with these Indians, one begins to realize that they suffered a fate very similar to those of the North American tribes. Now, many are migrant workers, usually alcoholics, and most with strong tempers. Chatwin experiences these qualities on a few different occasions, which leads the reader to make some assumptions about the native’s current condition. With the colonization of a European power almost always comes the displacement and ignorance of those native to the land. Those native to Patagonia suffered no different a fate.

On a similar basis, Chatwin spends much of his time describing the role of the South American gaucho. These cattle herding, nomadic people originally roamed the otherwise empty grasslands of the Patagonian desert similar to cowboys of the North American frontier. They were also alike in their pride for horsemanship. Chatwin observes that, “once you get a drunk gaucho in the saddle, he won’t fall off and his horse will get him home” (Chatwin 37). Sentences and observations like this made Chatwin’s writing both interesting and entertaining. He places gauchos in a seemingly gallant, epic light. In comparison to the grandiose stories of old western cowboys, the gauchos do not fall short. For many guachos, In Patagonia is a very respected and loved account of their existence. Their role in preserving the nationalistic sense of the region, especially in the face of European invasion, makes them a very significant Patagonian archetype. Several episodes of the novel find Chatwin joining a gaucho for traditional matétea or an asado of fire roasted mutton (24). The region seems desperate to hold onto its identity in the face of the people’s turbulent history.

Reading through the novel, one cannot help but feel a sense of exile residing somewhere within the soul of Patagonia. Almost everyone Chatwin meets comes from some faraway country, hardly any within South America. Many Welsh and Russian immigrants—used to cold, dark, wet conditions—make their way to Patagonia. Forced to run from the law, the legendary Butch Cassidy and his Sundance Kid even choose Patagonia to start a new life. The common thread being that they all seek what once was. The times change everywhere. Populations grow, frontiers diminish, and people are displaced. Yet, Patagonia remains Patagonia, seemingly frozen in time. Chatwin presents a place unconquerable by civilization, where people can migrate only to live off the land. There, in the unforgiving conditions, exiles can make a new start with success depending on nature not infringing society.

The ideas presented within In Patagonia are not what I expected from this highly acclaimed piece of travel writing. My idea of Patagonia, as one unfamiliar with it, was of pure adventure and isolation. Although Chatwin does experience some of this, his interaction with what population there is to find in Patagonia proves the most useful to answer any questions about this mysterious place.  I had only heard about Patagonia through a documentary that followed a mountain climber to the region. Its remoteness seemed unimaginable, yet the film alone did not give me much of a feel for the history of the region or why it had remained so mysterious. Within a mere 200 pages, Chatwin presented me with a narrative that incorporated every aspect of travel to comprehensively describe Patagonia. His vignettes, compiled into 97 chapters, help him demonstrate his research method of encountering many different people, places, and situations when travelling. These chapters, whether short or long, all equally contribute to present a well-rounded sense of Patagonian identity.

The reviews of Chatwin’s book—especially one done years ago by The New York Times—consistently draw on Chatwin’s exploration of why humans feel the need to roam, wander, and explore. Humans hardly remain content with one place for too long and, like animals, seem physically programmed to crave travel. This is what helps define Chatwin’s novel as the epitome of travel writing. He examines not only the geography, culture, and history of Patagonia, but also the philosophical draw of it. Those drawn to Patagonia, along with those drawn to the moon, prove to be prime examples of why humans crave travel. These desolate, unpopulated, wild places give wanderers a sense of “primeval calmness…which is perhaps the same as the Peace of God” (Chatwin 15). Chatwin’s exploration of this instinctual pleasure opens readers’ eyes to what draws us to drift throughout the world, and sheds light on what makes Patagonia the ideal location to do so. As Hilton Kramer points out in his review of the novel, In Patagonia does not provide an escape from the modern world but a deeper sense of it.



Chatwin, Bruce. In Patagonia. New York: Summit, 1977. Print.

Making Italy Home : An Essay Review of Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.

By: Mia Brady

What is it about a place that makes it home? I explored this question when studying  abroad in Italy. To say that living in Florence changed my life does not begin to explain the impact it had on me for the better.  Florence became my home. After my phenomenal experience  studying  abroad in Italy, I was drawn to reading a travel memoir taken place in Italy. I initially shied away from reading Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy by American poet, professor and writer Frances Mayes. After having seen the film about a   middle-aged woman moving to Italy on a whim, I deemed the book to be a cliché travel piece. But after a trusted opinion that the film version is not up to pair with the book version, I reevaluated my assumptions on Under the Tuscan Sun.

Upon conducting outside research, I soon realized that the film and book were not comparable. General consensus seemed to be that the book lacked a steady flow of storyline, despite the fact that it was on the NY Times Best Seller List for two years. Various reviewers on  Goodreads, a trusted  book  review  and  rating  website  I’ve  used  for  years,  downgraded  the  travel  piece  for excessive description. User “Leftbanker” gave the book one out of five stars in his  review, claiming “I would estimate that a good half of this book is made up of adjectives. Every noun is propped up by a description, as if nothing is able to stand on its own.” His cynical take on excessive description did not turn me away from the book. I am a lover of detail, and unlike many readers, appreciate what detail can bring to a book. Also unlike many of these reviewers,  I was reading Under the Tuscan Sun, in part, to compare the author’s experience to my own.

Upon reading further recommendations on Goodreads, I came across a  five star review from user, “Tara” that sealed the deal for me. She wrote, It’s not all sweeping vistas and Renaissance churches in this telling; Mayes transforms the details of daily life, and she considers  big questions,  too… the colors and textures and tastes daily encountered are all given their moments. The next moment, Mayes ruminates on  the  vagaries  of  renovating  a  house  in  a  foreign  country  (this  is  what  the  book  is ostensibly  about),  the  reasons  a  person  leaves  their  own  homeland  to  find  a  home elsewhere, and the ways a person is changed by what they find in that elsewhere.

I  was  stricken  by  this  Goodreads  user’s  review.  While  the  “sweeping  vistas  and  Renaissance churches” were exceptional components of my experience living in Italy, it was my own moments of “colors and textures and tastes” that made it the life-changing experience that it was. When I picked up the book for the first time, I found that Goodreads reviewer Tara’s stellar observation about Mayes’ search for a home was proven true. The author writes,

Restoring,  then improving,  the house; transforming  an overgrown  jungle into its proper function as a farm for olives and grapes; exploring the layers and layers of Tuscany and Umbria; cooking in a foreign kitchen and discovering the many links between the food and the culture—these intense joys frame the deeper pleasure of learning to live another kind of life. (2)

 Details of farm living, cooking, food and culture, as well as the overall joy of living a much different lifestyle than most Americans, appealed to me in an exceptional way. Unlike some reviewers, the detail is what kept me going. I found that is is through these descriptions that Mayes’ truly makes Italy her home. She focuses on the minute details of her day-to-day life, furthermore, proving that she is enthralled with Italy not as a result of the famous sites, like the Florentine Duomo, but rather because of “moments” spent in her quiet olive garden or walking along the crumbling stone wall along her street.

When look back on older reviews of Under the Tuscan Sun, I came across the New York Time’s review of the book from November 1996, written by Alida Becker and entitled “A Domestic Sensualist”.

…but what Ms. Mayes mostly provides are the kind of satisfyingly personal crotchets and enthusiasms you might exchange with an old friend over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table… Casual and conversational, her chapters are filled with craftsmen and cooks, with exploratory jaunts into the countryside — but what they all boil down to is an intense celebration of what she calls ”the voluptuousness of Italian life” (Becker).

I was happy to see that the NYTimes Book Review author had positive feedback on Mayes’ book, and understood her detail. As Becker notes, Mayes addresses her readers as old friends, providing them  with  thick  descriptions  of  her  day-to-day  life.  It  is  this  detail,  about  tasks,  activities  and experiences, which makes Mayes’ book so memorable.

At the start of the book, Mayes provides a detailed description of the setting of Bramasole, the house she and her romantic partner end up buying.

… a dignified house near a Roman road, an Etruscan (Etruscan!) wall looming at the top of the hillside, a Medici fortress in sight, a view towards Monte Amiata, a passageway and still uncounted apricot, almond, apple, and pear trees. Several figs seem to thrive near the well. Besides the front steps there’s a large hazelnut. Then, proximity to one of the most superb towns I’ve ever seen. Wouldn’t we be crazy not to buy this lovely house called Bramasole? (26)

While many may consider  this detail excessive,  I find it necessary.  How are we to understand Mayes’ draw to this remote location if it is not for her description? Through this description, I found myself learning more about Mayes as a person; that she was drawn to recognize and appreciate the fruit trees and the looming road.

I not only enjoyed Mayes’ detail regarding location, but I also resonated with it. When spending my semester in Italy, I often wrote my grandmothers, who are both very fond of sending letters. I found myself recollecting the tiniest details for them. While they loved hearing about all of the famous sites I was seeing, it was the hidden treasures that they enjoyed the most; the little gelato shop on the corner, the woman across the street who waved to us each every night, the expensive ristorante on the corner, always filled with tourists. Having  spoken to my grandmothers after I returned from Italy, it was these details that led them to see how much I truly enjoyed  and  felt  at  home  in  Florence.  Just  as  I  shared  my  minute  observations  with  my grandmothers, Mayes shares her minute observations with the reader.

A major  component  of Mayes’  book  is her discussion  of rebuilding  her home.  When  reading reviews,  I noticed  most  complaints  were  about  her seemingly  excessive,  intricate  detail  of her crumbling home. After reading the book, I realize that the detail is not excessive, but rather it lets the  reader  into  Mayes’  journey  through  discovery.  She  discovers  her  own  feelings  about  Italy through  the restoration  of this house,  and by truly turning  it into her home.  It is through  the observation  of  Mayes’  putting  her  heart  and  soul  into  this  restoration  that  the  reader  fully understands how she grows into her love for this country.

As each room is finished, my job is to paint the battascopa, a six-inch-high gray strip along the bases of the walls, a kind of pseudo-moulding  that is traditional in old houses of this area. Usually it’s a brick color but we prefer the lighter touch. The word means broom-hit. The darker paint doesn’t show the marks of the mops and brooms that must constantly pass over these floors. Almost upside down, I measure six inches in several places, tape the floor and wall, then quickly paint and pull off the tape. (100)

The reader feels as if they are in the house with Mayes, with her with each stroke of paint, with each striping of the tape. The feeling of accomplishment with each step is what makes this an autobiographical piece. We learn that Mayes is a go-getter, and that she thrives from her sense of accomplishment.  Yet the memoir  is also a biography  of Bramasole;  we see the home develop through Mayes’ dedication. As Mayes’ describes of her dedication to her home, “In the mornings, we  both  [Mayes  and  Ed,  her  significant  other]  have  surges  of  new  energy  that  come  from somewhere.  We  plug  right  back  in.  We’re  consumed.  I’m  amazed:  the  relentlessness  we’ve developed” (101).

The world relentlessness really struck me when used in this context. Mayes and Ed are relentless in their restoration, but they are also relentless in their discovery of Italy through different facets of life; one  of  which  is  clearly  building  their  home.  I  found  that  relentlessness  was  a  quality  that  I implemented on a regular basis through my time spent in Italy. In order to make the city of Florence my home, it was essential that I was relentless in my discovery; always exploring and always willing to learn. Looking back on those three months, it was the time I spent learning and growing that led me to consider Florence my home. Mayes’ relentless in growth and development resonates with my own growth and development while living in Italy.

Food is an integral component of Mayes’ book. Certain chapters are filled with recipe after recipe, shedding light on the time, effort and passion that Mayes put into the preparation of her food. To me, Mayes including details on the cooking process and recipes in her Italian experience  makes perfect sense; it pays tribute to this book as not only a autobiographical piece, as it portrays Mayes’ love of cooking, but as a book that has a clear sense of cultural understanding.  She adapts the overall passion that she has for food, and adds it to the cultural significance that Italians place on food, combining the two to further develop Italy as her home. When listing recipes, Mayes adds uniqueness. Certain recipes stood out to me as having a particular display of cultural understanding. A recipe for Pea and Shallot Bruschetta is a prime example. Mayes writes in the description of the recipe:

New peas pop right out of the crisp pods. I thought shelling was a meditative act until I saw a woman in town sitting outside her doorway with her cat sleeping at her ankles. She was shelling an immense pile of peas and already had filled a large dishpan. She looked up and said something rapidly in Italian and I smiled (126)

Mayes’ recipes are more than “how-to” guides on how to make food, but rather, a glimpse at how food plays a role in the day-to-day  lives of everyday  Italians. Mayes provides  the reader with a glimpse of the Italian woman sitting on the steps, shelling peas. When reading this recipe, I thought less about how good the food seemed to be, and more about the cultural implications and Mayes’ reasons for including it. While the recipe may lead to spectacularly tasting food, it is the short tale of this woman that really resonated with me.

From phenomenal restaurants, to playing around in my own kitchen,  to shopping  around  at farmers’  markets  and  grocery stores,  Italian  food  stole  my  heart,  as  it  undoubtedly  stole Mayes’. There are meals I ate in Italy that I will never forget, but there are also people that I spoke to that I will never forget. The butcher at Gusto Panino, a little sandwich shop in Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence who always praised me on my ability to pair ingredients together, for example. I will always remember him and   his   passion   for   the   art   of   sandwich   making,   as   a representation of the cultural importance of food in Florence. Mayes’  Under the Tuscan  Sun articulates  her understanding  of food  as  an  essential  cultural  component  in  Italy.  She demonstrates Italy as her home through her passion and experimentation with Italian food.

Frances Mayes’ made Italy her home in a way that many reviewers on Goodreads did not fully understand or appreciate. This American woman put her heart and soul into renovating a house she turned into a home, and built her understanding of Italian culture through her appreciation and passion  for  food,  discovery  and  growth.  Under  the Tuscan  Sun  is a beautiful  depiction  of  self- discovery  and cultural-discovery,  detailed  through immense description  of place and experience. The reader gains an irreplaceable understanding of how Mayes made Italy her home. Having made Italy my home in my own way, I deeply appreciate Mayes’ memoir, and find it to be beautiful travel piece.

S o u r c e s

Becker, Alida. “A Domestic Sensualist.” The New York Times [New York] 17 Nov. 1996: Rpt. in The New York Times on the Web.

ht t p : / / www. g o o d rea d s. c o m

“ Leftbanker” review:

“Tara” review:  h t t p : / / w w w . g o o d r e a d s . c o m / r e v i e w / s h o w / 9 2 2 1 4 1 1 8

Mayes, Frances. Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy. San Francisco: Chronicle Books,

1996.  $22.95