This looked like an interesting book when I ordered it but I didn't realize just how captivating it would turn out to be. Jennifer Wilson has a way of describing places, people and situations that draws you in and makes you feel as if you are traveling alongside her and sharing her experiences. I was really touched by her descriptions of the people and the culture in Mrkopalj, Croatia, a small village in the Gorski Kotar region, south of Delnice and some 50 km east of Rijeka. It's pronounced MER-ko-pie, in case you're tangling your tongue in knots trying to figure out how to pronounce it. Sometimes true stories like this can become a little boring, especially when they take place in an area with a pace that is so much slower than what most of us experience in America, but Wilson's colorful descriptions and her sometimes humble openness about her feelings was very engaging and drew me right in. I couldn't wait to sit down with this book each night, when our home was quiet, and experience Mrkopalj with her.
Wilson and her architect husband, Jim and her two children, Sam and Zadie decide to travel to Mrkopalj and live there for four months to see the place where her ancestors came from and to try and find the graves of her great grandparents and see the home and area where they lived. What they discovered was a world very different from their lives in Iowa where their middle class existence seemed extravagant compared to an aging, small village in Croatia. Living arrangements were challenging at first but as you turn the pages you begin to see her family settling in, discovering people that shared their roots and even though they didn't speak Croatian, and only a few people there knew more than a few words of English, they learned that communication goes way beyond simple words. What started out as, "OMG, what did I get us into?" morphs to, "I guess I can learn to sleep on this futon bed." And, "This dorm room is really kind of cozy."
Her children seemed to adapt too, although eating lamb or a pig that they saw walking around an hour before was pretty shocking. Rather than spending hours watching TV or playing with video games, her son learned to value friendships and the outdoors and spending time with his family. Her daughter found friends right away with the family whose home they rented a floor from. As time went on they not only discovered their roots but discovered how much they meant to each other.
I had to look up Mrkopalj on the internet, not only to see a map, but to see if I could find some photos of the places she describes in her book. I was delighted to find several youtube videos that the author posted as well as many posted by other people. This being such a small town I was able to see many of the people she wrote about just by doing a youtube search for Mrkopalj. Most of them I couldn't understand since they're speaking Croatian, but it was fun to see all these people and places I just read about. Watching Robert Starcevic playing his guitar was like seeing a rock star! Two thumbs up for this touching and entertaining book!
Jennifer Wilson and her husband Jim have a good life in Des Moines, Iowa. Two great kids, careers, house, friends - the American Dream. But they had another dream as well - " to escape to the place where we could live simply with our kids." But where could that be? Jennifer's family was originally from Croatia. And that, they decide, is where they will escape to for a year. Jennifer does a short reconnaissance mission in her ancestral hometown of Mrkopalj, returns to the US and less than a year later, they're on their way.
I thought Running Away to Home was such a neat idea - and something I would have liked to do when I was younger (I would have headed to Ireland myself). To have really chucked it all for a year, packed up two young children to just explore, learn and live takes courage and an adventurous spirit.
Wilson doesn't pull any punches in this memoir. It's not all smooth sailing - their planned accomodations go awry and Jennifer is actually the one who has trouble fitting in with village life. Her husband Jim seems to seamlessly integrate himself into daily life. "You haven't tried to fit in! You're hanging back. You're trying to figure everything out before you actually enjoy this. I don't think the point is to figure anything out. I think your time is better spent getting to know people." Once she takes her husband's words to heart, things go better for Jennifer. She starts to relax and just 'be'. Once she starts to interact and join in, her experience is enriched.
The book is written from Jennifer's point of view, with Jim and the children's thoughts added by her. I would have enjoyed reading from Jim's perspective as well. I enjoyed 'meeting' many of the 800 residents of Mrkopalj and learning of daily life, history and customs of the area. I did find a little too much of the story devoted to Robert - the owner of the home they end up living in, although they depend on him for much of what they need during their time in Croatia.
Did the Wilsons find what they were looking for? The subtitle of the book is "Our journey to Croatia in search of who we are, where we came from, and what really matters." I think the time spent together as a family was invaluable. I would have liked to see a postscript - what happened on their return to the US? Did they return to their jobs? What changed as a result of this trip? Pictures would have been nice as well, but you can view the trip album on Wilson's website.
I enjoyed the honesty of Wilson's writing, learning more about Croatia and the thoughts and possiblities her adventures sparked in this reader.
I want to like this book. I like the family it's based around. I love that the parents too their children to one of their ancestral homelands', wanting to know more about where they come from. I just felt that this book had no WOW. I wasn't floored by anything. Nothing was exciting. Everything was just okay. It is someones' life. It's their story, and I appreciate it, it just isn't one I'm gonna talk about tomorrow.