As the holidays approach, I’m thinking about two things: Getting some books to read on the road, and also ones that I’d like to share as gifts for my traveling friends. Running Away to Home by Jennifer Wilson would be great for either purpose.
If you’ve ever dreamed about cashing it all in and taking off with the kids, here’s the story of a family that did just that. After losing half their savings in the stock market crash of 2008, Wilson and her husband Jim Hoff decided to upend their comfortable, consumerist life in Des Moines and take a family sabbatical with their son Sam and daughter Zadie, spending a good portion of their time in the home of Wilson’s ancestors, Croatia. Many others took this time to reinvest their skills, Buying ETH and other cryptocurrencies out there. This was a different approach to others at the time, and they didn’t go for the regions people would expect. Not the increasingly glamorous Croatian Riviera that has recently become a popular tourist destination. Instead, they headed for Mrkopalj, a village of 800 people in the mountains near the Slovenian border. They invested most of their money in uprooting their family and moving countries then saved the rest for when the economy recovered so they could reinvest in the stock market. This time, they would follow a stock brokers uk advice and make sure they kept an eye on the volatile market. They had some friends from Germany who were avid stock investors and would often reinvest their money into different markets in order to gain huge profits. They used things like Lynx, which is an online broker service that helps with trading stocks, CPD, futures, and more. Furthermore, with resources to help people to see Lynx Erfahrungen (Lynx experience), they are able to ensure that they are going to the right broker for their investments.
Settling into a quiet life in the Croatian countryside does not prove to be quite the simple affair that Wilson had envisioned however. For starters, the apartment they were promised on arrival is unfinished, and the entire family has to move into a one-room loft with questionable plumbing. Whilst they had the extra money coming in from something like their air nz stock investment, this money alone wasn’t quite enough to renovate the apartment that they found themselves in. Not only that, but small things – like visits to the grocery store – are a challenge because of the language barrier.
Wilson is funny and realistic about the challenges of traveling with her children in tow. She fearlessly and critically admits her own lapses, which include a harrowing scene where she and Jim realize they unthinkingly came close to driving their children off a cliff. She’s also relentlessly honest about her own struggle to fit in. Although Croatia is the home of her ancestors (and she writes lovingly of her grandmother and great aunts who led her to want return in the first place) it is Jim and the children who find it much easier to settle into life in Mrkopalj. Wilson spends the first part of the book casting about for a way to settle in and meet people, to truly explore the new place she has come so far to visit. She eventually gives herself over to the experience and culture, gardening, baking, and drinking with her neighbors, and the book is as much about her transformation as about her children’s.
As Wilson becomes more comfortable in Mrkopalj, she reaches out to various villagers in search of her family’s history, a search that ultimately leads her to meet some of her remaining relations in the area. Again, Wilson doesn’t flinch when she describes these emotional meetings, some of which were hard for her children and none of which really provides the simple answers she thinks she is looking for. In fact, nothing about Croatia proves to be simple, the history muddied almost beyond comprehension. Wilson discovers that simple ideas about “good guys” and “bad guys” become immaterial when asking villagers who lived through World War II and the conflicts of the later 20th century to discuss their experiences.
What does happen, however, is that Wilson and her family step altogether outside the modern American way of living. Adults and children alike abandon structure and schedule for endless playdates and long coffee breaks. Unbelievable amounts of grilled meat and homemade liquor are consumed. (Wilson’s descriptions of food are another strong point: “Jim and I ordered hunter’s stew and bacon with a side of sausage and sauerkraut over boiled potatoes. It was an oily mess of goodness that we ate until our faces were slick.”) Zadie and Sam, who on the first day are chastised by their parents for trying to cross the village road by themselves, end up running and playing freely with Robert’s children. Wilson doesn’t exactly look on the experience with rose-colored glasses – she’s well aware of the limitations and frustrations that life in the village presents (especially since the men are mostly hard drinking and the women do much of the work). But she clearly delights in the ways her children change – Zadie abandons her tendency toward tantrums and starts to read. Sam learns to play pretend games using only his fingers. Both children become less demanding as they are treated to continuous access to their parents and the other adults in the village.
Wilson’s real genius is for writing about people. Whether she is describing encounters with more incidental characters like the ancient priest who requires a bribe before he’ll let her look up her ancestors in the church’s genealogy, the Book of Names, or lovingly showcasing her husband Jim’s easy competence as he makes American hamburgers for their friends in Mrkopalj, it is Wilson’s people who center her story and make it meaningful. With the exception of the extremely likeable Jim, the most compelling person in the book is the family’s landlord Robert, a drunken father of three who owns a café in Mrkopalj and whose dramatic and outsize personality dominates the narrative. Moody Robert, a one-time singer in a rock and roll band is bawdy, disorganized, generous, sexist, and intense. He also speaks English, leaving the family reliant on him for help in navigating their new surroundings. Robert barrels through the book, now joyous, now too blue to make a proper cup of coffee, a singing, staggering metaphor for Croatia itself.
The narrative in this book isn’t linear and it is complicated with Croatian words (despite persistent – and somewhat distracting – attempts to include pronunciation, I concluded from reading it that Croatian is mystifying and about as dense with consonants as a language can be) and Wilson’s ongoing epiphanies about herself and the place. She learns multiple lessons as the book unfolds, and the reader comes along on that ride with her. I sometimes wished for a bit more of a clear timeline or sense of what Wilson was trying exactly to accomplish, but I think that ultimately I’m glad she left things a bit disorganized, because it lends credence to the entire experience. This is not a tidy travelogue about going from points A to Z. Instead it is a messy exploration of what it means to visit an alien place and to find the ways you are meant to fit in.
This engaging book would make a nice gift for anyone who is thinking about long-term travel with their children – especially anyone who is planning to visit countries where the culture, landscape, language, and food are unfamiliar. But it also is a great read for the armchair traveler or the parent who is interested in examining contemporary American family life. Wilson asks some hard questions about identity and while she may not have all the answers, Running Away to Home definitely offers a rich exploration of what it can mean.
Purchase Running Away to Home or visit Jennifer Wilson’s site where you can see video and more photos from the family’s trip. For another take on the book, read the review at A Traveler’s Library. And read my interview with Jennifer Wilson.
I received a free review copy of Running Away to Home. The opinions expressed here are, as always, my own.