Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Barbara Hyatt edited by Chris Culler

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-692-81386-7
Publisher: Chris Culler

In her memoir, Hyatt recounts her experiences traveling peripatetically for years with her family.

Debut author Hyatt was born and raised in California and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1950 with a degree in zoology. She landed a position as a lab technician at the Atomic Energy Commission while her soon-to-be husband, Pete, was drafted into the Korean War. In 1951 they wed and moved to Virginia, where he was stationed. Pete was hired by United States Rubber International—a company with interests all over the world—and in 1956, after a stint in New York, they moved to Guatemala with their two young daughters. That trip launched years of breakneck travel across three continents, including stays in El Salvador, Iran, Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. There was never a shortage of hurdles to clear—unfamiliar languages, radically divergent cultures, and a host of logistical problems, including finding adequate health care and education for the children. In some cases, political unrest and violence loomed over them as grim realities. While in Colombia, a family the author befriended was subjected to the kidnapping and ransoming of their son. There was also family conflict—Pete’s parents strenuously objected to their grandchildren being moved to Tehran. The sometimes-exciting but also alienating effects of serial dislocation finally took their toll on Hyatt’s marriage, which ultimately ended in divorce. The author often supplements her narrative with letters she wrote at the time to her mother, which are like little epistolary time capsules. And while the focus of the remembrance is personal and familial, the historical backdrop often referenced is the Cold War and the way geopolitical circumstances affected this band of expatriates. The author writes in clear, accessible prose and is impressively forthcoming. Also, the memoir is a kind of historical travelogue, vividly depicting quarters of the world not always traveled by Westerners. Hyatt’s work is not a philosophically minded retrospective, and so the reader looking for more in-depth commentary on world affairs, or even her own life, might be disappointed. Interspersed throughout the book are black-and-white photographs chronicling the author’s travels, some of them grainy from age and most of them personal.

A brief, fascinating look at the virtues and vices of wanderlust.