In the early 1990s, an American engineer moves his family to Holland for an extended stay; chaos ensues.
Debut memoirist Martin takes a job as a computer engineer in Shell Oil’s Amsterdam office, one that will last a good part of the kids’ growing-up years. Off they go—Dan, wife Nazy, and kids Mitra, Darius and Melika—from familiar Hanover, N.H., to Holland, where everything is different, where everything is a challenge, and where everything (in retrospect, at least) is hilarious. They try to learn the new language, cope with the Dutch bureaucracy (whose standard response seems to be “That is not possible”) and deal with the kids’ alternating enthusiasms and despairs. They have a funny, confused interlude when they stumble upon a topless beach. On their various trips around Europe (Darius is a fanatic about collecting passport stamps), they endure wretched hotels and minuscule, underpowered rental cars. Everything that can go wrong does, which is standard fare for a comic memoir. Much of it strains credulity. Mitra, in fact, lets the cat out of the bag when she says, “What can we tell our friends? They expect disaster.We can’t disappoint them.” But they earn some leeway regarding their credibility: The Martins are a study in slapstick. The book is double-voiced, in that the author introduces and comments upon their adventure in italicized passages. This is particularly helpful, serving to summarize their (mis)adventures and warn of those to come. Martin is a good writer for this sort of thing. He likes to make puns and build comic scenes. What really shines through is the wonderful, indomitable Martin clan, each member drawn with distinctive traits (no stereotypes here). They do become completely sympathetic and even endearing. And an afterward provides an update—the kids, now grown, have become real cosmopolitan overachievers scattered all over the world.
A wry account of a family’s travels gone off the rails.