A “typically sane middle-aged mother” of two reinvents herself and her family with a spontaneous sabbatical to her central European origins.
In Des Moines, Iowa, travel writer Wilson and her architect husband Jim purposefully led what they imagined to be the idyllic, comfortable “American Dream,” but both harbored feelings of disenchantment and restlessness. When Wilson’s great-aunt, Sister Mary Paula, died in 2008, inside a box of her personal papers the author discovered a handwritten history of the nun’s parents’ life in sparsely populated backwoods Mrkopalj, Croatia. Despite the plummeting stock market depleting half of their collective savings, the opportunity presented itself for both Wilson and her husband to realize a dream of not only living overseas, but reconnecting with her maternal Croatian ancestry and the village inhabited by her great-grandparents. After an eye-opening dry-run to desolate “one-chicken town” Mrkopalj using her press credentials, it then took some delicate finagling with her two children to finally embark the family on an intrepid one-year stay in the mountainous Croation “Motherland.” Expected culture-clash calamity ensued: The rooms they’d rented were stuck in mid-construction, language barriers with native Croats often stymied them and the drinking habits of the locals became troublesome. Eventually, Wilson developed a deeper genealogical understanding and a greater appreciation of her heritage. The author’s voice is consistently infused with an energetic spunkiness, complimented with passages of sage introspection. Though her adventures had patches of both good and not-so-good, Wilson still believes her family’s grand jaunt abroad was a risky yet overwhelmingly beneficial move that trumped spending “the rest of our days stagnating on a couch in middle America.”
Armchair travelers will find vicarious thrills in Wilson’s long-winded yet appealing travelogue of discovery and renewal.