An offbeat world tour with a not-quite-innocent abroad.
Novelist and essayist Freed (Emerita, English/Univ. of California; The Last Laugh, 2017, etc.) isn’t the type to get hung up on wondering “should I stay or should I go?” She gets the urge for going, and she’s gone. "As it happens," she writes, "I am at my most suggestible on the subject of belonging, because I am not much good at it." Wanderlust is what ties these funny and astute personal essays together; the book is about what it means to have an insatiable hunger for experience. Freed begins in, and frequently returns to, her homeland of South Africa, where she was born into a theatrical family amid the apartheid-era white bourgeoisie. She writes of the surface tension of revolt and how a mutual sense of distrust infects communication. A Zulu phrase book, for example, delivers commands with a Biblical tone, “intended to communicate to the servant that God is speaking.” Freed skewers an ecotourist camp where, she notes with a twinge of glee, a lioness devoured a camper. Maybe, she reasons, “had the lioness not lost her natural fear of Man while recovering from her capture experience, she might never have come anywhere near the camp.” In between visiting many countries over many years, Freed deals with love and mortality. There’s cancer, which transforms shopping: “I wonder whether I was drawn to soaps and gels because, unlike, say, a belt or a pair of shoes, they could be counted upon not to outlast me.” There’s infidelity: “I could not bear the thought of a life spent repeating itself in virtue.” And there is, finally, the clock ticking, as she considers how aging affects writing.
This is travel literature as memoir, drolly covering the scope of a restless creative life.