Children’s-book author Gelman (Doodler Doodling, 2004, etc.) follows up Tales of a Female Nomad (2001) with a collaborative collection of essays—and a smattering of recipes—celebrating travel, diversity and human connection.
In the introduction, the author writes that she has lived without a fixed address and with minimal possessions, traveling the globe since 1987. While Female Nomad depicted the first 15 years of that unfettered lifestyle, the sequel is constructed of essays submitted to her website in response to an open call for stories about “connecting” and “risk-taking.” The result is a mixed bag of (mostly Eurocentric) tales from around the world, which largely affirm a sense of human decency, generosity and community beyond the borders of language or political affiliation. Among other experiences, the stories chronicle bonding with Vietnamese women over primitive laundering techniques; sharing a boisterous, vodka-fueled breakfast of cow-feet soup in Armenia; considering a Ugandan’s offer to cry with an American volunteer overwhelmed by the unfairness of life in the third world. Some of the essays are humorous, such as the recollection of dodging a potentially dangerous situation with a Peruvian enticed by a novelty “one-million-dollar bill.” Some are melancholy, such as one woman’s playful “marriage” to an Iraqi man shortly before the U.S. invasion threw the country into chaos. While most of the essays take place in exotic locales, some are domestic, with strangers lending helping hands or women opening themselves up to unexpected, unconsummated intimacies. The brevity of the pieces—most lasting only a couple pages—works for the simpler or funny stories, but the more serious ones feel stunted. The strength of the writing varies considerably, with the contributors a mix of amateurs and professionals, but all feature an appealing sincerity.
Scattershot pieces held together by context and emotionalism.