Children’s author Gelman celebrates the joys of the unfettered life, lived only for the moment, that she enjoyed in places as varied as Guatemala and New Zealand after her marriage ended and she found herself finally able to do as she pleased.
When her husband suggested they separate for two months in 1985, Gelman came to the conclusion that she had been living “someone else’s life” and that, with her children grown, she needed something to accommodate her sense of adventure and idealism. She found the answer in Mexico, where she spent the next two months. There she lived with a family in a Zapotec village, taking side trips to such places as the Mayan ruins in Pelenque. Back home in Los Angeles, her husband asked for a divorce, and, now totally free, Gelman began her life as a nomad. Determined to live off her writing royalties (which went further in poor countries), she spent the next decade in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Israel. As a writer, she seems more interested in people than places, and is best at evoking the sense of community and solidarity she experienced on her wanderings. Gelman’s take on local politics tends to be uninflected—reflexively pro-guerilla in Central America during the late 1980s—and she offers only sketchy takes on local history: her travel is primarily an exercise in personal growth. In Israel she explored her Jewish roots, finding the visit moving but not what she expected. A stay in the tropical forests of Borneo, where she lived in a camp for observing orangutans, was followed by a lengthy stay—her longest—in a Bali coastal village. There, she found a mentor whose stories and insights encouraged her to believe in a spiritual dimension to life, a belief that informed the rest of her travels.
An idiosyncratic but exuberant homage to wanderlust.