A lackluster account of an unusual childhood.
Kuegler’s parents were missionaries, and she spent most of her childhood in a remote jungle with the Fayu tribe of Papua, New Guinea. The first three-quarters of this book describes Kuegler’s youth. Her parents quickly earned the respect of the Fayu, and Kuegler and her two siblings made friends. They were well-educated by her mother, but had lots of time to play. Even the lack of hospitals and doctors didn’t trouble the Kueglers: Malaria was a “constant companion,” but, for the most part, Kuegler’s mother could handle all medical crises. The book’s narrative tension—insofar as there is any—comes when the author returns to the West, first for a lengthy stay with her family, and then, as a young woman, alone. Kuegler had no memory of Germany, and she found her first extended visit there confusing and overwhelming. The children were especially perplexed by the seemingly endless food supply. When she returned to Europe as a teenager, things were even more complex. She attended a boarding school in Switzerland, where she had Western friends for the first time. Her new companions taught her to shop and flirt, and helped her style her hair. She also discovered sex, and shortly after graduating, found herself pregnant. The memoir’s last dozen pages are exceedingly unsatisfying: Kuegler summarizes her pregnancy, her first failed marriage, a suicide attempt and a spiritual epiphany. In short, Kuegler describes her childhood in idyllic terms, but rushes over the really interesting conflict: her struggle as an adult to adjust to the West. The prose is elementary, even plodding—there’s nothing lyrical here, and at times, it feels like an account of childhood written for children.
Exotic, but not engaging.