A posthumous collection of essays and musings by a well-traveled man.
Thomas “Tom” Peyton, born in Duluth, Minn., saw many of the world’s sights over the course of his 91 years, from the Eiffel Tower to Ivory Coast. Although his debut memoir focuses primarily on his international travel, his memories of his Midwestern upbringing also appear. For example, in his opening essay, “Domestic Animals in My Life,” he offers an overly extensive history of his family’s dogs. However, readers may have liked to have learned more about the people in his “eminently Victorian household,” over which his father “ruled.” Peyton also recalls his encounters with several iconic historical figures—some at a great distance, others close enough for a handshake. As a spectator at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, for example, 17-year-old Peyton found Adolf Hitler to be “a small man of undistinguished shape and clothed in…rather ill-fitting military garb.” He adds, rather chillingly: “This was the man destined to play such a huge part in…the future of every one of us.” Of his service in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, Peyton writes, “I never left an occupation more willingly.” He joined the Peace Corps in 1962, answering what he called his “ethical demands,” and met President John F. Kennedy in the process. Peyton’s time in the Peace Corps inspired some of his best writing, not only in his memoirs, but also in his letters to his mother, in which he detailed the joys and frustrations of teaching in Ivory Coast. His sense of humor and prose skills also emerge, as in his description of “colonial society”: “[H]eavy men purple with drink and very liverish; women waiting only to be repatriated, totally without curiosity toward the world in which they find themselves.” The writing veers toward dry reportage when he chronicles his travels later in life, joined by his friend Osama Ettouney. Peyton eventually covered a truly impressive amount of ground, including Egypt, Greece, the Czech Republic, Italy, Brussels, Portugal and Luxembourg. At times, the author’s visual imagery is sharp (as when he describes “[e]meralds the size of a giant’s fingernail” in Istanbul, but more often, he simply retells the history of the world he so eagerly explored.
An eloquent and charming, if somewhat aimless, memoir and travelogue.