Jennifer Wilson and her husband Jim have a good life in Des Moines, Iowa. Two great kids, careers, house, friends - the American Dream. But they had another dream as well - " to escape to the place where we could live simply with our kids." But where could that be? Jennifer's family was originally from Croatia. And that, they decide, is where they will escape to for a year. Jennifer does a short reconnaissance mission in her ancestral hometown of Mrkopalj, returns to the US and less than a year later, they're on their way.
I thought Running Away to Home was such a neat idea - and something I would have liked to do when I was younger (I would have headed to Ireland myself). To have really chucked it all for a year, packed up two young children to just explore, learn and live takes courage and an adventurous spirit.
Wilson doesn't pull any punches in this memoir. It's not all smooth sailing - their planned accomodations go awry and Jennifer is actually the one who has trouble fitting in with village life. Her husband Jim seems to seamlessly integrate himself into daily life. "You haven't tried to fit in! You're hanging back. You're trying to figure everything out before you actually enjoy this. I don't think the point is to figure anything out. I think your time is better spent getting to know people." Once she takes her husband's words to heart, things go better for Jennifer. She starts to relax and just 'be'. Once she starts to interact and join in, her experience is enriched.
The book is written from Jennifer's point of view, with Jim and the children's thoughts added by her. I would have enjoyed reading from Jim's perspective as well. I enjoyed 'meeting' many of the 800 residents of Mrkopalj and learning of daily life, history and customs of the area. I did find a little too much of the story devoted to Robert - the owner of the home they end up living in, although they depend on him for much of what they need during their time in Croatia.
Did the Wilsons find what they were looking for? The subtitle of the book is "Our journey to Croatia in search of who we are, where we came from, and what really matters." I think the time spent together as a family was invaluable. I would have liked to see a postscript - what happened on their return to the US? Did they return to their jobs? What changed as a result of this trip? Pictures would have been nice as well, but you can view the trip album on Wilson's website.
I enjoyed the honesty of Wilson's writing, learning more about Croatia and the thoughts and possiblities her adventures sparked in this reader. Read an excerpt of Running Away to Home. A reading group guide is also available. You can find Wilson on Facebook and on Twitter.
And thanks to the lovely folks at St. Martin's Press, I have a copy of Running Away to Home to giveaway. Open to US and Canada. Simply comment to be entered. Ends Dec. 10.