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Travel and Adventure Books

The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz, Copyright 1956

Subtitled The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, the book starkly describes Slavomir’s escape from a Russian POW camp in WWII.  He and seven others walked across Siberia from Yakutsk and down around Lake Baikal, into Mongolia and through the Gobi Desert, across Northern China and over the Tibetan mountains and finally into India, to freedom.I read this book hoping to gain an understanding of what my great grandfather went through when he walked across Siberia for six months in 1920 after WWI when the Czechoslovak Legion was finally able to leave Russia.

The book is beautifully written with rich detail, covering monotonous and harrowing treks across seemingly impossible terrain.  It made me feel guilty as I sat in the luxurious comfort of my home and read of their starvation, exhaustion and deprivation and of the cruelty inflicted upon them by the Russian soldiers. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Spies of the Balkans, by Alan Furst, Copyright 2010

As I prepare to blog about my family’s experience in WWII in Yugoslavia, I turned to this book to glean an understanding of what it must have been like at that time. I wanted to know what people were experiencing in the time leading up to Hitler’s invasion of Yugoslavia in April, 1941.I had relatives in the Royal Yugoslavian Army and who were partisans, and I want to understand what motivated them, and what restrictions, fears and political climate they were operating within. This book certainly gives you a feeling for the oppressive and volatile period in the days, weeks and months leading up to Hitler’s devastating occupation of the country.
A Gift From Brittany by Marjorie Price, Copyright 2008

I picked this book up in a used bookstore in Quebec City this past December. Marjorie tells the story of how she left the comfort and stability of life in the US after university in 1960, and moved on her own to Paris to become an artist. She succeeds, and also takes on a French lover who is an artist in his own right.They paint and live a leisurely Parisian life, marry and have a daughter. Soon, they buy a dilapidated group of buildings in Brittany, and proceed to renovate them (have you noticed a pattern? This is the 4th book in my list so far with this same theme).  Unfortunately, her French husband turns into a control freak with issues, and they end up divorced and after a few years of living in the small, isolated village, she sells the place and moves to Italy with her daughter.  But the stories she tells of the village and the people, especially the friendship she develops with an old woman across the road are beautiful.  You feel as if you know the people, as Marjorie does a great job describing them and their daily lives.
Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer, Copyright 1996 This book and Krakauer’s others – Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven, captured my imagination like few others. I love the results of his careful research, his painstaking attention to detail, his compelling story telling and the themes of his books, especially the “Into’s.”  I aspire to be him.Into the Wild takes place in the US, and follows a young college graduate from Fairfax County who leaves home to live off the land and to see the country. He’s an idealistic, eccentric kid who is full of adventure and wants to see what he is made of.
La Belle Saison, By Patricia Atkinson, Copyright 2006 This book is the sequel to Patricia’s first book, best seller The Ripening Sun.  She’s a British woman who moves to Southwest France with her husband, and proceeds to renovate a dilapidated house and brings a vineyard back to life. She gets to know the locals, and together the till the land and help each other out. Meanwhile, her husband slowly fades from the picture, and she is left there alone.I love her books for their setting, and for her stellar depictions of the French in that part of the country. My family goes to Southwest France every year, and it  is truly my favorite place on earth. I dreamed of having a vineyard there too, until I read Patricia’s account of working the land. She’s very, very detailed, and if you want to know exactly how to do it, this is the book for you. Me, I think I’d rather drink the finished product.

Her books did inspire me to just start writing, and I love her topics – the terroir, the people, the sharing of food.

Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine and Love in Italy, by Michael Tucker, Copyright 2007 You may remember Michael and his wife, Jill, from the old TV series, LA Law.  After the series ended, Michael and his wife bought a run down place in a little village in Italy, and them proceeded to learn the hard way how things actually get done in small towns like this in Italy. Everything is a challenge, from actually closing on the place, to determining land ownership, renovating, and getting people to actually complete the projects you hire them to do.Michael’s got a great sense of humor, and a hearty appetite. Just my kind of person. He LOVES to eat the Italian food, and drink the wine, and especially in the company of a loose collection of people – other foreigners and locals alike. It’s just the way my family loves to travel and enjoy life, and this book inspired me to tell my own stories in my own way.
My Life in France, By Julia Child With Alex Prud’homme, Copyright 2006 I was lucky enough to visit the Laane family near Bar Harbor, Maine in the summer of 2006 and went to a book reading by Alex Prud’Homme at the fantastic local independent book store, which unfortunately has since closed.  Alex read from this book and told some stories about his Great Aunt Julia, and how they worked on the book before she died.I loved the book, and how Julia really didn’t get into cooking until she was nearly 40 years old. She spent the entire decade of her forties researching and writing the recipes for Mastering the Art of French Cooking with her two co-writers, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.  She did it with no understanding of how to write a book, or how to go about publishing one, and never made a dime on the project until the 60′s.  She did it out of love, determination and perseverance, and you can tell, as this book still stands as one of the best books on French cooking 50 years later.

I watched Julia Child cook on TV since the 1960′s on Public Television in Canada along with my mother and brother, Tyler. I grew up with her, and with her cookbooks. And I fell in love with her life in France, and with her romance with her husband, Paul.  Julia inspired me to attend Le Cordon Bleu school last June in Paris, and to write this blog. If I am as lucky as Julia, I have a whole other life ahead of me!

Tête-à-Tête, by Hazel Rowley, Copyright 2005 I read this book back in 2007, and loved it. It’s the story of the life and romance between Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, starting with their education at the Sorbonne in the late 1920′s in Paris.  It takes you through their romance, strange dalliances with others, scandalous behavior, their love of Russia, how they lived out of hotels and cafes, and survived the depression and World War II.  It puts an historical perspective on their writings, so that you can better understand why they chose certain topics, and what influenced their thinking.  Reading the book helps you understand what it must have been like to live through WWII and to experience German occupation, the loss of freedom and of friends who fought and died in the war.This book got me hooked on the history of Europe in the first half of the last century. I think I should have lived in Paris at that time.
We’ve Always Had Paris and Provence, by Patricia Wells, Copyright 2009 Patricia is cool. As a young journalist writing for the Washington Post in her 20′s, she realized she had made a terrible mistake in marrying, and she quite suddenly quit her job and her marriage, and moved to New York. One little thing led to another, and a few years later, she was a food writer for the New York Times. She ended up marrying again and moving to France, where her culinary career grew and grew, and now, she lives my dream life. She lives in Paris part of the time, and has a house in Provence part of the time, and teaches cooking classes in both. She also leads cooking tours in Europe, and gets to eat and experience the most wonderful food and wine and enjoys the company of the most wonderful people you can imagine.My goal is to become the Central European version of Patricia.
Random Acts of Heroic Love, Copyright 2007, by Danny Sheinmann Random Acts tells two parallel stories, one of a contemporary man named Leo who loses his girlfriend Eleni in a bus crash in South America, and the other set during WWI and of a man named Moritz whose love for his girl keeps him alive during the war.I found this book on line while conducting research on my great grandfather Paul Milec’s story. Both Paul and Danny’s grandfather, Moshe Scheinmann, fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army, both were captured by the Russians and spent years as POWs in Siberia.  And both ultimately walked home across Siberia. Also, neither Danny or I really know many details of their experiences in the war or of the circumstances of their long walks.

Their stories are a little different. Moritz  is Jewish, and is fighting on the side of the Austro-Hungarians. Paul, on the other hand, who was drafted to the same Army, quickly surrendered to the Russians, as the Czechs and Slovaks felt more affinity to the Russians than they did to the Hungarians who ruled them in their empire.  Paul ultimately joined the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia, and was riding the trains in the trans-Siberian Railway and walking home across the same landscape at the same time Moshe was walking home.  Who knows, perhaps they crossed paths?!

The story of Leo is a true story. Danny apparently lost his girlfriend in a similar way to Leo, and you can tell as the first opening chapter is very vividly written.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2014 5:15 pm

    Hi Pauline, I’m editing together a graphic novel called Dawn of the Unread that aims to promote reading and local history (Nottingham) One of our featured chapters is about @SlavomirRawicz Long Walk which inspired an artist to take up travel writing and political cartoons. You can read it at Thought it might be of interest. BTW I love Into The Wild but it makes me so sad.

    • May 15, 2014 6:25 pm

      Hi Dawn, thank you for the link on your work – looks fascinating! Also like the idea of blending local history and reading and look forward to reading the novel. Thanks for commenting.


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