Nina Sovich had always yearned for adventures in faraway places; she imagined herself leading the life of a solitary traveler. Yet at the age of thirty-four, she found herself married and contemplating motherhood. Catching her reflection in a window spotted with Paris rain, she no longer saw the fearless woman who spent her youth travelling in Cairo, Lahore, and the West Bank staring back at her. Unwittingly, she had followed life’s script, and now she needed to cast it out. Inspired by female explorers like Mary Kingsley, who explored Gabon’s jungle in the 1890s, and Karen Blixen, who ran a farm in Kenya during World War I, Sovich packed her bags and hopped on the next plane to Africa in search of adventure. To the Moon and Timbuktu takes readers on a fast-paced trek through Western Sahara, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, bringing their textures and flavors into vivid relief. On Sovich’s travels, she encounters rough-and-tumble Chinese sailors, a Venezuelan doctor working himself to death in Chinguetti, indifferent French pensioners RVing along the coast, and a close-knit circle of Nigerien women who adopt her into their fold, showing her the promise of Africa’s future. This lyrical memoir will transport you to the breathtaking landscapes of West Africa, whose stark beauties will instill wonder in even the most experienced traveler. Sovich’s journey reveals that sometimes we must pursue that distant glimmer on the horizon in order to find the things we value most (from Goodreads)
This was on sale a while back over at Amazon, and I bought it almost instantly after reading the sample. The writing is superb! It’s lush and almost dreamy, though with a self-awareness that keeps it from being completely over the top.
Nina S. travels to Africa to both find connection with her past (her mother traveled to Africa a lot) and to run away from her future (she fears becoming a mother herself and being trapped in what she thinks is an unfulfilling role). As she says in the book, “The overriding lesson of my childhood was that travel was the only thing that could ever make a woman happy.” (page 14) She’s conflicted about a lot of things and feels guilty about everything else, and so the first half of her travels is more about punishing herself than really enjoying the places she’s in.
I appreciated that she could recognize that she wasn’t traveling “correctly” while still being proud of her extreme (almost dangerous) frugality. People are complicated! I like it when authors recognize their complicated-ness and don’t apologize for it.
The second half of her adventures in Africa are no less interesting. Actually GETTING to Timbuktu is a challenge in itself. Getting there while fighting yourself about what you want from life is a whole other thing. There’s a good mix of introspection and descriptions of the people and places she meets; it’s definitely not a guidebook kind of narrative, but I still got a good sense of what life’s like in various African cities and towns.
Definitely recommended to people who like books about traveling and finding yourself but not in a gooey, overly sentimental kind of way.
Read: October 10-December 07, 2013