Publications featuring Running Away to Home
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Travel writer and native Iowan Jennifer Wilson was prompted by the death of a relative to explore part of her maternal ancestry. One hundred years ago, her great-grandparents Valentin Radosevic and Jelena Iskra immigrated to Iowa from Mrkopalj, Croatia. Since no living family members knew much about the old folks or the old homeland, it seemed to be a no-brainer that the writer/reporter of the bunch could ferret out all of the personal answers that she craved. She took off on an early reconnaissance mission to Croatia and later, Wilson and her husband and two children lived in Mrkopalj for four months. The result is the book, “Running Away to Home.” (St. Martin’s Press). We’ll speak with Wilson this hour.
Many Americans long for a family trip around the world or a stint abroad. Travel writer Wilson, her architect husband, and their two small children spent a family sabbatical in Mrkopalj, Croatia, an unlikely destination for most folks but the birthplace of Wilson’s great-grandparents. Wilson and family arrived in the village speaking little Croatian but soon became part of the community. She relates how they explored the area, tracked down distant relatives, and became immersed in the traditions of daily life. In this village, people grow a year’s worth of potatoes, survive on sausage and alcohol, and work together to chop wood, roast sheep, celebrate, and survive. The scars of hardship and wars are ever present in Mrkopalj, and Wilson reflects on how different her life has been thanks to her relatives who came to America. What she finds in Mrkopalj is a firm connection to family: her own, those who left, and those who remained. VERDICT: This thoughtful, amusing tale reads like a novel and will have wide appeal.
After the 2008 crash wiped out half of her family’s investments, 30-something freelance writer Wilson finally decided to do something about her growing dissatisfaction with her overscheduled, materialistic Starbucks existence. In her funny and heartfelt memoir, she packs up her husband and two young children from Des Moines, Iowa, with the plan to live a simpler, more connected life in the ancestral home in Croatia and to learn about her immigrant story. A century after her maternal great-grandparents left, Wilson and her family arrive in Mrkopalj (MER-koe-pie), near the Adriatic Sea. It’s home to 800 people, many of whom only speak an ancient dialect of Croatian, and who have a short list of things they love: liqueur, sausage, family, God, and the abundant surrounding nature. Wilson’s husband and children adapt quickly, but Wilson, the very relatable supermom, can’t easily turn off that switch and just enjoy getting reacquainted with her family. Despite the language and cultural barriers, the locals prove invaluable and embrace the quartet, acting as translators, guides, and historians, helping her find the old house, locating nearby living relatives, and teaching the author her first Croatian recipes, giving Wilson the roots she came seeking. (Oct.)
A “typically sane middle-aged mother” of two reinvents herself and her family with a spontaneous sabbatical to her central European origins.
In Des Moines, Iowa, travel writer Wilson and her architect husband Jim purposefully led what they imagined to be the idyllic, comfortable “American Dream,” but both harbored feelings of disenchantment and restlessness. When Wilson’s great-aunt, Sister Mary Paula, died in 2008, inside a box of her personal papers the author discovered a handwritten history of the nun’s parents’ life in sparsely populated backwoods Mrkopalj, Croatia. Despite the plummeting stock market depleting half of their collective savings, the opportunity presented itself for both Wilson and her husband to realize a dream of not only living overseas, but reconnecting with her maternal Croatian ancestry and the village inhabited by her great-grandparents. After an eye-opening dry-run to desolate “one-chicken town” Mrkopalj using her press credentials, it then took some delicate finagling with her two children to finally embark the family on an intrepid one-year stay in the mountainous Croation “Motherland.” Expected culture-clash calamity ensued: The rooms they’d rented were stuck in mid-construction, language barriers with native Croats often stymied them and the drinking habits of the locals became troublesome. Eventually, Wilson developed a deeper genealogical understanding and a greater appreciation of her heritage. The author’s voice is consistently infused with an energetic spunkiness, complimented with passages of sage introspection. Though her adventures had patches of both good and not-so-good, Wilson still believes her family’s grand jaunt abroad was a risky yet overwhelmingly beneficial move that trumped spending “the rest of our days stagnating on a couch in middle America.”
Armchair travelers will find vicarious thrills in Wilson’s long-winded yet appealing travelogue of discovery and renewal.
In thinking about her suburban life, epitomized by refereeing two arguing kids in a Target shopping cart whilst balancing a Starbucks, Wilson thinks: “If this is the American dream, it sorta sucks.” To refocus her family and connect with ancestors, she uproots her Iowa household and relocates to the mountainous, two-road village of Mrkopalj, Croatia. For the next four months, they adjust to the Balkan speed of life, in which rooms scheduled for completion in four days remain unfinished for weeks, meals of meat come with a side of meat, a language of consonants is marked with guttural accents, and they discover what they’d lost in the melee of their breakneck American lives: family. Wilson’s memoir isn’t so much about assimilating to Croatian culture as it is about finding family and, therefore, acceptance in unlikely places. A fun-filled, revealing peek into the Croatian countryside nevertheless, it will be enjoyed by travelogue lovers and admirers of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (1989) and Frances Maye’s Under the Tuscan Sun (1996).—Katharine Frank
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