Unlike most travelers in the “golden years” of their life-those post-childrearing years when a parent is finally free to pursue the globe as they haven’t been since their college years-Rita Gelman chose not to take a typical tourist approach. She chose to spend long periods of time completely immersing herself in the language and culture of the places that she visited, and as a result, her book is different and very interesting.
Rita visited places as disparate as Mexico, the Galapagos, Bali, and New Zealand, and in each place she lived with natives, dressed as they dressed, cooked with them, worshipped with them, and took part in their native festivals. Some places she lived for months and others she lived for many years, such as Bali, where she lived for eight.
Primarily a writer of children’s books, Gelman’s writing is very simplistic and not as vivid as I might have hoped for given the wonderful subject matter. However, her story is so fascinating and the writing well organized enough so as to render the lack of excitement in her prose forgivable. The approach is more of a series of essays, based on locations, than a narrative, although they do segue neatly into one another and so you do not feel that you have lost chunks of time.
As an armchair traveler visiting these various cultures through Rita’s book, I very much enjoyed her focus on the women. I do not think that male readers would identify very well with this book, as Rita spent most of her time in countries where men and women lead separate lives, and she dwelt within the circle of women and learned their role within the various cultures. She shares many of her feeling about her western views clashing with their traditions but how she felt very strongly that she was there to observe and participate, not to attempt to change their culture by foisting her’s upon them. Points that she brings out about many of the cultures and her thoughts regarding them would make this an excellent book for a book club discussion.
Overall, a good, solid read. Not the best writing, but the subject matter and organization make up for it and bump it up to a four star rating. Highly recommended to all readers who enjoy travel writing, feminist reads, and books about adventurous middle-aged ladies.