The best travel memoirs for those who love to wander

Kyoko Mori Author Of The Dream of Water: A Memoir
By Kyoko Mori

Who am I?

Although two of my nonfiction books—The Dream of Water and Polite Lies—are about traveling from the American Midwest to my native country of Japan, I'm not a traveler by temperament. I long to stay put in one place. Chimney swifts cover the distance between North America and the Amazon basin every fall and spring. I love to stand in the driveway of my brownstone to watch them. That was the last thing Katherine Russell Rich and I did together in what turned out to be the last autumn of her life before the cancer she’d been fighting came back. Her book, Dreaming in Hindi, along with the four other books I’m recommending, expresses an indomitable spirit of adventure. 

I wrote...

The Dream of Water: A Memoir

By Kyoko Mori,

Book cover of The Dream of Water: A Memoir

What is my book about?

In 1990, at the age of 33, I traveled to Japan to revisit the landscape of my childhood. I had fled the country at 20 to attend an American college and never went back. My hometown of Kobe hadn’t felt like home after my mother’s suicide and my father’s remarriage. I had no intention of living there again. But when I received a travel grant from the small college in Wisconsin where I was a tenured professor, I decided to spend the summer in Japan to work on my second novel.

I wanted to reconnect and hear the family stories I hadn’t fully understood. The Dream of Water is the book I wrote instead after uncovering a handful of secrets from my own lifetime.

The books I picked & why

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The Stone Fields: Love and Death in the Balkans

By Courtney Angela Brkic,

Book cover of The Stone Fields: Love and Death in the Balkans

Why this book?

In the summer of 1996, Ms. Brkic joined a Physicians for Human Rights forensic team in Eastern Bosnia to excavate the mass graves of the Srebrenica massacre. Ms. Brkic, who grew up in Northern Virginia, had family connections in the Balkans. Her grandmother, Andelka, was from Herzegovina, in a small village among limestone hills. The family survived the Second World War and the Communist takeover of their country. Her father escaped from Yugoslavia in 1959 and settled in America. 

Stone Fields juxtaposes the family story with the story of the summer Ms. Brkic spent on the forensic team in Tuzla and with her friends and relatives in Zagreb. The author portrays the many ways that people can lose their homes—through war, genocide, political oppression, emigration, family discord—with heartbreaking clarity, always aware of the dignity, as well as the tragedy, of the survivors’ lives.

Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language

By Katherine Russell Rich,

Book cover of Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language

Why this book?

Katherine Russel Rich, who had spent 20 years as a magazine editor (and just as long as a cancer survivor: recounted brilliantly in her first book, The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer—and Back), started studying Hindi because she needed a new language to describe her life during the messy process of remaking herself as an artistic rather than commercial writer. Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language is a memoir of the year she spent in the ancient city of Udaipur, where she lived with a local family and attended a Hindi language school. 

This personal story is combined with fascinating information about second-language acquisition, as well as the profiles of various Americans and Europeans who made a home in India as a teacher, aid-worker, scholar, spiritual seeker, or in the case of one memorable character, a fortune/husband seeker. At times hilarious, other times heartbreaking, this is a story of a true adventure.

Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story

By Christina Thompson,

Book cover of Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story

Why this book?

Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All portrays the contact between seeming opposites: the author who grew up in Boston and traveled to New Zealand when she was a graduate student in Australia and the Maori man she met there and married; the “colonizers” who were her direct ancestors and the “natives” her husband descended from; the history of the encounters between the two groups (including the story of Captain Cook).  At the heart of this complex, mesmerizing, and unflinching story is the couple’s devotion to their three sons—boys growing up in a Boston suburb and navigating their identities as “a little bit of the conqueror and the conquered, the colonizer and the colonized” as Ms. Thompson explains to them in a letter she tucks into the folder containing her life insurance policy.

The Tin Can Crucible: A firsthand account of modern-day sorcery violence

By Christopher Davenport,

Book cover of The Tin Can Crucible: A firsthand account of modern-day sorcery violence

Why this book?

Christopher Davenport, who later became a Foreign Service Officer with the U. S. Department of State and served in various countries including Vietnam, Guatemala, Tajikistan, and Georgia, was a Peace Corps volunteer in 1994. In Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands, he was placed with a local family in a village of subsistence farmers. Except when attending classes in town (a hike and a long car ride away) with other Peace Corps volunteers scattered through the area, he worked, attended village gatherings, ate, and slept with his host family who treated him like an adopted son. The Tin Can Crucible—the title refers to the ingenuity of the local people—tells an honest, unsettling, and thoughtful story about what happened when the rhythm of this peaceful life was shattered by an accusation of witchcraft and examines the moral and ethical ambiguities and complexities of the role of philanthropy and the well-meant intentions of the author’s own pilgrimage.

The Long Field

By Pamela Petro,

Book cover of The Long Field

Why this book?

When Pamela Petro traveled to Lampeter, Wales for the first time to enroll in a year-long master’s degree program, she had no idea that the open vista of sheep pastures and low hills around the town would strike a chord in her—she found herself nodding as if she was in agreement with the landscape—or that she would spend the rest of her life returning to Wales from the various American cities where she made a life as a writer and a teacher. The Long Field takes us on a journey through time and ideas as well as of places. 

The book masterfully weaves together the accounts of various trips to Wales and elsewhere, the childhood spent in suburban New Jersey where, in spite of the family she loved and was loved by, Ms. Petro was overcome by a desire not to stay in one place, and most important of all, the journey of her love for the woman who became her life-partner. Combining these stories with astute observations and reflections about literature and linguistics, Long Field explores the concept of hiraeth, the Welsh word that expresses the deep sense of longing that defies translation, perhaps because we know it all too well.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Justice in the Balkans: Prosecuting War Crimes in the Hague Tribunal, The Gift of a Cow: A Translation of the Classic Hindi Novel Godaan, and The Valley of Lost Secrets if you like this list.