It’s a fantasy for a lot of people; rent out the house, pay off some bills and give it all up for an adventure. For the Wilson family from Des Moines, Iowa this fantasy became a reality when they reorganized their life for a sabbatical in another country, Croatia. Jennifer Wilson had been traveling her whole life and as an accomplished writer the sabbatical seemed like a great idea for her to explore her immigrant roots. Her architect husband Jim’s role on the trip was to make sure their two young children had some sort of schooling during their unstructured months in a foreign country.
The stories from their Croatian adventure make up the wonderful new book Running Away to Home. If you enjoy a travel memoir this one is fantastic. After exploring the small village of Mrkopalij on her own for a few days without getting much local support Jennifer almost gives up on the idea, but her passion to find out more about her great grandparents immigrant story and her husband’s support of the decision leads to finding a place to rent and taking the plunge. Jennifer must have been taking meticulous notes all through their stay because the scenes she describes in the book are engaging and descriptive. One of my favorite ones is when Robert, the man who is rebuilding the floor of the home they live in falls through the ceiling after a bit too much rakija (strong croatian liquor) on the job and everyone just stands around laughing and taking pictures of him. There are many scenes in Robert’s bar the Stari Baca (think Croatian Cheers) and it becomes evident that drinking and small town Croatian life go hand in hand.
Wilson includes in this memoir some history about this small war torn country and also quite a bit about the genealogical hunt she goes on to find the birthplace and records of her great grandparents. The children become great friends with Robert’s children, Jim becomes a regular at Stari Baca, and Jennifer’s Croatian heritage soon becomes part of the whole family’s identity. A travel story and memoir in one.