Photo: night pedestrians San Miguel de Allende Mexico
Colorful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is one of the stops in All Over the Map.

Photograph by Raul Touzon, National Geographic Stock

By Don George

June 2010

Book of the Month
All Over the Map
, by Laura Fraser

Laura Fraser’s enchanting first memoir, An Italian Affair, recounted the end of her marriage; the endearing, obliging Parisian professor she met on a post-divorce trip to the Italian island of Ischia; and the restorative romance they pursued in Milan, London, Morocco, and beyond.

Fraser’s new memoir continues the odyssey of the first, except that this time it’s the professor who has found another mate—and who presents this news to Fraser when they rendezvous to celebrate her 40th birthday. Though she has always been footloose and freedom-loving, after this birthday break-up, the travel writer suddenly starts to yearn for stability and security. “The men in my life are always like the countries I visit,” she writes. “I visit, regard the wonders, delve into the history, taste the cooking, peer into dark corners, feel a few moments of excitement and maybe ecstasy and bliss, and then, though I am often sad to leave—or stung that no one insists that I stay—I am on my way.”

The narrative traces her ensuing wanderings, from San Francisco to Mexico, New York, Italy, Samoa, France, the Aeolian Islands, Argentina, Peru, and Rwanda, looking for adventure, romance, and the right person to give her a sense of home. Presented through the prism of this quest, Fraser’s world is robust with color (San Miguel de Allende’s old, cheek-to-cheek buildings are “pink, crab apple, marigold, Fanta orange”), taste (“The dark sauce on the enchiladas and chiles rellenos seems concocted from an ancient, mysterious alchemy”), and passion.

Even as her journey turns into an emotional roller-coaster, Fraser’s intimate and inspiring tale delivers a life-expanding embrace of the planet’s everyday pleasures and unpredictabilities.

Anthologize This

Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World, edited by Samuel Shimon, is an ambitious and groundbreaking anthology of poems, short stories, and novel excerpts written by 39 Arab authors, all 39 years old or under, many appearing in English in the U.S. for the first time. Settings range from Damascus, Beirut, and Baghdad to Rabat, Cairo, Haifa, and Sana'a. Entertaining beach read In the Hamptons Too collects Dan Rattiner’s folksy anecdotes about encounters with the celebrities, farmers, and fishermen of Long Island’s gilded South Fork. Rattiner is the founder and editor of Dan’s Papers, the area’s 50-year-old free weekly.

On India

“No one without God on their side has ever had the courage to calculate how many languages are found in India,” writes Katherine Russell Rich, but that doesn’t stop the author from enrolling in a yearlong intensive language class in Udaipur, India, to learn Hindi. Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language, is Rich’s telling (and humorous) account of life in bustling Rajasthan. In Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, William Dalrymple introduces us to a Calcutta woman living as a Tantric, an idol-maker who grapples with his son’s desire to study computer engineering, and other Indians struggling to find a balance between centuries-old religious traditions and modern life.

If You Like...

…extreme-adventure reads, check out Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth, by James M. Tabor. The author focuses on two cave explorers—American William “Bill” Stone in Mexico and Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk in the Republic of Georgia—in their quests to discover the deepest cave on earth.

One Last Thing:

Eating through the Caribbean

Ever since I visited sleepy Carriacou almost three decades ago—talking with boatbuilders by day, feasting on fresh conch at night, and dancing until dawn—the Caribbean has had an irresistible allure for me. It’s hard to imagine a more knowledgeable and engaging guide to the islands than Ann Vanderhoof, intrepid sailor, hiker, scuba diver, cook—and a compelling writer too. Her new memoir, The Spice Necklace, takes readers on a culinary and cultural tour that spans the entire region, from the Dominican Republic to Trinidad, through an assortment of markets and country kitchens, nourished by mango chow, lambi fritters, and other local feasts.

Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at dgeorge@ngs.org.

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