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On the Road

[whitespace] Two books explore experiences abroad

By Patrick Sullivan and Marina Wolf

book cover Journey of the Wild Geese
Intentional Productions; $17.95
By Madeline Yaude Stephenson and Edwin "Red" Stephenson

THE WRITTEN WORD is yesterday's news. Aaron Spelling and Bill Gates agree: At the dawn of the new millennium, image is king. But there are still a few recalcitrants who insist that words have power. To prove it, they point to books like Journey of the Wild Geese.

In 1946, a group of young men and women affiliated with the American Friends Service Committee (also known as the Quakers) crossed the Atlantic Ocean, eager to help rebuild a Europe shattered by war. Among these were Madeline and Red, the authors of Wild Geese. During the voyage, the two formed a friendship that blossomed into romance. But for 17 months, as they took different assignments that plunged them into the chaos of war-torn France and Poland, they had to rely on an exchange of letters to sustain their relationship. The letters make up most of this book.

Long-distance relationships don't work, we're often told. But the passionate exchanges captured here match the intensity of many face-to-face relationships. In an age of quickie e-mails, it's thrilling to read the work of two intelligent people writing at length about their lives.

Some of this is deeply personal stuff: When the couple decides to consummate their relationship, Madeline writes with delicate wit about searching for birth control. But the letters also open a wide window onto post-war Europe. The authors' words paint a vivid picture of the continent's struggle to recover from devastation.

Wild Geese is by no means a quick read. Some of the letters, it must be said, bog down in the repetitive details of relief work. But, on the whole, the book entertains in a way that many today will find remarkable. The authors have left us with a rich record of their experiences, a book that is both a contribution to history and a damn fine read.
Patrick Sullivan

book cover Safety and Security for Women Who Travel
Travelers' Tales; 1998
By Sheila Swan and Peter Laufer

MOST TRAVELERS would admit that there's a fine line between preparedness and paranoia, between being ready for whatever comes and just being nuts. Safety and Security for Women Who Travel, the newest release from Travelers' Tales, may cross that line, but you wouldn't want to be caught out, would you?

Travelers' Tales, an imprint of Sebastopol's O'Reilly press, is becoming an established leader in the field of intensely personal travel anthologies and guidebooks. The books are very thorough, offering 30 or 40 different perspectives on a travel-related subject. But when applied to the already touchy issues of women's safety and security, that thoroughness can be almost overwhelming. The details of self-protection are mind-boggling in scope and detail. Airports, traffic stops, dating--all go under the X-ray.

Authors Sheila Swan and Peter Laufer capture Travelers' Tales' trademark you-are-there feel, even though they are essentially writing a series of bulleted lists, perfect for checking off before you leave. The pages are sprinkled liberally with hints from other women travelers, and the resource section is extensive.

Even so, this book should be read in conjunction with one of Travelers' Tales anthologies, such as Women in the Wild, A Mother's World, or A Woman's World. All that danger, real or imagined, is a bitter pill, and these more literary selections will make it easier to swallow.
Marina Wolf

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From the December 24-30, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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