29 December 2005

Jane Eyre and Tales of a Female Nomad

I finished Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman yesterday. I’ve read Jane Eyre many times and it was the first time I’ve read ToaFN. As always, I loved Jane Eyre and I’m sure I’ll love it again in the future.

I enjoyed ToaFN, but there were some things in it that bothered me. I would have liked to hear more about the places and the people and less about her personal reflections and about why she was doing what she was doing. Or at least not have them repeated quite so often.

She also seemed to think that her clothes made a huge difference in her being accepted by the community she was in. While I agree to an extent, there are so many other things that can make a difference in whether a person is accepted. I will change what I wear to an certain extent when I travel, usually for modesty’s sake, but not simply to wear clothes that look like everyone else’s. I’ll always be different no matter what I wear or how long I live in a place.

It was also interesting to see when she would take (I can’t remember exactly what she called it) the foreigner’s exemption where, because she was a foreigner, she could do things differently. I couldn’t quite understand why there was a different between using this exemption and judging cultures. For example, she was uncomfortable throwing her trash on the ground, but she didn’t want to look like she was criticizing others for throwing their trash on the ground. Personally, I thought she could have easily and discreetly thrown her own trash away without making it look critical in any way.

I liked the section about Indonesia quite a bit because she stayed in one place for a long time and became part of a community. I generally like travel books, but too often they move through places much too quickly to really become part of anything. This book doesn’t have that problem quite as much, although some chapters were much too quick for me.

The chapter on Israel about drove me nuts- going to a Druze village to see the diversity of Israel? Certainly the Druze are interesting, but that is only a tiny corner of Israel. It sounded like the Jews she spent time with were Haredi Jews and she was really quite negative about them. Her statistics also weren't correct. She said 20 percent of Israel is orthodox. It would be more accurate to say that 20 percent are somewhat observant- there is wide variety within Judaism. Very, very few are Haredi, or what we often call ultra-orthodox, and they are usually the ones who take the religious exemption from joining the Israeli military.

She also didn’t seem to spend any time with any Arabs in Israel. In fact, there is little written about Muslims even though she has spent a lot of time in Muslim countries.

I have to admit I was disappointed in how little she did to learn about the places she visited before she went there, especially since she studied anthropology.

Anyway, this is all pretty negative. I did enjoy the book overall. I’m still looking for a travel book where I can say, yes, this is what I’ve been looking for. I don’t think I’ll find it though. Everyone’s experiences while traveling are just too different.


  1. Our daughter (#5) loved Jane Eyre. She loves books altogether and just about broke into tears with this year's additions to her growing library.

    As I was reading your discription of the ToaFN, I kept hearing myself say, "this is why I enjoy reading what *you* write in this blog - very descriptive, lots of knowledge." Which begs the question: How 'bout it? Is there a book in your future? It would be wonderful!

  2. Obviously, your perspective is different (actually having been to some of the places), but I didn't think mind the reflections in TofaFN or the lack of "learning" as much as you seemed to. Granted, though, I generally read travel books to visit places I've never been, and so on that level, this book worked for me. I also admired what she was doing, even if she didn't always express it well.

    If I remember right, she only used her foreigner's execption in extreme circumstances (like the death of what's his name, can't remember right now).

    I do agree that the chapter on Israel wasn't that great. But she did go with a different perspective (and at a different time) -- as a non-practicing Jew -- than what you went to Israel with.

    Smee's right, though... if you can't find the travel book you're looking for, write it!

  3. If I wrote a book, I wouldn't get to read it, and that's the whole point.

    I didn't have a problem with her going in with a different perspective. I just had trouble with some of the things she said about the people in Israel even though she kept saying throughout the book that she wasn't supposed to judge the cultures she was in.

  4. O.k., how about a travel book geared towards a child? The thoughtof that fascinates me and I think you could do a bangup job! Please reconsider!!!

    (you can read it when you get really really old!)

  5. I've never thought of that s'mee. A children's travel book might be interesting. Especially since most people don't travel with children to the places I've been.