Author: Nadine Hudson
Title: Wishing Away (Wegwünschen)
Time: 1993 – 2011
Destination: Asia, Europe, Africa, North America
Length: several years (with interruptions)
too much but too little
The story: NH is a woman in her twenties from Switzerland who is struggling with mental health issues, most notably an eating disorder. She decides to embark on a backpacking trip through Asia. She travels on her own for a while, then she runs into a British traveler, marries him, and they continue to go on several journeys together. They do mostly Southeast Asia and South Asia, though they spend some time in Europe, and they travel to Africa as well. They get two kids. They travel some more. Eventually they end up running a hotel in South China. They travel through North America a bit. Then they return home.
too much going on
There’s a lot to be said about this book, and not all of it is good. I’ll start off with something positive: it has one of the best openings ever. It’s a chapter about NH’s struggle with her eating disorder right before her decision to go on her first journey. It is disgusting. It is brutal. It’s like a boxer going into a fight swinging with all he’s got. I loved it.
But then the confusion set in.
The main problem is that there is simply too much going on here. NH’s travels (and later: her family’s travels) are the main storyline. But besides that, there is also NH’s struggle with her mental health, which is especially prominent in the first half of the book. But that’s not all: the travelogue is regularly interspersed with chapters from a different timeline, chapters that deal with the dying of NH’s stepfather.
All of this is interesting, but it needs culling.
It almost seems as though NH planned to write only one book ever and therefore figured she had to put everything in this one. As a result, more was lost than was gained. For instance, I would have liked to read more about the mental health issues (they were the strongest parts in my opinion), but NH never allowed herself to give them the room they deserved.
This is regrettable.
The second problem is probably inherent in the nature of NH’s travels. She goes on many individual journeys to different places, and this is reflected in the book. It often reads like a collection of stand-alone episodes. Many of these stories are interesting, but it would have been good to find a way to bind them more strongly together. For instance, an actual rape happens in one chapter, yet is never mentioned again.
Maybe the mental health theme could have helped provide more cohesion?
It is worth noting, though, that everything changes during the last third of the book, when NH and her family are taking care of a hotel in South China. In this part, the individual episodes blend together pretty well, and there is even some room for suspense and the development of outside characters. I think that because the time frame is more generous, NH finally has room to properly write her story. I wish the rest of the book would have been more like this.
the problem with final thoughts
There is one final flaw: NH likes to put things in perspective. Something happens, say, an unplanned trip to a waterfall, and when the episode is over, NH doesn’t just leave it at that. Instead, she gives us her opinion, a moral of the story if you will. We already know that the trip to the waterfall was a good idea, but we get it summed up once more: „Sometimes it can rewarding to make a spontaneous change of plans!“
I don’t think this is necessary at all.
It would have been better to just give us the story, make sure it blends well with the rest of the book, and let us draw our own conclusions. Also, it doesn’t help that many of the observations seem to border on the esoteric, of which I am generally not a fan.
Overall, I’ll give this a 5/10 because I liked the beginning so much, and because I think that there is a much better book hidden in there somewhere.