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BOOK REVIEW:

A Short Walk Through a Wide World

Three sisters gather at what they have decided is a wishing well near their home in Paris. The year is 1885. There are so many terrible things happening in the world that they decide they each will make a wish and sacrifice something important to them by casting it into the well, which they believe will ensure their wishes will be granted. The first two make their wishes (a stop to the bombing of public buildings and that Dr. Homais will find a cure for syphilis) and their sacrifices (a gold chain and a favorite doll, respectively). When it comes to Aubry, the youngest, her wish is that a neighbor’s baby will recover from an odd sickness that has kept it sick for weeks, but when it is her time to make her sacrifice (a puzzleball) she decides she doesn’t want to lose the ball and refuses.

Later that night, Aubry is struck with cramps, seizures, and she begins to bleed from her mouth, eyes, nose, and ears. Her family takes her to the doctor, and she recovers briefly, but then becomes ill again. Through some trial and error, it is determined that Aubry must keep moving, either through her own power or that of a vehicle. If she stops, she can only stay in a single location for a matter of a few days, no more than two or three, and she cannot return to a location she has visited in the past. If she violates any of these conditions, she rapidly becomes ill again. Thus begins Aubry’s first, of several, trips around the world.

In A Short Walk Through a Wide World, debut author Douglas Westerbeke takes readers on an adventure that spans decades, continents, and, seemingly, space/time itself. Westerbeke tells Aubry’s story through her recounting of it to fellow travelers she encounters on her journey. Her travels span decades. When she began, at the age of nine, she travelled with her mother, who sought to protect her and, possibly, find a cure for her daughter’s condition. At the age of 12, Aubry noted the toll that the near relentless travel was taking on her mother and struck out on her own, teaching herself how to fend and provide for herself.

Aubry has seen and experienced marvels. And Westerbeke pointedly highlights the locales in Aubry’s travels that are “off the beaten path” allowing her, and readers, to learn about places and peoples not commonly covered in popular travelogues. Westerbeke also slyly comments on how regularly Aubry, as a blonde, Caucasian woman is a curiosity in the vast majority of a world dominated primarily by Western European culture but inhabited by people, in a vast majority, who are neither blonde nor Caucasian.

While the emphasis is placed on all of the places Aubry has seen and experienced, Westerbeke stresses the importance of home, family, and the idea that everyone needs a place, and people, they can call their own. A Short Walk Though a Wide World allows readers the best of both worlds: to join Aubry on her journey to wild and exotic adventures while doing so from the comfort of whatever place they call home.

Read an interview with the author here.

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