Geraldine Brooks is the Australian-born author of the novels Year of Wonders and March, for which she won the Pulitzer. She is also the author of the non-fiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Previously, Brooks was a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, stationed in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East.
Growing up in middle-class Sydney, Australia, Brooks acquired pen pals from all over the world. More than 20 years later, after she became a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, she tracked down a few of them to see "how they had been treated by history...and to get in touch with" the child she herself had been. Brooks relates her search in this competent but unexciting memoir of her youth and what she knew of that of her pen pals. Two of these discoveries stand out: near Tel Aviv, she finds an Israeli who initially doesn't remember writing to her and when he does, he wonders why she has bothered to find him; the other, an Arab, living not far from him, is so warm and outgoing that Brooks feels he has "humanized the Arab world" for her. In New Jersey, she learns that one of her pen pals is dead but is welcomed by her mother; in a village of the Vaucluse, in France, one of her favorite correspondents has become a settled matron; in Manhattan's East Village, she discovers that another has become a nightclub owner. In the end, however, they remain people of more interest to Brooks than to the reader, who may find the journeys more intriguing than the arrivals. (Jan.)
YA-Bored with her insular life in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, 11-year-old Geraldine Brooks turned to pen pals as an antidote. Her correspondence began across town with the daughter of a favorite journalist whose cosmopolitan life was a striking contrast to that of her own working-class family. Other pen pals included Joanie from New Jersey; Mishal, an Israeli Christian Arab; Cohen, an Israeli Jew; and Janine, a farmer's daughter who wrote from a tiny French village. Geraldine's global correspondence is enlightening, entertaining, myth shattering, and heartbreaking. In Joanie, she found a true and rare soulmate; however, the girl suffered a hidden anguish, hints of which were dismissed by her Australian friend. When Joanie died from anorexia, Geraldine's grief and regret moved her to greater knowledge and deeper compassion. The author grew up to become a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, living the life she sought vicariously from her pen pals. Her return home upon her father's death and the rediscovery of the letters prompted her to find out what happened to those individuals. Her efforts were met with enthusiasm by all except Mishal, and the subsequent meetings with the reluctant Israeli as well as with Joanie's mother provided satisfying closure. The last pages of the memoir find the mature adventurer coming full circle to an appreciation for the small-town life she had once so derided. The desire to explore the lives of others and to express one's individuality is strong in most young adults, who will readily identify with this intriguing memoir.-Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA