Happy Friday readers! Welcome to February, a month of fluffly pink and red hearts, commercials for overpriced jewelry, and cute little stuffed animals showing up everywhere. It is also overwhelmingly birthday-filled for my family, so we have plenty of reasons to celebrate all month long!
Today I am reviewing a historical memoir. I don’t think I have reviewed anything like this before, so I’m interested to go through my notes and see what stood out. Let’s get into it!
Title: Far Away and Further Back
Author: Patrick Burns
Genre: Memoir, Historical Nonfiction (20th century)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads): After his first overseas assignment to the USA in 1975 – just twenty-three with a suitcase and a guitar – corporate nomad, Patrick Burns, kept on moving from country to country rarely declining a fresh challenge in a new location. In these stories from four decades of living and working around the world, he relives some of his most memorable experiences: from dangerous pyrotechnic liaisons in the Algerian desert to a quest to find the Archbishop of Rangoon after a chance meeting in an English village church. The locations and circumstances run the gamut of the quotidian to the exotic; context and time are less relevant than who is met, what transpires and how the experience says something about the human condition.
This exploration of the personal landscape of expatriate life is interwoven with a navigation of some of the ties that have bound his unusual Anglo-German family during the past century; a mixture of hardcore Yorkshire eccentricity (including a grandfather whose obsession with installing indoor toilets inadvertently led to a twenty-five year family rift) and a liberal academic, Hanoverian heritage disoriented by Hitler, the events of 1939-45 and Cold War detente.
Although Far Away and Further Back is a memoir, it is formatted as a short story collection. Each chapter is a new anecdote, occurring in a completely different place and time from the next. The characters are mostly the same, although there are times when we jump from Patrick’s first-hard experience to what he has heard from relatives of previous generations, so not all of the stories feature all of the same main characters. For the most part, I enjoyed the abrupt jumps from one location to the next; it’s similar to learning about a new friend: today they tell you about the trip they once took, another time they tell you about their family, and eventually you gain a fairly full understanding of their history and identity through seemingly random stories.
It’s difficult to say much about the content of the stories since I know that they are actual events. Most of the stories relate to Patrick’s work in the HR department of an international company. He is originally from the UK, with family in Germany, and he eventually lands in the US, but along the way he works in and visits quite a few countries. There is very little information given about the company itself (which suits me just fine) and plenty about the places he travels, including locations on 4 different continents. I enjoyed the perspective, even though a single chapter is not enough to really get to know a setting.
Each story moves along at a good pace, but the book really thrives on its use of various locations. The events are interesting enough to keep me reading, but I found myself looking forward to discovering where the next chapter would go towards the end of most of them rather than being invested in the plot of the current story. Additionally, the prevalence of some vulgar language did bother me, but none of the action in the book is unseemly.
I am giving Far Away and Further Back a solid 3-star rating because, while I enjoyed seeing the various locations and hearing about Patrick’s work, I still was never really hooked into it. I could put it down easily, and while I never had to force myself to pick it back up, there tended to be other things I would rather read. It’s a moderately mixed bag to me, which did not cause any strong feelings one way or the another.
If you are a fan of memoirs, short stories set in various times and places, or first-hand business travel accounts, then I encourage you to look into Far Away and Further Back by Patrick Burns.
I rarely read anything in the memoir genre, but occasionally I do enjoy reading biographies (usually of an author). What about y’all? Have you read any great memoirs or biographies? Let’s talk about them in the comments!
Until the next chapter,