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Inspirational / Spiritual

  • Due North

    by Lola Akinmade Akerstrom

    Rating: 8.50

    Idea: This arresting volume pairs the author's vibrant photography with her brief essays about her journeys across the world. The photos and essays complement each other well, each adding resonance to the other. The resulting book is a portrait of not just its author's travels but of her way of seeing, and it's a pleasure to experience the world with her. That said, the book's wanderings might gain some power from the addition of a narrative throughline or more sense of how travel has affected the writer/photographer's life.

    Prose: While often elegant and touched with poetry, Åkerström's prose descriptions of the locales she visits aren't quite as vivid as her photographs, which are extraordinary. Instead, the essays tend to center on characters that she has met or her experience of traveling itself, while letting the photos summon the essence of the places she visits. The writing is polished and engaging, especially when Åkerström captures some narrative momentum, as in the poignant scenes she captures talking to local characters she encounters, or her mother's tracking down of a loved one.

    Originality: Occasionally, when she documents her excursion to a well-documented place like Machu Pichu, Åkerström doesn't offer much new insight, though the images she captures are fabulous. The essays are strongest when she finds the unexpected, tracking fishmongers or  photographers, or reporting from a U.S. naturalization ceremony or how politics have affected the markets of Lagos.

    Execution: Åkerström presents her essays as snapshots, and the effect of reading the book is similar to that of paging through a photo album. Still, those "snapshots" often touch upon fascinating issues, opinions, and experiences that readers will certainly want to know more about--the snapshots tease a bigger, more personal picture than what "Due North" ultimately offers. Finally, without a narrative throughline, those snapshots/essays never quite accumulate into a larger view of the world or of travel itself.

  • Idea: The author behind this memoir relays her journeys through alternative health options and across various countries. Gallagher may not arrive at discernible, long-ranging tranquility or excellent health, but she finds workable remedies. Most significantly, she realistically conveys how taking time to notice and observe one's surroundings, is healing in itself.

    Prose: Gallagher's prose is straightforward and the story unfolds smoothly and chronologically. The author carefully details the holistic treatments and world destinations she encounters on her path to healing and wellness. 

    Originality: This memoir explores a woman's self-healing journey into emotional and geographic areas. Gallagher offers kernels of wisdom and insight throughout, but the memoir is ultimately highly personal in nature. Though many contemporary memoirs are written on related topics, Gallagher’s work is somewhat refreshing; her spiritual healing process is subtle and slow to unfold, rather than abruptly cathartic.

    Execution: The author's descriptions of physical aches and pains are vividly conveyed and relatable, but her emotional interiority--particularly in response to life-changing circumstances such as divorce--is somewhat underdeveloped.

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