Book Review: Life is a Trip
By Candyce H. Stapen
With Life is a Trip Judith Fein has written a different kind of travel guide. Instead of pointing out the top restaurants, hotels or attractions, Fein reminds readers what the best of travel can bring: experiences that transform. In each of 14 chapters Fein describes a person—or people—in places as diverse as Israel, Vietnam and Micronesia and how her encounters with these individuals have changed her.
In distant Mog Mog in Micronesia, Fein attends a local funeral where she hears relatives and friends both praise and pan the deceased. How does this change Fein—and give the reader something to think about?
“The bad feelings are expressed rather than repressed, “ notes Fein, “ and then they are buried along with the body…. And it is forbidden to bad-mouth the dead person once he is lying in his final resting place….Maybe honoring a person for what he did right or wrong during his lifetime isn’t a bad idea.”
In Santiago, a village on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, Fein meets Maximon, a wooden representation of a Maya divinity who wears a European business suit and has a cigar in his mouth. The local Maya pray to him, leaving offerings of money and liquor. Part of Maximon’s allure is that, although divine, he, like humans, has a few bad habits.
At home Fein comforts a troubled friend addicted to drugs by telling him what she finds reassuring about Maximon. “He accepts people the way they are: imperfect, trying their best but not always succeeding….He’s willing to help anyone who asks him without judgment. He’s not holier than thou and he doesn’t hold up a standard humans can’t achieve.”
In Istanbul Fein tells the reader about Abe who, having converted his family’s home into a hotel, goes out of his way to be gracious and helpful to his guests. “He does not feel that we were born to shop, consume and then die, “ says Fein. “ He feels good when he makes others feel comfortable and respected.”
Although much more detailed and evocative than parables, each of Fein’s tales impart a lesson she has learned. For readers, these provide much to think about whether traveling the world or just going across the street. Fein’s work appears in many magazines, newspapers and websites, including the one she co-edits, Your Life is a Trip.