One of NPR's Best Books of the Year
From the author of Nothing to Declare, a moving travel narrative examining healing, redemption, and what it means to be a solo woman on the road.
In February 2008, a casual afternoon of ice skating derailed the trip of a lifetime. Mary Morris was on the verge of a well-earned sabbatical, but instead she endured three months in a wheelchair, two surgeries, and extensive rehabilitation. One morning, when she was supposed to be in Morocco, Morris was lying on the sofa reading Death in Venice, casting her eyes over these words again and again: “He would go on a journey. Not far. Not all the way to the tigers.” Disaster shifted to possibility and Morris made a decision. When she was well enough to walk again, she would go “all the way to the tigers.”
So begins a three-year odyssey that takes Morris to India on a tiger safari in search of the world’s most elusive apex predator. Written in over a hundred short chapters accompanied by the author’s photographs, this travel memoir offers an elegiac, wry, and wise look at a woman on the road and the glorious, elusive creature she seeks.
Determined to move beyond a debilitating injury, novelist Morris (Gateway to the Moon) treks solo across India hoping to come face-to-face with a tiger in this engrossing tale. A hundred-plus short chapters cover Morris's weekslong tiger safaris through jungles and savannas. Interspersed throughout are scenes of Morris's ice skating accident, in which she fractured her ankle; moments of uncertainty over her recovery; and nuggets of trivia about tigers. Childhood flashbacks reveal her recurring dream of tigers, her angry but loving father, and her cruelly unsympathetic mother who nonetheless takes the teenage Morris on a whirlwind tour of Europe, sowing the seeds of a lifelong wanderlust. She writes, "Real travelers, like real writers, move through the world... with a child's sense of wonder and surprise." This wonder bolsters her through daily tours in an open jeep, a bout of bronchitis, and unheated accommodations during one of India's coldest winters. Though she eventually encounters a tiger in the wild, an epiphany comes on the trip home when, lost in a Mumbai slum, "strangers who have nothing are showing me the way." The tiger, it turns out, "was never really the point.... It was always about the journey." Morris's descriptions of remote beauty, grinding urban poverty, and exotic adventures will captivate armchair tourists and travel memoir fans.