Exploring the world in order to find yourself is an old and honored tradition, and plenty of good books have been written about it. I didn’t expect The Longest Way Home to be one of them. I was fully prepared to dislike it, and the author as well, because when he went trotting off on his personal quest he left a fiancée and two young children behind. Shouldn’t you go questing before you have kids? They do require more parental attention than the occasional visit. (The children were in the care of their mothers–one was with McCarthy’s former wife, the other with the woman he was about to marry).
That said, I’ll back off. Despite my misgivings, I found the book intriguing and authentic, a good read that is both self-revealing memoir and descriptive travel story. McCarthy, an actor and travel writer, had been plagued by doubt and uncertainty since childhood. He decided that the only way to feel committed to his home life was to take a journey into the world and into his deepest self. He went exploring, from New York to the Amazon, from Patagonia to Kilimanjaro and beyond. In each place he met exotic challenges, eccentric people, and new aspects of himself.
McCarthy likes traveling alone, what he calls “aimless drifting.” During his voyages he talked with strangers, played pinball with the local folks, made friends, and had phone conversations about wedding plans, but the “…freedom of being a stranger in a strange place, knowing no one, needing to know no one, with no obligations, elicits deep feelings of liberation…” Like many others, he harbored notions of escape, “of walking away and not looking back.” So he traipsed deep into the jungle of Costa Rica to get “…a good look at those who did escape and to challenge my own propensity toward utopian fantasies that can corrode any chance at real happiness.”
The book’s focus is on self-discovery, but it includes colorful descriptions of the places McCarthy visited, as he intertwines his adventures with reflections on his past, his family, and his views of the future. Finally, of course, he achieved his goal, “the courage to settle down” and went back to Dublin, Ireland, to get married. His wife and in-laws seem like resilient, optimistic, exuberant people who love him dearly, and the photographs of the wedding are charming. He’s a lucky man and a thoughtful one who has learned his true values and found where his courage lies.
Reviewed by Marilyn McFarlane for EuropeUpClose.com