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Eastern Odyssey: A Family Journal of our Trek through Japan and Russia in 1973 Paperback – September 16, 2015
From the Back Cover
Consider the year 1973: Vietnam war still winding down; the cold war is going strong; the Nixon presidency is falling apart. It is also the year that a family of six traveled to Japan, across Russia, and spent half a year in Europe before returning home from this trip all the way around the world.
It Was the Adventure of a Lifetime.
In 1973 Don Swenson decided to use his one-year sabbatical from the Los Alamos National Laboratory to visit some of the leading laboratories around the world -- particularly in Japan, Russia, and Geneva. It would be not only a professional visit, but also a trip for his wife Barbara and 4 children to see the world. Barbara insisted that she and the children keep a journal to record their experiences along the way.
The first stop was Japan in Tsukuba about 30 minutes north of Tokyo by train. They visited Nikko, Hakone, Kamakura, Kyoto, Hiroshima, while just trying to hold the family together.
The second stop was Russia, boarding the Trans-Siberian Railway in Nakhodka and on to Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad, and ending up in Helsinki, Finland.
This book is the compilation of those four different journals. For each of 146 days, there are up to four entries, one from each of the contributors. Each entry giving a different viewpoint of what happened; telling the same story in a different way.
About the Author
This book is the work of a family, the diaries from 4 of the members, photos from the patriarch and stories about the youngest child. Don is a world renowned Physicist, spending the majority of his career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, but his professional status, while enabling a venture of this magnitude, is really a background to the story of a family as they travel around the world. Barbara, the mother, grew up in Alabama, married Don, an aspiring physicist and supported their home and family. She was the glue that held this group together during this adventure. Nancy was 17 during the trip and as such thought she had arrived, she went on to become a kindergarten teacher, and taught in Kuwait and Morocco before getting married having a child and adopting 4 children. Keith was 14, "the boy", and as such his entries are very precise, and less emotional than the girls. He is now VP of Development for Fujitsu in Silicon Valley, married with three grown children. Phyllis, at 10, adds her own particular humor to the book. She is now living at 10,000 feet in Colorado with the love of her life, working for IBM, and travelling the world. She has two grown daughters who live in Albuquerque. And alas Monica, whose contributions are the storied and antidotes that run throughout the book. At three she was the darling of the family.
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Secondly, I enjoyed the experiences the writers recounted, from Barbara, the mom, to Nancy, the 17-year-old, and Keith and Phyllis, younger sibs. As an adult, I can identify with Barbara's observations of things they experienced. But I can also remember what it was like to be 17 years old (and I am only 4 years older than Nancy), and I grinned (and flinched) at many of the things Nancy recounted from her 17-year-old perspective.
I also LEARNED a lot! The insights into the Japanese and Russian cultures were fascinating. The Japanese social conventions are rather different from ours, and Russia was a cold, hard place to visit, but human beings are the same the world over, and that shone through. I also greatly admire this family for having accomplished that trip! Remember -- this was back in 1973. No Internet, no cell phones, the Cold War was still on. The Berlin Wall was still up. The organization of the trip alone would have been daunting, let alone executing it!
The day-to-day recounting of things like washing and curling hair really took me back! We sure do have it easier now than we did then! And the angst of young love -- been there!
Finally, the epilogue let us hear from two voices we hadn't heard from before -- Don, the dad, and Monica, the youngest child, who was only three at the time of the trip. I enjoyed learning what they are all up to now, and that they remain an intact family. I applaud Barbara for having the foresight to implement the journal-keeping on this trip. This was one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time, and I highly recommend it.