Friday, January 20, 2012

From Paris to Albania in a Model T

Travels with Zenobia, William Holtz, ed.

I came across this book last year, when I was looking for Helen Dore Boylston's "Sister," the published journal of her nursing service in World War I.  The subtitles really caught my eye: first, "Paris to Albania by Model T Ford," which sounded like quite an adventure; and then "A Journal by Rose Wilder Lane and Helen Dore Boylston."  I had no idea Lane and Boylston even knew each other, but in fact they met in Europe after the war and became close friends.  Then when I saw that the journal was intended for Lane's parents, Almanzo and Laura Wilder, I decided I needed to read it.

Unfortunately, I found it a bit thin, and not just in the number of pages (117).  The journal itself, which alternates between Lane and Boylston, covers a little over two weeks.  With their maid Yvonne, the women drove from Paris down to the Riviera, along the coast into Italy, and then south and east to Bari, where they took a ferry across the Adriatic to Durazzo in Albania.  It's an entertaining story, with descriptions of scenery and hotels and the people they met.  They were detained in every country they visited, for some violation of local law, which usually ended in a fine.  They stopped along the way in Monte Carlo, where Rose quickly became addicted to roulette, and in Rome, and frequently for maintenance on their Model T, which they named "Zenobia."  (The reader learns quite a bit about the Model T along the way.)  But it ends the day of their arrival in Durazzo.

The journal is book-ended with a Prologue and an Epilogue,which together make up about a third of the book.  In the Prologue, the editor William Holtz introduces Rose Lane and Helen Boylston with brief biographies.  Lane came to Europe in the wake of the Great War to do publicity work for the Red Cross and the Near East Relief Agency.  As Boylston later related in her published journal, she herself found it difficult to settle into civilian life again after the war, and she came back to Europe to work with the Red Cross as well.  The two met on a train to Warsaw in 1920.  By 1926, they had formed a plan to move to Albania, which both saw as a country emerging from its colonial past under Ottoman rule, still unspoiled by contact with Western Europe, but moving into the 20th century.  Holtz wants to put their ideas in the context of America in the 1920s, divided between the restless energy of the postwar generation and the conservative complacency of the older, and to analyze each woman's personality in light of their earlier experiences and the Albanian plan, which is an awful lot to attempt in a brief Prologue.

The Epilogue consists primarily of letters written by Lane to friends and family, describing their life in Albania.  I found these even more interesting than the journal, and I wish more of the letters, hers and Boylston's, had been included.  It would have changed the nature of the book, of course, and writing that book might have been more complicated than editing the brief travel journal.  Helen Boylston was alive when this book was published in 1982, which may also have been a factor in how it was written.  Rose Lane wrote a book about an earlier trip through Albania in 1923, called The Peaks of Shala, and I will probably try to find a copy of that, to learn more about what she saw and experienced there.

In a brief overview of Lane and Boylston's writing after they left Albania in 1928, Holtz mentions Boylston's great success with the Sue Barton books, which were apparently among the first "career novels" for young readers.  He of course also discusses Lane's work with her mother, and he is clearly in the "Rose wrote the Little House books" camp  (I myself am in the "Laura" camp, especially after reading Pamela Smith's Laura Ingalls Wilder  A Writer's Life last year).


  1. I really know next to nothing about Laura Ingalls Wilder or her family. I had no idea she had a daughter who was so adventurous. Her life in Albania - it sounds so exciting and dangerous - would have been a great journey to read about. I love reading about women who explore the world in unexpected ways!

  2. I love reading about those women explorers or travelers as well, Anbolyn. I think that's why I was a little disappointed in this book, because their France-to-Italy trip was rather tame - and I wanted to know about their adventures in Albania!


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!