Mia and Claire Fontaine, a mother-daughter duo who “found” each other again after years of physical and drug abuse threatened to separate them forever, have settled into a familiar — and unfamiliar — rhythm. Now a decade out from her troubled past, Mia is a 25-year-0ld woman learning the ropes of adulthood after growing up too fast.
With her daughter now relatively settled, Claire needs a new focus — and has recently uprooted her life to move cross-country with her husband. Now planted in a fixer-upper with “potential” in Florida, 51-year-old Claire still vacillates between wanting to help her daughter and trying to let her come into her own. It isn’t easy.
Feeling both physically and emotionally separated when Claire learns about the Global Scavenger Hunt, a real “Amazing Race”-style trip that takes travelers to four continents and ten countries in less than a month, she eagerly calls her daughter to gauge interest. They both feel disconnected after ending a whirlwind press tour for Come Back, a memoir they penned about Mia’s turbulent youth and sexual abuse, and want to start fresh. Claire sees this as an opportunity to get to know her daughter again — and differently this time.
They sign up. They embark. Starting in China and eventually winding their way through Malaysia, Nepal, Greece, France and more, the Fontaines explore different cultures, traditions, meals, gender roles — and the ever-changing dynamic between mothers and daughters.
Have Mother, Will Travel is a unique blend of memoir that both excites with its armchair travel opportunities and entices with its insights on the complicated, beautiful and challenging relationships between families. The women take turns narrating, each with a distinct voice and focus, we’re frequently treated to the “two sides to every story” lens as Mia and Claire discuss traveling, the past and their future.
What I loved most about the book — aside from, you know, the tantalizing descriptions of locales like Cairo and Athens — was how seamlessly the women shift from talking about their relationship to exploring the relationships all women share. As much an exploration of motherhood as a travel memoir, Have Mother, Will Travel offers so much food for thought regarding women’s roles in other nations, our perceptions as Americans (and what it means to be American) and the underlying responsibility humans have to one another.
Of the two voices, Claire — an erstwhile screenwriter — was the more literary. She offers gems like this:
“It’s not often mothers and daughters relate in silence. We speak our whole lives long in conversations reckless, tender, thoughtless, bold, honest, funny, hypersensitive, unconscious, cutting, healing. Our daughters hear us in utero long before they see us and we hear our mothers’ voices long after they’re gone. ‘I have conversations with my mom all the time,” my friend Leah recently told me. “She’s been dead twenty years and I still have things to say to her.'” (p. 117, hardcover edition)
I looked forward to their insights as American women abroad as much as their discussions of their personal relationship, though both were fascinating. While reading Come Back isn’t necessary to get the full breadth of Have Mother, Will Travel, I could see where really getting the pair’s back story would help to appreciate just how far they’ve come — and how far they have to go. Still, an introduction in this book helps set the stage for the ladies’ around-the-world adventure; I thought it was very well done. I felt dropped into the story without getting smacked over the head with too much telling, not enough showing.
And the story itself? It was interesting. Uplifting, different. Well-paced and well-researched, the Fontaines obviously spent a great deal of time reliving their experiences and expanding on them with local history. I loved the blend of fact and emotion — the swirl of Claire and Mia’s personal dynamics amidst the warm stone of Cairo’s ancient pyramids and the fragrant fields of Avignon. Claire often details their interactions with natives, too, and I loved the little stories of the people they met in remote locales.
If you love armchair travel and discussions of the tender but steadfast love fused by motherhood? Well, the Fontaines are ready to let you in. Have Mother, Will Travel was an engrossing read that delved deeper than I expected from the (pretty!) cover, and it’s one I would easily recommend to memoir lovers looking for some international flavor.
4 out of 5!