3 out of 4 stars
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Island People: Finding Our Way by Henry R. Danielson follows the author and his wife, Julie, as they teach high school in several communities and travel around the world in their various yachts. The first third or so is dedicated to their adventures teaching English for the Peace Corps on an island in Malawi, and the rest of the book is dedicated to various yachting expeditions and the author's experience teaching high school English in the United States.
Before going to Malawi, the author and his wife taught in a predominantly African American school district. Here and in Africa, the cultural differences - and even similarities - they had to navigate were quite interesting. I was touched by how the author described how welcoming the African American family he lived with was. In Malawi, he found people to be similarly kind, and his portrayal of the way superstition and science can collide was respectful and insightful.
Danielson's writing has a distinct tone that makes you feel like he's speaking to you directly, and the straightforward, wholehearted way he discusses his experience with other cultures is heartwarming and fascinating. This made the first part of the book a joy to read, as there's a personal touch added to the descriptions of foreign cultures and bizarre circumstances. In addition, the book is quite well-edited, with only one or two minor grammatical errors.
Unfortunately, I can't say I was as impressed with the rest of the book beyond the first third. The yachting expeditions started to feel quite repetitive after a while, and they were rife with terminology that was out of my depth as someone with no experience boating. This portion of the book was also disappointing, in my opinion, because it lacked the social insight into teaching students of different cultures in favor of a more traditional type of adventure. It felt jarring after the first part of the book, and I can't help but feel the accounts of their yachting adventures would be better off separated into its own novel.
Island People: Finding Our Way is a good memoir, but its lack of focus keeps it from being a great one. If you enjoy learning about boating and education, or have an interest in one and don't mind the other element, I highly recommend this book to you. The author's life is certainly rich, and there were many parts of this book I found thought-provoking. Due to its somewhat lacking organization, though, I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars.
Island People: Finding Our Way
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