Nancy Pearl says, “The best travel memoirs offer readers three pleasures woven together: accounts of ‘what I saw,’ ‘how I came to understand myself better,’ and ‘what I learned about the world’—and Morris’s memoir doesn’t skimp on any of them.”
When renowned librarian and literary critic Nancy Pearl speaks so highly of a book, you know it’s one you cannot miss, especially one named one of NPR’s Best Books of the Year. Mary Morris’s All the Way to the Tigers is a moving travel narrative examining healing, redemption, and what it means to be a solo woman on the road. When you finish reading it, you’ll want to linger in Morris’s adventure, so we’re sharing a reader’s guide with you below.
Once you’ve finished All the Way to the Tigers, you’ll surely be want to check out Morris’s earlier works. From The Jazz Palace, a gorgeous piece of historical fiction, to the fascinating multigenerational novel The Waiting Room, or even the acclaimed short-story collection The Lifeguard, one thing’s for sure—you don’t want to miss this unique American voice!
All the Way to the Tigers
In February 2008, a casual afternoon of ice skating derailed the trip of a lifetime. Mary Morris was on the verge of a well-earned sabbatical, but instead she endured three months in a wheelchair, two surgeries, and extensive rehabilitation. One morning, when she was supposed to be in Morocco, Morris was lying on the sofa reading Death in Venice, casting her eyes over these words again and again: “He would go on a journey. Not far. Not all the way to the tigers.” Disaster shifted to possibility and Morris made a decision. When she was well enough to walk again, she would go “all the way to the tigers.”
So begins a three-year odyssey that takes Morris to India on a tiger safari in search of the world’s most elusive apex predator. Written in over a hundred short chapters accompanied by the author’s photographs, this travel memoir offers an elegiac, wry, and wise look at a woman on the road and the glorious, elusive creature she seeks.
“A perfect vehicle for book club discussions.” —Jewish Book Council
In 1492, two history-altering events occurred: the Jews and Muslims of Spain were expelled, and Columbus set sail for the New World. Many Spanish Jews chose not to flee and instead became Christian in name only, maintaining their religious traditions in secret. Among them was Luis de Torres, who accompanied Columbus as an interpreter. Over the centuries, de Torres’ descendants traveled across North America, finally settling in the hills of New Mexico. Now, some five hundred years later, it is in these same hills that Miguel Torres, a young amateur astronomer, finds himself trying to understand the mystery that surrounds him and the town he grew up in: Entrada de la Luna, or Gateway to the Moon.
Poor health and poverty are the norm in Entrada, and luck is rare. So when Miguel sees an ad for a babysitting job in Santa Fe, he jumps at the opportunity. The family for whom he works, the Rothsteins, is Jewish, and Miguel is surprised to find many of their customs similar to those his own family kept but never understood. Braided throughout the present-day narrative are the powerful stories of the ancestors of Entrada’s residents, portraying both the horrors of the Inquisition and the resilience of families. Moving and unforgettable, Gateway to the Moon beautifully weaves the journeys of the converso Jews into the larger American story.
“Riveting. . . . As her tale unfolds, we know that we are in the hands of a master.” —Christina Baker Kline, author of The Orphan Train
Boomtown Chicago, 1920s—a world of gangsters, musicians, and clubs. Young Benny Lehrman, born into a Jewish hat-making family, is expected to take over his father’s business, but his true passion is piano—especially jazz. After dark, he sneaks down to the South Side to hear the bands play.
One night he is asked to sit in with a group. His playing is first-rate. The trumpeter, a black man named Napoleon, becomes Benny’s friend and musical collaborator. They are asked to play at a saloon Napoleon has christened The Jazz Palace. But Napoleon’s main gig is at a mob establishment, which doesn’t take kindly to their musicians freelancing. As Benny and Napoleon navigate the highs and the lows of the Jazz Age, a bond is forged between them that is as memorable as it is lasting. Morris brilliantly captures the dynamic atmosphere and dazzling music of an exceptional era.
The Waiting Room is the intricate tale of three generations of women whose lives have been shaped by the essential experience of all women, that of waiting—for love to grow stronger, for wars to end, for life to move ahead. In its richly woven texture, its movements through time and space, the novel introduces us to the unforgettable members of the Coleman family: Zoe, who returns home after years away to confront her brother Badger’s break with reality—the result of taking too many drugs in Canada, where he fled to avoid the Vietnam War; June, Zoe’s mother, who first suffered a deep estrangement from her husband when he returned from World War II; and Naomi, the grandmother, who fled the pogroms of Russia. These three women confront men, madness, dreams, and ultimately one another.
Filled with humor and the wisdom of generations, The Waiting Room is a novel of hope in the face of loss, of war and its casualties. It is also about freeing oneself from the dark side of waiting, and escaping into the light of love.
In this collection, Mary Morris shows her great sensitivity to men and women in moments of turbulence, uncertainty, and crisis in their lives—and how they can reach for the unexpected and the spiritual at such times.
In the title story, a lifeguard sees his teenage mystique among the girls on the beach dissolve in a panicked moment when he cannot save a child. In “The Wall,” a woman confronts her husband’s first marriage, in the form of a mural on a kitchen wall that he is strangely unable to contemplate painting over. In “The Glass-Bottom Boat,” a mother on her first trip abroad learns about trust through a solicitous stranger. In “The Snowmaker’s Wife,” a housewife left alone while her husband works long hours at a mountaintop ski resort starts to suspect his betrayal—as well as her own perceptions. “Vital Signs” tells of the consequences of a doctor bringing back to life a young woman, half-dead on the side of the road; and “Cross Word” is a wonderfully funny play on those puzzles and the people who do them.
Combining Mary Morris’s consummate craft as a storyteller with her gift for dramatic travel writing, The Lifeguard is a powerful and haunting collection.