This memoir of the author’s travels through Europe as a young woman is a well-written and pleasant read. The countries in which she describes her travels (primarily France, Spain, and Norway) are mere backgrounds, however, to her inner travels. Sjoholm is struggling to be a writer, to understand what being a writer means, to find the balance between writing and living. She is also coming to terms with her attraction for her friend Laura, and Laura’s attraction to her. Also, at the time she was traveling, there were great political changes happening in her home country (USA) with regard to gender and politics, and the book touches on her growing awareness of and interest in that.
The descriptions of her encounters with others, and the relationships she formed with them, are intriguing but also superficial. I don’t know if she did this in order to protect the privacy of those people, or for some other reason, but I would have liked to see more depth to those descriptions. Also, her description of the trajectory of her friendship / relationship with Laura seems rather thin. It feels as if she was really struggling to figure out whether or not she was a lesbian, or bisexual, but this thread of the book seems rather devoid of context, while her sexual encounters with men are reported unproblematically (as in, this is taken for granted and not worthy of further comment, nor placed into relation with her feelings for Laura).
One of the really lovely things about this book is how kind and generous Sjoholm is toward her younger self. She acknowledges some of the ways in which she was young and naive or immature or unrealistic about life and the world around her, but she does not condemn (or get defensive about) her earlier self. Rather, she accepts that this is how we all start out, and that there is room in every person’s life to grow and change. In that context, and despite the fact that storylines about her politics, relationships, and sexuality seemed rather thin, I quite enjoyed seeing how she tells the story of her development as a writer, which seemed to be the central and most substantial thread in the book.
Incognito Street by Barbara Sjoholm. 2006. ISBN 9781580051729.