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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Rarely does a book, let alone an armchair-travel book, delight, inspire, and intrigue me the way One Year Off did. Before I even cracked the spine of the book, I was intrigued by the premise of David Elliot Cohen's story: He and his wife, Devi, gathered up their three rugrat kids and took them around the world for a whole year.
Immediately I was flooded with questions when I glanced at the synopsis of the book, wondering how they afforded such a journey, where they went, what it was it like living out of a suitcase for so long, and much more. As soon as I began reading, the story unfolded in a way that answered all of my questions.
My first concern with One Year Off was that I loved the introduction — the way Cohen grabbed me and made me feel like I was sitting at his kitchen table, watching him make plans for this extensive trip — and I was worried that the book would not be as captivating. But I should have remembered that introductions are never as good as the actual story, and Cohen did not leave me disappointed.
Because this book is a series of emails written to Cohen's family and friends from the road, the tone is familiar, as though you have known this family forever, and very detailed. The reason for being so detailed, I suppose, is that Cohen wanted to give his jealous friends a taste of the family's adventures: their almost-drowning experience, vegetarian diets, and hippopotamus encounters.
Cohen explains that in order to finance this trip, he and his wife closed their business and sold their house. They chose to home-schooltheirchildren: Kara, who was eight years old; Willie, who was seven; and Lucas, who was almost two. Traveling with these kids, who were used to listening to pop music, playing at their friends' homes, and dining on McDonald's, adds to the spice of this story because you get to see the jungles of Costa Rica, the reefs of Australia, and the beggars of India through the eyes of both children and adults.
Along the way, of course, these kids did some funny things that may make you scream "Ugly Americans" at the top of your lungs. Consider young Lucas, who had ketchup all over his hands. His father warned him not to wipe it on his pants. Before the Cohens realized what was happening, Lucas had wiped his hands on a well-dressed Asian woman's expensive trousers in front of the Eiffel Tower. This famous Parisian site will be forever linked to the ketchup incident in Cohen's mind. You don't get stories like that in a typical guidebook; it's the kind of anecdote that only a book like One Year Off can provide.
There were many other charming moments on this trip. The Cohens had dragged their children through museum upon museum in Paris. (Devi came up with a clever of idea of having the older kids pick five postcards each from the gift store before beginning the tour of the Louvre and making it a game to find the actual artwork.) By the time they got to Italy, Kara and Willie no longer wanted to see any more art — until they had the opportunity to visit the Museo di Criminologia Medievale, the Museum of Medieval Criminology. Cohen did not want to take his children to this museum, which was filled with beheading axes, saws for cutting people in half, and spiked interrogation chairs. But Kara and Willie were delighted and asked many questions. Kara, in particular, was intrigued by the chastity belt, which Cohen delicately tried to explain to his curious daughter. After which, she said, "Ohhh. So your private parts don't get hurt in battle.... I'm glad we don't wear those anymore."
The children were obviously enraptured by what they saw and what they did during their trip around the world. But so were their parents. Cohen's descriptions are insightful. After visiting India, he wrote in an email, "For the most part, India was sort of a shocker — loud, crowded, filthy, bureaucratic, disorganized, prehistorically sexist, and wildly inhumane in its distribution of wealth." It is a true statement — and not one that Arthur Frommer will ever include in his guidebook.
Yet along with the adventures, the almost-deportation of the baby-sitter they brought with them, and the lugging around of the suitcases, come some revelations that you won't get in a two-week trip to Ireland, let alone a two-month trip through Asia. At one point, Cohen was driving down this narrow mountain road and in front of him was an old truck that stopped every 20 meters to throw a telephone pole onto the ground. Wrote Cohen, "There was no way to pass it, no way to turn around, and no end in sight. Four months ago, this situation would have driven me crazy, but now I wasn't particularly bothered."
Travel provides people with an opportunity to eat new foods, see different types of art, learn a country's history from its own perspective, and meet new people. The trip described in One Year Off offered all of those experiences to the Cohen family, but it also was an adventure that taught patience, a sense of being able to compartmentalize their lives, and an understanding of who and what really mattered to them.