Family anecdotes mingle with dramatic historical events in this engaging series of tales about author Ricardo Suarez-Gartner and his ancestors in WALKABOUT (An Open Letter to my Grandson), whose roots go back to places as far distant as Venezuela, Columbia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain. He begins with his own biography – of course the most readily available to him – and traces back his family history with individual chapters for each person, sometimes interspersed with stories of the history of a village or a nation. The stories are told quietly and straightforwardly, but not without emotional affect, especially for those of his ancestors whose lives and families were torn apart by civil war and conflict between liberal and conservative forces in Colombia. Naturally, some relatives left behind more information than others – Papa Fabio, his maternal grandfather, was kind enough to leave a substantial diary – but even when little is available, Suarez-Gartner tells the memories he has, and at least leaves the future a record of their names and existence.
For some, especially the women, like his Nona Virginia (mother of his paternal grandmother Nona Manuelita), all he has is a portrait and a wedding record. But she is here nonetheless, all we have left of her. He has taken the time to do meticulous research where he can, even visiting the birthplaces and home towns of ancestors from as far away as the Oberharz in Germany, or Cornwall in the United Kingdom. Family pride and affection shine through his telling of the stories, especially those of ancestors who saved villages from being burned, or were particularly noted for charity and kindness, but he also does not hesitate to tell the story of an ancestor noted for miserly greed and slaveholding, either. His family story is a rich and diverse one, coming from many places and participating in many vital and lively historical events, and the primary sources he uses and cites whenever possible will be invaluable for present and future historians. He never forgets that his subjects are not merely portraits or family icons, but real, living, breathing people, whose hopes and dreams and loves were as real and as vibrant as ours today, Rather than using people as vehicles to tell stories about history, historical events come to life through their eyes and perspectives, and become stories about people. Appendices include maps and a timeline – a family tree would also be a helpful addition here, to aid readers in keeping relationships straight. This is a valuable historical record, as well as a loving tribute to the lives of all the human beings whose work, love, and care helped make their descendants the people they are today.
WALKABOUT (An Open Letter to my Grandson), a carefully-researched account of Ricardo Suarez-Gartner eventful history, will appeal not only to the grandchildren he intended it for, but to historians both amateur and professional, and anyone interested in the human stories of people living in dramatic and turbulent times.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader