Foreword Reviews

Letters from Clara

One Intrepid Woman's Travels on the Eve of War, 1936-1939

Letters from Clara is an endearing account of an adventurous woman’s global travels during a tumultuous time in history.

Eager to expand her horizons, Clara, a single, middle-aged woman from Wisconsin, set out to tour the globe after her mother’s death in 1936. She traveled modestly, drawing upon her YWCA network and working for a time in Shanghai until bombings forced her to flee by ship. Shelling imperiled her ship; she then endured a typhoon and an earthquake while recovering from an injury in a Manila hospital.

Unfazed, she continued to South Asia and Europe, even as global political tensions mounted. She sailed along Africa’s edge. When war was declared, her ship was encouraged to “lose itself for a time.” Clara yearned to continue on to South America, but was forced to suspend her travels. During her three-year trip, she encountered missionaries, colonialists, an impoverished baroness, a fatalistic Italian aviator, and fleeing Czech Jews.

Though Clara’s original sketches, diary, photographs, and scrapbook were lost, Janet Newman stitches her story together through her surviving letters. Throughout, historical and biographical notes and images are a source of continuity and context. Clara’s missives report her experiences with wry humor, revealing her insatiable curiosity and spunky demeanor. Her naïveté, hunger for knowledge, and candid reactions to situations are honest. Her clear-eyed assessments of people also aim to keep an open mind; she shares opinions and debates about democracy, government, and nationalism, challenging her preconceived notions.

Like a time capsule, the travel narrative Letters from Clara follows a naïve but spirited women as she witnesses chaos around the world just before World War II.

Reviewed by Wendy Hinman

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Load Next Review