A short book review of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed - contest entry
|Strangely, against the usual tradition in our household, it was my younger sister who introduced me to Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. She reported that it was a must-read and a book I would love. I confess that I didn’t take her up on her offer to read it until I came to China, and it was one of the few books available for me to read here. So it was that I finally discovered what all the hype was about and just like my sister did, I can happily review it as an absolute must-read.
Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found, written by the incredibly honest Cheryl Strayed, is an emotional and physical rollercoaster from page one right till you reach the back cover. Like all travel memoirs, it accounts her physical journey, but unlike many, it is also her emotional journey that we follow. Raised in the countryside of Minnesota, a 22-year old Strayed tragically lost her beloved mother and her family then scattered across the country. Trying to find ways to cope with her huge loss, she turned to heroin and multiple infidelities, waitressing to try to pay off her student debt, consequently, sadly, ending her marriage to her young husband.
It was following her divorce that she reinvented a name for herself – Strayed.
Four years after the death of her mother, in 1995 at the age of just 26, the newly divorced and emotionally lost Strayed decided to undertake a gruelling journey; to hike over 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert in California, through Oregon, and onto the so-called Bridge of Gods in Washington State. Quite a dream for a novice hiker, but she did it in order to find a way back to her old self.
Strayed’s travel memoir is such beautifully written that you almost find yourself on the PCT with her as she hikes (or sometimes plods) along it. Through desert-heat temperatures in the Mojave Desert in California, to landslide-record snowfalls in the Sierra Nevada, then picturesque glacial valleys and forests, Strayed takes us along for the vivid hike, sharing her blister-strewn, agonising, but often joyful ride. Leaving no gruesome detail spared, the PCT doesn’t seem so far away when you pick up this book.
Alongside her journey of self-discovery, Strayed flicks back and forth to her childhood, growing up with an abusive father, and then to rather blissful teenage years with a loving mother, two siblings and a small farm. We learn about her mother’s diagnosis, her rapid decline and death, and then how Strayed did just that – drifted onto a self-destructive path. Told with such raw honesty that I was actually brought to tears at some points, you can understand her pain and her need to embark on such a tough journey as the Pacific Crest Trail.
Reading a travel memoir has never been so emotive, and I read a lot of them. I cried. Like, genuine tears that blurred my eyes so I couldn’t see the pages anymore. I was a mess. But then I laughed, like the hyenas in The Lion King because Strayed is so funny, so witty, and again so honest in her depiction of herself and the people she meets along the trail. I felt so much whilst reading this that when I reached the final page it was almost with as much relief as she felt upon reaching the Bridge of Gods, mixed with a sadness that I too had finished my journey with her.
An inspirational book that sees hope and a faith that things can change rise from the darkest moments of one woman, and I cannot recommend it enough. The movie, starring Reese Witherspoon, has done a fantastic depiction of Strayed’s journey, but it is in no way as eye-opening and revealing as the memoir itself. Read it; prepare to cry and laugh, to be sad and joyous, and embrace it.