Emily Hahn had a life larger than anything conjured fiction. With a passionate curiosity, her collection of New Yorker essays-come-memoir, No Hurry to Get Home, is an adventure story, travel narrative and historical document all rolled into one. The book traces her life through her early years in St Louis and Chicago and follows her on her exploits through the Congo, Japan and China in the early to mid-20th century.
She is, as she has often been described, a forgotten literary treasure. Her insistent fight for freedom and equal opportunities placed her far ahead of her contemporaries and set her firmly in the hearts of anyone prone to wandering. Repeatedly denying and defying the society that sought to control the fire within her, she travelled across the globe with a thirst for adventure. She was a determined and head strong woman despite an epoch of misogyny and a culture than continually attempted to constrain and mistreat her; all through which she met with a smile and silent determination that no one but her would define her worth or her future – a pin up poster girl of feminism if I ever saw one.
One of the many strengths of the text is its first-hand accounts of life in colonial Africa and occupied China. Despite being two periods that are usually shied away from in literature, she faces the injustices she witnessed head on and with the calm tenaciousness she is now famous for, as well as offering an insight into the lives and hearts of the marginalised and ignored. She reveals the bigotry she experienced personally and that of which she witnessed imposed on others, refusing to accept or submit to oppression, regardless of where she was situated geographically or financially.
J.D Salinger wrote in The Catcher in the Rye, that you know a book is good when “you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and [that] you could call [her] up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” This surely, is Hahn in a sentence. Her simple but eloquent writing and distinct voice draws the reader into her stories and anecdotes, leaving you feeling despite the cliché that she really is an old friend rather than a decade old dead woman.
Her philosophy of always “following the uncertain path” and forever looking for adventure is an ideology I can only hope to incorporate into my life and my travels. Even in her doubts she had a bravery and fortitude rarely found in anyone, living or dead. No Hurry to Get Home is as exciting as it is alluring, and any reader is sure to fall in love with her lust for life and tireless search for adventure. In Emily Hahn I have found an author I will always return to, and a new personal hero. I am excited and enthralled to find out which of her 50 or so books I am next to discover.
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