Black and (A)broad: Traveling Beyond the Limitations of Identity

by Carolyn Vines

Review by Marta Turnbull

Travel memoirs are all about providing fun armchair travel with a bit a voyeurism tossed in. Crawling inside someone else’s travel experience lets us hitch a ride as the memoir writer bumps into curious cultures, weird food, and awkward interactions. We readers feel the writer’s discomfort as she bumbles into foreign social mores, trying to successfully fit in. As we sit in the comfort of our living rooms, we may be tempted to feel superior, knowing we would never be as naïve as the writer, but traveling—even armchair traveling—lets us learn about the travel destination, the writer, and ourselves. Maybe the result is that we become more sophisticated travelers or learn about our home culture by seeing others. Black and (A)broad: Traveling Beyond the Limitations of Identity by Carolyn Vines is an unusual travel memoir since it covers terrain that is not typical.  For one thing, Vines wound up living abroad and for another; it was a form of exodus for her, although of her own choosing. It is a memoir that puts to rest demons that came to light because of her travels.

Carolyn Vines, an African American woman from Indianapolis, Indiana, grew up in poverty in a dysfunctional family. She overcame her fixed childhood ideas about her identity and aspirations. Although Ms. Vines is a strong, intelligent, black woman; her experiences while traveling to different countries, falling love with a white, Dutch man and eventually living in the Netherlands sometimes paralyzed her with fear and confusion. Her path veered and backtracked leading her into depression as she questioned her very identity. She came to learn that her preconceived ideas were shaped by both societal limitations and her mother’s desire to protect her from the harsh realities of growing up poor, Black, and female. As she experienced different cultures, she learned about her acceptance of her own society’s racism and sexism. As a result, she transformed herself to proactively shape her own future.

Over time, Ms. Vines became amazingly adaptable. She is a translator, editor, writer and most recently a life coach. She lives in the Netherlands with her husband and three children. Black and Abroad was published in 2010.

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