Book reviews – Memoir

Travelling with ghosts by Shannon Leonne Fowler.   

“Fowler has turned her devastating, beautiful, honest, and personal story into something universal. Akin to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, her book will appeal to globetrotters and readers of hopeful stories chronicling grief and recovery.”
Booklist (starred review)
In the summer of 2002, Shannon Leone Fowler was backpacking with her fiancé Sean in Thailand. The couple were planning to return home after their excursion to the island of Koh Pha Ngan, but their plans were devastated when a box jellyfish – the most venomous animal in the world – wrapped itself around Sean’s legs, stinging and killing him in minutes. Rejecting the Thai authorities’ attempt to label Sean’s death as ‘drunk drowning’, Shannon accompanied his body home to his stunned family – a family to which she suddenly no longer belonged.

Shattered, untethered and alone, Shannon set out on a journey to make sense of her loss. From contemplating the silence of Auschwitz to learning the rules for sitting shiva amid daily bombings in Israel, to finding humour and creativity in Sarajevo, a city still scarred by the recent war, Shannon charts a path through sorrow towards recovery.

Traveling with Ghosts is a beautiful memorial to love and an intensely personal account of learning to live with grief. It is the story of a brave journey towards survival.

Review by Sepali de Silva

‘Travelling with Ghosts’ is a moving memoir cum travel journal by Shannon Leone Fowler. Shanon & Sean are literally in each other’s arms when Sean loses his life and what pursues are nightmarish days for any single traveller alone on a distant beach. She is offered unconditional support by two Israeli girls whose actions will leave you questioning your beliefs and practices.
As days go by her nightmare turns to profound grief which she documents with a mature understanding. Legally not a widow nor a mother who lost a child, her pain is no less, and she tries to find solace by travelling through Eastern Europe to dark places blanketed with sadness and struggle where she feels connected through sorrow at a time when there were no mobile phones or Google maps.

I needed a box of tissues with this book, but it is an excellent memoir. Not many can document their sadness as well as Shannon does. The juxtapositioning of the tenses where she places her present in the past and her past in the present paralleling her thought process gives this memoir a unique structure. The book is part narrative part travel journal by an incredibly brave person, and if you are a traveller or you are someone who has a love for marine life, or if you have lost someone you love and feel no one understands your grief you should get yourself a copy of this book. Shannon holds a PhD in Marine Biology.

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