Author and artist Nedd Willard has compiled his personal letters, journals and memories spanning the 1930s through the 1950s in this delightful memoir about his world travels.
He begins with his Manhattan birthplace and the rampant anti-Semitism of the time that led him to drop his surname, Rosenthal. At 16, Willard received an academic scholarship and started college in Wisconsin. But when his first year ended in 1943, he packed up and hitchhiked west to see the country, making it as far as Idaho. Returning to New York City, he signed up for the Merchant Marine and then, on his 18th birthday, the Navy. Although he returned to college in Wisconsin two years later, he had gotten his first taste of Europe as a sailor and was determined to return.
The bulk of his memoir relates his adventures in France, where he traveled, studied and taught English in a boys’ school near Toulouse. He later spent time in Paris, earning his doctorate at the Sorbonne. The book’s cover sports one of hundreds of ink sketches Willard made during his travels, several of which also grace its pages.
Willard can turn a pretty phrase, and his descriptions bring to life his surroundings and the people he meets. He often includes lively vignettes, such as a couple doing an improvisational dance in a silent, second-floor studio in New York City, or a butcher and a farmer in the Midi region of France who look as if they had “gotten into their clothes in a revolving butter churn,” bartering over three sheep.
Although Willard at times laments his wanderlust, pondering “the fear that eats away at me of growing old without having accomplished anything, just moving from a littered past to an unfurnished future,” his memoir is a charming legacy of a peripatetic life.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.