Running Away to Home: Our Family's Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters
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Running Away to Home: Our Family's Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  357 ratings  ·  114 reviews
A middle class, Midwestern family in search of meaning uproot themselves and move to their ancestral village in Croatia

“We can look at this in two ways,” Jim wrote, always the pragmatist. “We can panic and scrap the whole idea. Or we can take this as a sign. They’re saying the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. Maybe this is the kick in the pants we need...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published October 11th 2011)
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Goodreads giveaway. The book is about the author's time spent in Croatia with her husband and two young children as she researched her ancestors and looked for remaining family. I was interested in this book because friends and I have talked about vacationing in Croatia. The author is a travel writer by trade and has traveled extensively so she was expecting this year long trip to run fairly smoothly.

Jennifer decides to take a two week trip ahead of her family to scope things out, get the lay o...more
I wanted to like this book more, and debated giving it 3 stars, but I really struggled getting through this otherwise easy read. I think the reasons for this are 1) told as a narrative, Wilson never really makes the other people in this story more than appendages to her account. Even her immediate family seem to be afterthoughts, so I didn't feel connected to any of them. At the same time I didn't ever really feel connected to her journey either. 2) For a travel writer and someone I expected to...more
There was so much about this book that spoke to me. I was reading it during December, a time of year that typically finds me struggling to find good balance. There are so many pressures for our family's time and resources during this season that I find myself just wanting to drive our family to a little cabin in the woods where we can light a fire and play board games for hours on end. So in this way, I can relate to the author's desire to simplify her life-leave the soccer practices and busines...more
This book was a pleasure to read. Jennifer and her husband decided to take their two kids and leave their home in Iowa to move to Croatia for a year so she can research her ancestors. Their adventure helps them grow closer as a family and it reminded them of the truly important things in life.

I love travel writing, and Jennifer's writing style was very warm, funny and introspective. Plus, you can't help but learn some Croatian words. Zivjeli!

The other day, I received a message from the author of this book, saying she hoped I was enjoying it and that she forward to my review. Now, try as I might, my answer to her seems the place to start my review:
"There are some absolutely marvelous moments you've written, and I have had such obvious enjoyment reading that my husband is waiting to read it as soon as he can. I'm amazed you went with such little preparation about the history and genealogy, but think that perhaps that opened you up to...more
I had been a fool to think that this trip was only about my family. It had been about the whole family-those who left, those who stayed, and all those connective tissues on either side of the journey my great-grandparents made. The journey that began with their parents. Mrkopalj had needed to tell its far-flung family its difficult story.

For Jennifer Wilson (and her family, Jim her husband, Zadie her daughter, and Sam her son) an idea born out of a deep inner reflection (Is this the American Dr...more
This is the kind of memoir that you hardly notice you are reading: this is because you instantly feel immersed in the story. Wilson has such a delicate touch with her use of details, so that reading is almost like watching the story unfold out your own personal, third-story dorm window.

One of my favorite parts of the execution of this story is the use of time: the way the author bends and stretches the four-month time period of their stay to convey her own experiences with that time: so that the...more
What a terrific, inspiring and sometimes heart-breaking journey of a story! There was so much in this book I could relate to and was inspired by. Ms. Wilson is an incredibly gifted writer to convey the emotions and details so many of us can visualize and empathize with. For us as a military family, we are always believers that "home is always where the family is." It's not a place, or a house, but instead is the dependence and love of your family.

Being from central Iowa as well--and someone tha...more
Though I know this family personally, even strangers won't be able to resist their charms as each character unfolds on the page. I connected immediately with Jen's desire for something more at a certain point in her life. Something more for her and for her family. Told with a journalist's curiosity and a reporter's skill, the story of the foursome's adventure to connect with Jen's ancestors is packed with wit, surprise, and discovery. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a passenge...more
I can finally understand my friend's jokes about her Croation in-laws! I really enjoyed reading about the author's struggles and joys in adapting to a different culture and stripping her family's life down to the core of what's important. It also made me really wonder for the first time what it was that drove my own ancestors to leave Germany, France, England, Canada... and what that has meant for me and this nation of immigrants.
This is a delightful book. I enjoyed tagging along on Jennifer Wilson's journey to her ancestral village in Croatia, learning some Croatian words, meeting many quirky characters along the way and seeing how the experienced changed the author and her family. This is a warm, funny memoir with beautiful writing.
Croatia is a gorgeous country in southern Europe on the Adriatic that welcomes its descendents back with open arms. Travel writer Jennifer Wilson and her family set aside the American dream, and take an extended sabbatical in Mrkopalj (MER-koe-pie), the birthplace of her great-grandparents. Without knowing any living relatives, Jennifer combs through graveyards, church records, and the memories of the locals, to piece together the lives of her ancestors, who left the village for the New World. M...more
Lee D'anna
There was so much I enjoyed about this book, maybe because I enjoyed traveling as a family when our girls were growing up (although we never undertook anything quite as adventurous as Jennifer Wilson and her family!) In the epilogue, she writes of how their family's journey to Croatia in search of her family's history changed them and banished a restlessness she had felt since childhood. Jennifer writes with great detail and observations of the people they meet and the life they experienced duri...more
To my cousins (and any American who is of 2nd/3rd generation Eastern European descent), I recommend this book. It helped me to understand what we've been spared as well as what we've lost because of the journey taken by others before us. But mostly it left me feeling grateful for the sacrifices my own Croatian grandma and grandpa made to get here.

Author Jennifer Wilson's warm writing style brings her experiences in the small village of Mrkopalj (MER-koe-pie) to life. The glossary of Croatian peo...more
When trying to have it all—big house, travel writing career, children with an upscale mix of play-dates and extracurriculars—left her feeling trapped Jennifer Wilson and her architect husband decided to simplify their lives by spending part of a year exploring Wilson’s family roots in Mrkopalj, a tiny village in the mountains of Croatia. Nothing, of course, went as expected. The village life was more primitive, the Croatian dialect was more obscure and having endless free time to spend with her...more
Jennifer Wilson and her family - husband, son and daughter - live in Iowa. Her grandparents, like some of mine, came from Croatia. On somewhat of a whim and in spite of an unfavorable impression when Jennifer traveled there alone, the family takes off to live in Mrkopalj, Croatia. While I enjoyed the book overall, parts seemed slow and reptitive and Jennifer herself came off as judgemental and difficult at times. That said, I admire what she did. I can't see my family living in Podstene for a ye...more
Luanne Ollivier
Jennifer Wilson and her husband Jim have a good life in Des Moines, Iowa. Two great kids, careers, house, friends - the American Dream. But they had another dream as well - " to escape to the place where we could live simply with our kids." But where could that be? Jennifer's family was originally from Croatia. And that, they decide, is where they will escape to for a year. Jennifer does a short reconnaissance mission in her ancestral hometown of Mrkopalj, returns to the US and less than a year...more
Running Away to Home is February's selection for the Reading to Know book club. It's nice to read a book about a country of the world I previously knew nothing about. I still don't feel like I have a good grasp on Croatia, but the book did illuminate the daily life of a small town in Croatia. It was interesting to see how the family adjusted to living in a small rural town where they didn't speak the language.

I would have loved to see pictures. I also wanted to know what Jim learned while he wa...more
How about that? A story of an American family moving to Croatia? :-) The circumstances were a bit different - the writer (and her husband and two small children went in search of learning more about her ancestors. They did it without the help of a 3rd party (i.e.: military for us), immersed themselves in a rural town, and really "lived" Croatia for a year. They did what a lot of people dream of doing - taking a year off from life and moving abroad. They did it when they both had stable jobs and...more
I first heard about this book during an interview with Jennifer Wilson on Rick Steves podcast. Being a mom who misses the freedom I had to travel before having kids (even though we still do travel a lot as a family, it's not the same), I always toy with idea of packing up the family for a year abroad - and coincidentally I also spend a lot of time wishing/planning a trip to Croatia, the one place I haven't been but desperately want to visit. Being half-Croatian, I've read a lot about the country...more
We all think about running away at times. We imagine leaving the stresses and obligations of daily life and embarking on a life enhancing adventure. It's doubtful, though, that Croatia tops the list of escapes for most people. Yet Jennifer Wilson, along with her husband and their two young children, left the comforts of home in Des Moines, Iowa, to take up temporary residence in Mrkopalj (MER-ko-pie), the mountain village in northwestern Croatia from which her maternal great-grandparents emigrat...more
There was so much about this book that spoke to me. I was reading it during December, a time of year that typically finds me struggling to find good balance. There are so many pressures for our family's time and resources during this season that I find myself just wanting to drive our family to a little cabin in the woods where we can light a fire and play board games for hours on end. So in this way, I can relate to the author's desire to simplify her life-leave the soccer practices and busines...more
Review first published on my blog:

Running Away to Home is part travel journal, part history book, and part family memoir. The author, Jennifer Wilson, is a travel writer from Des Moines, Iowa. One summer she, her husband, and their two children move to the village Markopalj in Croatia. The intent is for Jennifer to research her Croatian ancestors / genealogy and to experience a lifestyle very different from theirs. The family spends several months living...more
I really enjoyed this book. It is about a Des Moines couple Jennifer Wilson and Jim Hoff and their two young children who spent a year in Coatia searching for Jennifer's family roots. They lived part of the year in the small town that Jennifer's great grandparents left to go to America. She found their names in the church book, met some relatives, found some graves. Her writing is very vivid. She makes a living as a travel writer. I could picture the small town, the top floor of the house where...more
Darlene Matule
Aug 27, 2012 Darlene Matule rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Readers with Croatian roots and all otherrs with the urge to "take a break:.
Recommended to Darlene by: John Shors
Shelves: favorites
Mesmerized, I read "Running Away to Home" with a combined feeling of awe, anticipation and comparison. Awe that a young couple with two young children would have the sheer guts to leave a life of American abundance for the uncertainty of a year in an almost-third-world country. Anticipation as I followed Jennifer, husband Jim and children Sam and Zadie and wondered how they would fare. And comparison when I found that they spent most of their adventure in a part of Croatia where my husband and...more
Melanie Coombes
This was a well written travel memoir of the author's quest to discover her family ancestry in the heart of Croatia. Her husband and two small children accompany her for one year to discover where they came from, who they are and what really matters.
I really liked this book. Jennifer writes with humor and honesty. One day they are living the "american dream" in Iowa, but feeling like they are losing themselves in the mad rush of work, school and constant activities. Seemingly on an impulse, they...more
Jennifer Wilson's "Running Away to Home: our family's journey to Croatia in search of who we are, where we came from and what really matters" is an excellent book. The author is a travel writer, caught up in the trappings of a suburban lifestyle - too much emphasis on material things, and a vague sense of dissatisfaction. She and her architect husband, Jim, live in Des Moines, Iowa with their two young children 7 yr old Sam and 4 year old Zadie. They are living "the good life"..or are they? As M...more
'Running Away to Home' by Jennifer Wilson is a warm memoir of her family's adventure in Croatia in search of Wilson's ancestors. The memoir is warm, honest and often times funny. Wilson tells the story of her desire to return to her ancestral home not just for a quick visit, but live and breathe the same air that her ancestors had generations before. After a quick trip to survey the village of Mrkopalj, Wilson, her husband and two small children pick up from the only life they've really ever kno...more
The idea of leaving it all and spending a year in another country (with family, of course) has its appeal in today's fast-paced, materialistic society. Jennifer Wilson did that and wrote about it in Running Away to Home , our April book club read.

Wilson doesn't just want to get away; ostensibly she wants to connect with her Croatian ancestors who emigrated to the US generations before. This, however, seems like more of a construct on which to frame the novel rather than a genuine focus. Not muc...more
Kris Irvin
I really liked some of this book, but ultimately I was completely bored by the genealogy aspect. Which is terrible, especially as a practicing Mormon. Genealogy is supposed to be my thing! I just couldn't figure out what her draw was to her family. She seemed bored by it all and so was I.

I can't imagine moving to a place where you speak 3 words of the language. And never learning Croatian. Or maybe she did learn Croatian, but she never mentioned it. She never mentioned if her kids picked the la...more
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What about Mrkopalj sucked you in? 2 17 Aug 11, 2012 11:22AM  
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RUNNING AWAY TO HOME has been chosen as Best Nonfiction Book of 2011 by the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Jennifer Wilson has worked as a Big Band disc jockey, a high-school English teacher, detasseler of corn, and a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines. She's written for Esquire, National Geographic Traveler, No Depression, Traditional Home, Gourmet and many other nation...more
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