Voluntary Nomads:
A Mother's Memories of Foreign Service Family Life

by Nancy Pogue LaTurner

Outskirts Press, Inc., 2011. ISBN 978-1-432-78032-6.
Reviewed by Sharon Lippincott
Posted on 12/16/2011

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Active Life; Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

I was initially inspired to read Nancy Pogue LaTurner's memoir, Voluntary Nomads: A Mother's Memories of Foreign Service Family Life, because of the lure of exotic stories about the Foreign Service. While the Foreign Service provides background structure to LaTurner's tale, it definitely remains in the background.

Voluntary Nomads is not a story about politics and power. It is a story about people, specifically about LaTurner's family life and the various challenges and adventures they faced together in Iran (shortly before the end of the Shah's reign), Cameroon, New Zealand, Somalia, the Dominican Republic, Austria, and Bolivia.

Nancy and Fred LaTurner hit the ground running when they arrived in Tehran. They quickly set about exploring the surrounding area, visiting Tehran's cultural and historical locations and traveling to remote archeological sites with two toddlers in tow. They continued traveling the region with each successive move, with the children fully participating in a variety of adventures as they grew older. Sometimes the family went alone, but most of time friends from the embassy or other agencies made for merry outings. Scattered throughout the book were stories of relationships with natives of each country they lived in.

Voluntary Nomads reads like a continuing letter from a dear friend who wants to share the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations she experienced along the way, and how she accomplished this in innovative ways. For example, LaTurner quotes her son Dakota exclaiming, "Rhino breath reeks!" moments after he came within inches of being impaled by the horn of a charging rhino. Through her rich imagery, each country comes to life under LaTurner's pen.

Although some scenes, like the charging rhino, were intensely thrilling, most of the book described mundane matters like leaking roofs, the logistics of being a one-car family with four concurrent destinations, or filling two shopping carts with everything from toothpaste to toilet cleaner while home on leave from Somalia. This is the sort of material many people consider too dull to write about, but when set in the context of the foreign it provides a fascinating contrast with our own everyday life. LaTurner shares the joys of running marathons and viewing wildlife along with personal challenges like grieving her mother's death, assorted medical emergencies, and facing a serious threat to her marriage.

Several times while reading, I wondered, "Is it too late? Could I join the Foreign Service even now?" Then I realized that LaTurner has given me the gift of feeling at home in her world at various places around the globe. I don't have to join the Foreign Service to see the world. She did it for me. You can share the vicarious adventure too—just pick up the book and start reading.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Nancy Pogue LaTurner Now in retirement, Nancy and her husband Fred keep the nomadic tradition alive as they travel the United States on camping expeditions. When at home in Albuquerque, Nancy writes, dabbles in art and music, and encourages the dreams of three adventurous grandsons. Nancy's award-winning essays and short fiction have been published in anthologies. Visit her blog.

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