In her lyrical memoir, Because the World is Round, Jane Saginaw presents a coming-of-age portrait of both her family and herself. Focusing on a year-long family trip through Europe and Asia in 1970 when she was a teen, Saginaw describes how, in stepping away from their lives in Texas, the family gained a new understanding of their relationship with each other.
While Saginaw’s father and elder brother also participated in the trip, she pays the greatest attention to her relationship with her mother — particularly how her mother’s disability affected the family’s experiences. Because of a polio infection, Saginaw’s mother depended on a wheelchair for mobility and her husband and daughter for many other caregiving needs. Her mother routinely called on her to assist her as she navigated the obstacles of living with limited mobility — obstacles further complicated by an absence of proactive legal and environmental accommodations. The tenderness and frustration Saginaw expresses in these situations will resonate with anyone who has ever cared for a loved one with a physical disability.
In addition to writing with sensitivity about her family, Saginaw also paints a mesmerizing picture of the world in 1970. Her family traveled to eight countries, most of which have experienced great change in the intervening decades. At that cultural moment, a Jewish family from Texas could get on a plane and travel through Iran, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and pre – Yom Kippur War Israel (complete with an in-person visit with Golda Meir). Meanwhile, the author’s devotion to the Beatles and other hallmarks of her American teen culture is sure to provide older readers with a generous dose of nostalgia. It is to the author’s credit that her writing succumbs neither to the innocent, wide-eyed view that marked her childhood, nor to the more mature perspective she holds as an adult fifty years later. Instead, she captures herself just as she was in that moment — in between.
Saginaw’s memoir is an opportunity for readers to engage in armchair traveling, with the added bonus of a time machine. While many readers will wish for longer stories about each stop along the way, even more of us will be reaching for our family photo albums and the slide reels and souvenirs from our own past adventures. Because the World is Rounds inspires us to share our own stories and “remember whens,” allowing us to examine, celebrate, and more deeply understand the threads that bind our families and relationships.
Deborah Miller received rabbinical ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter, where she serves as a hospice chaplain and teacher.