Dragging the family around the world is one of those things nearly every parent fantasizes about, but few cobble together the time, money, or book deals to tear themselves away from TiVo and actually do. Fortunately, former Voice staff writer Mark Jacobson hit the road in 2000 with his wife and three kids, so we don’t have to (at least not this year), bringing back the good news that while there’s still no place like home—indeed, it’s an intolerant jungle out there—nobody returns from a grand tour unchanged.
The crisis of elder daughter Rae’s descent into sulky slackerdom is the trip’s emotional impetus, and Jacobson is refreshingly forthright about his high parental standards: “Ingrate bloodsuckers. Incurious losers. It was all our fault. How had we managed to bring up such morons?” Exposing the young ‘uns to the burning corpses of Varanasi and the killing fields of Cambodia is probably as fine an antidote to Disney World as any. Even more important, however, are the serendipitous minor epiphanies the family calls “esteeming the chance booty” and discovers in the Nepalese mountains, Jordanian desert, or back alleys of Bangkok. Rae gets an opportunity to respond in a few short chapters, but insofar as Jacobson is one of the more engrossing of old-school “Me” journalists around, you know where the spotlight ultimately winds up. Which would only be a problem if Jacobson weren’t such a thoroughly readable combination of self-mocking boho narcissist and perceptive family mensch.