STARRED REVIEW
March 2017

An odyssey to recovery

By Shannon Leone Fowler
Review by

Grief, grit, love, loss, world travel and the deadly sting of a box jellyfish all have a place in Shannon Leone Fowler’s intensely personal and appealing memoir, Traveling with Ghosts. Bring along a world map, set aside everything you know about healing from heartbreaking loss, and have yourself an unforgettable read.

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Grief, grit, love, loss, world travel and the deadly sting of a box jellyfish all have a place in Shannon Leone Fowler’s intensely personal and appealing memoir, Traveling with Ghosts. Bring along a world map, set aside everything you know about healing from heartbreaking loss, and have yourself an unforgettable read.

In 1999, Fowler was a 24-year-old Californian backpacker captivated by the sea, traveling, teaching scuba diving and training to become a marine biologist when she fell in love with Australian Sean Reilly in Barcelona. After working apart all over the world, they reunited and became engaged in China, where Reilly was teaching and Fowler was on break from studying the endangered Australian sea lion. To celebrate their future together, they visited an island off southeastern Thailand, Ko Pha Ngan—where there were no warnings about the box jellyfish in the waters near their cabana. One fatal encounter changed everything.

Feeling cruelly betrayed by the sea she planned to make her life’s work, newly pregnant and unhinged by grief, Fowler headed for war-torn Eastern Europe and then Israel. Traveling alone through Poland, Hungary, Bosnia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria, Fowler kept her memories close while observing how survivors coped. In Sarajevo, the shell of their blasted National Library became a symbol of resilience. Poland, she wrote, “taught me—that real tragedies don’t need to be redeemed, they need to be remembered.” In Israel, she witnessed war’s carnage everywhere, while life (and war) went on.

Four months later, Fowler could face the sea again, but it would be another eight months before she could bring herself to touch it. Almost 15 years later, box jellyfish warnings in Thailand are still rare and the deaths still under-reported. But due to global warming, she warns, the most venomous marine life on the planet is spreading as water temperatures rise.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Traveling with Ghosts

Traveling with Ghosts

By Shannon Leone Fowler
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781501107795

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