Article first published as Book Review: Letters to Zerky: A Fatherâ€™s Legacy to a Lost Sonâ€¦and a Road Trip Around the World by Bill Raney and JoAnne Walker Raney on Blogcritics.
Many world travelers read others’ travelogues to get new destination ideas and to see if the described experiences, whether positive or negative, run about the same way as their own. Being no different, I read “Letters to Zerky” with the expectation of following a family as they explored Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. But what I wasn’t prepared for was Zerky.
“Letters to Zerky” is part travelogue, part autobiography, and part memorial for an extremely special little boy. Author Bill Raney utilizes the very letters he had written to his adopted son, Eric Xerxes (‘Zerky’) during the travels as the book’s content. Zerky was merely ten-months-old when they – Raney, his wife, JoAnne, Zerky, and their dachshund, Tarzan - set foot for the first time on the other side of the world. Raney knew that his beloved baby would be way too young to remember this once-in-a-lifetime trip so he chronicled the family’s itinerary in a series of letters. With each letter addressed to Zerky, he paints vivid descriptions of their lives during their 13 months abroad in a little VW bus camper. Raney had hoped to give these letters to Zerky when he was older so that he may one day relive the trip through his father’s words. Sadly, that day would never come.
Reading “Letters to Zerky” was excruciating because I knew that at some point in the book, Zerky would die. Yet, I didn’t know exactly when. With every chapter, I wondered, “Would Zerky stay safe and see another day?” Each beautifully personal letter was chock full of love for this baby and of innocent wonder at the exotic places and people the Raneys were getting to know first-hand. The tone is light-hearted and whimsical throughout, giving a delightful ‘hippie’ or ‘flower child’ -esque quality to the author’s personality. JoAnne’s infrequent entries are more matter-of-fact but only add more to the overall delicious flavors of landscapes, the locals, and unique experiences as they are captured in exquisite detail.
Letters to Zerky: A Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son…and a Road Trip Around the World
Bill Raney and JoAnne Walker Raney
Nickelodeon Press (2011)
Reviewed by Vicki Liston for Reader Views (2/12)