Melissa Dalton-Bradford and I are like two circles on a Venn diagram that don’t quite touch. She was a missionary companion of one of my best friends. She commuted into New York City to perform in a Broadway musical at the same time that my family and I lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. And the Dalton-Bradfords now live minutes away from my husband’s family in Switzerland. It seems like we should have met by now, but we haven’t.
I didn’t know any of the above when I volunteered to review her newly published memoir, Global Mom. All I knew was that she and her husband had raised their children all over the world, something I had hoped my husband and I would do when he graduated from law school. Alas, that was not our trajectory, so reading Global Mom was for me an exercise in vicarious living.
Dalton-Bradford retells her expat adventures with vivid detail and funny, self-deprecating anecdotes. She and her husband work hard to embrace the language and culture wherever they find themselves. Their children have an easier time of it, learning Norwegian at the local barnepark in Norway; French at school in Versailles and Paris; German in Munich; and Mandarin in Singapore. At the end of the book, the family finds itself living in Geneva; who knows where future job transfers might take them next?
Since she is writing to a general audience, Dalton-Bradford discusses the church only in passing. Wherever she lives, she mentions finding comfort and support in her ward, and she and her family serve in a variety of capacities. Later in the book, for reasons that will become apparent, she is more overt in mentioning prayer and the way her faith sustains her.
The Norway and France chapters take up two-thirds of the book and are light, warm, and exuberant in tone. But then, just as the family is about to move to Germany, tragedy strikes. The Bradford’s oldest son, Parker, heads to Idaho as a college freshman; days later, he dies in a water accident. The family’s struggle to come to terms with devastating loss colors its life in the years that follow; the reader sees Munich and Singapore only through the hazy lens of grief. In describing her ordeal, Dalton-Bradford writes with courage, painful honesty, and hope.
I have a small wish list of things I think could have improved the mostly excellent memoir. The very first chapters are a bit overwritten, their self-conscious prose distracting from the stories they are telling. Throughout the book, I felt somewhat removed from Dalton-Bradford’s husband and children, seeing them only from her perspective. She often employs dialogue, but it is almost always used to illustrate a difficulty with language or culture, and doesn’t otherwise offer the immediacy that I enjoy in a memoir. Finally, I wish I could give a stern lecture to the book’s publisher, Familius. Significant typos can be found throughout, and a line editor worth his or her salt should have caught them all.
But these complaints are minor. I find myself recommending Global Mom to just about anyone: other parents; anyone living “in the mission field”; people who dream of living abroad; and those who love to travel, if only via the pages of a book.