Because the World Is Round

  • Review
By – May 22, 2023

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.

Discussion Questions