An exciting, personal insight into the process of cultural understanding
This fictionalized memoir is an account that will stir the soul of any person who has devoted serious time and energy to learning a foreign language and culture. Byers’ stories of love and uncertainty with women transcend the routine descriptions he makes of adolescent life. They remind us that the journey of cultural identification requires us to forget, to leave behind our mother (tongue) so that we can find it again in an unexpected, new formulation expanding our sense of self and others. Harry’s journey is just such an adventure: he is a “semionaut” searching for meaning in the binary age of the Cold War. His transition to adulthood is, in the end, profoundly marked by his intercultural experience in Germany.
Byers’ work demonstrates the positive impact that exposure to foreign environments can have on youth populations. True to his Foreign Service career, his novel is a testament to the value of educational exchanges in the name of mutual understanding between nations. Highly recommended for middle and high school students planning to study abroad in college, and anyone interested in the psychology behind cultural fluency.
By Alfredo Cumerma,
Johns Hopkins University, April 5, 2016
Perhaps because I myself had had similar experiences to those of the title character (Harry Forth) — taking a boat trip to Germany at a young age back in the early 1960’s in order to study for a year — this book definitely appealed to me. This book should appeal to young students today interested in taking part in similar Study Abroad adventures and might be good/required reading for social studies classes for ages 15-25. A lot of good questions for discussion issues regarding US and German problems, especially if they are updated to current issues.
George K Wilcox
This complex and exquisitely detailed third person novel, is the fictionalized version of the coming of age of author Bruce Byers, a career Foreign Service officer, who has served his country at diplomatic posts overseas for almost three decades. Protagonist Harry Forth, who is born during WWII and who must endure the challenges of early adolescence in the conformist post-war fifties, is the dutiful son of an Air Force officer, an active Boy Scout, a regular churchgoer and a good student. His perspective on life is changed forever following a single night when he is stranded with his father and brother in the New Mexico desert during a snowstorm. Thanks to Byers’ personal journals, which have provided the spine and many of the intimate scenes in this odyssean American novel, we are treated to a moving tale that is at times deeply personal, while also chronicling in great detail the daily routines of home life and an extraordinary, solo, cross-country journey that takes place during an anodyne era that is almost impossible for young people of today’s generation to imagine. Female readers will enjoy tracking Harry’s growing realization that some women may actually be more intelligent than men—still a radical idea in the fifties and early sixties. This honest and thoughtful tale will teach, entertain and leave readers with an appreciation for the importance of being willing to experience life far outside your comfort zone.
I have read Mr. Byers’book “The Extraordinary Journal of Harry Forth” with amazement at every page. I did not realize that a small child, continuing on into young adulthood, could be so sensitive to interpersonal relationships and so aware of exactly what was going on around him in school, church activities, and at home. Obviously, his mother and father had good parenting skills. I am the mother of three sons, and I wish I had realized that their eyes were quietly taking in everything that happened, and their minds were on more important things than ‘tator tots and peanut butter. I think this should be required reading for all people having children.
A Look Back to the Early 60s…
I thoroughly enjoyed this absorbing first person account of a young (and green) kid from Albuquerque whose journey to adulthood begins with the chance to become an exchange student. The author effectively captures the era of the late 1950s and very early 1960s just prior to the assassination of JFK. In fact, the book almost foreshadows issues that erupt during the 60s and 70s and continue today such as racism, the European Union, anti-Semitism, and sexism. The story of Harry’s journey presents a very interesting perspective on what young Americans were thinking and doing during this time.
I thought Harry’s internal monologues about life, girls, etc. were among the most powerful parts of the book. And I also liked the background details of all the characters (where they were from, ages, family stories etc,). These really helped set the stage for their actions and opinions. I felt that the author went into too much detail in describing Harry’s experiences with his first automobile and its engine troubles. He also could have abbreviated his descriptions of the make-up essay Harry had to write for his French class in order to get a better grade. However, this was a minor issue and did not significantly detract from the book.
Bruce Byers was spot on in writing about the differences between female and male friendships, especially from the point of a young man struggling into adulthood. This topic often comes up between women…or at least among my women friends. Just as Harry didn’t get the girls’ friendships, women do not get male friendships, even in later life. The author explores these differences in detail. It is as if there are different rule books for each gender in trying to figure out how to communicate with the other. Harry struggles to understand many of the girls he knows in school and meets on the ship. It makes his journey extraordinary.
The story ends just as Harry begins his stay in Germany and I would like to know the end of his story. I hope a sequel is in the works. My only reason for 4 stars instead of five is that the author occasionally goes into a bit too much detail about a specific event. I got quite fond of Harry by the end of the book. We could use some more Harrys in the world right now!