Give Me the World by Leila Hadley
Leila Hadley’s autobiography is set in the 1950’s, a time when women did quotidian women things like marry the right man, raise their children, and host bridge parties. Lee is an educated woman determined to shatter the glum expectations of her preordained life. She packs up her young son Kippy from their beautiful home in New York, and they embark on a container ship across the Pacific Ocean.
When they port in Bangkok, Lee meets a troupe of four Californian men who have been attempting a circumnavigation of the globe aboard their 50 ft schooner. Enchanted with the way these men live, love, and breathe the ocean, Leila begs her way aboard to experience the unfettered joy of sailing the seas between exotic ports. Even though it’s not all mai-tais and bikinis (Leila’s bunk is the size of a small locker, and she gets the lions share of the chores), Hadley has her head in the clouds and is ecstatic for the education this trip providing for her young son, who is learning languages in every place they port.
Later on in India, Leila is uneasy with both the grandeur of the wealthy Hindus she stays with, and the shocking every-day poverty on the streets. To her credit, she finds small slices of beauty in the squalor. She takes a taxi through an arduous desert to see the Taj Mahal, where she witnesses its luminous splendor, only to shortly after to succumb to a fever that wracks her with hallucinations and leaves her near death. In a stroke of celestial luck, she survives her fever to meet the graceful Indira Gandhi.
Further travels take Leila and Kippy to Pakistan, Dubai, Iraq, Lebanon and Malta. Hadley writes in a straightforward but detailed tongue that conveys all of the little details that make a place come alive. Fine writing, and an exceptional story from a 1950s pioneer.