cover image A Short Walk Through a Wide World

A Short Walk Through a Wide World

Douglas Westerbeke. Avid Reader, $28.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-66802-606-9

Librarian Westerbeke combines elements of Vernian adventure and Borgesian fantasy in his enthralling debut about a woman who must travel constantly in order to survive. In 1885 Paris, nine-year-old Aubry Tourvel, suddenly racked with pain, begins bleeding from her eyes, nose, and lips. After visits to myriad doctors yield no diagnosis, trial and error proves she becomes deathly ill if she stays anywhere for more than a few days or visits the same location twice. Her mother joins her on the road for three years, until Aubry, seeing her exhaustion, steals away alone one night. Aubry, who eventually circles the globe five times, learns to hunt for food, creates a book of pictures that helps her overcome language barriers, and grows accustomed to leaving even her favorite people and places behind. She forms brief but deep bonds with those she meets and even falls intensely if also briefly in love with an accountant while on a train to Vladivostok and an Indian prince while somewhere in Central Asia. Though Aubry speaks openly about her strange affliction, she keeps to herself the moments when, facing dangers or impassable obstacles such as the Himalayan mountains, she finds doors to vast subterranean libraries in which time and space seem to loosen. Capturing each moment of Aubry’s sweeping odyssey with extraordinary vividness, Westerbeke’s poignant epic speaks to the challenges of knowing oneself and others in a world of endless change. This is unforgettable. Agent: Alice Lutyens, Curtis Brown. (Apr.)