The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale
by Kathleen Stocking (Thailand 2006-07; Romania 2010-12)
Reviewed by Steve Kaffen (Russia 1994-96)
The Long Arc of the Universe is a well-written, detailed, example-filled, and meaningful account of the author’s travels on four continents over a span of 16 years. With the premise that there is kindness in the world, Kathleen Stocking seeks to affirm and experience her premise. It takes her from the prisons of California to two Peace Corps volunteer tours and, in the last chapter, home.
I was struck by her methodology. Rather than seek out kindness, she crafted ways to give it, and one of the fascinations of the book is learning how her kindness is perceived and flows back to her. The results energize her to continue her outreach in another country and continent. In the last chapter, the author is back home, re-engaging with her cherished Northern Michigan Leelanau Peninsula. When Kathleen Stocking ends her book, “I love my country, and I’m not ashamed to say that,” we understand the remarkable journey that she has taken to reach the conclusion.
Including the Introduction, the book is over 400 pages with little fluff, and the experiences are presented with great precision. We are treated throughout to the author’s point-of-view. I found that agreeing or disagreeing was secondary to learning her rationale, and we see her on occasion changing her opinion…or accepting what is and moving on.
The writing is in exceptional detail. I occasionally skipped over descriptions when I was seeking to reach the heart of a situation or a result. You may find yourself doing that too, and in my experience, you lose little of the book’s essence for this bit of reading efficiency.
Of note is that the first pages of the book are Acknowledgements. Perhaps unusual, it is consistent with the author’s recognition that many people along the way and upon her return, helped make the journey and the completion of the book a success.
Given her overriding message, Kathleen Stocking’s book could not have come at a better time.
Steve Kaffen served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Russia 1994-96, A decade later, as Assistant Inspector General and Senior Auditor at Peace Corps, he visited many posts to review their operations. Besides New York, he’s lived in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Paris, and currently Washington, DC. An independent publisher and author, Steve dedicates his books “To you, my fellow traveler, on the road and in life.”