Book Review of
Odyssey of Love: A Memoir of Seeking and Finding
By Linda Jamsen
307 pages, 2021, Tulipan Press
Reviewed by Sheri McGregor
In her memoir, Odyssey of Love: A Memoir of Seeking & Finding, Linda Jamsen immerses the reader into an era that, although just two decades ago, feels (at times) like eons ago. This fun book about a middle-aged woman looking for love isn’t one I’d typically reach for. But Jamsen’s Odyssey was a fun escape rife with smart details and infused with heart. The memoir was also well-written and entertaining.
Beyond a short prologue, the story begins at a pace that reflects how the author feels. She’s 41, in an unfulfilling relationship, and longing for more than the noncommittal boyfriend who lounges on her couch.
Ripe for change, she lets a friend talk her into seeing a psychic—and the woman’s intriguing prediction launches Linda’s journey across the world. Linda will teach English as a second language (ESL) in Eastern Europe as a way to reinvent herself … but her real quest is to find true love.
On page 40, as her plane arrives in Budapest, the memoir’s pace grows brisk (and stays that way). She moves into a tiny apartment, meets her quirky neighbors, and begins ESL training classes.
In Jamsen’s evocative writing style, the Hungarian culture writhes with passion and pulses with tradition. She portrays with engaging clarity the realistic pursuits of the people she meets. Readers will see and hear the locals whose beliefs about the sanctity of marriage and the pursuit of physical passion differ from Linda’s values. Even so, the book isn’t heavy handed, gratuitous, or explicit in any way. (Maybe a PG rating fits.)
Characters’ use of English as a second language is both captivatingly real and downright funny. When Linda converses with her neighbor, I found myself smiling. The neighbor’s speech and mannerisms reminded me of Natasha from the old Bullwinkle cartoons.
As Linda pursues her studies, the colorful array of people she meets bring romantic opportunities with interesting plot twists and travel to new locales including Helsinki, Amsterdam, and Jerusalem. Linda’s new friends challenge her belief in herself and her desire for a meaningful relationship. She contemplates whether to settle for someone willing and available (as well as gorgeous) rather than wait on the true love she seeks (and that was predicted for her).
Unique traditions are sprinkled like paprika throughout the pages of this lively book. For example, men spray women with perfume on Easter Monday to enhance fertility and bring good luck. This is a modern take on an ancient Slovak tradition—and I only know that because a friend is writing a historical novel based on her roots that features many old traditions.
Social issues offer more interesting facts in Jamsen’s book. One such issue is prejudice. The locals don’t like the city’s “gypsies.” Jamsen is curious, and through shared conversations, readers hear the locals’ reasoning firsthand. Even so, Jamsen remains open, and develops interesting friendships that offer readers other views. Another such issue is terrorism—a threat present in Jamsen’s worries when she travels to Israel with a choral troupe she’s joined. Despite these darker social aspects, the era is portrayed with a tone of innocence that readers who lived, traveled, sought love, and pursued careers at that time, will recognize.
As Linda encounters a few tall and handsome romantic red herrings, readers root for her to find love and happiness in this fun memoir. As all heroine’s do, the author makes a few mistakes—and learns from them—along the way. In the end, Jamsen’s spiritual sojourns mingle with her innermost desires, and Linda take a leap of faith and finds love.