Books: Turn Left at the Trojan Horse
July 9, 2011 | Books,Brad Herzog,Iowa
I just finished reading Turn Left at the Trojan Horse: A Would-be Hero’s American Odyssey by Brad Herzog.
I noticed this on the shelf at Bookadee. I picked it up and read the back cover one day while I was straightening shelves. I felt he had a connection to Iowa, though I’m not sure why. He wasn’t on the shelf with Iowa authors. The inside flap said he lived in California. (Ah, but lots of Iowa authors don’t live in Iowa anymore, I thought.) I figured I’d look him up later and maybe I’d read this book someday. My to-read list is about a mile long, so I figured, sure. I’ll get to it in a few years.
Well, I got to it sooner than I thought. I bought it with a few other books from Bookadee. (It’s kind of a joke that I just endorse my paycheck over to the bookstore to feed my habit.) I picked it up a couple of weeks after taking my in-laws on the tour of Winnebago Industries. That’s when I looked him up and found that he writes a travel blog, as well as books.
So I started reading Turn Left. At the very end — almost on the last page, in the acknowledgments — I finally saw his connection to Iowa in black and white. He offered his gratitude to “the fine folks at Winnebago Industries” in Forest City, Iowa.
So, no. He wasn’t born here. He hasn’t lived here. I don’t even know if he’s been to Forest City.*** But there’s the connection. Go figure.
Turn Left is a story of a person in the middle of his life, looking back, looking forward and looking inward — all the while looking outward for connection and meaning. While trying to make sense of it all, he heads out on the open road and crosses the country on the way to his college reunion.
I picked the exact right time to read this book, although I’d trade my mid-life crisis for his any day. Still, I get it. I’m about his age and (I hope) somewhere in the middle of my life.
His theme was Greek mythology, heroes and fate. He went through enough characters and stories that I thought, it’s a good thing he studied so much about this … now I don’t have to. Although I admit I feel a nagging need to read Homer now. I even put The Iliad and The Odyssey on my Goodreads to-read list. Again … I’m sure I’ll get to them in a few years.
Herzog was searching for something heroic in himself, and he found heroes all along his path — a missionary-turned-county commissioner in Athena and an adventurer-turned-one-room-schoolteacher in Troy and everyone in between.
Coincidence (fate?) abounds. (My favorite is when he met in Siren, Wisconsin, a bartender named Dawn, who’d just finished reading The Iliad.) Enough to raise my skeptic’s hackles. But he says at the end of the book, “This isn’t a work of fiction. Every single event, every quotation, every location is real and true to life.”
So I’m taking his word for it. Because I want to believe. In fact, one of the strongest beliefs I have is in the power of words and books.
This book is a great one. He tells the stories of dozens of people he met on his journey and also those from his life. I loved learning about his grandparents. He describes people and places with a sharp eye, and he weaves his current stories with history.
Herzog had me laughing out loud in places, getting chills in others and reaching for a tissue in others. I’m not sure what most people think about at a tractor pull, but Herzog might be the only one to turn philosophical, thinking of ancient Greek gods and the meaning of life.
The photographs in the book are black-and-white. I found this video after reading the book, and it brings people and places to even more life with brilliant color.
***So, if he hasn’t been to Forest City yet, I hope he finds us on his trusty atlas. I see he will be in Minnesota this week. (He will be at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55408, on Tuesday, July 12, at 7:30 p.m.)
And we’re just two hours directly south of Minneapolis. There’s Winnebago, of course, and the 2011 WIT Grand National Rally starts Monday. And, hey, Bookadee is right in the heart of downtown Forest City on Clark Street.
Stop on by, Brad. Bring the family.