Review

Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman

by Alice Steinbach



Alice Steinbach's childhood hero was none other than Nancy Drew ---
an inspiration that serves her well as she travels the world on
eight adventures that take her from a geisha house in Kyoto to a
salsa bar in Old Havana, from Scotland's Border country to a church
crypt in Florence, Italy.

In Kyoto, Alice recalls speaking with a group of Japanese women she
had just met. "What I was looking for," she writes, "were all the
details that might offer a glimpse into their lives. It was the way
a reporter attempts to catch the shape of a story through a
slightly open door. But I had come to Kyoto as a student, not a
reporter. Still, old habits die hard."

She might be traveling the world as a student, but the skills she
honed as a reporter --- which earned her a Pulitzer Prize for
feature writing at the Baltimore Sun --- are what make
EDUCATING ALICE such an outstanding book. Not content to be a
tourist, Alice looks beyond the ordinary in every place she visits
--- seizing opportunities, striking up conversations with
strangers, and going out of her way to research things that
interest her.

Alice's education begins in Paris, where she is enrolled for three
weeks in the Hotel Ritz's culinary school. She does much more than
recount the slicing, dicing, julienning and baking that she
performs in class. She relays interesting details about the
"Upstairs, Downstairs" aspect of the Ritz; introduces us to her
classmates and the imposing Chef Moreau; reveals historical facts
about Paris and the Right Bank, where she is staying for the first
time after many trips to the city; and sprinkles in personal
details, including memories of her grandmother, whose brown sugar
candy can't be replicated because the recipe has been lost. By the
time you bid au revoir to Paris, you know you're in for a colorful
jaunt around the world.

Next it's on to Kyoto, where Alice participates in lessons with
experts in origami, flower arranging, tea ceremony, antiquities
appreciation, traditional dancing and woodblock printmaking. It's
also the site of her rendezvous with Naohiro, a Japanese man she
introduced in her first book, WITHOUT RESERVATION, and with whom
she's having a whirlwind international romance.

In Florence, where she is taking an art course at the British
Institute, Alice finds that it's outside the classroom --- along
the Borgo Pinto to be exact --- where her real education about the
city's history takes place. Alice's further adventures take her to
England in Jane Austen's footsteps; to Havana, "a city that has a
way of turning things upside down," where a trip to study art and
architecture becomes a character study of its people; to Provence,
where she tours private gardens with renowned author and expert
Louisa Jones; to Prague, where a fiction writing workshop with Mary
Morris pales in comparison to her discovery of a painting created
by a young Jewish artist named Lily; and finally to a thousand-acre
sheep farm in Scotland, where she savors her luck at coming across
the candy her grandmother used to make … and even manages to
come away with the recipe.

Alice's brand of storytelling combines equal parts travelogue,
historical narrative, personal diary and witty cultural commentary.
By the time you bid her bon voyage, you'll know two things for
certain. First, there are only two kinds of travelers --- those who
are curious and those who are not. And second, when Alice Steinbach
next beckons, you won't be able to resist the allure of her
company.

Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on January 21, 2011

Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman
by Alice Steinbach

  • Publication Date: April 6, 2004
  • Genres: Memoir, Travel
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 0375504419
  • ISBN-13: 9780375504419