Nicholas Sparks hit a snag while writing his most recent novel. He diverted his attention to the mail and saw a brochure from the alumni office of his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. The offering is a three-week trip around the world titled "Heaven and Earth." The idea kindles a fire within him, and the spark ignites his passion. His wife, Cathy, responsible for the daily needs of five children, declines to go with him. But she encourages him to take the trip as a break from his hectic work schedule. Micah, Sparks's brother, packs his bag and the two set off for "Lands of the Sky Worshippers."
Sparks writes with special fervor about their experiences during the globe-circling event. Micah's fun-loving personality contrasts with the introspectiveness of his brother. Together, they absorb the vast panorama of knowledge open to them. But each reacts to places they visit in a different manner. While Micah sees the humor in a centuries-old statuary, Nicholas cites the historic value to civilization that each place has given. From ruins of the Incan and Mayan tribes to the mysteries of Easter Island, the brothers visit cultural wonders and relate to them with reflections upon their childhood.
Not only is THREE WEEKS WITH MY BROTHER a journal of their travels to exotic places, it also contains personal memories jarred into their present by the sights they witness. The Sparks brothers grew up in a family that, today, would be hard put to term functional. Poverty was the veil that clouded them from birth into adolescence. Both parents struggled to earn a subsistence living for their two sons and daughter Dana.
The brothers recall a family vacation to the Grand Canyon while they bask on the beach in Roratonga, in the South Pacific. The story of a family crammed into a Volkswagen for the trip, traversing steamy desert by day and freezing in the rolling motel at night, conjures frightful pictures. Their father, a scholarly man, can show a volatile side when his children misbehave. A park ranger demands their exit when the three perch on rocks outside safe limits and terrify other tourists. Dad's rage erupts to a DEFCON 5.
THREE WEEKS WITH MY BROTHER is laced with photos that provide the background for a fabulous travelogue. More important are those that trace the family's history. These pictures give color to a childhood filled with struggles. Micah's attitude is one of carefree acceptance, while Nicholas reveres him but is unable to live with the same nonchalance as his brother. When tragedy strikes them, not once but three times, they cope in quite different ways. However, they come together as a unit and move forward as a family.
Nicholas has retained religious upbringing and remains strengthened by his faith. Micah has rejected religious discipline and seldom attends a church. They discuss the source of past pain and their respective abilities to accept or reject the outcomes. Both discover truths they hold dear from the years shared together that marked them as brothers. The book is a story of two journeys, one that travels to exotic places and another that leads to the bonding of best friends.
Sparks's previous books, THE WEDDING, THE NOTEBOOK and MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, are works that evoke pathos and sympathy. THREE WEEKS WITH MY BROTHER is a humorous, yet tragic, memoir that is a discovery of hope, love and faith. Its shared authorship is testament to the lasting bond between Nicholas and his brother, Micah Sparks.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 3, 2006