By: Chantal Blake
Social media is changing the way we travel. Whether we blog or not, the desire to see our bodies cropped into breathtaking vistas and exotic experiences has become normalized. The latest trend of seeking out the most Instagrammable destinations evidences that we are commodifying travel instead of experiencing it and being transformed by it. However, veteran traveler Lola Akinmade Åkerström gives readers a gentle reminder that there is nothing dull about slow travel in her first book, Due North. Each story and insight is reflective and richly detailed, bringing unknown places to life.
Åkerström’s ability to see beauty and value in the ordinary, day-to-day lives of others is humbling. From fishmongers to dogsledders, she stirs a fascination with occupations that never seemed relevant to me. Not only do I begin to value the space she occupies as witness and photojournalist, I temporarily forget the biases of race and gender that make others stand out. Brown skin coupled with a green passport consistently garnered cross-examination at every border crossing for Åkerström, but still she manages to penetrate a locale without intruding. On the contrary, she wins the hearts of those around her by sincerity and genuine interest in their lives. Even without language, they find common words both spoken and unspoken.
The photography of Due North is not just filler to carry the stories but stand-alone centerpieces in their own right. As an award-winning photographer, Åkerström’s selection of images tell their own tales extraordinarily. The close-up of fish so fresh they might return to life or a macaque sipping a can of soda left behind by a visitor speak volumes, alongside the felt frigidity and warmth of picturesque panoramas. A few photos of herself remind us that she really was present in the incredible accounts she details.
Due North took me on a vivid journey to see new places like the majesty of Abisko’s Northern Lights and the power of chaos and community in Lagos. The manner in which she straddles life between extended stays on three different continents connects with my own joys and frustrations as an expat. The “Intermediate Language Learner’s dilemma” that she describes nails the conundrum to a T while her portrayal of a typical day in Sweden illustrates how a global woman like herself could have fallen for a land and people so far from her own homeland.
Vulnerably, Åkerström also shares the love story that brought her to Sweden and graciously pulls the curtain for us to peek into the life of a multi-cultural family. Their anchors of faith, curiosity, and mutual respect show how varied cultures can collude instead of collide. I, too, look forward to the colorful lives that await her young children, especially with as talented and passionate a mom as their own. I also look forward to reading more of Åkerström’s work like her upcoming release, Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well, and anticipating how I might be able to import some Nordic values into my own life.
Two supplements that would have made Due North’s content more readable for me are a map and timeline. To see geographically where these towns are in relationship to their country would have been helpful, as well as the years that Åkerström visited them. I was curious to know how her portrayals align with the present but perhaps the timelessness of her observations makes a time date irrelevant.
A complimentary book was offered for this review. All opinions are my own.