“The more one travels, the smaller the world seems to be.” Maria Trapp
Face it. Most of us have imagined throwing our arms wide and belting out “the hills are alive with the sound of music!” atop a grassy mountain. Especially in the US, The Sound of Music is our first exposure to Austria–much to Austria’s chagrin.
But if Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music piqued your interest, Maria Trapp’s The Story of the Trapp Family Singers–and its sequel, A Family on Wheels–will convince you to book the flight. But not only to Austria.
Trapp Family Singers is the most endearing autobiography I’ve read to date. The book details Maria Trapp’s account of meeting the Trapps, joining the family, and eventually immigrating to the United States, and her wit and humility add a vibrancy to the pages that’s not readily available in other older autobiographies–I laughed freely, succumbed to tears, and subjected my family to numerous excerpts on our road trip to Los Angeles.
A Family on Wheels continues the Trapp story as a travelogue of the singing family’s adventures around the globe. Adventures–as in, this family does not merely scamper around Salzburg in old drapery; they seize the cultural opportunities handed to them. Maria relives their invitation into a Pueblo kiva, their hike into the Brazilian jungle, their descent into Saint Peter’s tomb, their visit to the Molokai leper colony, and their poi dance lessons from the New Zealand Maori.
The Trapp family embraces the folk songs and traditions of their hosts, testifying to the “international, inter-racial bond of music.” And while I hesitate to make a hagiography of their lives, this family bridged cultural divides in a post-war era fraught with conflicting national loyalties. Between light-hearted tales and life-altering decisions, Maria meditates on concepts all too relevant to life in the 21st century. Among the most poignant of these meditations is her reflection on her own refugee experience:
A refugee is not just someone lacking in money and everything else. A refugee is vulnerable to the slightest touch: he has lost his country, his friends, his earthly belongings. He is a stranger, sick at heart. He is suspicious; he feels misunderstood. If people smile, he thinks they ridicule him; if they look serious, he thinks they don’t like him. He is a full-grown tree in the dangerous process of being transplanted, with the chance of possibly not being able to take root in the new soil. (A Family on Wheels, 71)
How timely, as the Trapps’ own Austria now wrestles with the influx of Syrian refugees.
Although Maria Trapp’s style is simple and some terminology is outdated, her simplicity adds to the authenticity of her inspiring story. I highly recommend The Tale of the Trapp Family Singers to world travelers and stay-at-home dreamers alike. Peak into the folk customs of Maria’s Austria and into the tumultuous transition to immigrant life in World War II era United States. Most importantly, enjoy the opportunity to learn from fellow travelers; let them inspire you to go out with their spirit of human camaraderie and cultural curiosity.
And let me know what you think of the book(s)!
“Traveling should be taken much more seriously as an instrument for world peace[…] There is no better medicine for human cockiness and human pride. Traveling can teach humility–and without humility, national and individual, there can never be peace.” (A Family on Wheels, 113)