Book Review

In East Winds: A Global Quest to Reckon with Marriage, Rachel Rueckert details her nearly year-long honeymoon, during which she considers the institution of marriage—an unsurprising choice, given her newlywed status. Rueckert’s engaging prose and humor transmit her unflinching interrogation into both cultural understandings of marriage and her past relationships as she unwaveringly pursues answers. This is a work that is not easily defined, either in content or genre, and one moment in particular reflects this varied composition. Nearly two hundred pages into her memoir, Rueckert celebrates Ugadi, New Year’s Day according to the Hindu calendar, while in India. She and her new husband, Austin, were in the middle of a year abroad: first traversing South America, followed by months working and researching in India, finishing via pilgrimage from France to Spain along the Camino de Santiago. As part of the celebration, Rueckert drinks a “strange liquid containing all six spices” that symbolizes experiences of the new year—and in many ways this drink encapsulates her odyssey of self-discovery.

Within the first few pages of the book, Rueckert describes the deep chasm that drives her exploration as a tension between movement and stasis. She positions herself between the familiar and the unknown: “But here I was, caught between the ideal, liberating trip I’d built up for years and the unknown world of commitment I’d entered into.” The questions of what marriage means and whether she truly made the right choice thread through the work—questions that linger for nearly everyone who’s made a leap of faith into such a momentous commitment. And for those who haven’t entered into marriage, the query still resonates; on myriad forms, for instance, we are asked our marital status. Yet at twenty-five, Rueckert’s youth contributes to her outward journey morphing into a pilgrimage inward—her searching transcends the meaning of marriage and becomes more about her own self-acceptance—a voyage many of her older readers may have already undergone in some fashion, albeit not through a year-long global trek.

The freshness of the memoir is in Rueckert’s exploration of the cultural differences pertaining to what is at stake in an official union—taking the track of learning about others to better understand the self. Rueckert’s delicate treatment of cultures and identities through her travels, including her own, contours her exploration in ways that invite her readers into her world, where she creates and accommodates space for her own burgeoning and complex Mormon identity. As she acknowledges in her “Author’s Note,” “I have rarely seen my complex Mormon experience represented in mainstream media—created and at times sensationalized by people who have, more often than not, never been Mormon.” I believe this memoir, in part, amends such misrepresentation and appropriation.

The tripartite organization based on location—South America, Asia, and Europe—provides an overarching structure to this narrative that, at times, threatens to become unwieldy. Rueckert begins each third with a definition, ends with advice she received at her wedding, and fills the chapter moving between her present and past. Within this structure, the memoir meanders a bit, and I found myself clinging to these guideposts for support as Rueckert led me toward some form of realization. And perhaps this is entirely Rueckert’s intent. Much like the winds of her title, Rueckert carries us through space and time, through the world, as well as through her own past and present.

As a reader drawn to life writing, I’m curious to see where Rueckert’s life journey takes her. I imagine her experiences will continue to be an exploration of self, culture, and institutions that will place her among her contemporaries in the genre, such as Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jeannette Walls, and other women seeking to communicate their truths. I hope to read Rueckert’s next journey through the spatial and temporal world as she discovers it in solitude and in sociality.

About the Reviewer

Cheryl Weaver's nonfiction work focuses on telling women's stories, particularly women of the nineteenth-century United States, and her dissertation focuses on Emily Dickinson's early letters. She was the recipient of the Emily Dickinson International Society Graduate Fellowship in 2022 and will be conducting research in summer 2023 at Historic Hudson Valley as a recipient of the Women's History Institute Fellowship. Her poetry and flash fiction has appeared in Per Contra, FRiGG, and Yankee Pot Roast, and her book reviews have appeared in the Literary Review and Heavy Feather Review.