Wonder Travels: a memoir

Image of Wonder Travels: A Memoir
Release Date: 
September 12, 2023
Roundabout Press
Reviewed by: 

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll no doubt remember that iconic line from the book and film Love Story when Ali MacGraw, through tears, tells Ryan O’Neill “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Well, apparently, having an extramarital love affair and rejecting your husband also means never having to say you’re sorry. Or so Luciana, the author’s ex-wife, seems to think. In this emotionally painful but also cringe-worthy memoir, Josh Barkan lays out the story of his former wife’s love affair with a Moroccan stud by nickname of Mody.

And when Luciana won’t tell her husband that she’s sorry for that affair, it drives Barkan off the deep end—and this memoir is an attempt to take all of us with him.

The reader knows something is up in Barkan’s marriage from the moment we’re told Luciana is on a six-month journey overseas—alone. Then she becomes incommunicado. Hmm, doesn’t sound good and it’s not. Barkan soon learns that Luciana is infatuated with a tour guide from Morocco.

Barkan, living in New York, can’t believe it but soon begins talking to all the couple’s mutual friends. It seems Luciana, who comes off in the book as juvenile and incredibly self-absorbed, has told everyone except her husband of 13 years what’s going on.

When she returns, she wants out of the marriage and their cramped apartment as fast as she can. Barkan wants to repair things for awhile but when he realizes how unrepentant Luciana is, even he concedes that the marriage is over.

Luciana, of Spanish descent, goes quietly but not without getting in a couple of shots. “He’s a real Muslim,” she tells Barkan of Mody the Moroccan. Then advises: “I think next time you should be with someone Jewish.”

Soon enough, Barkan sells the apartment, files for divorce, and heads out on his Wonder Travels, the name of the book. It’s more like a Lick Your Wounds Tour as he heads from El Paso to Madrid to Morocco to Rome to understand what went wrong and how. Certainly, one sympathizes with Barkan to an extent.  

But his journey is just not that interesting and one begins to have some understanding of Luciana as well.

Barkan goes into excruciating and boring detail about his life and the women he dates. Not much is left to the imagination even when the writing is so embarrassing that a 14-year-old boy might have better judgement. When he meets a Mexican woman with big breasts, Barkan writes: “I have to admit I sucked on her nipples some. There was something primal about that, and maybe every man is an infant when around breasts.”

And maybe some men have the good sense to not write sentences like that. Perhaps Barkan’s pride was still wounded when he wrote that because he also goes out of his way several times to let the reader know that women find him attractive.

Barkan is the sort of new age, metro man you can’t imagine watching a football game without wincing at the violent contact. He almost brags about the number of times he can’t get an erection. And he seems to want to connect with women on a nerdy, lonely teenage boy level: “I can tell she shares the same reverence for museums I do.”

Hot stuff.

As painful as most of this is to read, Barkan is leading us somewhere. He embarks on a trip to confront Mody the Moroccan about his affair with Barkan’s ex-wife. That has promise, and the reader is eager to witness the confrontation. Luciana is no longer with Mody, but Barkan wants to see the tour guide mano-a-mano to make sense of the affair.

Will they physically fight, raise their voices, make a scene? It would be wrong to reveal how their meeting plays out, but let’s just say Barkan has met his Moroccan match, and they part ways with a hearty handshake.