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Braving Home


Braving Home


5 out of 5 stars =    Intriguing Stories of Survival

“It was one thing to daydream about this in my Washington, D.C., cubicle; it was another thing to take up residence in a house that rested precariously in the hearth of an erupting volcano.” ~Jake Halpern

The minute I saw this book, I became rather intrigued. You always wonder what it would be like to live in an extreme climate and this book tells you about all the people who live in extreme locales from North Carolina to Hawaii. If you think it might be interesting to read about people living in towns ravaged by wildfires, erupting volcanoes or ocean storms, this is your book.

Jake Halpern has written for the New Republic, The New Yorker, Commonweal and other magazines. He has lived in New York, Prague, Tel Aviv, Washington, D.C. and India and seems to enjoy visiting really dangerous places.

The authors interest in people who don’t want to move seems to originate from a time when he wrote a story about Jewish settlers living in Hebron. When he returned to the United States, he wondered if the desire to keep one’s home was more universal than originally thought. Jake Halpern has also been known to return to where he grew up in Buffalo, New York. As he says: “I kinda like it here.” The area is also inhabited by people who refuse to leave.

Soon, he was writing a story about Centralia, Pennsylvania where the coal mines have been on fire for almost 40 years. He became intrigued by the thought that in a world of jetsetters, “permanent” homes still existed.

In this book you get to vicariously experience the lives of brave souls who refuse to move. While the average American is moving 12 times during their life, some residents have said enough is enough and not even an eviction notice sends them packing. They remain in frozen outposts, submerged towns and other seemingly godforsaken places.

Through Halpern’s writing, you will journey to an underwater town in Princeville, N.C; The Lava-Side Inn, Royal Gardens, Hawaii; the Canyon of the Firefighting Hillbillies in Malibu, California; the Home of the Storm Riders in Grand Isle, Louisiana; and the Unique Indoor city/tower in Wittier, Alaska.

If you get a job offer from any of these places, may I suggest this book?

You can visit with Thad Knight who survived Hurricane Floyd and found peace returning to his old home instead of staying at the cramped gravel parking lot of the displacement camp. His story of survival is quite amazing. Not only did he have to get the power company to put his property back on the grid, he had to remove coffins from his lawn in N.C.

The story of Whittier, Alaska (webcam) is rather fascinating. Let us just conclude that if Babs Reynolds could survive her three husbands, Alaska is no problem. There is also some humor and stories of Brenda Tolman and her pet reindeers who try to escape into the snowbanks.

Why anyone would continue to build homes in Malibu, is beyond me. Millie Decker has been fighting fires since 1928. Believe it or not, I could relate to beating the ground furiously with wet gunnysacks when I lived in Africa. I  also loved the story of the pet mountain lions!

Researching The Lava-Side Inn sounds like a good reason for a vacation, although once you read about Jack Thompson operating a B&B in the middle of a lava flow, it gets a bit tricky. It is interesting how Jake and Jack have a similar interest in people “Living on the Edge.” If you think walking on top of a lava flow is interesting, wait until you read about what happens when it rains.

The story of “Island Storm Riders” brought back memories. These people are brave, brave, brave! Get out the kerosene lanterns. You will also learn why people are buried above ground. Those who are alive are not the only ones riding out the storms.

It was interesting to learn about “place identity,” “Projected Dates of Disappearance,” to feel a sense of homesickness for places you have never been, and to remember various situations where you could relate directly to the experiences in this book. “Braving Home” reveals the true sense of home and gives you the feeling that we are all survivors, no matter where we live.


Halpern’s “traveling to dangerous places” writing is fresh, witty and he has a real talent for investigating the forsaken. You just have to love how stubbornly some Americans hold onto that place we call home. In the Epilogue he tells how he returns to each location.

One of the most intriguing and heartfelt books on “home” I’ve read this year! You end up feeling like you were the one visiting all these locations. The writing is spectacular in its creativity and depth. I look forward to reading future books by this talented author.

~The Rebecca Review

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