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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Following Robert Louis Stevenson with a Donkey is a nonfiction travel memoir written by Betty Gladstone and edited by Carla X. Gladstone. While searching, unsuccessfully, for her deceased mother’s diary, Carla came across a manuscript that contained the story of their thirteen-day walking trip in the Cevennes, which they took in May, 1963. Carla was 11 years old and her older sister 17 when Betty Gladstone took them to Europe in 1962, where they would spend the following school year. After their academic year was completed, the daughters and their mother set off to recreate the journey memorialized by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1878. Betty had read Stevenson’s account when she was a teen, and it had always been a dream for her to follow in his footsteps. In May, the three of them, accompanied by their diminutive and gentle little donkey, Modestine, set out on an adventure of a lifetime.
Betty Gladstone’s nonfiction travel memoir, Following Robert Louis Stevenson with a Donkey, while written over fifty years ago, rings fresh and clear as if it had been written today. That said, I loved seeing the French countryside and experiencing the culture as it was back in 1963. Gladstone’s narrative includes the reader in their discoveries, frustrations and surprise encounters. Carla also provides a wonderful selection of photographs taken during their trip, beginning with my favorite one, which shows a shy and somewhat disoriented Modestine peering out from the back of an old Citroen. I’m an avid reader of travel memoirs and was struck by the fact that the Gladstones hadn’t really done any training for what was an impressive hike including mountain trekking. Their good humor, determination and enjoyment in the quest they were undertaking is apparent on just about every page of this well-written and captivating account. Following Robert Louis Stevenson with a Donkey is most highly recommended.