He said it would not be like any other book we had ever published. With some potential authors, that would be the signal to run the other way, fast. But with this author, I was intrigued.
I say “author” but it should be “authors.” Josh Hirschstein and Maren Beck operate as a tight unit — Josh the word guy, Maren the textile pro. I first met them at a meeting of Weave A Real Peace (WARP) in 2014, and was so captivated by their stories of traveling in northeastern Laos that I chased them down the hall yelling, “You should write a book!”
No, I didn’t really yell. (I’m not a yelling type.) But pretty soon we had all agreed that they should write a book.
Next step was a trip to Houaphong Province, Laos, with these two and photographer Joe Coca. What a trip! I’m not going to share details, because personal travel stories are what make this book so unusual. It’s a rare mash-up of history, sociology, personal profiles, and textile lore—and the saga of a family (Josh, Maren, and their sons Ari and Zall) hitting the back roads and hidden villages of a region rich in traditional silk-raising, dyeing, and weaving. I will just mention in passing learning to do the wedding dance (much like walking around in a circle), being mistaken for Hilary Clinton by a North Vietnamese army veteran, enjoying stewed pollywogs for breakfast, playing a drinking game with village weavers. Every day a new adventure.
The family stories make for the best kind of arm-chair travel. You can really imagine being there. And they’re often funny, because when cultures collide between parties of good will, funny things happen. They also make me yearn for a do-over with my own three kids. Why didn’t we take off into the wilds of a strange country where we didn’t know the language and didn’t have an itinerary, and didn’t know when the next bus was coming? Who does such a thing?
Maybe your interest is purely in learning how to use fresh indigo leaves to produce a rich turquoise green, or in understanding how the infinitely clever Lao loom enables pattern weaving. If so, there is so much here for you to revel in. But don’t skip the travel stories. They’re not like anything we’ve ever published.