Metro Books: The Women I Think About at Night, Traveling The Paths of My Heroes by Mia Kankimäki

“The Women I Think About at Night; Traveling The Paths of My Heroes” by Mia Kankimäki, an international sensation first published in Finnish was recently published in English by Simon and Schuster. The author narrates her travels in Africa, Japan, and Italy while retracing the steps of ten remarkable female explorers and artists from history.

Readers follow Mia Kankimäki’s path inspired by courageous free spirited women who undertook travels in far regions of the world in the 19th century — or who undertook careers in professions where there were literally no other females, such as Florentine Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi or Yayoi Kusama, an avant-garde artist who voluntarily lives in a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo for decades. it is startling and fascinating to read about the paths chosen by these women and of the circumstances that led them to throw all propriety and convention to the wind to follow an urge to travel and create an individual path of their choice. 

Women such as Karen Blixen, Isabella Bird, Ida Pfeiffer, Mary Kingsley, Alexandra David-Neel, Nellie Bly could not go on with their limited lives in Europe and often underwent total rebirths as they jumped into the unknown. These stories are fascinating as Mia Kankimäki recreates beautifully the life of each travel pioneer, with telling details of their unusual spirit and thirst for authentic experiences through travels that were like true awakenings. 

Mia starts by narrating her own journey to Africa today where she is going to be met by some other Finnish author that she has never met and who has invited her to stay with him and his wife in Kenya. Mia reveals to us her angst and fears as a writer who after the publication of her first book is struggling to find a new direction in life and feels unsure of herself, middle aged and childless, forced to go back to live in her parents attic in her mid-forties while she gets a hold of her life. As she travels to Africa, she writes a letter to Karen Blixen looking for inspiration from the strong, independent woman that she portrays in Out of Africa. Mia’s travelogue and narrative is interspersed with fragments from letters of Blixen that reveal in fact another Karen, not the fierce strong woman we know but an insecure one like Mia, cursed with financial troubles, syphilis, depression, weaknesses of all kinds and an emotional dependency on an English hunter, Dennis, who does not reciprocate her love. Yet Karen is also a fighter who travels through Europe during WW1 one to seek treatment for her syphilis and persists in trying to bring a failing business coffee venture to fruition in Africa. She speaks directly to her women at night, comparing her doubts about herself and her mission with the wisdom that she derived from their letters and journals. Their difficulties and determination to overcome them enlightens her journey to accept her fate and fight for the life of uncertainty but of potential enlightenment she chose

Night women’s advice:
Be brave. It doesn’t matter if you are afraid.
Play the cards you‘re dealt.
Even if you’re sick, you can still live full-tilt.
If you lose everything, start writing.

The book is a confidence-booster for all women seeking to build a life based on finding a path out of the beaten track, to find inspiration from “night women” who overcame all odds to make  brave choices and seek better lives for themselves. These travels were as much travels of the soul than of the physical world. A fantastic book that every woman can enjoy.
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