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Inspiring Travel Reads – The Leopard Hat: A Daughter’s Story

leopard hat book review

The following is a guest post from guest blogger Rebekah Zabarsky.

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As a frequent library visitor, I often commit an offense that I believe is requited through the hefty fines I pay for not returning my books on time. The crime comes in blue, black, red, or purple, depending on the color pen in my bag:

If a passage in a book whispers in my ear and guides me through my thoughts, I underline the words.

Yes, I write in library books. Often, the selected passages are “lit-ureka!” excerpts that so accurately describe what I am feeling, I must mark them for others to share in the excitement. I’m not sure the librarians approve of my thoughtfulness.  

The Leopard Hat:  A Daughter's Story

Blue lines now pervade the chapters of Valerie Steiker’s novel/memoir, The Leopard Hat: A Daughter’s Story. I found myself guided through her accounts of traveling, her relationship with her mother, and her own explorations of self.

The writing is a journey in itself; stories of her mother’s time spent hidden as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Antwerp overlap the experience Valerie had when she traveled back to Antwerp for a wedding of one of her mother’s relatives.

The intermix of Steiker’s own biography with her mother’s showcases how travel, people, and experiences create meaning in our lives. Steiker took me on a journey through New York City, Paris, Mexico City, India, and Antwerp, just to name a few cities.  

The story benefits from the disregard of chronology. Rather, Steiker, an editor by trade, carefully weaves a memoir and a journal into a fascinating account of womanhood.

While not a travel book per se, The Leopard Hat prepared me for an upcoming trip to FranceEmotionally, I connected with the feelings of anxiety and desperation when faced with the decision of what to do next.

One passage deserved a blue underline because of the relevance I felt its words have in my life and those of my peers.

The problem with thinking you can do anything is that a lot of times you end up doing nothing.  You can’t go anywhere in life if you don’t choose a direction, but taking that first step feels too limiting.  It requires a mental letting go of all those other intangible possibilities.  So as long as you don’t make a decision, you stay free– a freedom that, because it prevents you from moving on, quickly becomes its own kind of prison. (Steiker 227)

Don’t the things that limit our adventures act as cages, imprisoning us to the status quo? Do our jobs, (or lack thereof), our financial responsibilities, our relationships stop us from moving forward? Or is the feeling of “intangible possibilities” too intimidating that we limit our own selves?

Steiker’s insight to these questions allowed me to focus on my own doubts.  At times nostalgic, yet always compelling, I highly recommend The Leopard Hat to any female adventurer searching for underline-worthy inspiration.

The Leopard Hat: A Daughter's Story

(Steiker, Valerie. The leopard hat a daughter’s story. Vintage Books, 2002. Print.)

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Reader Interactions


  1. Adrienne says

    I enjoyed this well-written review, and I loved the quote you pulled from this book to share with us. However, if this review so moved me to run to the library and check out a copy to read, I would be dismayed to find it full of blue underlined-passages.

    You said it yourself more than once in your post: You underline because of “the relevance I felt its words have in my life and those of my peers.” Also, you underline “excerpts that so accurately describe what I am feeling, I must mark them for others to share in the excitement.”

    Relevance to you and your peers. Your feelings. Not everyone’s — I think that’s the key. It’s not a carefree, rebellious act. It’s a selfish act.

    Books, particularly communally shared library books with their history of handlers, are especially wonderful because each reader brings his or her own context to the story. We all have different reasons for reading things. Trying to discover the magic that a book has in store for me while having to wade through someone else’s already documented magic would pretty much ruin the experience for me.

    I strongly encourage you to keep writing, but stop underlining in library books. Copy passages out into a journal. Write them in beautiful lettering and put them on your wall above your desk. There are so many better ways to do it that would leave the books intact for all library users to enjoy.

    • Brooke says

      Hi Adrienne, Thanks for the elaborate comment, but I find it an interesting part of the post to focus on — do you work at a library by chance?! 😉

      • Adrienne says

        Hi Brooke,

        No, I’ve never worked in a library, just used them all my life. As a fellow traveller who can’t lug books around, I love them dearly and usually find the nearest one whenever I move to a new country or city.

        I didn’t really have a choice about which part of your post to focus on — I couldn’t really enjoy the rest of the the post because I kept thinking about how I’d feel If I had checked that particular book out of the library, and had through a bunch of someone else’s underlinings.

        I respect that you want to share what you think are brilliant passages, and even agree that the passage you pulled out of this book is brilliant — but I also respect other library readers’ right to enjoy books without other people’s opinions already marked throughout.

        • Brooke says

          Well I guess you couldn’t get past it because the post also mentions that I am not even the one who wrote it! 😉 Still, I imagine this being a literary exaggeration for the article’s sake, but we’d have to check with Rebekah. I hope that you can someday get past that intro and focus on the rest of the post. Thanks Adrienne for your concerns and comments.

          • Adrienne says

            Oh, hey, sorry! My mistake. I was really wrapped up in what I would say to Rebekah when I responded to your post.

  2. Rebekah says

    Hello Adrienne,
    Thank you for your thoughtful response to my post. While I have in fact at times underlined passages in library books as the article states, it is not a practice I make routine. I too respect other readers’ experiences and only wish to share my own. I do hope you seek out this book to read so we may continue our conversation around its content!

  3. Rebecca says

    Underlining full passages is extremely distracting. I agree with the first comment, if you like a passage copy it down somewhere else for yourself. I do that all the time! The only time writing in library books is appropriate, in my opinion, is a spelling or grammatical error. I love catching them and like seeing when people before me catch them first!

    • Brooke says

      I’m totally oblivious to comments/writing in books, and if I do recognise it, I find it to be interesting to see what someone else found interesting. I mean, it was kind of the premise for the HPL book pass! ha

  4. Idun says

    I agree with the above comments, underlining in library books is extremely annoying. If there’s some quote in a book which I will feel speaks to me, I’d notice it anyway..and if not it’s really distracting to have underlining or comments in books, and it will make me “lose” the story. Except, as Rebecca said, if it is some spelling or grammatical mistake.

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