Book Review: A Train Through Time by Elizabeth Farnsworth

Feb 4, 2019

A Train Through Time by Elizabeth Farnsworth

How much of our memory is constructed by imagination? And how does memory shape our lives? As a nine-year-old, Elizabeth Farnsworth struggled to understand the loss of her mother. On a cross-country trip with her father, the heartsick child searches for her mother at train stations along the way. Even more, she confronts mysteries: death, time, and a puzzlingly locked compartment on the train.

Weaving a child’s experiences with memories from reporting in danger zones like Cambodia and Iraq, Farnsworth explores how she came to cover mass death and disaster. While she never breaks the tone of a curious investigator, she easily moves between her nine-year-old self and the experienced journalist. Imagination is at play in her childhood adventures and in her narrative control, always with great purpose. She openly confronts the impact of her childhood on the route her life has taken. And, as she provides one beautifully crafted depiction after another, we share her journey, coming to know the acclaimed reporter as she discovers herself. Farnsworth’s curiosity lingers on every page of A Train Through Time and so does the making of a powerfully driven woman.

After reading a slew of mostly self-help non-fiction, I knew I needed some more prose in my life. I picked up this slim novel at the library on a whim, not knowing who Farnsworth was or what kind of book this would be.

In this memoir-esque novel, Farnsworth describes her journey as a young girl on a train to California that gets stuck in an avalanche. Throughout the book, interleaves bits and pieces of moments from her career. Some of the events really stuck to me, especially of the scene where a Vietnamese woman cursed the mostly American crew and thrust out her finger-less hands out at them, the aftermath of the Vietnam war.

What intrigued me the most, however, was Farnsworth’s descriptions of her train ride to California. Getting snowed in on the train never actually happened, but as a young girl, Farnsworth imagined it. Admittedly, I didn’t read the summary of the book, which largely hints at this fact. A small part of me thought it was a little too vivid for a nine year old to remember, a little too fantastical. The “reveal” at the end somewhat surprised me but I understood a bit of it.

As a child, I also had a hyper active imagination. I would imagine myself living a completely different life, putting myself in fictional settings. When I was younger, I really wanted to escape into a world that was exciting and unknown. Sometimes when I’m super idle, I find myself doing it now and again but it’s more out of boredom and less of escapism.

This was a surprisingly nice little book. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would and Farnsworth is definitely a capable story teller. It’s a good transition from my non-fiction phase and back into fiction.