Getting Off The X by Jo Patti
It’s not often as a reviewer you get a book sent to you with a personal message from the author inscribed inside. ‘Thank you for taking time to read my work… From Texas today, Jo Patti.’ It’s a human connection, a presence behind the print. But this seems to be Jo Patti’s style. The short stories which compose this volume are about people, the places she’s been. It’s a work of non-fiction, and Jo’s experiences are challenging – often taking her to the dangerous places that most of us, living in a first world country, know about secondhand, if at all. The kind of places where being a woman, or anyone without the right political views, is dangerous. I get the sense she didn’t write this book just to tell the world what happened to her. It’s because there are others whose stories are important… and they’re not the kind who can speak for themselves.
Nowhere is this more poignantly illustrated than in the book’s dedication to Jo’s friend and colleage. Lisa Marie Akbari, the inscription tells us, was assassinated in Afghanistan in 2015. She had worked in the US Army, and at the time was a civilian contractor for a consulting company.
Jo works in education and health. The stories take the reader from Romania to Morocco, Armenia to England, Israel to the USA, Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan and most are told from the author’s point of view. It doesn’t take the reader long to figure out that Jo is an amazing person, the kind of person who works for the common good.
‘Getting off the X’, Jo explains in the foreword, means ‘getting out of the line of fire, moving off the target area’. She notes that in each of the stories, a character faces the need to get out of physical, emotional or spiritual danger. These dangers include sexual assault, the fear of attack as a Westerner in another country, and the pain of grief and loss. This is, however, also a book about a woman who puts herself directly on ‘the X’ to help out her fellow human beings. I became emotionally attached to Jo and her kindness. There are photos of Jo and the places she’s been throughout the book. There is one of her son, whose tragic death we learn of a few pages on. The book is published by Di Angelo publications – the founder of whom is Jo’s daughter.
A desire for truth and justice feature strongly. This book reminds us of the human rights violations that take place, but there are still moments of joy to be found. A war zone occupies a land that is still beautiful, and people under oppression are still people, and people need to laugh. Importantly, they’re not just numbers on a news page. This is a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in human rights, woman’s rights, travel, real life stories, and anyone who simply wants to be reminded of how lucky we are here in New Zealand.
Important reading. Thank you, Jo, for taking the time to share these stories.
Reviewer: Susannah Whaley
Di Angelo Publications