Josh Barkan’s “Wonder Travels,” a memoir about his divorce, seeks to put form to the anguish he felt when his marriage ended. For Barkan, travel was part of the healing from the discovery that his wife had had an affair. The Globe spoke to Barkan, 54, from his home in Roslindale.
Q. How did you decide to write this book? Did it help you to work through the divorce?
A. When I started writing the book, I was lonely in New York City and flailing, trying to reach out, trying to connect, trying to find a way out of that kind of initial suffering when a relationship ends, whether you encounter an affair or not.
I wanted the book to be healing both for myself and hopefully for the reader to some extent. It’s not a self-help book, but other reviewers say the book can serve as a guide for anyone who’s just gone through a painful breakup, or anyone in a moment of struggle.
Q. You traveled to all of these places — was there a sense of running away?
A. A friend of mine who was a pianist well into his 80s said to me flat out, “You know, if you run away you’ll just be taking yourself and whatever problems with you.” I definitely felt I was running away in the beginning, but as time went on, I felt I was running to things and not away from them.
Q. Are there any scenes or experiences in the book that may particularly resonate with readers who are struggling?
A. I had a friend who said, “You need to look outward.” In terms of healing, the book gets at questions like, “What do you do with a difficult past?” “What do you make of the 15 years of a relationship you’ve lost?” There’s a question of “How do you not become bitter?” One of the things I learned to do is live more in the present. When I was in Oaxaca, Mexico, I fell in love with a painter who I call Monica in the book. Monica’s cousin also experienced the end of a marriage. I was with him walking through the mountains with his dogs. As we walked, he was pointing out the types of mushrooms and snakes we were seeing. He talked about the beauty of the plants. I came to see him as a guide in the way he was living in the present, and how I could do that too.
Especially when people are going through a period of pain, I think there’s a tendency to become very solipsistic, to keep going back to the difficulty you’re facing. I think that changes when you allow yourself to take in the sensations of the moment you’re living in. It can become a very powerful thing. If you do that, it’s hard to feel disappointed.
Q. Some might wonder whether it was wise to travel to Morocco and track down the man with whom your ex-wife had an affair. Why did you do it?
A. It didn’t start out this way, but later, I wanted to meet him precisely because it would have been so uncomfortable to meet a couple of years before. I would have maybe even been fearful. But there was a mystery — who was this person? I really had no details about him.
When I told my friend about going to meet Muhammad, he did think it was crazy. He said, “Muhammad’s not necessarily going to understand your intentions, and it might be dangerous.” As crazy as it sounds, that was the first inkling that OK, yeah, there is something a little possessed about this. I want to leave it up to the reader to go through that experience, but I honestly believe that had I not met Muhammad by the time I got there, that would have been OK, too.
What seemed a crazy goal became something that led to the one of the most sane moments I’ve ever experienced in my life — the fact that I could meet Muhammad and truly not have any rancor towards him, none. I felt probably as calm as I’ve ever felt after seeing him.
Q. You mentioned the struggle earlier of, “How do you not become bitter?” But there are parts in the beginning of the book that do read as bitter. Is “Wonder Travels” just a really honest deep-dive into the emotions you were feeling?
A. When I started writing, it was fresh, and I was full of anger. There was a messiness in that. In writing, I was trying to capture literally how it felt emotionally. For example, my wife completely cut off communication for 12 days when she went back to Spain to see her sister and her niece. After, she said she was going to Ibiza, but instead went to Morocco to see Muhammad for the second time. So I was trying to articulate that feeling of betrayal and confusion, and just the feeling of, “What’s going on here?”
Precisely because the book is written over a couple of years, and I was experiencing all of these things like traveling and meeting Monica, the reader goes from the initial emotions in New York City, and slowly moves away from that initial anger. Later in the book, there’s a different way of dealing with emotions.
Josh Barkan will discuss “Wonder Travels” on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at Porter Square Books in Cambridge.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
Kajsa Kedefors can be reached at email@example.com.