Look Both Ways: A Double Journey Along My Grandmother’s Far-Flung Path

Katharine Coles

Walter Link and Miriam Wollaeger, a young geologist couple in 1920s Wisconsin, set out to find oil to supply the surging U.S. demand. This exciting work will allow them to build their lives in South and Central America, Indonesia, and Cuba. But from the first posting in Columbia, they quickly discover that no women are working in the field in these places. While Walter faces the hardships and thrills of exploration in the jungles and mountains, and eventually becomes chief geologist for Standard Oil, Miriam is left behind in the colonial capitals during Walter’s often lengthy times away. She defines herself through the limited means left to a woman within their small societies: playing bridge or polo by day and dancing into the wee hours with early KLM pilots, diplomats, and the footloose sons of moneyed Americans and the European aristocracies. She also raises three children, has intimate involvements, learns the local languages, and takes up teaching. But she is not satisfied. And finally she does something about it.

Following in her grandparents’ footsteps, author Katharine Coles looks backward and forward, through documents and imagination. She looks at their journeys and hers, and mingling their words with her own, examines the delicate balances that must exist in a successful marriage and a feminist life.

  • "I'm over the moon about Katharine Coles's new book. fascinating in terms of history, science, and social custom, this hybrid biography/memoir is as transcendent as the best of novels: fierce, dazzling, and true."—Betsy Burton, The King’s English Bookshop

  • "Katharine Coles creates an arresting simultaneity between the past and present, a woman's need for freedom and belonging, adventure and love.... [T]his composite memoir offers a compelling portrait of what it is to live mindfully in a female body."—Alison Hawthorne Deming

  • "Profound and provocative, Look Both Ways unconceals the catalytic convergence of two volatile personalities in a time of scientific discovery, cultural turmoil, and political transformation."—Melanie Rae Thon