But Safran’s childhood—the subject of his new memoir Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and off the Grid—was wild, and occasionally deeply disturbing. At 10, he was taken by his mother, a counterculture leader, to her new boyfriend’s commune. “He was a former Central American guerrilla,” Safran writes. “My mother was convinced he would save us all. I was pretty sure he was going to kill us.”
The young Safran is both wise beyond his years and scared out of his mind. His mother—sometimes a spiritual seeker, sometimes simply searching for a place to raise her son—drags him from communal farms to anti-nuclear marches to occasional visits with Josh’s grandmother, an East-Coast transplant who provided as an island of sanity.
Free Spirit is many things: a meditation on failed hippiedom, a coming-of-age story, an unflinching account of the horrors of domestic violence from the child’s point of view. But it’s more, too: a testimony of seeing people at their worst, and turning that into motivation to be a better person himself.