4 out of 4 stars
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What makes a man a real man? Some might say that kayaking down a river rapids makes you a man. Others might say that supporting your family makes you a man. Which one is it? The rapids? The support? Both? In Man Mission, author Eytan Uliel explores this question and others.
The story is told in first person. We never learn the narrator’s name. But he and his three best friends, Sam, Daniel, and Eric, take one week out of each year to go on a “Man Mission” to do things that real men would do: hiking, kayaking, or cycling. Their adventures include ocean kayaking in Fiji, white water sledding in New Zealand, and ice climbing in Iceland.
Yet, despite all those “manly” adventures, in the end they still have to come home to Australia and engage in a man mission of a different sort – that of being the breadwinner for a family, sacrificing their own happiness for the happiness of the people and things that depend on them: a wife and children, a mortgage, piano lessons, soccer practice, gym memberships, and all the rest that goes with domestic living.
Which of those two lives is the real “manly” life? The yearly Man Mission is fun; despite the danger, the injuries, and the near–constant discomfort, it provides the companions with a getaway to do traditional manly things: hangout with buddies, not shave nor shower, not write a single report, not change a dirty diaper; it’s a week to rely on one’s wits and prowess alone. But in the end, there’s always coming back to the other man mission, the one where responsibility is the driving factor, sometimes deeply gratifying, but decidedly not always fun, and sometimes downright soul-rending.
And there’s the crux. In one Man Mission you can do what you want. In the other, you do what has to be done. The contrast is a sharp one and almost every man in the world faces it. Fate can be cruel. On a Man Mission, a mistake can cost you your life. On the other man mission, mistakes may not be physically deadly, but you can still lose your life: your marriage, your children, and your place in the world. And sometimes, temporarily or permanently, your sanity. But lest you get the impression that author Uliel suggests that domestic responsibilities are any less important or fulfilling than leading a life of adventure, let me say now that that is not true. He deals with them fairly, assigning the correct importance to each.
In Man Mission, Eytan Uliel tells a good story, so good, in fact, that it may be difficult to believe that it’s just a work of fiction. Furthermore, Man Mission deals with profound questions, ones that are inherent in the lives we live in the 21st century.
I found not a single grammatical or typographical error. This book is accessible to everyone, although there is frequent profanity throughout. It is probably not suitable for children, who would not understand the subject matter anyway.
Let me add that in no way does author Uliel suggest that women don’t also engage in these activities. Several times in the book, women were seen either doing the same activities as the men, or, in fact, were the guides to the activities.
Rarely does a reader come across a book like this one. It is fun, but also poignant, an easy read, but one that deals with profound questions. I give Man Mission a solid 4 out of 4 stars.
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