4 out of 4 stars
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Man Mission, by Eytan Uliel, is a piece of personal fiction detailing the annual, week-long trips a group of four college friends take together. These trips - or man missions - deliver the group to far reaches of the globe, via hiking, biking, and kayaking. Though the man missions start out as a way of escaping the daily grind, they soon turn into a space for growth and healing. As the friends try to navigate marriage, fatherhood, divorce, and loss, the trips become a way of reconnecting with themselves, their manhood, and each other.
The brainchild of Uliel and his friend Sam, the man mission started with few rules: men only, go beyond your limits, and bathing is optional. During the course of their travels, they come face-to-face with a lion in Africa, catch a ride with drug dealers in New Zealand, go ice climbing in Iceland, and cross the Japanese Alps on mountain bikes. As the trips evolve, the men establish new traditions, such as the ever-growing “Relationship Handbook,” a pink bracelet worn by “he who whines the loudest,” and an end-of-trip celebratory steak dinner.
A professional travel writer, Uliel smoothly chronicles fifteen years of man missions, detailing the grueling physical feats, the exotic foods, and the unusual cast of characters the men encounter along the way. Man Mission is more than your average adventure novel. It ponders the importance of introspection and growth, and the friends who stay by your side through it all. Uliel reminds us that it is okay to make mistakes or feel lost - and it is never too late to try again.
What I liked most was the honesty Uliel approached his story with. He did not stray away from difficult topics or personal shortcomings, even if it cast his character in a bad light. The novel would not have been as successful if he had tried to sugarcoat the group’s attitudes or actions. All of his characters were well fleshed out; it was easy to see a little part of myself in each one. I also enjoyed the recap at the end of each trip, humorously summarizing the gains and losses of each mission.
There was nothing about this novel I disliked. There were a few times I disagreed with Uliel’s ideology, but those moments did not detract from my overall enjoyment. Even the occasional grammatical error or choppy sentence were easily overlooked. For these reasons, I rate this novel four out of four stars.
I would recommend Man Mission to men of any age, especially those in the middle of major life events. Even those who do not identify as a man would enjoy this read, but perhaps not until they have reached young adulthood.
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