4 out of 4 stars
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In Man Mission, Eytan Uliel tells us his life story through tales of adventure and mishap with his three best friends. The annual "Man Missions" start simple, and close to home for the Aussie blokes. They hike New Zealand, cycle in Japan, and kayak the Murray River in Australia. In these early years, the men are establishing themselves career-wise, cementing their relationships, and starting families. Over time, as waistlines and wallets thicken, the trips become more exotic - Spain, Korea, and even a safari in South Africa. But in Vietnam, Uliel gets a call from his wife that changes his life forever. Over trips to Hawaii, Peru, and Iceland, we see the men come to grips with the cards dealt them. How doing what's expected doesn't guarantee anything. And how very little is what it seems from the outside.
Uliel's self-deprecatory humor saves his work from appealing to an exclusively male audience. These are not, except for Alec, experienced action men sporting six-packs. But instead, corporate desk jockeys with flabby stomachs. For them, a marathon is four children's parties in a weekend. And the extent to which their missions are life-threatening is inversely proportional to the amount of planning put into them. You definitely won't find any technical sporting tips, if anything, the reverse. But I was riveted and read the book in two sittings. The characters are engaging, and there are points where their antics made me laugh out loud. Even in later chapters, when more serious topics emerge, there remain moments of lightness. Like when the men come across their Asian doppelgangers in a hot spring in Thailand. Uliel is mercilessly and candidly quizzed on his use of performance enhancers (not the sporting kind).
There was nothing that I disliked about the book. It deals with serious issues such as infidelity, the pressures of financial insecurity, and the death of loved ones. Some readers have responded powerfully to the infidelity aspect. My view is that Uliel addresses the subject with honesty, sensitivity, and as much humor as can be regarded as appropriate. I think he raises important questions about gender roles in society and outdated expectations of men in an evolving world. That said, it's entirely possible to skim over this aspect and enjoy the book as a lighthearted and funny travelogue. There is no profanity or erotica.
I particularly liked the format of the book. Uliel dedicates a chapter to each of the fifteen Man Missions. He begins each with a map and ends with the "vital statistics" of each trip. I can see myself referring to it for ideas for future holidays, and have already bought a copy as a gift.
I'm rating Man Mission 4 out of 4 stars because it came across as professionally edited and was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Consider it if you are an outdoor enthusiast or know a man who aspires to be.
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