4 out of 4 stars
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Man Mission by Eytan Uliel is the story of four men who are experiencing the ups and downs of life together. Friends since their youth, they encourage and rely on each other as they navigate through dating woes, satisfying spouses, raising children, and career decisions. Each year, they plan a trip to escape the humdrum routine of their lives. The four continue the tradition for years and travel to such places as Peru, Spain, Africa, and even North Korea. While they first sought companionship and solidarity as men, along the way they experience personal growth and gain insight about themselves that will affect each of their lives and influence their attitudes and perceptions.
I chose this book because I have been to many of these countries and enjoy reading about different cultures. The detailed geographical descriptions the author uses in this text are phenomenal. These descriptions are very specific for each culture. In Korea, there only seems to be old people in the rural countryside, and “repair wizards” take great pride in their work. I actually remember this from when I lived there. “Quintessentially Australian” eucalyptus trees adorn the country’s coast. Southern Spain runs on a different clock. Descriptions such as these leave readers with a vivid visual experience of each location. Given the details of each place, I wonder if the author is writing from personal experience or extensive cultural research. Either way, this aspect of the writing was quite captivating.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the cultural element of this novel, it was not the best part. The best part was the characterization. While the protagonist and his friends enjoy male bonding (which consists of many interesting ideas), the dynamics of each character are further developed with each trip. When each trip ends, the protagonist reflects on lessons learned, resources lost, and opportunity costs. The book is written from his perspective, and the narrative shifts from present to past, as some of the lessons learned parallel his personal life. I initially felt this to be distracting, but the further I read, the more I felt it was an intriguing writing technique because the flashbacks revealed the motivation behind his reactions and thoughts while on the “man mission.” Hobbits and dwarves in New Zealand bring back childhood fantasies; an elderly Korean man validates his actions; isolated animals on the African safari dominate the land. The emotional connection between the characters and their experiences is indeed very powerful throughout the book.
I also appreciated the author’s generous use of humor. It really propels the story and keeps the plot flowing. Additionally, it was a pleasure to read such a well-edited book. It is apparent that extra care was taken to produce this polished novel. For the writing techniques described above, and skillful editing, I gladly award this book 4 out of 4 stars.
I recommend this book to all mature readers. Men and women alike will enjoy it, and perhaps find some comfort in the words and thoughts of the characters. It should be noted that there is moderate profanity throughout and some references to adult topics, so it may not be suitable for children. For all other readers, though, this is a heartwarming story from a talented author that will leave readers fulfilled and responsive to the life lessons presented in the book.
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