4 out of 4 stars
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A delightful combination of adventure story and coming of age novel, midlife edition, Man Mission by Eytan Uliel follows four best friends over the course of 15 years. Each year, beginning in their late 20s, they leave their regular lives behind and travel to an exotic location in order to participate in an outdoorsy trip, such as long-distance hiking, biking, or kayaking. Their adventures, which they come to refer to as Man Missions, require that they travel from one point to another entirely under their own power, and push themselves beyond their physical limits. As the years go on, additional, sometimes hilarious, new rules are added to the Man Mission guidelines.
In addition to their adventure travels, the story follows each man over time. The characters get married and start families, explore career paths, and struggle with the pressures that face all men in modern society. We see them make important life decisions, grapple with their feelings, make mistakes, and redeem themselves. Each year’s Man Mission allows them some time and space to reconnect with their friends and take a break from their everyday lives. Every year they return home, sometimes humbled, often injured, but always with new perspectives on their lives and what it means to be a man.
I loved the characters in this story. I admit I was hesitant to read a book about four men, but the perspective given in this novel is extremely refreshing. So often in the media and entertainment industry, men are stereotyped and somewhat caricaturized, from the inept husband and father who can’t survive without his wife, to the chauvinist and his “toxic masculinity,” to the too perfect hero rescuing the damsel in distress. The characters in Man Mission are just regular, decent men, trying to support their families, follow their dreams, and make it through the day. The way the narrator speaks of his frustrations, worries, and successes feels incredibly authentic, and really sheds a light on what it means to be “manly” from a normal man’s perspective.
The story is told from the first-person point of view of an unnamed narrator. The writing style is conversational, to the point where I kept forgetting Man Mission is a work of fiction and not a memoir. It felt as though I was talking with a friend as he regaled me with tales of his adventures. The narrator has a great sense of humor, often self-deprecating, which is both entertaining and endearing.
The book is divided into fifteen chapters, one for each of the different Man Missions. During the course of each chapter, the author shifts back and forth from the events of the current trip to what’s been going on in each of the characters’ day-to-day lives. This type of structure often runs the risk of making the storyline choppy and disjointed, but Mr. Uliel accomplishes the transitions seamlessly.
If the incredible characters and writing structure weren’t enough to make this a great book, add in the fact that the characters travel to fifteen different places all over the world, from South Africa to Peru to Vietnam. The descriptions of the scenery of each place are wonderful, and just enough to allow you to picture the beauty without slowing down the story with excessive imagery. In addition to the scenery, each chapter provides insight into the local cultures of the area in a respectful way. The characters of the book are always happy to dive headfirst into participating in the local traditions, and show appreciation for local customs, no matter how different they are from their own. They watch a Spanish bullfight in awe, participate in traditional kava ceremonies in small villages in Fiji, and enthusiastically dine on boiled sheep’s head and puffin burgers in Iceland.
I don’t know what more I could ask from a book. I laughed at the characters’ mishaps, cried with them in their sorrows, teared up at their touching moments, and stopped to ponder their philosophical musings. The book was clearly professionally edited, as I didn’t note a single error in the entire text. If I had to pick something I didn’t like, it would be that the narrator was not named, as I found myself wishing I knew what to call him. However, I do feel like the fact that he was unnamed really helped the conversational tone of the book. I am honored to be able to award this book 4 out of 4 stars. I closed the book with a happy heart and a serious case of wanderlust. I would recommend Man Mission to anyone, male or female, who loves to read about far off places and appreciates realistic, relatable characters.
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