through Europe: A comical, endearing and sometimes historical tale of self-discovery
day begins as another cool, foggy, summer morning. After walking to the cloverleaf,
I simply turn around, face oncoming cars, and stick out my thumb. I need to be
the lucky guy. Without luck, I could easily be waiting
many hours for my first ride of the day.”
begins 1968 And I’m Hitchhiking Through Europe, a true-life adventure. I certainly
expected from this opening that the next few hundred pages would be filled with
fun anecdotes from a young man’s adventure through Europe, offering little depth
or reflection, but I got a little something else I hadn’t bargained for and a
little bit of what I had.
I’ve always been a person
who believed that societies and the world in general were constantly moving forward,
advancing not only technologically but intellectually and socially as well. That’s why I was completely taken aback after reading Joe
Mack’s novel. It’s safe to say, that after reading tales of America fighting an
unpopular war, soldiers dying, rioting in Paris, and politicians caring about
their personal interests more than their country’s, the world really hasn’t advanced
all that much in nearly four decades. This revelation made me feel both relieved
and a little morose. Luckily, Mack limits the dismay one may feel about an unchanged
world by illustrating funny and personal accounts of the adventures and sometimes
misadventures of Europe for him, a 21-year-old
man hitchhiking alone.
In one rather bizarre situation, Mack gets into
a car that he has no choice but to and realizes that this ride may be more than
he bargained for.
“Squashed inside this car built for two adults...were
five men and all their stuff...The man was driving way too fast, swerving around
corners and using the gears for breaking. I was sitting in the backseat being
tossed around...too often the diver twisted around and started yelling at us...The
four of us were whispering about getting out, but how? The car never stopped.”
Mack’s story can often be comical, iterating scenarios about getting too
drunk in a Kronenbourg brewery or missing his train to London. They lift the mood of the book, making
it a journey for the reader to endure too.
Now, if you’re
a history buff, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a transparent amusement
of a book, suitable only for those who mistake General Lee for the car Jessica
Simpson gave a rub down to. Oftentimes Mack’s fondness of history interrupts the
flow of a storyline with pages of historical accounts that give a side not shown
in typical history books, but nevertheless distracts the reader from the story
at hand, making it difficult to develop a connection with Mack.
catching a ride with a Danish man, for example, Mack is involved in a conversation
with his driver about being a college student, when it leads to the topic of protesting,
which Mack then precedes to give a five-page account of the reception Vietnam
protestors received during a demonstration in the United States. Even though the
stories Mack tells do reflect the turbulent air of the time, they almost make
it seem like he really wanted to write a history book but couldn’t
decide, so he combined his two efforts.
Mack’s writing does, however,
show us cultures in a past time, which allows readers to rekindle a spark of youth
while recognizing the same imagination and inspiration they see reflected in Mack’s
personal stories. Even when Mack gets lost in the history lessons, you still get
a sense of his free-spiritness and genuine appreciation of culture and people.
On his train to London to catch his flight
back to the States, Mack reflects on his romp through Europe.
“Yes, it was part luck, and it was part humanity.”
Each story within
the novel shows a distinctive side of human nature that we seldom here about today: kindness and compassion
for one another. In spite of cultural and language barriers, the men and women
of Europe stopped for Mack and other hitchhikers, whether they were in the middle
of a forest or on the side of a busy highway through Paris.
it would have been nice to have Mack dig a little deeper and share more of himself
with his readers, his novel is still an entertaining account of his times in Europe.
Even though Mack’s stories are disappointing evidence that the world isn’t as
far ahead as we’d all like to hope, it’s certainly refreshing to see a time when
people had a sense of wonder with the world and the people in it.
a ride with Mack may tell a tale of a world speeding past at 140 mph on the Autoban,
but it also lets us know that even the simplest acts of kindness stay with us
for a lifetime.
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