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Memoir travels through Europe, '68

By Amanda Sheaffer

Tribune Staff

Imagine it is the summer of 1968. America is in the midst of the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy have both been assassinated and there is a bitter race in the Democratic party for president. Across the pond, countries are still nursing wounds from World War II. Amongst all this chaos, college student Joe Mack is hitchhiking across Europe.

Mack, the lead character in "1968 and I'm Hitchhiking through Europe," is a student protester with strong convictions against the war, but leaves "the cause" for the summer and travels from Columbia University's campus in New York City to the great cities of Europe. Only taking public transportation when absolutely necessary, Mack relies on the kindness of strangers for travel.

Mack's memoir is written eloquently and evokes semblance's of Kerouac's "On the Road"and other classic road trip stories.

Instead of focusing on all the sites he saw during his trip, such as the Roman forum, the running of the bulls in Pamplona and the Kronenbourg brewery in Cophenhagen, Mack describes the various strangers he meets while hitchhiking.

He overcomes ethnocentrism to befriend international students who broaden his perspective.

The book is composed of many different snapshots of Mack's interactions with different people. He shares an admiration for Jimi Hendrix's music with a sales clerk at a record store in Sweden. He steals fruit with a Czechoslovakian medical student in Prague. He stays with an older Italian woman in Rome.

Mack shares the trials and tribulations of being a student protester and his frustration with the United States government with his new friends while they share their feelings about their governments.

He goes to a backyard barbecue in France and ends up discussing politics with a French professor. He discusses government programs with Swedish summer school students in a dorm room.

The somewhat cheery novel has its somber moments too. Mack personally experiences the effects of communism when he witnesses the stark differences between East and West Berlin. He is also haunted by images of Holocaust victims after he visits Dachau Concentration Camp.

The only thing confusing to the reader might be Mack's flashbacks. The way he chooses to tell his European adventure is in no way chronological. However, the book is a quick and entertaining read.

For any student that has backpacked across Europe, Mack's story will be familiar: running to catch trains, sleeping in hostels, meeting other students and eating at somewhat sketchy cafes. Those who have not traveled to Europe will want to pack their bags and say ciao after this read.

Grade: A

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