"Do yourself a favor. Before it's too late, without thinking too much about it first, pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it. One day it will be too late." -- Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
If you look at the cover for Gina Frangello’s A Life in Men, you’d expect a light-hearted novel about a girl traipsing about the world and having encounters with various men, until she undergoes some sort of self-discovery, goes back home and finds a nice boyfriend. This is not what you’ll actually get. Frangello’s novel is much, much more. It tackles the big topics: life; death; coincidence; who we love and why; how we view ourselves over time. And yet, all of this is presented in a way that makes you want to keep reading, to find out where the main character, Mary, will go next and what successes and failures she’ll see.
Mary is not your typical heroine of a travel novel. She suffers from cystic fibrosis and by most medical standards, she really shouldn’t still be alive. Yet she is determined not to let her illness take over and to squeeze every possible drop out of her life (often to the dismay of her doctors). Her travels start before her junior year in college when she is convinced by her best friend, Nix, to take a trip island hopping in Greece. This trip does not end well, but it triggers something in Mary, a kind of wanderlust that keeps her moving, against her family’s advice, in search of herself and her connection to her friends and the world.
Frangello writes convincingly about the foreign settings in the book (among them, Greece, London, Amsterdam, Kenya and Mexico), as she has visited them all herself (the one exception being Newfoundland). As you read, you can taste the salty anchovies in Greece, hear the lions roaring in Kenya and feel the oppressive heat of Morocco. If you can’t get away this summer, get this book to upgrade your beach reading and travel vicariously.