The book I would like to review, quite positively, is The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europe Can Teach Us by Francis Tapon. Let me start this review by stating that the type of books I read are military non-fiction. I love war history and reading books about veterans’ experiences in World War 2, Iraq or Afghanistan. Luckily, there are many books like this coming out all the time at my local library. But sometimes I break out of the mold and read some obscure book that catches my eye on the shelf or if it’s new or has an interesting title. The book I am reviewing is one of those obscure books that caught my eye, and it turned out to be one of the most educating and entertaining books I’ve read in a long time.
“The Hidden Europe” is a brand new book about an American man and his hiking (and hitchhiking) adventures through every Eastern European country. Francis Tapon is a single Harvard educated 40-something American who has a French father and a Chilean mother. Francis loves adventure and loves to explore new lands. It seems that not many people in the west know or care about Eastern European countries. Many Americans (or Western Europeans for that matter) cannot place Eastern European countries like Serbia, Belarus, Latvia or Lithuania on a map. So Francis decided to de-mystify these places for westerners by visiting each Eastern European country and getting to know the locals. He had a very small budget for this, so he hikes and catches rides as he travels, using a portable tarp to sleep under at night or using a cheap internet-based method of meeting new people and sleeping in their spare bedrooms called “couch-surfing”. Couch-surfing, in a nutshell, lets you connect with people on-line who have spare bedrooms or a couch to share with travelers on a tight budget. Many Eastern Europeans are really into this, and Francis gets to know many locals this way. Being a fairly young single man, he even has romantic adventures with some female couch-surfing hosts that he shares in this book.
The book is humorous and educational at the same time, which is a great combination. The book’s introduction begins with Francis accidentally locking himself in some remote outhouse in Finland, and his humorous description of this misadventure in an alien land got me hooked. He also states that every Eastern European country has one thing in common; they don’t like to be called “Eastern European”. Western European or just European seems to be the more desired label. Each chapter is about a different Eastern European country he visited, and ends with lessons that westerners can take from them. For example, Russians tend to be more relaxed and resilient than Americans, we can learn something from that. Slovakians have a very clean country and are very environmentally conscious, Americans can certainly take a lesson from that. Romanians are direct and don’t beat around the bush, they also have water-saving dual-flushing toilets so if you go number one, you use less water than if you go number 2. Apparently these type of toilets are all over Eastern Europe, and Americans could benefit from those as well. And so it goes with humor and life lessons throughout the book.
This is definitely an “adult” book. I would not recommend it for children due to some foul language that Francis sprinkles throughout, his descriptions of some of his sexual adventures, and some of his stereotypical labels he puts in there so westerners can relate easier to what he’s trying to convey. The book is not “vulgar” by any means, but it’s not middle school classroom material either. It’s very funny and very educational for American adults, his target audience.
As I’ve mentioned, this is a new book. According to his website Francis is now doing a public speaking circuit and does consulting for some major companies using his travel experiences. But his adventures aren’t over yet; he is about to embark on yet another journey into a land most westerners can’t relate to –Africa. He will hike through every African country and emerge with a new book in 2016. I can’t wait!!!!