The Last Great Road Bum

MCD: Farrar. Aug. 2020. 416p. ISBN 9780374183424. $28. F
An award-winning journalist (Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free) and novelist (The Barbarian Nurseries), Tobar was writing for the Los Angeles Times in 2008 when he uncovered the story of Joe Sanderson, an Illinois kid who left his home in the 1960s to wander the globe and write a great novel. Here, Tobar weaves Sanderson’s diaries and letters into a novel about his life. Bouncing from country to country, Joe travels through war zones in Vietnam and joins the Red Cross in Biafra while remaining connected to his family in Urbana through letters and postcards. However, when Joe joins the guerrilla rebels in the Salvadoran civil war, his journey transforms from experiential to immersive, and his tether to his family, country, and ultimate objective loosens.
VERDICT Tobar conjures the narrative spirit of Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums in juxtaposing the seeming placidity of the American Midwest and a life in search of truth and authenticity. [See Prepub Alert, 12/2/19; Barbara Hoffert's interview with the author.]
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