Book Review: “The Same River Twice” by Pam Mandel

In Book Review, Trip Report by scott

Pam Mandel and I have traded travel stories for more than a decade. Whether it’s a carry-on-only trip to Zanzibar, a cruise to Antarctica or an interview with an astronaut , Pam always brings a fresh, authentic voice to the table. I always learned more and became curious about a destination after reading her reports.

So when she said she was writing a book—whoo-boy, I was looking forward to it!

“The Same River Twice…a memoir of dirtbag backpackers, bomb shelters and bad travel” is about travel, all right. But not about vacation travel. No, her new book is part James Michener (“The Drifters”) and part Adele (“Hello”).  

Mandel’s story about her travels as a teenager caught me by surprise. That’s because we left home and started traveling at about the same time (age 17). She jump-started her adventure with a trip to Israel. I just stuck my thumb out looking for a ride to a different state.

Still, we had this in common: we were busy traveling to new places.  

There’s a special grit to “The Same River Twice” because these  stories are more than just making connections and finding a hostel without bugs. Nope. The book is very much a story of a young woman’s walk in the world. There are equal slices of the good, the bad and the ugly stories of family, friends, lovers and co-workers.

I needed a map to keep up with all of the places she went after leaving California: Israel, Egypt, Corfu, London, Pakistan and India. There’s a slice of Sweden and a drive-by of France and Italy.

Mandel shares the tales of rolling out her sleeping bag in some pretty sketchy places—and my own memories started bubbling to the surface. Mostly those stories were about being out of money, with no prospects, far away from home.

Much of traveling is a process—of visiting new places to meet new people and think new thoughts and eat new food and speak different languages. It sticks with you. In spite of the weird curveballs that life lobs in your direction, it sticks with you. 

When I recall memories of my own youthful adventures, I figured Mandel covered a lot more ground than I did in a shorter amount of time. 

Now you can read all about it in “The Same River Twice.”

Pam Mandel

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