While walking to his French language class in Bordeaux, Thomas Gephardt muses, “We are free to travel down any road that we please in our mind, or any bridge, any ocean.”
This quote expertly sums up the intellectual protagonist of The Perfect Culture (Cicero Publishing, LLC) by Brent Robins. While Thomas journeys far from his hometown in rural Indiana to live in France, Japan and Israel, he also deeply probes each moment with anecdotes and apprehensions. Each page becomes its own journey.
Robins doesn’t have to stretch too far to imagine the onslaught of culture shocks that comes from traveling in a foreign country; he has trekked through over forty. Though The Perfect Culture is his first novel, every faux pas that his main character makes feels straight from life. For example, Thomas, always one for sardonic humor, tries to joke around with his classmates but realizes others cannot understand his English, and that he cannot communicate well in French.
Thomas has always felt on the outside. A first-generation college student in a family not particularly interested in deep learning, Thomas built his whole identity on a sense of alienation. Even at college, Thomas was disappointed to be surrounded by partiers rather than fellow history buffs.
Everything shifts when he finds a job at a hotel in France after graduation. He starts to see that there really are people like him out in the great wide world.
“It’s almost as if I am starting over again as a child here,” Thomas thinks. Even amid all the unfamiliarity and confusion of a new place, Thomas’s unique personality grounds the reader.
One of the most memorable lines is when Thomas is in an airport in Japan. The sound of “hai, dozo” or “next” from the customs officers fill the air, reminding Thomas of a “man’s pulse or heartbeat.” Throughout the novel, Thomas’s knack for metaphor makes the journey all the more immersive and rewarding.
Robins writes in a stream-of-consciousness style, entrenching us in the assumptions of his young narrator. Perhaps that is why it is so fulfilling to see how Thomas matures by meeting people he probably never would have met back home. More than just a novel, The Perfect Culture is a call-to-action: stop being comfortable. The only way to grow is by testing your limits.
From falling for an Israeli woman in France, to searching for porn vending machines in Japan, to working on a farm in Israel, Thomas’s adventure is thrilling and thought-provoking at every turn.
This may be the least expensive world trip that a reader could buy. The Perfect Culture is vivid with the tastes of exotic foods, the nuances of how people interact and the ways in which travel changes a person.
Robins writes as no one else could, and, just like Thomas, the reader will feel like a new person by the end.
The Perfect Culture is available for purchase.
About Brent Robins:
Brent Robins currently lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area. He has many diverse interests, such as reading, singing (choir and karaoke), exercise and movies.
He loves exploring other cultures. He has traveled to over forty countries and plans to see many more!
Find out more at his website: brentrobinsauthor.com.