Title: Travels with Hafa
Author: Nathan Pettijohn
Genre: Nonfiction / travelogue
Travels with Hafa by Nathan Pettijohn is a travelogue of Pettijohn’s recent RV trip around much of the west of the United States, where he brings his German shepherd puppy, Hafa, with him. While the author explores different sites such as Zion National Park and Yosemite National Park, he also meets up with several locals in small towns. He shares his experiences and his reflections on life.
Nathan Pettijohn’s nonfiction narrative reads like fiction, especially when he writes dialogue. This renders well on the page for drawing the reader into the scenes, providing an escape. Although the author travels with various people, including his brother and a couple of friends at different times, he is usually only with his dog, Hafa. Having his faithful companion along for the ride provides a relatable situation for many readers who have pets. In a time when travel is limited and many of us are restricted to our homes, many of us may feel extra companionship with our pets, our families, and our closest friends, so Pettijohn’s travelogue is not only a nice getaway for the mind, but it’s relevant to our circumstances in 2020.
Besides visiting several states in the West, Pettijohn shares his thoughts along the way about life. He is upfront from the beginning that he is not an expert on anything, which puts the reader on even ground. Rather than feeling like the author is preaching at the audience, the reader feels like they’re riding in the passenger seat with Pettijohn, stopping at a campsite and opening a beer as they talk life over a fire. Despite the author’s claim that he’s no expert on anything he discusses at length in his book, from relationships to apps to spirituality, his passages when he’s out in nature and describing the beauty of a sunset or the awesomeness of the size of a redwood tree have a certain sort of authority. This authority is not dominating but rather all-encompassing, and the reader experiences the transcendent quality of being out in nature because Pettijohn’s imagery is that pure and strong.
Travels with Hafa encourages the reader to think about what matters in life. We often go about our day-to-day business without giving much thought to deeper topics, such as living life to its fullest. Although Pettijohn admits that the trip is merely an escape from such a mundane life and his problems for a while, that he still returns home to find himself slipping into his old routine is a sobering reminder that we take ourselves with us everywhere we go. The experiences the author has given himself stay with him, and that he shares a slice of his life with others reminds us of both the burdens and the blessings of our human condition. This travelogue is so much more than just a record of where Pettijohn has visited. He’s visited the heights and depths of our experiences, and this will resonate deeply with many readers.
While much of the narrative flows, the frequent repetition of the details when setting up the RV felt unnecessary, although this repetition is understandable due to the nature of camping and moving around frequently.
Travels with Hafa is reminiscent of Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, an exploration of the heart of America, although several decades later. Nathan Pettijohn’s travelogue goes beyond a simple trip through the western states and touches the heart of the American, not just America. This transcendent true narrative will stay with the reader long after they close the book.
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