A debut memoir tracing one man’s zany trek through the turbulent 1960s.
The alternative lifestyles of the ’60s are the stuff of which legends are made. Berry (known as “Uncle Bear” to friends and relatives because of his Grizzly Adams-like appearance) reveals his own drug-laced, circuitous journey to spiritual awakening. His adventures in this short, novel-like memoir epitomize the era, although he seems to have gotten into far more trouble than the average “far-out hippie.” He recounts his travails, including dropping out of college, rejecting religion, doing and dealing drugs, committing petty crimes, and, in 1970, being wrongly accused by an Iowa judge of conspiracy to overthrow the government. It’s this last event, he says, that caused him to flee the country—and that’s where his journey really begins. The young wanderer goes on to see the world, find the love of his life, and ultimately experience devotion to God in the oddest of places—a penitentiary. Berry tells his tale well in 40 short chapters, interspersing his own black-and-white photos throughout to add to the atmosphere. The story is alternately wildly funny, sad and sobering, or poetic and philosophical—reflective of the ’60s themselves. The swing of emotions from high to low only enhances the book’s rawness and authenticity. Berry’s evocative descriptions of what he gets himself into (and out of) are unfailingly entertaining, but perhaps the most engaging aspect of the book is his eventual spiritual awakening: he writes of how a close encounter with death imbued him with a newfound love of Jesus Christ, convincing him that his subsequent trials and tribulations were divinely directed and that his actions were divinely inspired. Although some readers may find these insights unconvincing, others will likely relate to the role that faith played in Berry’s life. At the very least, the author emerges as a more loving person for it, and his book may appeal to others seeking similar resolution.
An engaging, autobiographical coming-of-age story that demonstrates the rough, bumpy road to self-awareness and maturity.