Unreal: Adventures of a Family's Global Life
Adult; Memoir; (Market)
Stalked by lions, charged by rhinos, and chased by pirates, Phil McDonald has lived a life of adventure working overseas. Typhoid, riots, and rebel soldiers were part of normal life. For his children, any day could be a grand field trip.
While unreal might read like a thriller, this memoir is more than an adventure story. The author recounts ninety events, highlights sixty lessons, from over thirty years of experience. The dirty little secret of humanitarian work in the developing world was a sobering discovery—centuries of handouts created enormous dependency that restricted personal growth and destroyed dignity. McDonald began as an overseas professor and now mentors social entrepreneurs.
If you are drawn to adventure, to travel, and what it’s like to raise a family in an amazing environment, enjoy this read. Discover how to navigate danger, manage fear, and cope with loss. Embrace the hope, laugh at the ups and downs, and revel in the extravagant diversity and courage of inspiring partners who will change you forever.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 7 out of 10
Character/Execution: 7 out of 10
Overall: 7.50 out of 10
Idea: McDonald’s “journey memoir” unfolds chronologically and engagingly, as the reader follows his career moves and adventures with his family in exotic settings across the globe, never knowing what dangers or challenges might lurk beyond the next corner.
Prose/Style: McDonald’s prose is direct and candid as he informs readers about the foreign places he encounters and his own professional development. His voice is encouraging and his style readable as he combines personal stories with telling dialogue. The narrative integrates work project outcomes and 60 “takeaway lessons,” which are delivered succinctly and in a manner that doesn’t impact the narrative’s flow.
Originality: Unreal rises above dry conventions to combine lively adventure with insight into international places and peoples, tips for living abroad with family, and career and personal reflections. McDonald’s accomplishments are inspiring and his “lessons” are most often noteworthy without being cheesy or preachy.
Character Development/Execution: McDonald and his wife Rebecca are the two main characters who come across admirably in their lives helping others in developing countries, and the foreigners they befriend along the way are diverse and interesting. McDonald and his wife’s decision-making, concerns, responses, and mistakes make them multi-dimensional.
Date Submitted: November 12, 2020
In this straightforward debut memoir, McDonald recounts his more than 30 years spent developing overseas nonprofit projects. It all began with a chance invitation by his college basketball coach to spend the summer working in the Central African Republic in 1972, which set him on a path toward his current position as president of Leader Empowerment and Development, a U.S. nonprofit encouraging social entrepreneurship in developing countries. But this is no dry business or organizational story: McDonald describes “redirecting his life goals” from a planned career in law to following his passionate interest in overseas development. As he travels with his wife and their children, McDonald details the many moves he made and projects he took on working for nongovernmental organizations, such as Women at Risk International. He evenhandedly describes what it is like to raise a family overseas, dealing with living in segregated Muslim villages in Bangladesh and working as a teacher in a chaotic Philippines, where a colleague greeted him by saying “Welcome to Manila. We average six bank robberies a day.” McDonald is an amiable, encouraging narrator as he sprinkles throughout lessons for working and living abroad (among them, “Be fascinated: Attending special events gives insight into what is important in a culture”). Readers looking to work overseas will find lots of useful tips in McDonald’s earnest memoir. (Self-published.)
It is not often that a memoir about work can be described as a page-turner, but the author has produced a rare, captivating narrative potpourri of professional accomplishments, discourses on sensitivity to cultural diversity, and unique, often dangerous personal experiences. . . this account of a family's adventures proves engaging, gritty, and buoyant.