21 January 2019

Book Review: Mein litauischer Führerschein by Felix Ackermann

I must say, this was an interesting book, and something that I didn't expect.

See, I picked up this book after wandering around the travel section of my favourite bookstore. Every now and then I try to look for interesting travelogues in German, and since I really don't know much about Lithuania or the Baltic States for that matter, this book caught my attention. After all, I have only spent a long weekend in Vilnius a few years ago and that was the extent of my Baltic experience. So this book could potentially open my horizons and give me more information.

And sure enough, it did, but in unexpected ways. See, the author is an academic in the humanities, an urban anthropologist. And this book is actually about his experiences as an academic nomad, while working for 5 years in the European Humanities University in Vilnius, as an exchange scholar under the auspices of the DAAD. And so this is less of a travelogue, but also more a book about academia, its challenges, and about life as an academic.

Felix Ackermann has three children, and it reminds me of my own experiences as a child growing up in various places around the world. My parents are not academics, but diplomats, and so this nomadic life of living a few years here and there around the world is no stranger to me. When I was an academic, I thought I would also be on this career path, and after spending 7 years in the United States for graduate school, I moved to Germany and spent my first 4 and a half years here as an academic. Then new issues occurred, and soon it became wise to change my career path and remain in Berlin, for now. In any case, the author seems to have a flexible family, with his wife and three children following him from Germany, to Lithuania, and at the end of the book, they were on their way to Poland, to take up another academic position.

The book also talks about the issues in academic administration. There were large sections of the book that makes me wonder why this book was displayed in the travel section in the first place. These large sections talk more about academic freedom, bureaucracy, and other social issues surrounding academia. It makes me realise that perhaps it was indeed a great thing to have jumped out of this ship when I had the chance. As it is right now, I have a lot of issues against academia, and this book just provides me more evidence supporting my beliefs.

In any case, there are also funny moments in this book, such as for example the narratives about the author trying to get a driver's license in a post-Soviet environment like Lithuania. And yes, this book is more a cultural opener, providing insights about a culture and society that I have no experience about. Travelling is great, but obviously short visits don't really provide you the necessary contact to scratch beneath the surface. So if you want to learn more about a foreign culture, sometimes the only way to do it is to actually live in their midst, as the author has done.

Overall I thought this was a surprisingly interesting book, much more than I have expected. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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