Reviewed by: Tamar Mekredijian, Pacific Book Review
Most of the time, strong opinions about politics and religion aren’t received well. People are easily turned off by other people who give their opinions and turn a deaf ear to those who try to convince them to believe what they believe. However, Michael L. Proko’s collected columns titled “Life in America: Musings, Stories and Opinions about life in the U.S. of A” is both uplifting and entertaining.
In each of his columns, Proko meticulously dissects issues both about the USA and human life. He brings to light issues that we face daily and speaks about them encouragingly. He addresses topics such as human relationships, family, imagination, money, politics, God, children, striving to act like children as adults, making a difference in people’s lives, showing kindness, and forgiveness. He shares experiences such as pool-hopping as an adolescent that gives the reader a sense of authenticity and a glimpse into the type of person Proko is, and the life-lessons he learned.
One of Proko’s primary words of advice is to not give up and make the changes necessary to improve character. This Proko can attest to in a very special and specific way. At the prime of his life, he suffered two strokes and was told his life would never be the same again. He was told to expect permanent paralysis and for a while, gave in to this new way of life; feeling useless and defeated. However, he soon decided to make a critical change, which was to work hard to improve himself physically and emotionally. Through endless hours of physical therapy and working out, he was able to overcome his physical limitations and prove to himself and those around him that if you work hard enough to change your life for the better, it is possible to jump over hurdles that seem impossible to overcome. He uses this life experience to encourage his readers to make the changes necessary to better their lives, and to never give up. As a reader, hearing this advice from someone who lost all hope and then worked hard to gain his life back, written with gentleness and without shoving it in the reader’s face, I gladly took this advice.
The most enjoyable aspect of Proko’s book is his memories of being raised under the guidance and love of his grandparents interwoven throughout the work. He refers to simple life lessons taught to him when he was young; giving the same advice to his readers because he believes he is who he is because of their influence in his life. “They taught us how to swim, how to behave like ladies and gentlemen, how to look at life. but most importantly, how to keep your sense of humor when life comes at you. They, too, had made their fair share of mistakes but they had a goal and they just kept on striving to that end. Simple folks. Simple lessons.” This passage sums up his tone of voice throughout the piece. Again, he emphasizes the importance of not giving up. He mentions his grandparents and their influence on his life throughout the book, which gives the reader further evidence the advice he gives is based on experience and wisdom.
This is a refreshing read for anyone who is tired of negativity and prideful political opinions about America and its people. Without stuffing it down the reader’s throat, Proko delivers his advice and opinions carefully and with humor, ending almost every column with, “At least, that’s the way I see it.” Whether or not the reader agrees with what he discusses in each column, that line is a reminder these are merely his opinions based on his life experiences. Life in America is surprisingly cheerful and encouraging, even when it comes to America and its politics.