Book Reviews

A look at books published by fellow RPCVs that hopefully you will want to read.

1
Review — LIVING LIBERIA by Robert Cherry (Liberia)
2
Review — TO SAVE AN EMPIRE by Allan R. Gall (Turkey)
3
Review — THE WHITE KAHUNA by Joseph Theroux (Samoa)
4
Review — THE COTTAGE ON THE BAY by Ruben Gonzales (Liberia)
5
Review — INTO THE BACKLANDS by Kenneth E. Dugan Flies (Brazil)
6
Review — A DANCER’S GUIDE TO AFRICA by Terez Mertes Rose (Gabon)
7
Review — THEN AGAIN by Ben Berman (Zimbabwe)
8
Review — GHOST TRAIN TO THE EASTERN STAR by Paul Theroux (Malawi)
9
Review — JAMIE’S MUSE by Bonnie Lee Black (Gabon)
10
Review — REMIND ME AGAIN WHAT HAPPENED by Joanna Luloff (Sri Lanka)

Review — LIVING LIBERIA by Robert Cherry (Liberia)

  Living Liberia: Laughter, Love & Folly by Robert Cherry (Liberia1965–67) Living Liberia August 2017 $15.00 (paperback), $9.50 (Kindle) Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974-76 and Costa Rica 1976-77). • Liberia is a fascinating little country. Founded by former slaves from the U.S., it is the oldest republic in Africa. This and much more I learned from reading Living Liberia by Robert Cherry. The primary narrative of this book tells the story of the author’s return visit to Liberia and his former Peace Corps site in 1982, 14 years after his service there from 1966-68. But it is also a memoir of his Peace Corps years serving as a teacher in an elementary school in the small, rural village of Kpaytuo. The author, a former journalist as well as a teacher, gives us a good deal of background about Liberian history along the way. Thus the book is a great resource . . .

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Review — TO SAVE AN EMPIRE by Allan R. Gall (Turkey)

To Save an Empire: A Novel of Ottoman Allan R. Gall (Turkey 1962-64) Allan R. Gall – publisher 426 pages March, 2018 $14.99 (paperback), $7.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Robert E. Hamilton (Ethiopia 1965–67) • If, like me, you have been unfortunate enough not to have lived in Turkey for eight years, as Dr. Allan Gall did, then you may want to supplement your reading of To Save an Empire: A Novel of Ottoman History by watching the 36 video lectures of Ottoman history (Great Courses DVD) by Professor Kenneth W. Harl of Tulane University.  Or, read selected portions of Douglas Howard, The History of Turkey (second edition, 2016) and Thomas Maddan’s Istanbul (2016).  All three supplements were available to me through my local library.  These resources helped me understand the context of Gall’s novel, which only covers the seven-year period from 1876 to 1883. Why did Allan Gall focus . . .

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Review — THE WHITE KAHUNA by Joseph Theroux (Samoa)

   The White Kahuna: Robert Louis Stevenson, Detective  Joseph Theroux (Samoa 1975-78) Kilauea Publications 372 pages 2018 $12.00 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by: Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96) • My immediate question about the author’s name – was he related to Paul Theroux? — was answered by a New York Times article, noting that “A new voice from another writing family, Joseph Theroux, debuts with Black Coconuts, Brown Magic, a somber comedy set in Samoa. He is the younger brother of Paul …”  I also learned that Paul has four brothers and two sisters in another New York Times piece published in 1978 entitled “The Theroux Family Arsenal.”  Like Paul, Joseph became a Peace Corps Volunteer.  He served in Samoa  where he taught in a school and eventually became its principal.  He has lived in Samoa, Hawaii and Cape Cod. My next question was “Robert Louis Stevenson, Detective?”  Well, The Strange . . .

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Review — THE COTTAGE ON THE BAY by Ruben Gonzales (Liberia)

  The Cottage On the Bay: Family Saga of Scots Grove Plantation by the Sea in the Carolinas by Ruben Gonzales (Liberia 1971-76) Moonshine Cove Publishing February 2018 282 pages $14.99 (paperback), $6.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Peter V. Deekle ( Iran 1968-70) • There is a story in each of us . . . often more than one, and in Ruben Gonzales’s case he demonstrates a strong capacity for storytelling. Drawing on his keen powers of observation and, indeed, an individual emersion in a culture (honed by his Peace Corps experience, Liberia, 1971-1976) he tells a compelling story of the multi-generational Stewart family. Ruben’s story is really a sweeping saga of the South (particularly the Carolinas) first at the Civil War’s beginning and then following the local events there into the early twentieth century. The tale’s central character, Martha Stewart, is the unusually determined and committed oldest daughter of the Scots Grove Plantation owner, . . .

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Review — INTO THE BACKLANDS by Kenneth E. Dugan Flies (Brazil)

  Into the Backlands: A Peace Corps Memoir by Kenneth E. Dugan Fliés (Brazil 1961–63) Lost Lake Folk Art Books June 19, 2018 236 pages $17.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Bob Arias (Colombia 1964-66) • The Peace Corps is guilty of enthusiasm and a crusading spirit, but we are not apologetic about it! — Sargent Shriver Want to know what Peace Corps was like then and now? Into The Backlands, a Peace Corps Memoir takes you by the hand into the early years of JFK’s Peace Corps and the spirit and challenges of the times, 1961-1963. Ken Flies was 19 years old when he reported to training at the University of Oklahoma as part of Brazil II, one of the first. I doubt if Ken knew what he was getting himself into, and Brazil . . . where’s that? Ken’s memoir shares the beauty and innocence of Kennedy’s “kiddie corps” as the press portrayed . . .

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Review — A DANCER’S GUIDE TO AFRICA by Terez Mertes Rose (Gabon)

  A Dancer’s Guide to Africa by Terez Mertes Rose (Gabon 1985-87) Classical Girl Press 375 pages September 2018 $12.99 (paperback). $0.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Bonnie Lee Black (Gabon 1996-98) • It is March 1988 and Fiona Garvey, 22, of Omaha, Nebraska, has just received her letter of acceptance into the Peace Corps. Fiona is a tall, lithe, recent college graduate and ballet dancer, who is anxious to run away from home – and from a failed romance — to seek “true adventure, with soul.” So she gladly accepts the challenge of teaching English as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years in the tiny, equatorial country of Gabon, Central Africa. Thus begins Terez Mertes Rose’s newly published novel, A Dancer’s Guide to Africa, which perfectly evokes the Gabon she and I knew when we both served as PCVs (at different times, at different ages, in different towns, and . . .

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Review — THEN AGAIN by Ben Berman (Zimbabwe)

  Then Again Ben Berman (Zimbabwe 1998-2000) (Short prose pieces) Vine Leaves Press August 2018 58 pages $9.99 pre-order (paperback) Reviewed by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) • Ben Berman is in love with language. His melodious triptychs on life lived and remembered are so seductive that I began to wonder if his name wasn’t some sort of three-part word play: Ben enclosed in (or freed from) BErmaN, or the man in his surname scrolling out mythic memory of the life of one man. I googled him to reassure myself that he was in fact a single human being and not an allegorical creation. That’s how enticing this slender volume is. Then Again is a collection of three-paragraph narratives that could be called prose poems or flash memoir or short short essays–or all of that. The one word title of each of the 42 pieces . . . from “Breaks” and “Tears” to “Notes” . . .

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Review — GHOST TRAIN TO THE EASTERN STAR by Paul Theroux (Malawi)

  Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar By Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65) Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 511 pages August 2009 $8.32 (paperback), $10.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971–73) • Follow Theroux as he embarks on a 25,000-mile epic journey through Asia retracing the steps of a trip he’d taken thirty years before. Since then, Theroux records phenomenal change. The Soviet Union has collapsed and China has risen; India grows, while Burma is mothered by a military dictatorship and, most interestingly, Vietnam flourished despite the havoc the United States had unleashed on it. No one describes the texture, sights, sounds and the flavors of this changing landscape better than Theroux. Thirty years after the epic journey chronicled in his classic work, The Great Railway Bazaar, the world’s most acclaimed travel writer re-creates his 25,000-mile journey through eastern Europe, central . . .

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Review — JAMIE’S MUSE by Bonnie Lee Black (Gabon)

  Jamie’s Muse Bonnie Lee Black (Gabon 1996-98) Nighthawk Press May 2018 236 pages $15.00 (paperback)  $9.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Terez Rose (Gabon 1985-87) • The only ghosts, I believe, who creep into this world, are dead young mothers, returning to see how their children fare. There is no other inducement great enough to bring the dead back. — J.M. Barrie, The Little White Bird In Jamie’s Muse, author Bonnie Lee Black (Somewhere Child, How to Cook a Crocodile, How to Make an African Quilt) has created a luminous reimagining of her great-grandmother’s life, her emigration from Scotland to South Africa and its sorrowful ending. Black’s grandfather had been born in South Africa, spent time in an Edinburgh orphanage and stowed away on a New York-bound steamer as a teen, yet on his 1954 death certificate, under “mother” was written “unknown.” The story behind the story haunted Black, igniting in her . . .

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Review — REMIND ME AGAIN WHAT HAPPENED by Joanna Luloff (Sri Lanka)

  Remind Me Again What Happened by Joanna Luloff (Sri Lanka 1996–98) Algonquin Books June 26, 2018 288 pages $26.9 (paperback), $11.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Susi Wyss (Central African Republic 1990-92) • Most readers of Joanna Luloff’s latest work, Remind Me Again What Happened, won’t realize that she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sri Lanka in the 1990s. There is no mention of this fact in her bio on the book’s jacket, and the novel takes place almost entirely in Vermont and Boston. But if the reader happens to be a fellow RPVC, they are likely to recognize the wanderlust, the irresistible urge to travel to far flung places, that afflicts one of the main characters, Claire. Claire has had plenty of overseas adventures already. As a journalist, she’s been traveling around the world to investigate and write in-depth pieces about climate change and environmental conflicts among the people . . .

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