Book Reviews

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

1
Review — ON THE WIDE AFRICAN PLAIN by Richard Fordyce (Ghana)
2
Review — DIFFERENT LATITUDES by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala)
3
Review — GOING TO MEXICO: STORIES OF MY PEACE CORPS SERVICE by David H. Greegor (Mexico)
4
Review — THE EMPEROR AND THE ELEPHANTS by Richard Carroll (CAR)
5
Review — IN THE LAND OF ETERNAL SPRING by Alan Howard
6
Review — DEAD COW ROAD by Mark Wentling (Honduras, Togo)
7
Review — KILL THE GRINGO by Jack Hood Vaughn (PC Director)
8
Review — SPIES AND DESERTERS by Martin Ganzglass (Somalia)
9
Review — YOVO by Stephen F. Dextor, Jr. (Togo)
10
Review — EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR THE BEST by Philip R. Mitchell (Ecuador)

Review — ON THE WIDE AFRICAN PLAIN by Richard Fordyce (Ghana)

  On the Wide African Plain — And Other Stories of Africa Rick Fordyce (Ghana 1978—80) Merrimack Media August 2016 175 page $14.00 (paperback) Reviewed by Geraldine Kennedy (Liberia 1962–64) • IN THIS SOMETIMES MOVING, sometimes amusing collection of short stories by Rick Fordyce, snapshots of Ghana in the late 1970s play out for the fly-on-the-wall reader. You can look, but only so far. No touching, no asking questions. Fordyce doesn’t often give much context. No wide-angle shots from him. No detailed backstories. We are dropped into the close-ups, bystanders rafting down the blood stream of the body Africa with our faces in the capillaries and platelets. In the opening, “Away,“ (unfortunately launched with a paragraph that is a long, meandering sentence — 7 “ands,” 5 commas, 2 semi-colons), the white teacher suffers the same deprivations as the villagers. Food is randomly available and there is never enough. He looks at . . .

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Review — DIFFERENT LATITUDES by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala)

  Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971–73) Peace Corps Writers April, 2017 332 pages $18.00 (paperback), $5.00 (Kindle) Reviewed by John Holley (Colombia 1968–70) • I WAS ASKED to review this book because my life’s work parallels Mr. Walkers in many ways: we both got our start in the Peace Corps, and worked in international development. Furthermore, the Walkers have a strong tie with Guatemala where I attempted to make it my permanent home but failed. Furthermore, having moved around a lot and worked in 50 countries, I have lived a similar family life, and could easily relate to Mr. Walker’s experience. My work, however, was very different from Mark’s: I worked in mainstream development, improving health care systems and programs, hired at one time or another by most of the major donors, such as the World Bank, various UN agencies, USAID . . .

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Review — GOING TO MEXICO: STORIES OF MY PEACE CORPS SERVICE by David H. Greegor (Mexico)

    Going To Mexico: Stories of My Peace Corps Service by David H. Greegor (Mexico 2007-11) CreateSpace Publisher April 2017 132 pages $14.99 (paperback), $6.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Bob Criso (Nigeria 1966-67, Somalia 1967-68) • DAVID H. GREEGOR’S Going To Mexico is a short, light and breezy collection of anecdotes and vignettes that illustrate various aspects of rural Mexican culture during the author’s Peace Corps service. Mr. Greegor and his wife Sonya, both older PCVs, lived in Queretaro, Mexico from 2007 to 2010 and worked as environmental advisors in nearby pueblos. David worked on deforestation and erosion while Sonya promoted environmental education. Having lived in Tuscon, Arizona, they had been to Mexico many times, but it was their adventures in the small pueblos that revealed a different, more indigenous, Mexico to them and became their most memorable experiences. More like a diary or a journal than a memoir, Going To Mexico . . .

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Review — THE EMPEROR AND THE ELEPHANTS by Richard Carroll (CAR)

  The Emperor and the Elephants: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story of Life during the Late 1970s in the Central African Empire Richard W. Carroll (Central Africa Republic 1976–82) Peace Corps Writers May 2016 186 pages $15.00 (paperback); $3.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Mark T. Jacobs (Paraguay 1978–80) • A LONG-TIME WILDLIFE CONSERVATIONIST, Richard Carroll began his engagement with Africa as a Volunteer in the Central African Republic in the late 1970s. His memoir spans the decades that have come and gone since then while emphasizing the early years. Although the natural world is the focus of the book, Carroll draws a human frame around his observations of animals, plants, terrain, and the weather. He does this two ways. Both of them enrich the narrative, leaving the reader with an appreciation of the complex interactions of humankind with the planet we inhabit, along with a heightened awareness of the threat to the . . .

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Review — IN THE LAND OF ETERNAL SPRING by Alan Howard

  In the Land of Eternal Spring by Alan Howard Harvard Square Editions June 2017 305 pages $22.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala, 1991-93) • If Ernest Hemingway had written a novel about the Guatemalan civil war — or la violencia, as it’s sometimes called — it might well have looked like In the Land of Eternal Spring. Alan Howard’s debut novel features an idealistic hero with a fondness for the ladies, Peter Franklin, and an alluring, brave, but dangerously naïve heroine, Laura Jenson. If you close your eyes slightly as you’re reading Howard’s book, you might think you’ve been transported to the Spain of the 1930s and into Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Robert Jordan, meet Peter Franklin — you’re soul brothers. Howard’s prose, sometimes effectively functional, often quietly poetic, is reminiscent of Hemingway’s. So, too, is his melancholic tone. This is all a compliment. Howard’s novel . . .

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Review — DEAD COW ROAD by Mark Wentling (Honduras, Togo)

  Dead Cow Road: Life on the Front Lines of an International Crisis by Mark Wentling (Honduras 1967–69, Togo 1970–73; PC Staff: Togo, Gabon, Niger 1973–77) Page Publishing March 2017 506 pages $24.93 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Bob Criso (Nigeria 1966-67, Somalia 1967-68) • Dead Cow Road is an ambitious work of historical fiction told through the eyes of a Foreign Service worker assigned to Somalia during the political struggles and famine crisis in 1992. Mark Wentling combines real and fictional events with real and fictional characters to weave an engrossing and complex tale unfolding during a chaotic time in a desperate country. With over 45 years experience living and working in Africa with the Peace Corps, USAID, US Foreign Service, Care and World Vision, Wentling is well-equipped to be writing about it. He has the rare distinction of having lived or worked in all fifty-four African countries. Ray Read . . .

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Review — KILL THE GRINGO by Jack Hood Vaughn (PC Director)

  Kill the Gringo: The Life of Jack Hood Vaughn Jack Hood Vaughn with Jane Constantineau Rare Bird Books May 2017 389 pages $17.95 (paperback), $11.03 (Kindle) Reviewed by Randy Marcus (Ethiopia 1966-67) • “Everybody knows that Sargent Shriver was the first director of the Peace Corps. Only my wife remembers who the second one was.” SO COMMENTED JACK VAUGHN years after his Peace Corps stint.  Sargent Shriver, John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law, was a charismatic whirlwind who had built a national reputation as the creator and embodiment of the Peace Corps. Compared to Shriver, Jack Vaughn was no rock star. He certainly had the creds: an experienced USAID hand, a regional director in the Peace Corps under Shriver, Ambassador to Panama, and an Assistant Secretary of State. He was, however, a prosaic Lyndon Johnson protégé, not a glamorous Kennedy acolyte with the glow of Camelot. I had started my Ethiopia-bound Peace . . .

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Review — SPIES AND DESERTERS by Martin Ganzglass (Somalia)

  Spies and Deserters: A Novel of American Revolution by Martin R. Ganzglass (Somalia 1966-68) Peace Corps Writers Books April 2016 378 pages $14.95 (paperback) Reviewed by William Seraile (Ethiopia 1963–65) • MARTIN GANZGLASS, AN ACCOMPLISHED NOVELIST, has crafted a well-researched and easy-to-read novel about the American war for independence. Unlike the traditional story of freedom loving Americans chafing under the rule of the British crown, Ganzglass shows that the struggle for independence was a war of brutality, deprivation and hypocrisy. The combatants were not all white: Five thousand freed and enslaved persons of color sided with the rebels. Another four thousand served in the navy and militias acting as spies, cooks and servants in aiding the American cause. Crispus Attucks, a man of color, died in the 1770 Boston Massacre. Both Peter Salem and Salem Poor were at the Battle of Bunker Hill with the latter responsible for the death of . . .

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Review — YOVO by Stephen F. Dextor, Jr. (Togo)

Yovo Peace Corps novel by Stephen F. Drexter, Jr. (Togo 1988-91) A Peace Corps Writers Book 2017 385 pages $21.00 (paperback) Review by Dan Campbell (El Salvador 1974-77) • YOVO, WHICH MEANS “white person” in Togo, is the story of Rick “Oly” Olymeyer’s Peace Corps experiences in Togo and his difficulties in adjusting to American life and culture once he returns to America. I knew this was going to be an interesting book because Stephen writes that he started writing on a napkin in the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge in the summer of 1998 and that edits of the final draft were completed in Malaysia on April 13, 2016. Reading this book brought back so many memories of my own Peace Corps experiences, the isolation, the homesickness and the illnesses. Oly served as a construction volunteer in Togo and built bridges and schools and I laughed out loud when he . . .

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Review — EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR THE BEST by Philip R. Mitchell (Ecuador)

  Everything Happens For The Best: A Cross-Cultural Romance During the Early Years of the Peace Corps by Philip R. Mitchell (El Salvador 1964–66) Page Publishing February 2017 $22.12 (paperback), $36.95 (hardcover), $9.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Bob Criso (Nigeria 1966-7, Somalia 1967–68) • THIS MEMOIR OPENS with Peace Corps Volunteer Philip R. Mitchell returning to his home one night in Bahia, Ecuador when he realizes he is being followed by Leonardo, a disruptive student he kicked out of class earlier in the year. Leonardo, furious at the time, threatened to kill him. Another student informed Mitchell that Leonardo’s older brother had recently been released from prison. Later on, we learn that Leonardo’s mother is a local prostitute whose services Mitchell has utilized. Mitchell takes out his pocket knife, opens the blade and prepares for an attack, but we have to wait until the end of this four hundred and twenty-eight page book to . . .

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