Book Reviews

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

1
Review: FAMINE, WAR AND LOVE by Stephen C. Joseph (Nepal)
2
Review: AIN’T NO ELEPHANTS IN TIMBUCKTU by John H. Sime (Mali)
3
Review: DRUMS FOR A LOST SONG, translated by Rob Gunther (Ecuador)
4
Review: NUNS, NAM & HENNA by Larry Berube (Morocco)
5
Review: of A SILENT HERALD OF UNITY by Martha Driscoll (Ethiopia)
6
Review: HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND AVOID SACRED COWS by David Macaray (India)
7
Review: MAIL FROM KYRGYZSTAN by Michael Licwinko (Kyrgyzstan)
8
Review: PHOBOS & DEIMOS by John Moehl (Cameroon)
9
Review: GRAMPA JOE as told to Troy Montes (El Salvador)
10
Review: PAPER MOUNTAINS by Jonathan Maiullo (Armenia)

Review: FAMINE, WAR AND LOVE by Stephen C. Joseph (Nepal)

  Famine, War and Love By Stephen C. Joseph (Nepal Peace Corps Staff 1964-66) Bookbaby March 2017 181 pages $14.99 (paperback), $8.99 (Kindle) Review by Randolph Marcus (PCV/Ethiopia 1966-68) • STEPHEN C. JOSEPH, A PEDIATRICIAN with extensive medical experience in developing countries, has written an historical fiction novel surrounding two unrelated famines in the Netherlands in the last months of World War II and in Ethiopia in the mid-eighties. He brings these seemingly disparate events together in an unusual format: a series of first person essays by members of two families — the Dutch Vermeers and the American Rileys.  In this short but engaging book, Joseph displays a talent for becoming the characters whose voices carry the story forward. Each chapter appears as a journal entry and alternates between generations and the two families.  The story begins with 18-year old Christina Vermeer’s account of her life as a young girl . . .

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Review: AIN’T NO ELEPHANTS IN TIMBUCKTU by John H. Sime (Mali)

  Ain’t No Elephants in Timbucktu: Prose and Poetry of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali by John H. Sime (Mail 1976-78) CreateSpace February 2017 208 pages $16.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Kitty Thuermer (PCV/Mali 1977-79) • IN 1975, WHEN MY SISTER finished her Peace Corps/Zaire service — she left her journal behind. On purpose. Two years later, when she stepped outside her New York City walk up — there it was, peeking out of a shredded package — haunting her. How many of us would share our Peace Corps journal with friends — much less publish it? John Sime would. He has opened up his heart — and excerpts of his journal — for all the world to see. If you wonder why Volunteers keep journals (aside from the obvious therapeutic value), John has an answer:  “One thing about this journal writing business — it makes me a character in a continuing book. . . .

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Review: DRUMS FOR A LOST SONG, translated by Rob Gunther (Ecuador)

  Drums for a Lost Song (novel) by Jorge Velasco Mackenzie Rob Gunther (Ecuador 2009–2002) (Translator) Hanging Loose Press 200 pages March 2017 $18.00 (paperback) Reviewed by Jim Criste (PC Staff/Ecuador 1999-02) • Ecuador is an incredibly diverse country in so many ways. Jorge Velasco Mackenzie takes us on a journey through one part of that diverse country, the western lowlands along the Pacific Coast, to places both known and unknown, real and imagined. Drums for a Lost Song seems to be the literary equivalent of a school of painting in Ecuador known as “Magical Realism.” This is pointed out clearly by the translator in his afterword where he cites, “One of Velasco’s themes is the slippery nature of what we call “facts” or “truth. . .,” which just shows that Velasco was ahead of his time in the use of “alternate facts.” The reader is challenged not only to sort out what may . . .

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Review: NUNS, NAM & HENNA by Larry Berube (Morocco)

  Nuns, Nam & Henna: A Memoir in Poetry and Prose Larry Berube (Morocco 1977-79) Peace Corps Writers Imprint January 2017 59 pages $5.99 (paperback), $1.99 (Kindle) Review by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96) • In Nuns, Nam & Henna: A Memoir in Poetry and Prose, the two-page prologue is one of the most powerful openings I’ve ever read.  The author is six years old. His three sisters and mother are at the kitchen table when the father comes in and starts striking the mother in the face with a hammer! Shock and bedlam ensue, his mother screams to her son to get help, but he is paralyzed, and his sister instead runs for help.  This moment haunts him, perhaps for his whole life.  His mother could not forget it, as she brought it up whenever they got drunk together.  “Why didn’t you go get help?” “The unanswerable question finally stopped . . .

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Review: of A SILENT HERALD OF UNITY by Martha Driscoll (Ethiopia)

  A Silent Herald of Unity: The Life of Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu by Martha Driscoll OCSO (Ethiopia 1965–67) Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications 1990 142 pages $45.94 (hard cover), $4.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Patricia Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962–64) • FOR NON-BELIEVERS, Protestants or Catholics who no longer attend services or Mass, the experience of reading this book will be like entering an exotic country without benefit of cultural sensitivity training. I speak as a still-practicing Roman Catholic, despite my disagreements with Rome. Without familiarity with the concepts and language of monasticism, self-denial (lots of it), ritual, and frequent prayer, at a time when women continue to press for respect and equal treatment under the law, this book will appear anachronistic. Readers would do well, however, to reserve judgment and pay respectful attention to the no-nonsense prose of Sister Martha Driscoll. “Mother Martha,” as she is known, is Mother Superior of an Indonesian . . .

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Review: HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND AVOID SACRED COWS by David Macaray (India)

    How to Win Friends & Avoid Sacred Cows: Weird Adventures in India: Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims When the Peace Corps was New by David Macaray (India 1967-68) The Ardent Writer Press (Brownsboro, Alabama) December 2016 291 pages $29.95 (hardcover), $19.95 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Kitty Thuermer (PCV/Mali 1977-79) • Every Peace Corps Volunteer has a near-death story. For David Macaray, supplementing his diet of curry and rice with a ball of opium did the trick. But not to worry. Had he died, he wrote, “Our mothers and fathers would have received the obligatory telegram from the State Department: ‘Dear Parent: [stop] Your son ate opium, passed out, and set house on fire. [stop] He is deceased. [stop] Details to follow.” Fifty years later, one wonders if Macaray, in a fit of nostalgia, ingested a bit of opium while organizing this sometimes heartbreaking, but mostly hilarious, book. Because it’s not really . . .

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Review: MAIL FROM KYRGYZSTAN by Michael Licwinko (Kyrgyzstan)

  Mail from Kyrgyzstan: My Life as an Over-50 Peace Corps Volunteer Michael Licwinko (Kyrgyzstan (2008–10) Self-Published November 2016 300 pages $15.99 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Catherine Varchaver (PC/HQ 1990–94; Kyrgyzstan APCD 1995–97)   • In this journal-like collection of annotated blogs and emails, Michael Licwinko sketches a lucid, patient portrait of life as an older Peace Corps Volunteer posted in a remote corner of Central Asia. Licwinko takes us from 2008 to 2010 and gives us a glimpse into the culture and people of Kyrgyzstan — and some of the satisfying and shadowy sides of the Peace Corps experience. If you want to take a virtual trip to Kyrgyzstan by reading one man’s observations and stories, this will help you travel Lonely Planet style — on the cheap, with plenty of “local (post-Soviet) color” and details on what to expect. This isn’t about places to visit and cool things to do. This is about local . . .

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Review: PHOBOS & DEIMOS by John Moehl (Cameroon)

  Phobos & Deimos: Two Moons, Two Worlds (short stories) by John Moehl (Camaroon 1974–80) Resource Publications August, 2016 136 pages $17.00 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle), $37.00 (hard cover) Reviewed by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993–96) •   It is my hope the reader will find in this work a glimpse of lives that may at first seem very foreign; so different as to be pure invention. These are fictional lives and fictional stories; but they are based on real events, real people and real places. John Moehl introduces his short story collection, Phobos & Deimos: Two Moons, Two Worlds, by stating that the moons of Mars are a metaphor for his world that has been “. . . pulled by the forces of two different moons ≈ two worlds.” Moehl’s worlds exist in foreign countries, particularly Africa, and the United States. “But, as moons, each world is linked to one planet, and part of the same . . .

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Review: GRAMPA JOE as told to Troy Montes (El Salvador)

  Grampa Joe: Portrait of a Quiet Hero (memoir) Troy D. Montes (El Salvador 2004–06), editor Patriot Media Incorporated May 2016 $14.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96 • Troy D. Montes holds degrees in International Studies, Spanish and Linguistics from the University of Oregon and a degree in Philosophy from Portland State University, as well as a Master’s degree in Conflict Transformation from the School for International Training Graduate Institute. Troy is also a poet and writer. This last skill shows brilliantly in his impeccably edited memoir told to him by his Grampa Joe. The book was published by Patriot Media: Publishing American Patriots, an organization I’d never heard of, but found touchingly appropriate for Joe’s story. Joseph Manly Davis was a humble hero of World War II, serving in the most violent terrain in Europe – Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, through France, Belgium and Germany. In . . .

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Review: PAPER MOUNTAINS by Jonathan Maiullo (Armenia)

  Paper Mountains: An Armenian Diary (Peace Corps memoir) Jonathan Maiullo (Armenia 2008–10) Gomidas May 2016 164 pages $22.00 (paperback) Review by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96) • My Armenia is not a country. . . . It is a place without a physical form. It is a collection of events shaped by external pressures. Jonathan Maiullo was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia from 2008 to 2010. He taught English classes in Yeghegnadzor when he wasn’t exploring the country on foot. After his service, he taught English in Paraguay, among other places, and hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2016. He was an actor, and he studied veterinary medicine. He changed his name in 2001 from Dickerson to his grandparents’ real name that was changed upon immigration to the U.S. (I love that, being of Italian descent also.) What struck me most about this writer is his ultra-keen observations. He’s a verbal camera. He . . .

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