Book Reviews

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

1
Review — IN THE LAND OF ETERNAL SPRING by Alan Howard
2
Review — DEAD COW ROAD by Mark Wentling (Honduras, Togo)
3
Review — KILL THE GRINGO by Jack Hood Vaughn (PC Director)
4
Review — SPIES AND DESERTERS by Martin Ganzglass (Somalia)
5
Review — YOVO by Stephen F. Dextor, Jr. (Togo)
6
Review — EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR THE BEST by Philip R. Mitchell (Ecuador)
7
Review: WALLED IN WALLED OUT by Mary Dana Marks (Iran)
8
Stephen King takes on Paul Theroux (Malawi)
9
Review: FAMINE, WAR AND LOVE by Stephen C. Joseph (Nepal)
10
Review: AIN’T NO ELEPHANTS IN TIMBUCKTU by John H. Sime (Mali)

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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Review: WALLED IN WALLED OUT by Mary Dana Marks (Iran)

  Walled In Walled Out by Mary Dana Marks (Iran 1964–66) Peace Corps Writers Books 348 pages April 2017 Reviewed by John Krauskopf (Iran 1965–67) • WALLED IN WALLED OUT IS A CAPTIVATING MEMOIR.  The Kennedy-era idealism lured young Mary Beckett Marks into the Peace Corps to serve for two years in conservative Kerman, Iran. This sojourn forced the author to struggle to adjust to the Kermani culture and to mature many of the ideas that have guided her life since. The memoir traces Mary’s emotional reaction to the culture, her feelings, frustrations and adjustments. During a low point at the end of her first year, Mary was so discouraged that she decided to request a transfer to another site. This opportunity passed without action because of a cholera quarantine. Reluctantly remaining in Kerman for her second year, the book outlines Mary’s increasing language skills and her greater comfort with the . . .

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Stephen King takes on Paul Theroux (Malawi)

  MOTHER LAND By Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65) 509 pages An Eamon Dolan Book/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt $28.00 Reviewed by Stephen King New York Times — May 9, 2017 At the outset of this long slog, the narrator, J P (Jay) Justus, passes on a story his mother told him as a child, with a smile and a nod of satisfaction. Once upon a time there was a man condemned to be hanged. As a last request, he asked for a word with his mother. She was taken to the foot of the gallows, where he stood handcuffed. Instead of speaking to her, he bit off a piece of her ear, spat it out and screamed, “You are the reason I’m here, about to die!” What follows this fable are 500 or so pages in which Justus bites not only his mother’s ear but those of six siblings. Only the seventh, . . .

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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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