Book Reviews

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

1
Review: PAPER MOUNTAINS by Jonathan Maiullo (Armenia)
2
Review: THE WETBACK AND OTHER STORIES by Ron Arias (Peru)
3
Review: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE CONDOR by Emily Creigh (Paraguay)
4
Review: FROM FREEBORN TO FREETOWN AND BACK by Patrick O’Leary (Sierra Leone)
5
Review: GLOBAL GEOPOLITICAL POWER AND AFRICAN POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC INSTITUTIONS by John James Quinn (Zaire)
6
Review: MAKING LOVE WHILE LEVITATING THREE FEET IN THE AIR by Jeff Fearnside (Kazakhstan)
7
Review: SHOULD I STILL WISH by John W. Evans (Bangladesh)
8
Review: KINGDOMS IN THE AIR by Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean)
9
Review: IN THE VALLEY OF BIRDS by Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz (Romania)
10
Review: THE PRESIDENT’S BUTLER by Larry Leamer (Nepal)

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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Review: THE WETBACK AND OTHER STORIES by Ron Arias (Peru)

  The Wetback and Other Stories Ron Arias (Peru 1963–65) Arte Publico Press September 2016 160 pages $17.95 (paperback)   Reviewed by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) • In The Wetback and Other Stories, Ron Arias’ tales are both loving and strange, loving because the setting is most often in a close-knit neighborhood where wisdom is often carried by children and old people, and strange because he frequently slides effortlessly into magical realism. His gift is perhaps best embodied in the title story, “The Wetback.Æ The body of a young man is discovered by children in the dry riverbed of the Los Angeles River and becomes an object of awe, admiration, and love for the whole neighborhood.Young and old gather to look at him; they undress him, admire him, name him, and help an elderly spinster take him (the body) home, unleashing a series of events that, for this reader, are strange and . . .

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Review: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE CONDOR by Emily Creigh (Paraguay)

Journey to the Heart of the Condor: Love, Loss, and Survival in a South American Dictatorship Emily C. Creigh (Paraguay 1975–77) and Dr. Martín Almada Peace Corps Writers February 2016 470 pages $17.50 (paperback), (Kindle)   Reviewed by Kay Gillies Dixon (Colombia 1962-64) • Two stories, two people co-existing, contrasting but not connected yet together in Paraguay. In Journey to the Heart of the Condor, author Emily Creigh chronicles her coming of age experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay in the 1970s while Dr. Martin Almada narrates his ordeal as a political prisoner in Paraguay during the same time period. The heart of the book is Dr. Almada’s gripping narrative. Imprisoned for 1,000 days during the dictatorship of President Alfredo Stroessner, Dr. Almada describes the atrocities of his and others prison existence. His doctoral dissertation Paraguay: Education and Dependency, inspired by the Panamanian model of educational reform, as well as the works of . . .

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Review: FROM FREEBORN TO FREETOWN AND BACK by Patrick O’Leary (Sierra Leone)

  From Freeborn to Freetown & Back Patrick O’Leary (Sierra Leone 1966–68) Peace Corps Writers September 2016 146 pages $14.95 (paperback), $10.00 (Kindle) Reviewed by Ruth Alliband (India 1966–68) • I read Patrick O’Leary’s Peace Corps memoir From Freeborn To Freetown & Back with special interest. Both Patrick and I were accepted into Peace Corps training in 1966. We trained at roughly the same time. I left for India in late October of 1966 after two months’ Peace Corps stateside training in Albany, NY on a chartered Air India flight. In addition to two training groups of India Volunteers on board that plane, there was a contingent of Volunteers who had trained for Tanzania. They left the Air India flight in Brussels to make connections for their flight to Africa. Patrick’s experience of being reassigned and repurposed is a variation of my own. It seems to me that the uncertainties of . . .

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Review: GLOBAL GEOPOLITICAL POWER AND AFRICAN POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC INSTITUTIONS by John James Quinn (Zaire)

  Global Geopolitical Power and African Political and Economic Institutions: When Elephants Fight by John James Quinn (Zaire PCV/Staff 1983-86) Lexington Books 394 pages 2015 $110.00 (hardback); $104.50 (kindle) Reviewed by Robert Hamilton (Ethiopia 1965-67) • Tembo, zikipigana huumia nyasi (When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.) Swahili proverb   Professor John James Quinn of Truman State University in Missouri is moderately hopeful that economic and political changes during the period 1990 to the present will bring continued marginal success for Africa. Economic institutions in Africa changed after 1990 and the end of the Cold War, Quinn says.  African states were in debt and they were forced by international lending organizations to undertake fiscal reforms, including the “removal of impediments to trade, and some privatization of previously state-owned companies.” Still, Quinn notes, the African elite remains in control of large enterprises, and generally, a single majority party continues . . .

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Review: MAKING LOVE WHILE LEVITATING THREE FEET IN THE AIR by Jeff Fearnside (Kazakhstan)

  Making Love while Levitating Three Feet in the Air (Short stories) Jeff Fearnside (Kazakhstan 2002–04) Stephen F. Austin University Press December 2016 175 pages $18.00 (paperback) Review by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96) • JEFF FEARNSIDE WAS A PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER in Kazakhstan from 2002 to 2004. He lives with his wife (an ethnic Russian Kazakhstani) and two cats in Corvallis, Oregon, where he teaches at Oregon State University, and is at work on a novel. Fearnside is an award-winning author and educator whose work in three genres — fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction — focuses strongly on place, culture, and the natural environment. He lived in Central Asia, traveled widely across Asia and twice bicycled throughout Great Britain. He earned degrees in creative writing from Bowling Green State University (BFA) and Eastern Washington University (MFA). Of the thirteen stories in Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air, some are about relationships . . .

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Review: SHOULD I STILL WISH by John W. Evans (Bangladesh)

  Should I Still Wish: A Memoir John W. Evans (Bangladesh 1999–01) University of Nebraska Press January 2017 $16.00 (paperback), $15.20 (Kindle) Reviewed by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971–73) John Evans’ moving memoir reads like a Greek tragedy with deep Peace Corps roots. Should I Still Wish is the second of his books to tell a story in Bangladesh where he served with his wife, Katie, as well as his second wife, Cate, all of whom were part of the “Peace Corps Tribe.” The first book, Young Widower tells a dreadful tale of his wife being mauled to death by a brown bear in the Carpathian Mountains while they were working for a year in Romania. The unfairness of this loss and the brutality of nature would impact him for much of his life after this violent event. In his second memoir, the author uses dreams, memories and a series of compelling . . .

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Review: KINGDOMS IN THE AIR by Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean)

  Kingdoms in the Air: Dispatches from the Far Away by Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean 1975-76) Grove Atlantic June 2016 383 pages $26.00 (hardback) $14.04 (Kindle) Reviewed by Don Messerschmidt (Nepal 1963-65) Travels abroad tend to inspire Peace Corps Volunteers, some (many) of whom have gone on to become noted writers. You can count National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis among them. He started out in the 1970s posted in the Caribbean (Grenada), and since then he has crisscrossed the globe seeking challenging stories to write — fiction and non-fiction, novels and essays, praiseworthy literary reportage, and adventurous travelers’ tales. The first story in Kingdoms in the Air: Dispatches from the Far Away takes up almost half the book. It is set in the Land of Lo (Lo-Manthang to its inhabitants), the high, uppermost part of Mustang District in north-central Nepal, crammed right up next to Tibet (China’s Xizang) on the . . .

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Review: IN THE VALLEY OF BIRDS by Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz (Romania)

   In the Valley of Birds (short stories) by Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz (Romania 2001-03) CreateSpace Publishing August 15, 2016 150 pages $8.99 (paper), $6.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Peter Deekle (Iran 1968–70) • Someone who has lived outside the United States, not merely visited other countries, but truly lived within a different culture, may be able appreciate the experiences that Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz vividly details in her first fiction publication, In the Valley of Birds. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania, and teacher of English in a variety of schools; she also holds an advanced degree in international peace and conflict resolution. In the Valley of Bird is a collection of short stories written while the author lived and worked as an international school teacher in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, known as the “Murder Capital of the World.”  Fergusson-Lutz dedicates her book “to the millions of Hondurans who navigate complicated and difficult . . .

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Review: THE PRESIDENT’S BUTLER by Larry Leamer (Nepal)

    The President’s Butler by Laurence Leamer (Nepal 1964-66) Foggy Bottom Books September  2016 320 pages $9.98 (paperback) $4.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Andy Martin (Ethiopia 1965-68) • Disclaimer:  I’m a life-long Democrat who until this year (2016) had no interest in Donald Trump, despite the fact that we live in the same town. I never listened to Howard Stern on the radio, I’ve never been to Trump Tower or any other of Trump’s mega structures in New York City. I never watched The Apprentice, Miss Universe, or Miss Teen USA. I did stand outside of The Taj Majal casino on the boardwalk on Atlantic City, once many years ago, while it was under construction. I held zero fascination for Mr. Trump until he declared his candidacy for President of the United States. — A. M. The President’s Butler, by Laurence Leamer is a satirical look at Donald Trump, his background and his candidacy. It . . .

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