Book Reviews

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

1
Review: GLOBAL GEOPOLITICAL POWER AND AFRICAN POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC INSTITUTIONS by John James Quinn (Zaire)
2
Review: MAKING LOVE WHILE LEVITATING THREE FEET IN THE AIR by Jeff Fearnside (Kazakhstan)
3
Review: SHOULD I STILL WISH by John W. Evans (Bangladesh)
4
Review: KINGDOMS IN THE AIR by Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean)
5
Review: IN THE VALLEY OF BIRDS by Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz (Romania)
6
Review: THE PRESIDENT’S BUTLER by Larry Leamer (Nepal)
7
Review: VENEZUELA SOJOURN by Jon C. Halter (Venezuela)
8
Review: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO AMHARIC by Andrew Tadros (Ethiopia) & Abraham Teklu
9
Review: A WILD HARE by Siffy Torkildson (Madagascar)
10
Review: BREVITE´ by Stephen Mustoe (Kenya)

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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Review: VENEZUELA SOJOURN by Jon C. Halter (Venezuela)

  Venezuela Sojourn: The Peace Corps Diary of Jon C. Halter Jon C. Halter (Venezuela 1966–68) CreateSpace September 2015 264 pages $12.00 (paperback) Reviewed by Catherine Bell (Brazil 1966–68) • Venezuela Sojourn is a completely unromanticized view of a Peace Corps assignment in Venezuela in the 1960s. All the elements of a typical Peace Corps experience of that era are here — difficulties with the language, attraction to other Volunteers, friction with in-country contacts, parties where you try to figure out who everyone is, the frustration of trying to find something to do, meetings with little result, preoccupations with food and digestion and with deselection and other bureaucratic hurdles against the background of Vietnam, sporadic attempts to find the courage to do the more difficult things that ought to be done. Committed to a test Peace Corps Scout program, Halter is a well-meaning Volunteer — though no idealist. He recounts some success at teaching phys. . . .

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Review: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO AMHARIC by Andrew Tadros (Ethiopia) & Abraham Teklu

  The Essential Guide to Amharic: The National Language of Ethiopia Andrew Taros (Ethiopia 2011–13) & Abraham Teklu Peace Corps Writers September 2015 163 pages $20.00 (paperback) Reviewed by Andy Martin (Ethiopia 1965–68) • The Essential Guide to Amharic by Tadross and Teklu, is exactly what it says it is, a brief guide to the language. At 163 pages, it is not a textbook. If you are going to Ethiopia for business or pleasure, the Guide could be helpful. If you want to learn Amharic in order to communicate with Amharic speakers for any length of time or depth, in Ethiopia or elsewhere, this is not a book I can recommend. In the biography of one of the authors, Andrew Tadross, he explains how, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia, he made lists of vocabulary words for himself to memorize and how these lists eventually evolved into this book. Unfortunately . . .

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Review: A WILD HARE by Siffy Torkildson (Madagascar)

  A Wild Hare: Finding the Life I Imagined Siffy Torkildson (Madagascar 2001–02) Sacred World Explorations July 2015 294 pages $17.99 (paperback), $7.99 (Kindle) Review by Deidre Swesnik (Mali 1996-98) • A QUOTE FROM BUDDHA in Siffy Torkildson’s book, A Wild Hare, is, “As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life.” For Torkildson’s journey, I think she might also add, “be who you are.” Being present and being herself guides her on a journey to “finding the life I imagined.” She learned the hard way for too many years of not following her heart. But she is now determined to take what she has learned and to move forward with her newly found true love. She will not be deterred. Torkildson lets us into her innermost thoughts in this book that is part memoir, part travel guide. The book starts . . .

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Review: BREVITE´ by Stephen Mustoe (Kenya)

  Brevité: A Collection of Short Fiction Stephen Mustoe (Kenya 1983–84) Peace Corps Writers May 2016 132 pages $7.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Jane Albritton (India 1967–69) • MEMORY IS THE CORNERSTONE of Stephen Mustoe’s first collection of short fiction: Brevité. Sometimes the memories seem like they rightly belong to the author, sometimes not. But even when the source remains unclear, the quality of remembrance remains present. As with any collection of short fiction, a reader is likely to come away from the experience with favorites. I have. Actually, I have two favorite sets of stories that stand out from the others: a pair featuring the irrepressible Uncle Woody, and a quartet of stories that draw on Mustoe’s experiences in Africa, both as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya and on later return visits. In “Dogfish Blues” and “Blind Faith,” Mustoe introduces Woody, a veteran Navy flier who knew how to get . . .

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