Book Reviews

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

1
Review — YOVO by Stephen F. Dextor, Jr. (Togo)
2
Review — EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR THE BEST by Philip R. Mitchell (Ecuador)
3
Review: WALLED IN WALLED OUT by Mary Dana Marks (Iran)
4
Stephen King takes on Paul Theroux (Malawi)
5
Review: FAMINE, WAR AND LOVE by Stephen C. Joseph (Nepal)
6
Review: AIN’T NO ELEPHANTS IN TIMBUCKTU by John H. Sime (Mali)
7
Review: DRUMS FOR A LOST SONG, translated by Rob Gunther (Ecuador)
8
Review: NUNS, NAM & HENNA by Larry Berube (Morocco)
9
Review: of A SILENT HERALD OF UNITY by Martha Driscoll (Ethiopia)
10
Review: HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND AVOID SACRED COWS by David Macaray (India)

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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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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