Book Reviews

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

1
Review — STREET OF ETERNAL HAPPINESS by Rob Schmitz (China)
2
Review — OFF TO THE NEXT WHEREVER, stories by John Michael Flynn (Moldova)
3
Review — GAINING GROUND by Joan Velasquez (Bolivia)
4
Review — AFRICAN WITCH by Christopher West Davis (Kenya)
5
Review — THE COLOR OF A LION’S EYE by Jane F. Bonin
6
Review — ISLES OF THE BLIND by Robert Rosenberg (Kyrgyzstan)
7
Review — TIME PASSAGES by Jay Hersch (Colombia)
8
Review — PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION by Joe Lurie (Kenya 1967-70)
9
Review — CROCODILE LOVE by Joshua Berman (Nicaragua 1998-2000)
10
Review — I AM ME BECAUSE OF YOU by Karen Lawrence with Jennifer Nelson (Kyrgyzstan 2004–06)

Review — STREET OF ETERNAL HAPPINESS by Rob Schmitz (China)

  Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road by Rob Schmitz (China 1996–98) Crown May 2016 336 pages $28.00 (paperback), $13.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Peter Van Deekle (Iran 1968-70)  • How can any Westerner comprehend much less understand the complexities of modern China?  With its vast landmass and diverse populations, its centuries-long dynasties, imposed isolation from the world, and its dynamic political and financial emergence, China represents the ultimate challenge for modern international relations. So, what prospects can an American have for beginning to grasp the conflicting and converging elements of modern China? While these prospects may face any American, Peace Corps service (begun toward the end of the Twentieth Century in China — 1993) offers among the broadest and deepest opportunities for meaningful understanding of China’s ancient traditions and incredibly rapid growth and change today. Rob Schmitz accepted his Peace Corps assignment to China in 1996, and served there for . . .

Read More

Review — OFF TO THE NEXT WHEREVER, stories by John Michael Flynn (Moldova)

    Off To The Next Wherever by John Michael Flynn (Moldova 1993-95) Fomite Publisher April 2016 265 pages $15.00 (paperback), $4.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) • Off to the Next Wherever aptly describes the scope and action of this new collection of short stories by John Michael Flynn. His characters are certainly on the move — wherever and everywhere — many of them with a stronger taste of a past than a hope for the future. In the best stories they find satisfaction, if not happiness or resolution. And they inhabit the world we live in, the one world. Flynn protagonists are male, female, gay and straight; as young as 12, old enough to worry about being old, and everybody in between. Flynn also deftly moves the reader through time and space — evoking the life of a newsboy in the 1940s, a druggie in the 60s, Reagan sloganeering, “Peace Through Strength,” in the 80s — right . . .

Read More

Review — GAINING GROUND by Joan Velasquez (Bolivia)

Gaining Ground: A Blueprint for Community-Based International Development by Joan Velásquez (Bolivia 1965–67) Beaver’s Pond Press 2014 $24.95 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Bob Arias (Colombia 1964–66, 2011–13) • This is an awesome “how to” book, not a novel with only love and excitement . . . but a beautiful and exciting manual on how to create and develop  a non-profit agency in Bolivia from Mendota Heights, Minnesota, a distance of 4,623 miles. In 1965 Joan Velásquez, a Peace Corps Volunteer, is sent to Cochabamba, a remote community in the Andean mountains of Bolivia. There she meets her future husband and NGO partner Segundo and his family, the Velázquez clan . . . all Quechua speaking indigenous people of the Inca Empire. Joan discovers that the community may not have much, it is extremely poor, but it is rich in cultural values that have been handed down for generations . . . primarily that family members help one another during difficult times. . . .

Read More

Review — AFRICAN WITCH by Christopher West Davis (Kenya)

African Witch: A Modern Tale of Magical Harm By Christopher West Davis (Kenya 1975-78) Create Spack February 2016 418 pages $16.95 (paper), $9.95 (Kindle) Reviewed by Peter Van Deekle (Iran 1968-70) • Christopher West Davis draws upon his Peace Corps service experience in Kenya (1975-78) for his recent novel (2016) African Witch: A Modern Tale of Magical Harm. His career as a journalist also helps to inform his detailed and insightful depiction of characters and place in this suspenseful story of young Americans living and working in modern-day Kenya. On one level Davis creates a story about Westerners new to Kikuyu ways, imposing upon their encounters with native people and their attendant perceptions, a distinctly Western attitude. On the other hand, this novel gains its energy and momentum from the author’s ability to maintain a dramatic tension among the characters and the events that surround and engulf them. Despite its material and . . .

Read More

Review — THE COLOR OF A LION’S EYE by Jane F. Bonin

The Color of a Lion’s Eye: Memories of Africa by Jane Bonin (Staff: Malawi, Niger 1994–2000) Border Press 114 pages 2015 $15.00 (paperback) Reviewed by Peter Deekle (Iran 1968-70) • For many Peace Corps Volunteers, their first opportunity to live and work in a foreign culture begins with their service abroad. They often keep a daily journal to help them organize and process their encounters with their host country. Jane F. Bonin, having enjoyed a long academic career and subsequent U.S. government assignment in Washington, D.C. offers a different “first opportunity” with the unique perspective informed by her maturity and a scholar’s capacity for order and reflection. After several decades as a scholar, parent and spouse Jane Bonin is free of family and financial obligations to accept an administrative post in a country heretofore unknown to her. As Bonin observes in The Color of a Lion’s Eye, “Many of the Peace . . .

Read More

Review — ISLES OF THE BLIND by Robert Rosenberg (Kyrgyzstan)

Isles of the Blind Robert Rosenberg (Kyrgyzstan 1994–96) Fomite March 2016 496 pages $17.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Peter Van Deekle (Iran 1968–70) • Peace Corps service provides for every Volunteer a unique and life-changing series of experiences that become enriched and enhanced through sharing with others. Robert Rosenberg, like others who have recognized the value of living in a foreign culture, has engaged his highly perceptive and creative mind toward this end. He is Associate Professor of English and teaches fiction courses at Bucknell, and holds an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, has served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, as a Fulbright Scholar in India, and has taught in both Istanbul and on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. For his new novel Isles of the Blind, he draws upon his first-hand experiences as a resident in the Middle East. The author uses his knowledge of the history . . .

Read More

Review — TIME PASSAGES by Jay Hersch (Colombia)

Time Passages (Peace Corps memoir) Jay Hersch (Colombia 1964–66) A Peace Corps Writers Book October 2015 102 pages $7.99 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Ralph Bates (Colombia 1964–66) . This review was first published in the Winter 2016 issue of Friends of Colombia: Newsletter of the Colombia RPCVs • It isn’t often that a person gets to see paths in his or her life intimately interwoven in the journey of another  — in my case it is the journey of a dear friend. The author of that journey is Jay Hersch and his story is told in his entertaining book Time Passages. Jay and I go back to dormitory days at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1960. We didn’t know each other well, but Jay told me a few years later that he voted for me for Student Senate. Probably that revelation when we met, quite by surprise and . . .

Read More

Review — PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION by Joe Lurie (Kenya 1967-70)

Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures Joe Lurie (Kenya 1967–70) Cultural Detective 180 pages 2015 $12.95 (paperback), $7.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Patricia S. Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962–64) • After completing my Peace Corps years in Peru and earning a graduate degree, I married, left my home-town of Milwaukee for New York City, and took up residence in a dinky studio apartment at Columbia University’s International House. My then husband, also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru, was pursuing his doctorate while serving as resident advisor. Author Joe Lurie is executive director emeritus of International House (I House) at the University of California, Berkeley, which opened in 1930.  “It is one of the largest, most diverse residential cultural program centers in the U.S., second only to the International House in New York City,” according to the introduction of Chapter Two. Lurie is especially equipped to write about the erroneous . . .

Read More

Review — CROCODILE LOVE by Joshua Berman (Nicaragua 1998-2000)

  Crocodile Love: Travel Tales from an Extended Honeymoon by Joshua Berman (Nicaragua 1998–2000) Tranquilo Travel Publishing 294 pages 2015 $17.95 (paperback), $4.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Peter Deekle (Iran 1968–70) • When I served in Peace Corps/Iran in the late 1960s, I was urged to share my experiences with others upon my return to the United States.  Joshua Berman has fully accomplished this through his monthly column in The Denver Post, his five previous travel books, his blog and website, many articles in The New York Times, National Geographic Traveler and other publications. Crocodile Love: Travel Tales from an Extended Honeymoon is Berman’s first narrative travel book, and one that not only vividly describes exotic locales, but also draws the reader into a compelling and extended story. The book makes the mysteries of different cultures both accessible and personal. As the author says early on in the book, “Everything about . . .

Read More

Review — I AM ME BECAUSE OF YOU by Karen Lawrence with Jennifer Nelson (Kyrgyzstan 2004–06)

I Am Me Because of You: A Daughter’s Peace Corps Journey through the Eyes of Her Mother (Peace Corps biography from letters and phone calls, with photos) by Karen Lawrence with Jennifer (Lawrence) Nelson (Kyrgyzstan 2004–06) Beaver’s Pond Press 2015 364 pages $24.95 (paperback) — email iammebecauseofyou@gmail.com to purchase reviewed by Catherine Onyemelukwe (Nigeria 1962–64) . • I Am Me Because of You provides a valuable resource for the parents of Peace Corps Volunteers, though for those who are frightened to know what lies ahead they might want to wait until their offspring has been in the country a few months before reading! For those less nervous, the book can be a guide to the ups and downs of following a Volunteer through training and deployment. I love the cover of I Am Me Because of You. The dusty gold with the brown edges and snapshots superimposed on a world . . .

Read More

Copyright © 2016. Peace Corps Worldwide.