Book Reviews

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

1
Review — THE EARLY YEARS OF PEACE CORPS IN AFGHANISTAN by Frances and Will Irwin
2
Review — LITTLE WOMEN OF BAGHLAN by Susan Fox
3
Review — THE QUIET REBEL by Peggy Dickenson (Bolivia 1965-67)
4
Review — Glimpses through the Forest by Jason Gray (Gabon 2002-04)
5
Review of Greg Alder’s (Lesotho 2003-06) THE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL
6
Review: GIMME FIVE by Philip Dacey (Nigeria)
7
Review — A HERO FOR THE PEOPLE by Arthur Powers (Brazil)
8
Review of Matthew A.Hamilton’s (Armenia 2006-08; Philippines 2008-10) The Land of the Four Rivers
9
Review of The South American Expeditions, 1540-1545 by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de VacaTranslated with notes by Baker H. Morrow (Somalia 1968-69)
10
Review — Sendero by John Rouse

Review — THE EARLY YEARS OF PEACE CORPS IN AFGHANISTAN by Frances and Will Irwin

The Early Years of Peace Corps in Afghanistan: A Promising Time By Frances Hopkins Irwin (Afghanistan 1964–67) and Will A Irwin (Afghanistan 1965–67) Peace Corps Writers Book 294 pages $17.00 (paperback), $6.00 (Kindle) February 2014 Reviewed by John Sumser (Afghanistan 1977-78) What struck me as I read the Irwin’s account of the early days of the Peace Corps in Afghanistan is how little anything changed. The problems faced by the initial Volunteers and their director (then called a “representative”) were the same as those faced by my cohort fifteen years later: What is the proper role of a Volunteer? Is the Peace Corps a CIA front? Should Volunteers have servants? What should our social lives look like? I felt, after reading the book, that the Peace Corps is never established anywhere as much as it is continuously invented and negotiated on a daily, face-to-face basis. The Irwins have created an . . .

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Review — LITTLE WOMEN OF BAGHLAN by Susan Fox

Little Women of Baghran: The Story of a Nursing School for Girls in Afghanistan, the Peace Corps, and Life Before the Taliban by Susan Fox, with Jo Carter (Afghanistan 1968–70) Peace Corps Writers $16.00 (paperback) 2013 344 pages Reviewed by Susan O’Neill (Venezuela 1973–74) Sometimes, when a country’s name is touted in the news as a synonym for disaster, we forget that it once had a “Before” — and that nothing stands still, so there will someday be an “After” as well. So it is with Afghanistan. Afghanistan, before the political upheaval that led to the Russian invasion of 1979 — and our intervention, and current war, was a backwater where the beat of modernizing cities far outpaced the languor of the countryside. Life in its small villages was defined by extreme weather-long, frozen winters; torrential rains; cloudless, and baking summers, as well as close community, isolation, and lack of educational opportunity, . . .

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Review — THE QUIET REBEL by Peggy Dickenson (Bolivia 1965-67)

The Quiet Rebel: A Memoir of My Peace Corps Adventures in Bolivia by Peggy Dickenson (Bolivia 1965-67) Self-Published $9.00 150 pages 2013 Reviewed by Barbara E. Joe (Honduras, 2000-03) The Quiet Rebel is a slender book, 30 short chapters, 150 pages in large type with extra space between each paragraph, and lots of photos interspersed, many showing author Peggy Dickenson in various places and situations during her service. Its title derives from her mother’s description of young Peggy’s decision to join the Peace Corps. The book, appearing now almost 50 years after her service and reportedly requiring five years to write, expresses gratitude for the assistance provided by former fellow volunteers, friends, and family in recalling events, and in editing and publishing the book. The result is a fast-moving narrative still retaining the wide-eyed freshness and immediacy experienced by an innocent abroad, written in a simple, perky style, as if . . .

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Review — Glimpses through the Forest by Jason Gray (Gabon 2002-04)

Glimpses through the Forest: Memories of Gabon by Jason Gray (Gabon 2002-04) A Peace Corps Writers Book $14.95 288 pages 2013 Reviewed by Susi Wyss (Central African Republic 1990-92) Within the first few pages of his book, Glimpses through the Forest: Memories of Gabon, Jason Gray establishes at least one of the intended audiences for his book. “For any prospective Peace Corps Volunteers who might be reading this,” he writes, “I do feel that it is important to acknowledge that for all the excitement and frustrations of the actual work assignment, there are countless days and nights spent getting to know one’s neighbors, community, and new friends.” Reading that sentence, I couldn’t help wonder how successful the book was going to be in describing the Peace Corps experience to a would-be volunteer. Moreover, would there be other potential audiences for Gray’s memoir? As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Gray worked on . . .

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Review of Greg Alder’s (Lesotho 2003-06) THE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL

The Mountain School by Greg Alder (Lesotho 2003-06) CreateSpace, $13.00 250 pages 2013 $13.00 (paperback), $5.00 (Kindle) Reviewed by Deidre Swesnik (Mali 1996-98) • If you’ve been to Peace Corps, especially if you have been to Peace Corps in Africa, you know the feeling – the feeling of being dropped off at your site by a white Peace Corps truck.  Peace Corps drops you off with your stuff and they drive away.  And there you are.  Alone. And even if you weren’t in Africa, you will have that feeling at some point on your first day at your new site.  Even if you are surrounded by people almost all the time – like I was for most of my service in Mali – you can’t avoid those moments of feeling totally apart.  It’s a universal feeling. Greg Alder has mastered portraying those (what I believe to be) universals of the . . .

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Review: GIMME FIVE by Philip Dacey (Nigeria)

Gimme Five by Philip Dacey (Nigeria 1963–65) Blue Light Press: First World Publishing 2013 74 pages $15.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Barry Kitterman (Belize 1976-78) • On the surface, Philip Dacey’s poems have less to do with his time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria in the early ’60s, than with the rich life he has lived since. This collection of poems, with one or two notable exceptions, is not about Africa or the great world out there. Philip Dacey’s concerns are those things held dear to any American poet living in our time, in our country, anyone who has devoted his life to letters and teaching and family. Like any poet worth his salt, Dacey loves individual words and phrases, the bricks and mortar of poetry. His ear for a good turn of phrase is evident throughout. When his name is misspelled on a mailing label, he riffs on . . .

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Review — A HERO FOR THE PEOPLE by Arthur Powers (Brazil)

A Hero for the People: Stories of the Brazilian Backlands Arthur Powers (Brazil 1969-73) Press 53 170 pages 2013 $17.95 (paperback), $.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Patricia Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962-64) • I prefer novels to short stories, but I loved this book. Arthur Powers’ love for Brazil and its people began with his Peace Corps service in Brazil in 1969. Later Powers worked for the Catholic Church in the eastern Amazon region, where he organized subsistence farmers and rural worker unions. The author has received a Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, three annual awards for short fiction from the Catholic Press Association, and the 2012 Tuscany Press Novella Award for this book, A Hero for the People, his first collection of short stories. The book’s subtitle, Stories of the Brazilian Backlands, is fitting. All of the stories are located in Brazil’s backlands, although some take place more than . . .

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Review of Matthew A.Hamilton’s (Armenia 2006-08; Philippines 2008-10) The Land of the Four Rivers

The Land of the Four Rivers: My Experience as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia (2006-2008) by Matthew A. Hamilton (Armenia 2006-08; Philippines 2008-10) Červená Barva Press $7.00 42 pages 2012 Reviewed by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991-93) • As Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, we all, I feel confident saying, have at least a couple of photographs documenting our service.  (Some of us doubtless have crates-or iPhones-full of them.) Because we were there, because we know the people and the settings in the photographs, we have a particular attachment to them. They call up full and rich and even complicated memories and associations. To us, each photograph is worth more than a thousand words. Each is a mini-novella, a long poem. But anyone who didn’t have the experiences we had and is seeing the photographs cold knows only what is in front of their eyes. A photo of the family we . . .

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Review of The South American Expeditions, 1540-1545 by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de VacaTranslated with notes by Baker H. Morrow (Somalia 1968-69)

The South American Expeditions, 1540-1545 by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca Translated with notes by Baker H. Morrow (Somalia 1968-69) University of New Mexico Press $39.95 240 pages 2011 Reviewed by Ann Neelon (Senegal 1978-79) As Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them./The good is oft interred in their bones.” Thus my guess is that if you can name a Spanish conquistador at all, it’s most likely Hernan Cortés, who succeeded in subjugating all of Mexico between 1519 and 1526.  Cortés famously sank his own ships in Veracruz, on the east coast of Mexico, after hanging two of his men for getting cold feet about schlepping with him across three mountain ranges to scope out Aztec gold in Tenochtitlán.  As Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s The South American Expeditions, 1540-1545 gives evidence, though, not every conqueror is a study in ruthlessness.  Translated with notes . . .

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Review — Sendero by John Rouse

Sendero: The Path Back by John G. Rouse III (Peru 1966-68; staff: Ecuador APCD 1971-72; DR Republic APCD 1972-74) CreateSpace $7.80 (paperback) ; $2.99 (Kindle) 310 pages 2012 Reviewed by Tess De Los Ríos (Panama 2003–06) • IN JOHN ROUSE’S FIRST NOVEL,  Sendero, he delivers a fast-paced, satisfying plot with details and emotions to which many RPCVs can relate. From the opening chapter describing a ceremonial human sacrifice in the 1400s to uncovering possible government involvement in the supposed accidental death of the central character’s best local friend when he was a Peace Corps Volunteer, down to the last chapter when all is redeemed, Rouse’s writing kept me feeling that something big was just about to happen. Sendero has all the aspects of a quality novel-suspense, romance, sincerity, betrayal, even a car chase between good guys and bad guys. The main character, Petrini, finds himself in a rough patch of . . .

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