Book Reviews

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

1
Review — Ripples in the Pond by Michael Stake (India 1966–68)
2
Review— DEVIL’S BREATH by Robert Thurston (VENEZUELA)
3
Review: UNDER CHAD’S SPELL by Michael Varga (Chad)
4
Review — OUTPOST by Chris Hill (Cameroon 1974-76)
5
Review — I Climbed Mt. Rainier with Jimi Hendrix’s High School Counselor by Rick Fordyce (Ghana)
6
Review — POSTED IN PARAGUAY by Eloise Hanner (Afghanistan 1971–73, Paraguay 1999–2000)
7
Review — WHEN BRITISH HONDURAS BECAME BELIZE 1971–73 by Ted Cox
8
Review — THE EARLY YEARS OF PEACE CORPS IN AFGHANISTAN by Frances and Will Irwin
9
Review —ONLY BEES DIE by Robert Keller (Albania)
10
Review — LITTLE WOMEN OF BAGHLAN by Susan Fox

Review — Ripples in the Pond by Michael Stake (India 1966–68)

  Ripples in the Pond: Reflections of a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from India by Michael Stake (India 1966–68) Inkwell Productions, 2014 371 pages $17.00 (paperback), $8.00 (Kindle) Reviewed by Barbara E. Joe (Honduras 2000–03) • ALL PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS HAVE a story to tell — a highly personal series of adventures to share. Thankfully, many are contributing to an archive about this unique historical experiment, with which fellow Volunteers can compare and contrast with their own experiences. Michael Stake has added his memoir, dating back to Peace Corps’ earliest days, a very readable book about that heady time when the agency was still feeling its way. Much has changed since, including less-ready acceptance of non-college graduates and no more assignments in India, where Stake was sent as a neophyte Agriculture Volunteer and where President Carter’s mother Lillian also served. Stake interrupts his college career to join because of uncertainty . . .

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Review— DEVIL’S BREATH by Robert Thurston (VENEZUELA)

Devil’s Breath (Peace Corps novel) by Robert Thurston (Venezuela 1968–70, Staff: Belize 1972–75, Honduras 1975–77) CreateSpace September 2014 176 pages $8.99 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle) • Review by Bob Arias (Colombia 1964–66) WE GET TO MEET GRINGO MATEO, the volunteer from Mission USA, an organization like Peace Corps in many ways. Mateo is sent to a small village in the remote area of Vainazola to assist the local farmers and the community COOP. But what happens is he gets caught up with the bad guys that do not want a Gringo, especially Gringo Mateo to find that they have been stealing money from the community, lots of dinero! Mateo is framed for the murder of a young lady and the fact that he is the son of a prominent US Congressman causes problems for the American Embassy. This gets better, as we see the local CIA Station Chief involved in gun . . .

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Review: UNDER CHAD’S SPELL by Michael Varga (Chad)

Under Chad’s Spell (Peace Corps novel) by Michael Varga (Chad 1977–79) CreateSpace August 2014 378 pages $16.99 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by John Kennedy (Ghana 1965–68) • Under Chad’s Spell is a fine book. I enjoyed reading it from start to finish. It’s an easy read. Michael Varga’s story kept me entertained on many levels. I recommend this book to all over the age of eighteen. Read this book and you will know more about Chad, the people of Chad, and the experience of being a Peace Corp Volunteer in Chad. I also believe that if you are open to exploring the possibilities of how your life might have been different if you had been a PCV in Chad, you will learn something about yourself, your past and possible future by reading this book. That’s a heavy burden to place on a book, but for me, Under Chad’s Spell did . . .

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Review — OUTPOST by Chris Hill (Cameroon 1974-76)

Chris Hill (Cameroon 1974-76) begins his new book: Outpost: Life on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy by telling his favorite story, his account of how as a PCV in Cameroon he tried to overhaul a corrupt credit union only to have his efforts rejected, largely because he did not understand the community’s internal dynamics and culture. What happened was something like this, Chris discovered that one board of directors had stolen 60 percent of their members’ money. He reported this to the members, who promptly re-elected them because the board reflected carefully balanced tribal interests and it really didn’t matter to the members if the board directors ran a good credit union or not. Hill said the lesson was that “When something’s happened, it’s happened for a reason and you do your best to understand that reason. But don’t necessarily think you can change it.” In his book he then sums up, “Years later, . . .

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Review — I Climbed Mt. Rainier with Jimi Hendrix’s High School Counselor by Rick Fordyce (Ghana)

  I Climbed Mt. Rainier with Jimi Hendrix’s High School Counselor, and Other Stories of the Pacific Northwest by Rick Fordyce (Ghana 1978-80) Merrimack Media $12.00 (paperback) 125 pages 2014 Reviewed by Don Messerschmidt (Nepal 1963-65) If you grew up in Seattle in the ’60s or ’70s, you’ll appreciate this little book. You might even understand some of the teenage jargon. Groovy! Cool! There are twelve stories here, about adolescents in the city trying hard not to get busted for pot; about camping out in the North Cascades with a bunch of friends trying hard to like it; about making friends and comparing notes about urban high school life; about flying off to Europe with other teenagers, smoking cigarettes in flight (before the ban), and kissing the girl sitting next to, though you’d only just met; and, among others, the title story about climbing Mt. Rainier with the guy who . . .

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Review — POSTED IN PARAGUAY by Eloise Hanner (Afghanistan 1971–73, Paraguay 1999–2000)

Posted in Paraguay: Adventures Below the 20th Parallel by Eloise Hanner (Afghanistan 1971–73, Paraguay 1999–2000) A Peace Corps Writers Book $14.95 (paperback); $4.99 (Kindle) 262 pages 2014 Review by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96) “Nobody goes to Paraguay,” asserts Hanner in her opening sentence of Posted in Paraguay: Adventures Below the 20th Parallel. But, of course, Peace Corps does. And so did Eloise and Chuck Hanner, They are among the rare people who become bored with making money and playing golf, and seek broader horizons outside their comfort zones. They are the kind of people who become Peace Corps Volunteers. Eloise and Chuck had already served in Afghanistan from 1971-73, shortly after their marriage, and Eloise published that story in Letters from Afghanistan. They then spend decades building their own little empire as stock brokers in San Diego, before they felt the need to move on. They did a long . . .

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Review — WHEN BRITISH HONDURAS BECAME BELIZE 1971–73 by Ted Cox

When British Honduras Became Belize 1971–73: A Peace Corps Memoir by Ted W. Cox (Sierra Leone 1969–71); Belize (1971–73) Old World Deli, Publications Dept. $16.95 456 pages 2014 Reviewed by Barbara E. Joe (Honduras 2000-03) Years ago, my curiosity about Belize was aroused during a brief stopover at the primitive tree-canopied Belize City airport. So I picked up When British Honduras Became Belize with considerable anticipation. I was surprised by the book’s heft (456 pages) and puzzled when first thumbing through its vast collection of photos, memos, letters, deeds, certificates, and tables dating from the author’s service. Interspersed were reconstructed conversations and present-day commentary in such large type that I didn’t need my glasses to read it. What was this all about? At first glance, this unconventional book looks much like a scrapbook or collage. It contains five maps, including one of Sierra Leone, author Ted Cox’s first Peace Corps . . .

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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 —ONLY BEES DIE by Robert Keller (Albania)

Only Bees Die: Peace Corps Eastern Europe by Robert Keller (Albania 2008–09) CreateSpace $10.95 (paperback) 212 pages 2010 Reviewed by Ken Hill (Turkey 1965–67) Albania is an exotic and enchanting place, home to a Peace Corps program since 1992.  Robert Keller served there as a teacher and consultant from the Spring of 2008 to the Fall of 2009. Only Bees Die provides a lovely afternoon of reading about his experience. The author clearly relished Albania and his book provides a welcome glimpse of life there for the foreigner. Written as a diary and a sort of practical guide, emails sent while in service are scattered throughout, providing an interesting context for insights. The work provides numerous practical tips and suggestions, revealing anecdotes  and examples of do’s and don’ts that most PCV’s would agree on. Likely of limited interest outside a Peace Corps or similar context, it should prove useful for . . .

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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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