Reviewer Allen W. Fletcher (Senegal 1969-71) is a publisher in Worcester, Massachusetts and recently published a memoir of his Peace Corps service in Senegal, entitled Heat, Sand and Friends. Here he looks at another book spawned by the cross-cultural experience.
Whispering Campaign: Stories from Mesoamerica
by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975-77)
Lawrence Lihosit is an inveterate self-publisher, has served us up a pungent and tasty array of stories in his Whispering Campaign - Stories from Mesoamerica. They have the allure of Mexican street food — rough and honest and earthy. They are laced with the complementary spices of cross-cultural compassion and gringo guilt; and they go directly to the gut.
Lihosit spent a total of seven and a half years in Mexico and Central America, and from the feel of it, it was not a touristic enterprise. By his own account he grew close enough to the people of the several countries in which he lived to tip toe on the dangerous side of local politics. There is no question where his feelings fall with respect to repressive regimes and North American interference in Latin American affairs. There are not a lot of sympathetic norte americanos to be found here.
Lihosit wrote these stories some 25 years ago and recently decided to stir them up again. He adopted a personal conceit of modeling each after the work of a famous author, ranging from Faulkner to Garcia Marques — not a modus operandi that would likely lead to consistency of style; and truth be told, the stew is a little lumpy. The mix is a rich one, however. The reader may choose to engage in his or her own literary guessing game — and it’s there for the playing — but the reward here is in the guts of the stories, not in the stylistic artifice. Each one — and they range from 6 to 68 pages — describes a human involvement that is inextricably bi-cultural and convincingly grounded in its locale.
A trio of protestistas take a harrowing night-time car ride in support of a disintegrating popular cause. A naïve norteno achieves unintended and treacherous results with his academic game-playing. An island woodcarver is seduced away from his art by visitors and has to find his own, elegiac way back to his source. A failed salesman’s son works out his own expiation through a sequence of tawdry encounters south of the border. These stories and their companions conjure up a rough world where damage is an inevitable byproduct of cross-cultural dalliance. As in Chinatown or Ballad of a Thin Man, what is happening here is seldom either intended or fully understood.
The stories are fiction, Lihosit is careful to explain in his preface, yet they have the unmistakable flavor of authenticity. His writing clearly springs from personal familiarity and observation; and his attitude is clearly grounded in personal experience. The cumulative effect is not an optimistic one; and yet Lihosit ends the collection gently, on a note of rebirth and hope. And with this choice he seems to achieve his own writer’s redemption from the full weight of his subject matter.
Allen W. Fletcher’s memoir of Senegal Heat, Sand and Friends is available by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.