Out this month is Matt Davis’s (Mongolia 2000–02) memoir of Mongolia, When Things Get Dark: A Mongolian Winter’s Tale. In a cover blurb Peter Hessler (China 1996–98) writes, “Matthew Davis’s portrait of Mongolia is riveting, insightful, and deeply honest.”
Matt received his MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writing Program (other fine RPCV writers who graduated from this program are Richard Wiley (Korea 1967–69), Phil Damon (Ethiopia 1963–65), Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean 1975–76), and John Givens (Korea 1967–69). At Iowa Matt was an Arts Fellow, a writer-in-residence at the Museum of Art, and a postgraduate Writing Fellow. Today Matt is a fellow and student at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. On June 9, 2009 Peace Corps Worldwide published an interview I did with Matt about his book.
In the interview I asked Matt what other Peace Corps memoirs he had read and he replied, “Well, I’ve read Peter Hessler; George Packer; Tom Bissell; Sarah Erdman; Norman Rush; Tony D’ Souza, just to name a few. I think as someone who wanted to write about their Peace Corps experiences, it was important to read books similar in vein but also know when you can tell you’re being too influenced. So, for example, when I was reading Packer’s The Village of Waiting, even though I loved the book, I could tell that my brain was spinning a mile a minute with the similarities of our experiences, our beginnings, and I needed to put it down.”
One book that he didn’t mention was Mike Tidwell’s (Zaire 1985-87) The Pond of Kalambayi: An African Sojourn. There is a lot of Tidwell’s experiences in Matt Davis’s wonderful new book, two PCV writers who get to the end of the earth, physically and mentally, then turn around to save themselves, tell their stories, and make their way back home again.
Unlike Tidwell, but like Hessler, Packer, and Bissell, Matt Davis returned to his country of service to find, if anything, what he had left behind. The book ends with Davis summing up, “Now, at the ripe old age of thirty-one, I still think that those two years were like the flutter of an eyelid, and that those times are like a slap of a book’s pages when the covers are closed shut, the story done.”
True enough for Matt Davis, but perhaps not so true for his readers. These stories linger. And as Faulkner once wrote, ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
You can read more about Matt, including where he will be speaking, at his website.
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