EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE I get a surprise in the mail. Out of nowhere comes a book by an RPCV that sets me back in my work as I have to sit down and read it asap. When I finish, I end up thinking: ‘wow’ we (i.e. RPCVs) are writing prose that still makes us want to turn the page. We are writing literature in ways that no one else can because of our Peace Corps years.

civilized-worldYesterday I received in the mail from Holt Paperbacks a debut novel entitled The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories written by Susi Wyss (Central African Republic 1990-92). Susi was raised in the U.S. and the Ivory Coast and worked for twenty years managing health programs in Africa, where she lived for more than eight years. She has a B.A. from Vassar, an M.P.H. from Boston University, and holds an M.A. in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University. Today, she lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. The woman writes like an angel.

This novel is set in Africa and the United States and follows two Ghanaian and three American women as their lives intersect. Susi writes, “For more than a decade I pursued my career in international health, traveling to a dozen African countries and living in two of them, before the notion of writing fiction even occurred to me. During that time, I listened to people’s stories, paid attention to my surroundings, and watched the world around me. I listened to a Burkinabe friend complain about being hauled off to the police station in Abidjan because he wasn’t carrying any ID. I watched two Ethiopian boys fight each other with walking sticks near the falls of Bahir Dar. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic, I encountered a flurry of white butterflies on the road from the Dzanga-Sangha National Park to Bangui, and was struck by how much they resembled white snow. Maybe that was the beginning.”

In their early review of the book, Publishers Weekly writes, “In this smart, urbane debut, characters strive for understanding within a cacophonous modern landscape. Two parallel but conflicting stories open and close the collection to moving effect. Wyss offers nuanced takes on vastly different corners of Africa, transcending travelogue to achieve resonant narratives–sometimes funny, sometimes stark–with both grit and heart.”

Susi’s book comes out this month. You can order it from Amazon. Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Cameroon 1965-67) will be reviewing her book shortly on this site, but don’t wait for us. Buy the novel.