The Relunctant Volunteer: My Unforgettable Journey with the Peace Corps in Brazil
Peggy Constantine (Brazil 1970–71 )
$15.00 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle)
Reviewed by Sally LaRue (Mongolia 2015–17)
The Reluctant Volunteer captures the Peace Corps experience in its uncanny ability to transcend time and place. When I started to read this, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to relate since my own Peace Corps experience was over 40 decades after Constantine’s and in a completely different culture, climate, and time in our world. I was astonished to find that I could imagine it all and could relate in more ways than could ever be explained to someone who doesn’t have that experience. She beautifully depicts a realistic Peace Corps experience complete with all those self-conscious feelings of inadequacies, successes and failures, social factors most people don’t ever consider, and the multifaceted challenges that keeps every Peace Corps Volunteer constantly on her toes.
Constantine does a wonderful job of capturing the people of Brazil and the warmth she experiences from them. It comes full circle when she details the interactions with the small community of Brazilians in California after her return. It feels like a welcoming community with unforgettable memories and lifelong friendships. She also details the Brazilian culture in a unique way, focusing more on everyday life and interactions with Brazilian friends on a regular basis as opposed to what outsiders think of when they hear the word “Brazil.” Constantine doesn’t spend much time writing about Carnival or what Rio de Janeiro is like, which is great. People reading about someone’s Peace Corps experience don’t want a tourist guidebook; they want a unique insight into the culture they wouldn’t be able to replicate unless they went through the same process.
The structure of this book is inspiring to me as a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who enjoys writing. I never would have considered a structure like this, and I think it works well. However, the organization within each section sometimes seems scattered and thrown together. I wished there was even more of a breakdown within each section, especially the two long sections about work and entertaining. The meandering thoughts are unorganized and sometimes difficult to follow. There isn’t much of a beginning, middle, and end curve, so I never knew when the chapter would be coming to a close. The larger structure is smart, though, and I learned something as a writer from this choice.
Overall, this book didn’t change my life, but it made me feel a great connection to the world of Peace Corps Volunteers. I love how Constantine brings the Peace Corps experience to life for those of us who have been through it, and for those who want to know more about it.
Reviewer Sally LaRue served with the Peace Corps in Mongolia from 2015-2017 where she primarily taught English as a foreign language to adults and children. She is currently serving in an AmeriCorps State program at an environmental nonprofit organization, and I’m pursuing a masters in creative writing. I live with my husband and rambunctious Mongolian cat in rural north Alabama.