The handful of Peace Corps countries on the ‘eastern rim’ has generated a number of books that rate at the top of any list of ‘good’ Peace Corps novels and memoirs. Right up there are books that deserve to be read again, including Roland Merullo’s (Micronesia 1979-81) novel, Leaving Losapas, and P.F. Kluge’s (Micronesia 1967-69) memoir The Edge of Paradise: America in Micronesia.
Many of you have read, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze River by Peter Hessler (China 1996-98) and another member of the “China Gang,” Mike Meyer’s (China 1995-97) author of The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed.
The Peace Corps goes back a long way in this region. The Philippines and Thailand were among the very first Peace Corps countries. From this region, Peace Corps writers have produced many historical books (maybe this is where all the smart PCVs were sent?) but these nations have not given us many novelists. (It could be the water.)
A few of the first class writers who served in Asia and the South Pacific are Jim Oliver (Philippines 1963-64); Ann Panning (Philippines 1988-90); Kinky Friedman (Borneo 1967-69); poet Virginia Gilbert (Korea 1971-73); Richard Wiley (Korea 1967-69); John Givens (Korea 1967-69); Eric Lax (Micronesia 1966-68); David Richards (Micronesia 1971-73); Reilly Ridgell (Micronesia 1971-73); Charlie Smith (Micronesia 1968-70); Paul Eggers (Malaysia 1976-78).
There are more RPCV writers, I know, than the ones I have just listed. A good number of travel writers have come out of this region. Mo Tejani (Thailand 1979-81) A Chameleon’s Tale, and Joe Cummings (Thailand 1977-79), who has written a number of Lonely Planet books. Also Ron Krannich and his wife Caryl Rae, RPCVs who ETed out of Thailand back in 1967, and who now have a small self-publishing business, printing everything from travel books to business/careers guides.
So, when everything is said and doneand you have stacked all of the RPCV books up on a crowded shelf, ask yourself: what is the best memoir of Asia?
What would you say?
The answer — as least as far as I am concerned — is: Peter Hessler’s River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze River.
Here is a memoir that reads like a novel, is full of information about the experience, and reading it , you come away knowing about the Peace Corps, the town on the Yangtze River, and best of all, knowing and coming to like, appreciate, and respect, Peter Hessler, as a writer and as a man.
What more could we ask from a Peace Corps Memoir?