Book Reviews

A look at books published by fellow RPCVs that hopefully you will want to read.

1
Review — MY SADDEST PLEASURES by Mark Walker (Guatemala)
2
Review — ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU by Carl Stephani (Colombia)
3
Review — THE REAL PRESENCE: A NOVEL by Ron Singer (Nigeria)
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Review — PROJECT NAMAHANA by John Teschner (KENYA)
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Review — ANGELS OF BASTOGNE by Glenn H. Ivers (Liberia)
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Review — THE PLOT TO KILL LENIN: With Somerset Maugham in Russia by Joseph Theroux (Western Samoa)
7
Review — MY VIEW FROM THE HOUSE BY THE SEA by Donna Marie Barr (Samoa)
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Review — NEIGHBORS: Oral History from Madera, California, V.3 by Lawrence R. Lihosit (Honduras)
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Review — EVERY DAY SINCE DESENZANO by Patrick Logan (Thailand)
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Reviews — ANGELS OF BASTOGNE by Glenn Ivers (Liberia)
11
Review — LETTERS FROM PEACE CORPS/HONDURAS by R. Scott Berg
12
Review — THE BOY WITH FOUR NAMES by Doris Rubenstein (Ecuador)
13
Review — TURQUOISE: Three Years in Ghana: A Peace Corps Memoir by Lawrence Grobel
14
Review — THE UNHEARD by Josh Swiller (Zambia)
15
Review — TROPICAL ECSTASY by Norman Weeks (Brazil)

Review — MY SADDEST PLEASURES by Mark Walker (Guatemala)

  My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road: Part of the Yin and Yang of Travel Series by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971–73) Cyberwit.net May 2022 63 pages $15.00 (paperback) Review by: D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77) • This book is part of the author’s “Yin and Yang of Travel” series of ten essays, which was inspired by Paul Theroux’s (Malawi 1963–65) The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road  Mr. Walker has spent over 50 years traveling in many countries around the world, first as a Peace Corps volunteer, and later as a professional fund raiser for various nonprofit organizations or NGOs. The book is an easy read. Walker writes in a conversational style, and it is only 63 pages. It is primarily a journal of his travels alone, with his family, and leading trips for donors to NGOs he worked for. His travel has . . .

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Review — ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU by Carl Stephani (Colombia)

  Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You …: Peace Corps Remembered – Bogota 1962–64 by Carl Stephani (Colombia 1962–64) Independently published June 2022 237 pages $6.95 (paperback) Reviewed by John Chromy (India 1963–65) •   Our 1960s Peace Corps colleague Carl Stephani has assembled a very interesting and readable screed that for first decade PCVs will bring back many memories, and for post-1970 PCVs. Ask Not . . . provides an interesting view of Peace Corps in the “Olden Days” The days when Peace Corps training included 2-3 months at a US University, a month of outward bound hiking/mountain climbing/river swimming and a week or two in the cross-cultural setting of a poverty ridden neighborhood, be it urban slum or rural Appalachia, migrant stream camp or Native American reservation. The arrival in country and three days later delivered to the village or neighborhood of your assignment. The days . . .

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Review — THE REAL PRESENCE: A NOVEL by Ron Singer (Nigeria)

  The Real Presence: A Novel Ron  Singer (Nigeria 1964–67) Adelaide Books, May 2021 236 pages $19.60 (paperback) Reviewed by Lucinda Wingard (Nigeria 1966-68) • Many of us RPCVs will agree that our lives were significantly altered by living and working in a foreign country. For author Ron Singer (Nigeria 1964-67) the years since Peace Corps have included serious attempts to understand and write about the evolution of his country-of-service. The Real Presence opens with two Igbo characters each taking a chapter to describe for an indeterminate audience their lives before and up to independence in 1960. Addressing the reader in distinctly regional cadence, Lydia Ogochukwu and her much younger brother Jerry (Jeremiah) tell of village life, tribal customs, and their education from the 1930s to the 1950s. They attempt to correct the reader’s misconceptions about their birthplace and the region’s history. The third character is Peace Corps Volunteer Bob Shepard . . .

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Review — PROJECT NAMAHANA by John Teschner (KENYA)

  Project Namahana by John Teschner (Kenya 2003-05) Forge Books 304 pages June 2022 $14,99 (Kindle); $27.99 (Hardback); $17.86 (audiobook) Review by  D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974-76) and (Costa Rica 1976-77) • Set on the island of Kaua’i, the fourth largest of the Hawaiian archipelago, this novel starts with the death of three local boys, apparently by drowning. The book is mostly narrated by the two main characters, Micah Bernt, a former military special forces soldier, living on Kaua’i, and Michael Lindstrom, an executive and former lead scientist for the Benevoment Seed Company, living in the Twin Cities. The book includes a lot of conversation in Hawaiian accents. This makes the narrative especially entertaining to read. Author John Teschner spent seven years living on the island of Kaua’i, so his use of Hawaiian words and phrases is authentic. Further, his descriptions of Hawaiian cultural situations adds a great deal to . . .

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Review — ANGELS OF BASTOGNE by Glenn H. Ivers (Liberia)

  Angels of Bastogne: A Remembrance of World War II by Glenn H. Ivers (Liberia 1974-1976) Peace Corps Writers February 2022 web site: angelsofbastogne.com 315 pages $19.95 (paperback), $9.95 (Kindle) Reviewed by Philip Fretz (Sierra Leone 1967–69) • Angels of Bastogne is an exceptionally comprehensive telling of the conditions faced by a team of medical personnel in WWII.  Although it deals with one battlefront over the course of only several days, it is an emotionally riveting account. As Bastogne, Belgium is surrounded and under siege, desperate conditions in a makeshift aid station overcrowded with wounded bring out a level of dedication and compassion inconceivable in any other situation. The American Army doctor and the Belgian nurses who are the chief protagonists of the story turn to each other for emotional support in the face of unrelenting bloodshed and trauma. Together, they overcome exhaustion and despair to find the courage to face . . .

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Review — THE PLOT TO KILL LENIN: With Somerset Maugham in Russia by Joseph Theroux (Western Samoa)

  The Plot to Kill Lenin: With Somerset Maugham in Russia by Joseph Theroux (Western Samoa 1975-78) Kilauea Publishing 293 pages April 2022 $ 4.00 (Kindle); $10.00 (Paperback) Reviewed by: D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974-76) • This is the seventh book by historian and novelist Joseph Theroux. As with his previous works, it is rich in historical detail. It is 1917 and St. Petersburg has been renamed Petrograd. There are riots, breadlines, and talk of revolution. The secret police, or Cheka, and the Red Guards patrol the streets. Somerset Maugham and Lloyd Osbourne, in the role of secret agents, have been given the mission to locate the Great Orlov, a stolen imperial jewel, whose value, it is thought, could fund the war against Germany. In addition, Alexander Kerensky, President of the Provisional Government, draws them into a plot to assassinate the leader of the Bolshevik faction, Vladimir Lenin. With Osbourne in . . .

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Review — MY VIEW FROM THE HOUSE BY THE SEA by Donna Marie Barr (Samoa)

  My View from the House by the Sea Donna Marie Barr (Samoa 2007-2008) Independently published February 2022 (paperback), December 2021 (Kindle) 415 pages $15.99 (paperback), $7.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Regina DeAngelo (Ghana 2000-2002) • When the average person imagines a Peace Corps experience, they might picture a red-dirt landscape in a forsaken locale. But some RPCVs get to tell a different story, of perhaps a palm-lined, tropical idyll, set beside a clear aqua sea. This is the spot on which a 57-year-old retiree named Donna Marie Barr found herself with Peace Corps “Samoa Group 78” in of June 2007. Like many PCVs who join later than in their youth (myself included), Barr took a circuitous route to a place she’d always wanted to go. After a service in the Air Force, raising three sons, and a career in real estate management, Barr found herself starting over in her mid-fifties . . .

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Review — NEIGHBORS: Oral History from Madera, California, V.3 by Lawrence R. Lihosit (Honduras)

  Neighbors: Oral History from Madera, California – Volume 3 Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975–77) Independently published February 2022 150 pages $16.00 (paperback) Reviewed by Stephen Foehr (Ethiopia 1965–66) • Madera, in California’s San Joaquin Valley, does not seem exceptional at first glance. The city (pop. 65,860) twenty-five miles north of Fresno straddles Rt. 99 on the flat plains of the Central Valley. There are no natural wonders or exceptional architecture. The population is a mix of Anglo-American, African, Native American, Asian, with Hispanic (78.4%) being the largest group. The median household income is $16,00 below the national average. But peel back the ordinary, and you find “bravery, loyalty, patience, persistence, what boxers call heart – the sheer will to get back up,” writes Lawrence Lihosit in his three-volume Madera trilogy. Lihosit, former Peace Corps volunteer (Honduras 1975-77) and travel writer, has lived in Madera since 1995. For the trilogy . . .

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Review — EVERY DAY SINCE DESENZANO by Patrick Logan (Thailand)

  Every Day Since Desenzano: A Tale of Gratitude Patrick  Logan (Thailand 1984-86) Peace Corps Writers 150 pages September, 2021 $9.35 (paperback), $6.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Donald Dirnberger (Eastern Caribbean/Antigua 1977–79) • It is not the road chosen but rather the life one lives upon the journey taken. (An understanding of the poem by Robert Frost.)   Every Day Since Desenzano, A Tale Of Gratitude by fellow RPCV Patrick Logan is a book written about a father and a son living their lives through their words and their gift of giving and sharing through service to others. Learning the importance of family often takes many years, and carries each on different journeys, but in time we come to cherish those who, with gratitude, understand us, even when we did not. In his book, Patrick Logan recounts, through his father’s, his mother’s, his family’s and his own searching and seeking, and . . .

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Reviews — ANGELS OF BASTOGNE by Glenn Ivers (Liberia)

  I think Angels of Bastogne: A Remembrance of World War II by Glenn Ivers is a terrific and unusual World War II story. Its drama and characters are, in my view, riveting. Ivers weaves a complex structure with third person observation and commentary, a history lesson, and a first person set of interactions and dialogue. The result is a completely engaging experience that teaches, provides human context, and puts the reader in the middle of the narrative. Owen Shapiro, Professor Emeritus in Film, College of Visual and Performing Arts Syracuse University; Co-founder and Artistic Director, Syracuse International Film Festival; Co-founder and Emeritus President, International Filmmaking Academy, Bologna, Italy. • I normally don’t spend any time with historical fiction. Then, I read the first few pages of Angels of Bastogne and didn’t stop until 100 pages! The writing about life going on amid the horror of war is intriguing. The psychology of maintaining sanity amid insane . . .

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Review — LETTERS FROM PEACE CORPS/HONDURAS by R. Scott Berg

  Letters from Peace Corps, Honduras by R. Scott Berg (Honduras 1976-79) Independently published 198 pages January 2022 $40.00 (Paperback) Reviewed by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971-73) • I was pleased to review this memoir of a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras. It offered an opportunity to reflect on my own experience as an RPCV and learn more about Scott Berg and Honduras, which is why the author decided to share his legacy. The book is based on a series of weekly letters he wrote to Laurie, his love interest during the two-year long-distance relationship. At the end of his experience, they returned their respective letters in a shoebox. After that, he lost contact with Laurie, and he doesn’t know where she is today. The one hole in the narrative was the two weeks they spent together in Guatemala and parts of Honduras, which was a challenging time. . . .

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Review — THE BOY WITH FOUR NAMES by Doris Rubenstein (Ecuador)

  The Boy with Four Names (for adults and young adults) Doris Rubenstein (Ecuador 1971-73) IUniverse June 2021 180 pages $13.99 (paperback), $3.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by John Chromy (India 1963–65); (PC CD/Eastern Caribbean (1977–79); (Assoc Dir-PC/Washington 1979–1981) • In Italy their baby son was named Enrico, and through the support of a network of Jewish people, the Cohen family were able to obtain a visa to enter Ecuador, one of the few western countries willing to take in Jewish immigrants despite the rapidly growing nightmare unfolding in Europe. Arriving on an hacienda in the Altiplano, young Enrico acquired his second name, Enrique, when his family was employed on the ranch and he began school. The story follows his family’s move three years later to Quito where his father opened a small shop and Enrique entered public school, Escuela Espejo, where he thrived academically, but faced numerous social issues as a . . .

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Review — TURQUOISE: Three Years in Ghana: A Peace Corps Memoir by Lawrence Grobel

  Turquoise: Three Years in Ghana: A Peace Corps Memoir by Lawrence Grobel (Ghana 1968-71) HMH Press 384 pages January 2022 $9.00 (Kindle); $ 20.00 (Paperback) Reviewed by Stephen Foehr (Ethiopia 1965-67) • In 1968, Larry Grobel did the party-hardy at the Aboakyere festival in Ghana, a “crazy, wild stoned-out freaky affair! People filling the streets like army ants around a carcass. No space left uncovered, dancing, drumming, singing and chanting, laughing and shouting, moving, jumping, throwing flags, waving swords, guzzling beer, pito, palm wine and akpeteshe, chewing kola nuts, smoking wee,’ celebrating the way a festival should be celebrated: up high and out of sight!” Grobel, then twenty-one, thought he was going to Guyana as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He misread; he was sent to Ghana. The names started with ‘G’ and ended in ‘ana’. One was in South America, the other in West Africa. Didn’t matter, as long as . . .

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Review — THE UNHEARD by Josh Swiller (Zambia)

  The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa by Josh  Swiller (Zambia 1994–96) Henry Holt Paperback 2007 265 pages $18.59 (paperback), $11.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Christine Herbert (Zambia 2004–06) • I’ve read numerous memoirs by Peace Corps volunteers, and I can honestly say I’ve never read one as unabashedly gritty and truly eye-opening as this one. Unrelenting in its honesty, Josh Swiller’s narrative takes the reader on a tour of discovery: the life of a deaf Peace Corps volunteer serving in Africa. What can I say about the writing? In short, it is astounding. The narrative drifts between incisive prose, bite-size history lessons, quippy dialogue, sweeping poetry, locker room trash talk and back again with the nimbleness of a flying trapeze artist. Sometimes lilting like a lullaby, sometimes booming like a howler monkey, the words call you to experience his story with all your senses. Every scene is cinematic in . . .

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Review — TROPICAL ECSTASY by Norman Weeks (Brazil)

  Tropical Ecstasy: A nostalgic trip to Brazil Norman  Weeks (Brazil 1968-70) Independently published 2020 282 pages $12.00 (paperback); $4.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Michael Varga (Chad 1977–79)  • How many RPCVs would like the opportunity to return to their place of service and survey the changes? That’s the premise of Norman Weeks’ memoir, Tropical Ecstasy. He returns to Brazil (in 1995) 25 years after his years as a Peace Corps Volunteer to his small city of Penedo. Language is an important part of his return, and he tries to communicate as often as he can in his dusty Portuguese. He wants to increase his encounters with locals, and knows that relying on English will not allow for a very deep understanding of the country so many years later. As he travels through Brazil — Manaus, Olinda, Recife, Maceio — on his way to his town, he laments that an oil slick, . . .

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