Book Reviews

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

1
Review — STRANGE BEAUTY OF THE WORLD: POEMS by Bill Preston (Thailand)
2
Review — FRONTIER CABIN STORY: The Rediscovered History of a West Virginia Log Farmhouse by Joseph Goss (Afghanistan)
3
Review — THE BILOXI CONNECTION by David Mather (Chile)
4
Review — BREAKING KOLA: An Inside View of African Customs by Katherine Onyemelukwe (Nigeria)
5
Review — INTERPRETIVE THEME WRITER’S FIELD GUIDE by Jon Kohl (Costa Rica)
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Review — UNORTHODOXY by Joshua A.H. Harris (Mali)
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Review — NEIGHBORS: Oral History from Madera, California by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras)
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Review — EUROPE BY BUS by Steve Kaffen (Russia)
9
Review — THE BURIED by Peter Hessler (China)
10
Review — I AM FARANG by Amy McGarry (Thailand)

Review — STRANGE BEAUTY OF THE WORLD: POEMS by Bill Preston (Thailand)

    Strange Beauty of the World: Poems Bill Preston (Thailand 1977–80) Peace Corps Writers 148 pages August 2018 $14.00 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70) • Bill Preston (Thailand, 1977-1980) began his professional encounter with his native language, English, during his Peace Corps TEFL assignment, as did this reviewer. But Bill continued his formal engagement with English well beyond Peace Corps. This engagement has strengthened his expertise as a writer and poet. Strange Beauty of the Worldis a collection both personal and universal in its appeal, organized in broad sections of Bill’s experience and recollections. The universality of each poem enables the reader to find a unique voice and vision of the expressed sentiments and events. Regardless of style and form (mostly extended narrative forms, but a few, often playful, rhyming) the poems seem to this reviewer both appropriate to the themes and evocative of each . . .

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Review — FRONTIER CABIN STORY: The Rediscovered History of a West Virginia Log Farmhouse by Joseph Goss (Afghanistan)

    Frontier Cabin Story  — The Rediscovered History of a West Virginia Log Farmhouse by Joseph  Goss (Afghanistan 1967–69) Peace Corps Writers December 2018 208 pages $14.94 (paperback) Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77) • This is the story of a historic log farmhouse located near Shepherdstown, West Virginia which the author and his wife purchased when on the threshold of their retirement. But more than that, it is a valuable case study of how to go about researching the history of an interesting older building, its owners and occupants over the years, and the surrounding area. As the author explains: I began this project hoping to portray the historical record of one long-overlooked farmhouse and all that I could learn about the people with connections to it. And that is how it has culminated. But I also want it to serve as a useful reference . . .

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Review — THE BILOXI CONNECTION by David Mather (Chile)

    The Biloxi Connection by David Mather (Chile 1968–70) Peace Corps Writers June 2019 387 pages $14.95 (paperback) Review by D.W. Jefferson • 374 pages, 37 short chapters plus a Prologue and an Epilogue, The Biloxi Connection is another opportunity to enjoy David Mather’s unforgettable characters from Florida’s rural Big Bend region on the gulf coast, also known as the Redneck Riviera. This is another page-turner, leaving you wondering where the time went after spending a couple hours immersed in the story. And the chapters are short enough that you feel like you could read just one more! I strongly recommend that you read the whole three book series starting with Crescent Beach, followed by Raw Dawgin’and finally this volume. But this well-written novel also stands on its own very well. Rusty, the now retired state trooper, plays a major role. In this book he goes after the hired assassin that . . .

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Review — BREAKING KOLA: An Inside View of African Customs by Katherine Onyemelukwe (Nigeria)

      Breaking Kola: An Inside View of African Customs Katherine Onyemelukwe (Nigeria 1962–64) Peace Corps Writers November 2018 251 pages $14.62 (paperback); $9.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Tom Hebert (Nigeria 1962-64)   • Like military veterans, Peace Corps Volunteers never put their stories and accomplishments behind them. As we say, “Once a Peace Corps Volunteer, always a Peace Corps Volunteer.” But very few of us have been as totally immersed in a new culture as the author of this intense but bright and sunny book. Having taught cross cultural communication at the State Department, I knew this author wrote truthfully when I read these words on page 16: “Breaking Kola is my attempt to explain African, especially Igbo customs that that build this deep sense of community.” I mention that because for over 58 years more than 235,000 Americans have served in 141 countries. And, when they return to this country, . . .

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Review — INTERPRETIVE THEME WRITER’S FIELD GUIDE by Jon Kohl (Costa Rica)

    Interpretive Theme Writer’s Field Guide: How to Write a Strong Theme from Big Idea to Presentation by Jon Kohl (Costa Rica 1993–95) InterpPress Publisher 164 pages $29.00 (paperback) November 2018  Reviewed by Jerry Norris (Colombia 1963-65)  • Que le provoca? (what provokes you) According to the UN’s latest report on population growth rates, there are now 7.5 billion inhabitants of planet earth. The author, Jon Kohl, can take a well-deserved bow for bringing to light a subject heretofore obscure—most certainly in my own case, and I’m sure no less so with many others. That is: how to write a strong theme from big ideas to presentation. The author is absolutely clear in his admonition to interested parties: “this Field Guide cannot make you a theme writer, it can only help you along the way.” In this manner, his Field Guide “is the first of its kind to dedicate itself . . .

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Review — UNORTHODOXY by Joshua A.H. Harris (Mali)

    Unorthodoxy by Joshua A.H. Harris (Mali 1996-98) Atmosphere Press December 2019 $8.99 (Kindle), $8.69 pre-release price Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64) • This story takes place in the summer of 2012 in Berkeley, CA, which is the perfect setting for all that unfolds and unwinds in this story.  I grew up in Berkeley back in the 40’s and 50’s so all streets traveled by the story teller, Cecil Reitmeister, are familiar well traveled locations. We meet Cecil in his increasingly decrepit home where he grew up as he reveals his beliefs and personal habits that are part of his Plan!  Staying true to his Plan keeps him focused on how he conducts his life even as he slowly unwinds from reality.  This is a story of how an isolated, lonely adult has matured from an equally lonely childhood filled with weirdness and isolation to an awareness . . .

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

    Neighbors: Oral History from Madera, California by  Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975-77) Kindle Direct Publishing May 2019 232 pages $20.00 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Bill Preston (Thailand 1977-80) • It would be a mistake, on first impression, to fault or dismiss this unique and remarkable book for focusing narrowly on twenty-three individuals in one small city in central California. To someone (like me) living, say, in a small town in northern New Jersey, it would be easy to read the cover and simply conclude, “So, what does this have to do with me?” You would be wrong, of course, as I usually am when making a snap judgment before actually learning about something new. In one sense, the stories in Neighbors are a kind of microcosm; you might be tempted, if considering only the individual stories (the trees, if you will), to miss the a broader, more . . .

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Review — EUROPE BY BUS by Steve Kaffen (Russia)

    Europe By Bus: 50 Bus Trips and City Visits Steve Kaffen (Russia 1994-96) 371 pages SK Journeys Publisher May 2019 $16.00 (paperback) Reviewed by Craig Storti (Morocco (1970-72) • Europe by bus? Really? Does anyone travel by bus who doesn’t have to? Aren’t buses for commuters? OK, tour buses, for sure. But Steve Kaffen is not talking about tour buses; he’s talking about buses as in the way go to from one city to another—all across Europe, for heaven’s sake! Who would do that when you can take a nice, comfortable train? I was skeptical. Can you tell? But then I’m an American, and intercity bus travel is not nearly as common in the US; we have cars for that sort of thing. But one of the revelations in Kaffen’s book is how well-developed intercity bus travel is in Europe, within the same country and from one country . . .

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Review — THE BURIED by Peter Hessler (China)

    The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution By Peter Hessler (China 1996–98) Penguin Press 480 pages May 2019 $28,00 (hardback); $14.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Andy Martin (Ethiopia 1965–68) • I’ve been racking my brain as to how to best review this wonderful book. Perhaps I just did by calling it wonderful. Peter Hessler is a well-established writer and has had a number of fascinating and important books and articles published. He was also a staff writer for The New Yorker. In fact, The Buried, grew out of an assignment he had, to cover the Egyptian Revolution during the “Arab Spring” in the early 2010’s. The Buried was published in May of 2019. I’m writing thus review in late July 2019, only a few months later. However, the book has already had a number of major reviews, including one on this Peace Corps writer’s website. It was also . . .

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Review — I AM FARANG by Amy McGarry (Thailand)

    I Am Farang: Adventures of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand Amy McGarry (Thailand 2003–05) Self-published January 2019 213 pages $14.95 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Jim Skelton (Ethiopia 1970-72) • In the opening paragraph of the Preface to Amy McGarry’s book about her Peace Corps service in Thailand, she declares that As a foreigner [farang in Thai language], I was biased, and for that I apologize. My descriptions of Thai culture should always be read with that “grain of salt.” That statement really caught my attention and made me wonder what kinds of prejudiced revelations could possibly be contained in her tome. What I discovered is that Amy has written a very humorous, painfully honest and deeply insightful view of her service and life in Thailand from 2003 to 2005. She describes what could be characterized as a love/hate relationship with the Thai social culture, despite the . . .

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