Book Reviews

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

1
Review — TALES OF TOGO by Meredith Pike-Baky
2
Review — FEVER AND OTHER STORIES FROM THE LAND OF MOBUTU by Peter Loan
3
Review — THE GOOD HUSBAND by Danny Langdon (Ethiopia)
4
Review — LENIN’S ASYLUM: Two Years in Moldova by A.A.Weiss
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Review — LEARNING PEACE: Stories from My Time in Peace Corps Ethiopia by Krista Jolivette
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Review — QUICK & QUOTABLE by William Hershey (Ethiopia)
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Review-We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest (Ghana)
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Review — MICHAEL GOLD: THE PEOPLE’S WRITER by Patrick Chura (Lithuania)
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Review — CREATIVE TYPES and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan)
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Review — THE TIN CAN CRUCIBLE by Christopher Davenport (Papua New Guinea)

Review — TALES OF TOGO by Meredith Pike-Baky

  Tales of Togo: A Young Woman’s Search for Home in West Africa Meredith Pike-Baky (Togo, 1971-73) A Peace Corps Writers Book September, 2020 280 pages $14.00 (paperback) Reviewed by Bill Preston (Thailand 1977–80) • In the Preface to this candid and heartfelt memoir, Meredith Pike-Baky writes, “The tales in this collection are like the beads of a necklace, les perles d’un collier, whole in themselves, and at the same time integral parts of a longer story when threaded on a string.” A spot-on metaphor (or simile, to be precise) which, together with the many-colored beaded necklace cover image, illustrates the twists and turns, the ups and downs and sometimes sideways arc of her time living and teaching English in Togo. Former Peace Corps volunteers will easily identify with many aspects of these tales — including, (in no special order), the challenge of learning new language(s), the heightened self-consciousness of feeling . . .

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Review — FEVER AND OTHER STORIES FROM THE LAND OF MOBUTU by Peter Loan

  Fever! and other stories from The Land of Mobutu Peter Loan (Staff— CD Zaire 1976–79; Washington) Peace Corps Writers August 2020 100 pages $9.99 (paperback), $5.99 (Kindle) Reviewed D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974-76 and Costa Rica 1976-77)   Peter Loan served as a Peace Corps administrative officer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire) in the mid to late 1970s. This collection of short stories is based on his experiences there. “Land of Mobutu” in the title is a reference to President Mobutu who was in power in the time period in which these stories are set. The author doesn’t say, but it seems obvious to me that all of these stories are based on real situations with the names and surrounding facts changed just enough to avoid embarrassment of the participants, lawsuits, and in one case, potential trouble with superiors in the US foreign . . .

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Review — THE GOOD HUSBAND by Danny Langdon (Ethiopia)

  The Good Husband: 50 Practices That Will Make You Nearly Perfect Danny Langdon (Ethiopia 1962–64) Performance International December 2020 262 pages $15.00 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64) • The book’s dedication states: “This book was written for husbands . . ..” That is so true! After a short introduction, the author lays out the format for all 50 Practices. Practice #1 is titled, “Have your Song!”  Each chapter thereafter is dedicated to an explanation of a specific practice, including “Scenes from Our Relationship,” followed by suggestions for putting the practice into place. Some specific resources or actions tried and true for the author are also offered. This book comes about after a divorced Langdon, along with his second wife, learns, observes and activates a methodology, resulting in 50 Practices.  All suggestions come from real life and feel authentic as a result. While not all practices . . .

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Review — LENIN’S ASYLUM: Two Years in Moldova by A.A.Weiss

  Lenin’s Asylum: Two Years in Moldova by A.A. Weiss (Moldova 2006-08) Everytime Press 255 pages June 2018 $6.00 (Kindle); $16.95 (Paperback) Reviewed by Steve Kaffen (Russia 1994-96) • Lenin’s Asylum; Two Years in Moldova by A.A. Weiss (Moldova 2006-08) is superb writing: flowing and fast-paced, insightful, entertaining, humorous, and empathetic. It describes the author’s two years as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in a village in Moldova. A.A. Weiss is a gifted storyteller and uses crisp sentences, vivid descriptions, and abundant dialogue that are lively, revealing, and often funny. The writing is very personal; you feel the author’s frustrations and joys. Moldova is perhaps the most forgotten country of the former Soviet republics, a landlocked place sandwiched between Russia, Romania, and Ukraine. Moldova clings to Russian, Romanian, or Ukrainian language, culture, and traditions depending upon the region. Of note, the author remarks several times that he was appropriately . . .

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Review — LEARNING PEACE: Stories from My Time in Peace Corps Ethiopia by Krista Jolivette

  Learning Peace: Stories from my Time in Peace Corps Ethiopia by Krista Jolivette (Ethiopia 2018-20) Self-published 316 pages August 2020 $4.99 (Kindle); $9.99 (Paperback) Reviewed by Janet Lee (Ethiopia 1974-76) • What Returned Peace Corps Volunteer has not answered that inevitable question upon their return, “What was it like?  It must have been interesting.”?  And then waited for the listeners’ eyes to glaze over as the Volunteer describes what may have been the most transformative experience of their lives. Interesting?  How do you describe a bond that you have with a country and a people that will likely last a lifetime?  How do you describe an experience that will affect your future relationships, job choices, lifestyle, and attitudes and beliefs? How do you say that you are not the person you were before? Krista Jolivette (Ethiopia 2018-20) provides a glimpse into her life as a Volunteer in the Tigray . . .

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Review — QUICK & QUOTABLE by William Hershey (Ethiopia)

  Quick & Quotable: Columns from Washington, 1985–1997 (Bliss Institute series) William L. Hershey (Ethiopia 1968–70) The University Of Akron Press March, 2020 246 pages $24.74 (paperback) Reviewed by Kathleen Johnson Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) • Quick and Quotable is just that, and I would add amusing, insightful, and always interesting even if the main “characters” are new to the reader. The temptation for the reviewer is to simply quote Hershey’s best quotable lines, but then the review would  be almost as long as the book. The columns are from Hershey’s 13 years (1987—1997) as the Akron Beacon Journal’s Washington correspondent. He was charged to report news pertinent to Akron readers and wrote weekly columns “to take a look behind the headlines,” to engage and inform as well as entertain, and he thought of them “as sending letters back home from a foreign country.” For the reader in 2020, at least a . . .

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Review-We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest (Ghana)

  We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest — Ghana, 1807 by Dorothy Brown Soper (Ghana 1962–65), author; and  James Cloutier (Kenya 1962–66), illustrator Luminare Press October 2020 358 pages Reading level : 9 – 12 years October 2020 $8.99 (Kindle); $19.99 (Paperback) Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962–64) • Imagine this reader’s surprise to see the date of 1807 implying this was a historical story, in Africa!  Lucky would be the kids in school today who get to read about a powerful, intelligent, community-minded kingdom located in Ghana in West Africa, in 1807! The story follows young people going about their daily lives doing work for and about the community.  Their “educations” are mapped out and led by elders or older relatives. Women do honorable work and most important of all, each child’s experiences and attempts to accomplish tasks are rewarded with warm words of . . .

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Review — MICHAEL GOLD: THE PEOPLE’S WRITER by Patrick Chura (Lithuania)

  Michael Gold: The People’s Writer by Patrick Chura( Lithuania 1992-94) 354 pages SUNY Press December 2020 $33.95 (Kindle); $95.00 (Hardback) Reviewed by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963-65) • Counterintuitively, the hardest to write book reviews are for ones you most admire.  And Patrick Chura’s biography, Michael Gold: The People’s Writer is one such book. Reading Chura’s text has been an intimate labor of love for me. In the very last pages of his story of the life of Michael Gold a sentence stood out to describe my deep attachment.  “. . . (Michael) Gold managed the challenge of proving the existence of another America, and how difficult it made his life.” In writing of Michael Gold, an avowed and uncompromising Marxist, a man who has fallen out of the literary canon, out of the political history of America, despite his major contributions and successes, Chura has told the story of . . .

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Review — CREATIVE TYPES and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan)

  Creative Types and Other Stories By Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan 1996) Pantheon 225 pages March 2021 $12.99 (Kindle); $25.95 (hardback), $14.70 (Audible) Reviewed by Tony D’Souza (Ivory Coast 2000-02, Madagascar 2002-03) • TOM BISSELL’S LATEST SHORT STORY COLLECTION, Creative Types and Other Stories is an absolute pleasure to read if you are a Tom Bissell fan. First time readers of Bissell, however, will be lost in a nerdy, introverted world where conflicted couples make self-flagellating and embarrassing attempts at sex, where all sex is generally intellectually over-analyzed and very, very bad, and the reader begins to wonder just a few stories in whether Bissell’s own sex life — he has tellingly and unnecessarily noted that ‘This is, emphatically, a work of fiction’ — is as horrible as all the pages of this book seem to suggest. That Bissell has profound and embarrassing issues with sex is no secret to anyone . . .

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Review — THE TIN CAN CRUCIBLE by Christopher Davenport (Papua New Guinea)

  The Tin Can Crucible: A Firsthand Account of Modern-day Sorcery Violence by Christopher Davenport (Papua New Guinea 1994-96) Lume Books 237 pages December 2020 $12.08 (Paperback) Reviewed by Leo Cecchini (Ethiopia 1962-64) • The Tin Can Crucible is a fascinating description by a Peace Corps Volunteer of how he is inculcated into the customs, morals, values, and way of life by the inhabitants of a village where he trains for his teaching assignment in Papua New Guinea. The process is so complete he comes to ultimately accept what would be in his previous life a totally reprehensible act, the murder by the villagers of a woman accused of witchcraft. The writer uses his impressive command of the language to carefully build the step by step process that leads him to comply with his new “family” and their customs. In essence, the Peace Corps experience changes him, not the people he . . .

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