Book Reviews

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

1
Review — BETWEEN INCA WALLS by Evelyn Kohl La Torre (Peru)
2
One RPCV View — Elizabeth Kallman’s THE DEATH OF IDEALISM
3
Review — ENCOUNTERS WITH RONGELAP by Richard Sundt (Marshall Islands)
4
Review — WHAT SOME WOULD CALL LIES by Robert G. Davidson (Grenada)
5
Review: ¿ERES TU? by Frank Tainter (Chile)
6
Review — FAST TRAIN HOME by Gus Karlson (China)
7
Review — ERADICATING SMALLPOX IN ETHIOPIA edited by Barkley, Porterfield, Schnur and Skelton
8
Review — POSTHUMOUS by Paul Aertker (Mauritania)
9
Review — ALL THE DAYS PAST, ALL THE DAYS TO COME by Mildred D. Taylor (Ethiopia)
10
Review — BE STEADFAST by Bryan J. Meeker (Sierra Leone)

Review — BETWEEN INCA WALLS by Evelyn Kohl La Torre (Peru)

    Between Inca Walls: A Peace Corps Memoir By Evelyn Kohl La Torre (Peru 1964-66) She Writes Press 256 pages August 2020 $16.95 (paperback); $8.99 (kindle)   Reviewed by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971-73) • The book is well written as the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers Linda Joy Myers describes, “Evelyn LaTorre creates a masterful portrait of place — from the Montana hills to the peaks of Perú — and illustrates how place shapes us. The many lovely metaphors and descriptions throughout the book invite the reader to see through the eyes of an innocent girl as she discovers exotic, lively cultures; absorbs the colors, sounds, passion, and intensity of that new world; and allows it to change her life path.” One scene in Cusco, Peru provides a myriad of details which gave a real sense of this exotic community, Scores of small dark, leather-skinned . . .

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One RPCV View — Elizabeth Kallman’s THE DEATH OF IDEALISM

  The Death of Idealism: Development and Anti-Politics in the Peace Corps by Meghan Elizabeth Kallman (NPCV) Columbia University Press 293 pages April 2020 $28.00 (paperback); $15.39 (kindle); $110.00 (hardback) • ONE RPCVs VIEW Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963-65) As I read Meghan Elizabeth Kallman’s book, THE DEATH OF IDEALISM: Development and Anti-Politics in the Peace Corps, all I could think was, of course, idealism was challenged by the experience of being in the Peace Corps. It should have been, if you accept the definition of Idealism as: the practice of forming or pursuing an ideal unrealistically, as in the idealism of youth. Kallman’s book is an erudite, complex treatise on the many ways that idealism was “killed” in Peace Corps Volunteers over the organization’s six-decade history. I’m afraid I can only speak for myself and a few others of my early 1960s cohort in this review, a microcosm in relation to . . .

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Review — ENCOUNTERS WITH RONGELAP by Richard Sundt (Marshall Islands)

  Encounters with Rongelap: 1968-1969 Fourteen Years After the Nuclear Fallout — Life & Environment Around a Great Lagoon by Richard Sundt (Marshall Island 1968-69) Self-published 132 pages October 2019 $30.00 (print); $1.99 (Ebook) [Buy from: blurb.com.] Reviewed By Bob Arias (Colombia 1964-66) • “Rongelap was my home away from home!” Author Richard Sundt brings us “three books” in one that is an exciting look at his Peace Corps experience on the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. Encounters with Rongelap takes us to his Peace Corps site in Rongelap Atoll, home for two years, 1968-1969, which was fourteen years after the nuclear testing on the Bikini Atoll, a distance of 94 miles away,  in 1954 . An awesome cover with a view of the Pacific introduces you to an exciting book filled with lots and lots of photos, and detailed reports home to his parents. Book One consisted of the numerous reports . . .

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Review — WHAT SOME WOULD CALL LIES by Robert G. Davidson (Grenada)

    What Some Would Call Lies: Novellas Robert G. Davidson (Eastern Caribbean—Grenada, West Indies 1990-92) Five Oaks Press July 2018 177 pages $16.99 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle) Review by: D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76), (Costa Rica 1976–77) • In the interest of full disclosure, I must report that I read and thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Davidson’s previous book, Spectators (Flash Fictions). The two novellas that comprise What Some Would Call Lies showcase Rob Davidson’s profound insight into the minds and thought processes of human beings, and his ability to bring sympathetic characters to life, causing us to feel what they feel, or at least recall and reflect upon similar experiences of our own. Davidson teaches creative writing. These novellas are great examples of the craft. The title What Some Would Call Lies derives from the idea that, even when writing nonfiction, a writer often includes experiences that are not literally true. . . .

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Review: ¿ERES TU? by Frank Tainter (Chile)

    ¿Eres tú?: A History of Lonquimay Frank Tainter (Chile 1964–66) Go to Publish December 2019 328 pages $17.80 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by David Mather (Chile 1968-70)   There are several reasons why I was eager to read “?Eres Tu?.”  The author and I were both forestry volunteers (different groups) in the mid to late ’60s in Chile. According to the jacket of the book, his time there, like mine, was “the most significant experience of his life.” We both ended up writing “novels” about ‘our’ Chile and both books have a young American fall in love with a campesina who was taller than most, had long black hair, and, of course, beautiful eyes. Even the consummations of the two love affairs are similar in that his takes place in a canelo(tree) grove whereas mine was in an alerce grove.  Finally, both of us used the love stories as the vehicle to demonstrate our . . .

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Review — FAST TRAIN HOME by Gus Karlson (China)

    Fast Train Home By Gus Karlson (China) Self-published 164 pages January 2020 $12.99 (paperback), $8.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64) • This book is a collection of tales as told through the eyes of the PCV both as narrator and participant in the adventures. The adventures span a two year period involving Peace Corps Volunteers living and teaching in China.  Stories form a basis of a conversation even as volunteers arrived in China. As they grew into their teaching assignments they were able to share startling urban scenes that sharply contrasted to their descriptions of high mountain breathtaking, sometimes adverse and risky, stunning tales! The main character is China brought to light by the author and its buddies through their sometimes humorous in the moment observations and thoughts. This might be just after climbing at a fast clip up a tortuous twisty path or pushing . . .

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Review — ERADICATING SMALLPOX IN ETHIOPIA edited by Barkley, Porterfield, Schnur and Skelton

    Eradicating Smallpox in Ethiopia: Peace Corps Volunteers’ Accounts of Their Adventures, Challenges and Achievements Editors: Gene L. Bartley (Ethiopia 1970–72, 1974–76), John Scott Porterfield (Ethiopia 1971–73), Alan Schnur (Ethiopia 1971–74), James W. Skelton, Jr. (Ethiopia 1970–72) Peace Corps Writers 486 pages; 69 photographs November 26, 2019 $ 19.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Barry Hillenbrand (Ethiopia 1963–65) • At 465 pages, Eradicating Smallpox in Ethiopia is a hefty and important book which rightfully deserves an honored place on any shelf of serious books about epidemiology and public health. The book tells the tale of the work that some 73 Peace Corps Volunteers did in the early 1970s with The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Smallpox Eradication Program (SEP), a massive project which ultimately eliminated smallpox from the world. But fear not. The book is entertaining to read. This serious story is served up with large dollops of nostalgia, humor, delightful tales . . .

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Review — POSTHUMOUS by Paul Aertker (Mauritania)

    Posthumous (Children: age range: 7–12 years, grade level: 2–6) by Paul Aertker (Mauritania 1988–89) Flying Solo Press 202 pages May 2018 $12.97 (paperback), $6.41 (Kindle) Reviewed by Thomas L. Weck (Ethiopia 1965–67)  • Posthumous begins by revealing the resolution of the principal event of the story — the slow death of 12-years old Ellie’s mother, Etta, from cancer. Rather than focusing on the “suspense” of whether the Etta will live or die, it centers on the gamut of emotions that Ellie and her father, Calvert, experience as they watch Etta fight bravely against the inevitable. It is written with powerful emotion and compassion. It is almost impossible not to tear up on some of the truly magnificent prose that permeates the story. The bravery that Ellie and Calvert exhibit as witnesses to this tragic event mirrors the bravery of Etta’s fight against it. For any child who must bear . . .

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Review — ALL THE DAYS PAST, ALL THE DAYS TO COME by Mildred D. Taylor (Ethiopia)

    All the Days Past, All the Days to Come Mildred D. Taylor (Ethiopia 1965-67) Viking Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House L.L.C January 7, 2020 483 pages $19.99 (Hardcover), $10.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963-65) • Mildred D. Taylor’s ALL THE DAYS PAST, ALL THE DAYS TO COME is a young adult novel, the final book in a ten volume series for which Taylor has won innumerable awards, among them a Newbery Medal, four Coretta Scott King Awards, a Boston Globe—Horn Book Award, a L.A. Times Book Prize and the PEN Award for Children’s Literature. I have never before read a young adult novel as I have no children and during my teens so many decades ago, they didn’t call them by that name. When I was asked to review the novel, I Googled Taylor, and up came effusive accolades on literary sites followed by reader comments that . . .

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Review — BE STEADFAST by Bryan J. Meeker (Sierra Leone)

    Be Steadfast: A Peace Corps Volunteer Journey in Sierra Leone By Bryan J. Meeker (Sierra Leone 2011-13) 361 pages CreateSpace March 2019 $9.99 (paperback) Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77) • Where to begin? Bryan Meeker has written a wonderful memoir of his Peace Corps service in Sierra Leone. I’ll start with a synopsis from the back cover: “Be Steadfast” is a deeply personal memoir of a Peace Corps volunteer’s service in Sierra Leone. Absent during the decade-long devastating conflict, the Peace Corps returned in 2010 as a symbol of unity and progress. While the Peace Corps had worked in Sierra Leone for decades before the war, many of the traditions and cultural norms changed, leaving these new volunteers to forge brave new paths. Being a volunteer is a transformative experience, expressed in this work with honesty and with an immense amount of love. Not . . .

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