Book Reviews

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

1
Review — TACOMA STORIES by Richard Wiley (Korea)
2
Review — ADORABLE AIRPORT by Jacqueline Lyons (Lesotho)
3
Review — A FEW MINOR ADJUSTMENTS by Cherie Kephart (Zambia)
4
Review – SECRETS OF THE MOON by Tema Encarnacion (Dominican Republic)
5
Washington Post review and comments on Larry Leamer’s (Nepal) book MAR-A-LAGO
6
Review — THE HERETIC OF GRANADA by David C. Edmonds (Chile)
7
Review — YOU KNOW YOU WANT THIS by Kristen Roupenian (Kenya)
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Review — DRAGONFLY NOTES by Ann Panning (Philippines)
9
Review — LIVING LIBERIA by Robert Cherry (Liberia)
10
Review — TO SAVE AN EMPIRE by Allan R. Gall (Turkey)

Review — TACOMA STORIES by Richard Wiley (Korea)

    Tacoma Stories by Richard Wiley (Korea, 1967-69) Bellevue Literary Press, 2019 270 pages $16.99 (paperback)   Reviewed by Ann Neelon (Senegal 1978-79) • In town to cash in on the NBA buzz generated by Murray State University’s versatile point guard Ja Morant, a writer from Sports Illustrated recently characterized Murray, Kentucky as “a city of 17,741 tucked into the state’s southwest corner, where on any given day you might find a horse pulling a passenger cart down 12th Street.” As someone who was incensed by the manufactured hokeyness of this comment — in 27 years in Murray, I have yet to spot a horse and cart on our main drag — I may constitute the ideal audience for Richard Wiley’s Tacoma Stories, a linked collection that gives poignant testimony to Tacoma’s gravitas as a place despite or perhaps even because of its general failure to achieve billing over . . .

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Review — ADORABLE AIRPORT by Jacqueline Lyons (Lesotho)

    Adorable Airport By Jacqueline Lyons (Lesotho 1992–95) Barrow Street Press 90 pages $16.95 (paperback)   Reviewed by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991-93) • What could be cuter than contemplation? Quick: describe an airport with an adjective that begins with “A.” Awful? Agonizing? Aggravating? Did anyone say “adorable”? Jacqueline Lyons did. And Adorable Airport, her fourth book of poems, makes a strong case for the unexpected title. From its cover, a painting of the inside of an airport with its gentle greens and blues, its escalators and baggage carousels, and its contented characters, Lyons’ book appears aimed at children. But only a very precocious child would understand and appreciate Lyons’ sophisticated and enchanting musings on time, seasons, love, and, yes, airports. Like Lyons’ book, an airport is a stop between places, between going and coming, between home and holiday. Adorable Airport suspends time in order to reflect on it the . . .

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Review — A FEW MINOR ADJUSTMENTS by Cherie Kephart (Zambia)

    A Few Minor Adjustments: A Memoir of Healing by Cherie  Kephart (Zambia 1994) Bazi Publishers September 2017 254 pages $15.95 (paperback), $24.95 (hard cover), $4.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77) • Cherie Kephart is the ultimate survivor. She lived through a brutal rape followed by a serious car accident while in college. Then survived both a nasty case of explosive diarrhea and possible malaria while a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia. Ten years after her Peace Corps experience she faced a myriad of severe symptoms which defied diagnosis. Through it all she keeps struggling gamely to find a treatment that will allow her to lead some semblance of a normal life and be a useful person in the world. The title, “A Few Minor Adjustments,” is ironic, borrowed from a Peace Corps pamphlet discussing the life style changes a Volunteer faces in their . . .

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Review – SECRETS OF THE MOON by Tema Encarnacion (Dominican Republic)

    Secrets of the Moon: A Novel by Tema Encarnacion (Dominican Republic 2000–01) CreateSpace September 2018 186 pages $9.99 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971–73) • Author Tema Encarnacion couldn’t have chosen a timelier theme for her debut novel, than the circumstances that force families to flee violence from Central America and embark on a perilous journey across the border into the U.S., as the immigration crisis continues unresolved. Alternating narratives from the daughter, Luz, and her mother, Esperanza, help the reader appreciate how the experience will traumatize everyone in the family from Luz’s grandmother, who has been bringing Luz up in El Salvador alone for six years, to Luz’s crossing the border where she’s raped and mistreated upon her eventual arrival in Maryland. The rape scene of a 12-year-old while crossing the desert was especially heart wrenching, but well written, and the symbolism of the . . .

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Washington Post review and comments on Larry Leamer’s (Nepal) book MAR-A-LAGO

    Thanks to the ‘heads up’ from Dick Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) Article and review of Laurence Leamer’s (Nepal 1965-67) Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace. • How Mar-a-Lago’s denizens nurtured Donald Trump’s ego By Robin Givhan Washington Post February 7   Palm Beach is a horrible place. According to Laurence Leamer “Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace,” the Florida enclave is populated by snooty old-timers and egotistical arrivistes, social climbers and brown-nosers — all of whom are willing to tolerate and even reward the most egregious behavior if it means basking in the nuclear glow of the latest buzzy power player. It’s a town where wealthy husbands fight petty battles in court and middle-aged wives fight wrinkles and weight gain as if their marriages depend on it, because they so often do. It’s a wretched village filled with grotesque anti-Semitism . . .

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Review — THE HERETIC OF GRANADA by David C. Edmonds (Chile)

    The Heretic of Granada David C. Edmonds (Chile 1963–65) Southern Yellow Pine April 2018 358 pages $18.95 (paperback), $4.95 (Kindle)   Review by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77) • The Heretic of Granada is a surprisingly quick read for 63 chapters and 345 pages. The chapters are short and there is plenty of action to hold your interest. Father Antonio, an excommunicated Spanish priest, is an unlikely action hero. But when friends help him narrowly escape being burned at the stake, he is determined not just to survive, but to bring down the corrupt administration that destroyed his family. This is an adventure on a par with Treasure Island, but with adult situations and content I would not generally recommend for young readers. The book is a historical novel set in colonial Nicaragua and the Caribbean. It is so fast-paced and entertaining that I had to . . .

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Review — YOU KNOW YOU WANT THIS by Kristen Roupenian (Kenya)

  You Know You Want This: “Cat Person” and Other Stories By Kristen Roupenian (Kenya 2003-05) Scout Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster 225 pages $24.99 (hardcover), $12.99 (Kindle), $23.19 (Audio CD)   Reviewed by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963-65) • Let me begin by saying I’m not the best person to be reviewing Kristen Roupenian’s debut book, You Know You Want This: “Cat Person” and Other Short Stories. One would think I would be because I’m a Second Wave radical feminist who agitated for equal rights for women, especially equal erotic rights. As a writer I’ve felt the pinch over the years of the publishing industry’s spoken and unspoken bias toward “likable” women characters. And I have my own bias in favor of difficult, edgy writing, whether by men or women.  This said, I’ve now come up against the adage of, “beware of what you ask for.” When I first . . .

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Review — DRAGONFLY NOTES by Ann Panning (Philippines)

  Dragonfly Notes: On Distance and Loss by Anne Panning (Philippines 1988–90) Stillhouse Press September 18, 2018 258 pages $16.00 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Kay Gillies Dixon (Colombia 1962–64) • Anne Panning’s memoir successfully brings together eloquent essays mourning the loss of a loving parent while remembering childhood experiences within her family and currently parenting her own two young children. Immediately following her mother’s funeral, the grieving Panning searches for communications from her mother. The first communications she attributes coming from her mother are not of dragonflies, but of a book Better Home and Gardens Sewing Book: Custom Sewing Made Easy. Sewing was embedded in her mother’s DNA. Another sign was of a laminated prayer card she found on the floor of Target: As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. Isaiah-66.  With these signs, she believes her mother is reaching out to her. Then, early in . . .

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Review — LIVING LIBERIA by Robert Cherry (Liberia)

  Living Liberia: Laughter, Love & Folly by Robert Cherry (Liberia1965–67) Living Liberia August 2017 $15.00 (paperback), $9.50 (Kindle) Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974-76 and Costa Rica 1976-77). • Liberia is a fascinating little country. Founded by former slaves from the U.S., it is the oldest republic in Africa. This and much more I learned from reading Living Liberia by Robert Cherry. The primary narrative of this book tells the story of the author’s return visit to Liberia and his former Peace Corps site in 1982, 14 years after his service there from 1966-68. But it is also a memoir of his Peace Corps years serving as a teacher in an elementary school in the small, rural village of Kpaytuo. The author, a former journalist as well as a teacher, gives us a good deal of background about Liberian history along the way. Thus the book is a great resource . . .

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Review — TO SAVE AN EMPIRE by Allan R. Gall (Turkey)

To Save an Empire: A Novel of Ottoman Allan R. Gall (Turkey 1962-64) Allan R. Gall – publisher 426 pages March, 2018 $14.99 (paperback), $7.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Robert E. Hamilton (Ethiopia 1965–67) • If, like me, you have been unfortunate enough not to have lived in Turkey for eight years, as Dr. Allan Gall did, then you may want to supplement your reading of To Save an Empire: A Novel of Ottoman History by watching the 36 video lectures of Ottoman history (Great Courses DVD) by Professor Kenneth W. Harl of Tulane University.  Or, read selected portions of Douglas Howard, The History of Turkey (second edition, 2016) and Thomas Maddan’s Istanbul (2016).  All three supplements were available to me through my local library.  These resources helped me understand the context of Gall’s novel, which only covers the seven-year period from 1876 to 1883. Why did Allan Gall focus . . .

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