Book Reviews

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

1
Memory vs. Truth: Review of OLIVER’S TRAVELS Clifford Garstang (Korea)
2
Review — DRIVING JESUS TO LITTLE ROCK by Roland Merullo (Micronesia)
3
Review — A CROW’S WISP by Joseph Monninger (Burkina Faso)
4
Review — JFK & RFK MADE ME DO IT 1960–1968 by Sweet William (Peru)
5
Another review — AFGHANISTAN AT A TIME OF PEACE by Robin Varnum
6
Review of LOVE IN ANY LANGUAGE by Evelyn LaTorre
7
Review — FROM AFAR by Kyle Henning (Ethiopia)
8
Review — ELISABETH SAMSON FORBIDDEN BRIDE by C.V. Hamilton (Suriname)
9
Review — LETTERS FROM A WONDROUS EMPIRE by Cynthia Nelson Mosca (Ethiopia)
10
Review — WARRIOR LOVE: Silas Loves Lili, Weirdly Lili Loves Silas

Memory vs. Truth: Review of OLIVER’S TRAVELS Clifford Garstang (Korea)

  Oliver’s Travels by Clifford Garstang (Korea 1976-77) Regal House Publishing May 2021 $9.49 (Kindle); $18.95 (Paperback)   Reviewed by Juliana Converse • All novels are mystery novels, a seasoned author tells hopeful writer, Ollie. At the core of everything we read about a character is their greatest desire. The mystery, as in real life, is what will the character do, and to what lengths will they go to attain this desire? Ollie’s desire is multifold: his most urgent need is to find his Uncle Scotty, and ask him why Ollie is haunted by childhood memories related to him. Underneath this urge runs the very familiar, existential dread of the recently graduated. But in Ollie’s case, this includes the question of his sexuality. In Oliver’s Travels, Clifford Garstang interrogates the folly of memory and meaning through a deeply flawed, possibly traumatized, occasionally problematic main character, asking, how do we know . . .

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Review — DRIVING JESUS TO LITTLE ROCK by Roland Merullo (Micronesia)

  Driving Jesus to Little Rock by Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979-80) Pfp Publisher 280 pages September 2021 $9.85 (Kindle); $17,85 (Paperback); $28.00 (Hardcover)   Reviewed by Patricia Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962-64) • Eddie Valpolicella, a successful novelist, and a Roman Catholic by birth, is the protagonist in this engaging novel. Eddie is invited to do a reading gig for a Methodist group in Little Rock. It is still slush time in the Northeast and Eddie chooses a road trip over air travel because he needs time for himself and wants to experience springtime greening as he heads south. Having said goodbye to his wife and family, Eddie rumbles along, grateful for this gift of time, surprised and content that people in Little Rock are familiar with his books. A good guy, Eddie stops to pick up a hitchhiker whose skin is much darker than most New Englanders. Maybe from the . . .

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Review — A CROW’S WISP by Joseph Monninger (Burkina Faso)

  A Crow’s Wisp by Joseph Monninger (Burkina Faso 1975-77) Wood Heat Publishing 321 pages January 2021 $4.99 (Kindle); $10.99 (Paperback)   Reviewed by Steve Foehr (Ethiopia 1965-67) • The crow has been a constant in eons of history, and a continuous thread through worldwide mythologies. In the Bible, the crow symbolizes divine providence. In China and Japan, crows are divine messengers, who show love and gratitude. For the ancient Celts, Romans, and Greeks, the crow could foretell the future. In the many Native American Crow Clans– Chippewa, Hopi, Absaroka, Tlingit, Pueblo, and many more tribes—the crow culture connects the past with the present and the future. Crows have the reputation for being gossipy, disobedient, curious, cautious, a bit stubborn, and want the world the way they want it. They are a trickster, a smart aleck, feared as the souls of people who had committed suicide, and harbingers of luck, . . .

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Review — JFK & RFK MADE ME DO IT 1960–1968 by Sweet William (Peru)

   JFK & RFK Made Me Do It:  1960–1968 by Sweet William (Peru 1964–66) Peace Corps Writers & Constitutional Capers August 2021 274 pages $25.00 (paperback); $9.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963-65) • I didn’t know what I was getting into when Marian Haley Beil asked me to review this book. My first thought was this would be a simple retelling of the Peace Corps experience and its aftermath. But JFK and RFK Made Me Do It: 1960 to 1968 is much more than that. In this recounting,  it becomes a young man’s sentimental education, akin to Gustave Flaubert’s novel of that title, though instead of  living through the revolution of 1848 and the founding of the Second French Empire, Sweet William takes us through the revolution wrought by JFK’s presidency and RFK’s attempt to carry on the calling of his fallen brother. JFK & RFK MADE ME DO . . .

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Another review — AFGHANISTAN AT A TIME OF PEACE by Robin Varnum

  Afghanistan at a Time of Peace by Robin Varnum (Afghanistan 1971–73) Peace Corps Writers June, 2021 201 pages $25.00 (paperback), $10.00 (Kindle) Reviewed by John Chromy (India 1963–65) • Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Robin Varnum (Afghanistan 1970-72) has brought to us a wonderful reminder of how Peace Corps operated in faraway lands 50 years ago.The Volunteers remembered President Kenndy’s “ringing call to service” and they were ready to go to the ends of the earth to serve, to learn and to teach. Ms. Varnum’s narrative begins with the three day PRIST (pre-Invitational Staging) program in Chicago in which the potential volunteers were briefed, provided with vast amounts of information on Peace Corps and Afghanistan, and given the choice to go to Afghanistan or not. If they said yes, two months later they were on their way to Kabul and three months of in-country training. The description of sights, emotions, excitement and . . .

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Review of LOVE IN ANY LANGUAGE by Evelyn LaTorre

  Love in Any Language: A Memoir of a Cross-Cultural Marriage by Evelyn Kohl LaTorre (Peru 1964-66) She Writes Press 320 pages September 2021 $9.95 (Kindle); $16.95 (Paperback)   Reviewed by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971-73) • I have a soft spot for books written by tough, honest women who bring an inner sense of who they are and what’s different and unusual around them. I also appreciate simply told memoirs from fellow travelers, especially Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. As I told the author, her timing couldn’t be better (the book drops later this month), since my Guatemalan wife and I are closing in on our 50th anniversary, making this an opportune time for me to appreciate, reflect and celebrate our matrimonial journey and what makes for a successful blended marriage. I’ve already reviewed the author’s most recent book, Between Inca Wall, and according to the president of the National . . .

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Review — FROM AFAR by Kyle Henning (Ethiopia)

  From Afar:  One man’s human-powered adventure from the lowest point on the African continent to the summit of its highest mountain by Kyle Henning (Ethiopia 2009-11) $17.99 (Paperback); $0.00 (Kindle); Self-Published, May 2021 253 pages Reviewed by Cynthia Nelson Mosca (Ethiopia 1967-69) • I began my adventure with Kyle Henning’s videos on YouTube beginning with Part 1 where Kyle is very neat and clean, a situation that definitely changed by the end of his adventure. This video was enough to catch and hold my interest. I continued watching one video a day until the book was available for purchase. Then I held off watching the last one until I finished the book. How does a classically-trained bassist go from working in a bank in upstate New York to Abyssinia? Isn’t it obvious? Through AmeriCorps. Perhaps not obvious, but Kyle Henning strongly wanted out of his cubicle. He wanted to take . . .

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Review — ELISABETH SAMSON FORBIDDEN BRIDE by C.V. Hamilton (Suriname)

  Elisabeth Samson, Forbidden Bride C.V. Hamilton (Suriname 1999-01) ‎Swift House Press June 2020 401 pages $17.95 (paperback), $3.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Stephen Foehr (Ethiopia 1965-67) • Elisabeth Samson was a real person, a Free Negress. But members of her family remained in slavery, while others were bought out of enslavement, which is how Samson was born free in the 18th century Dutch colony of Suriname. The situation was ripe for drama and moral dilemma, especially with the addition of a Black/White love affair. And there is this twist: Elisabeth Samson was a rich plantation owner with hundreds of slaves, importer of luxury European goods, a Dutch colonial wannabe, whose greatest anguish was not being allowed to marry the love of her life, a white man, and that they had not conceived a child. C.V. Hamilton’s novel Elisabeth Samson, Forbidden Bride is based on Samson’s journals discovered by the author and . . .

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Review — LETTERS FROM A WONDROUS EMPIRE by Cynthia Nelson Mosca (Ethiopia)

  Letters from a Wondrous Empire: An Epistolary Memoir by Cynthia Nelson Mosca (Ethiopia 1967–69) A Peace Corps Writers Book July 2021 182 pages $14.99 (paperback), $3.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by William Hershey (Ethiopia 1968-70) • It took more than 50 years and the COVID-19 Pandemic, but Cynthia Nelson Mosca has written a memoir that captures the best of what it meant to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia in the late 1960s. Cindy didn’t spend half a century writing the book. Her life, especially directing an ESL (English as a second language) bilingual program in Cicero, Illinois, was too full and busy for that. The book is based on letters she sent home to her family while teaching at a secondary school in Woldia, a small town in northern Ethiopia, from 1967 to 1969. Before her aunt and mother died, they gave her all the letters. Until early 2020 . . .

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Review — WARRIOR LOVE: Silas Loves Lili, Weirdly Lili Loves Silas

  Warrior Love: Silas Loves Lili Weirdly Lili Loves Silas by Stephen Foehr (Ethiopia 1964-66) Published by Stephen Foehr 373 pages July 2021 $6.99 (Kindle); $10.98 (Paperback Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974-76) • I am not the ideal person to review this book. I am approximately three times the age of the average member of the book’s target demographic. Also, I have never in my life gone into a bar (much less a biker bar) with the expressed purpose of starting a fight to test my bravery and courage. The one time I did step between two would-be combatants trying to prevent a fight, I was extremely grateful that neither of them decided to attack me! In the opening scene, Silas walks into a biker bar named the Knotty Hole wearing a kilt, no shirt, and a black leather vest with a rhinestone eagle on the back. And . . .

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