Book Reviews

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

1
Review: ¿ERES TU? by Frank Tainter (Chile)
2
Review — FAST TRAIN HOME by Gus Karlson (China)
3
Review — ERADICATING SMALLPOX IN ETHIOPIA edited by Barkley, Porterfield, Schnur and Skelton
4
Review — POSTHUMOUS by Paul Aertker (Mauritania)
5
Review — ALL THE DAYS PAST, ALL THE DAYS TO COME by Mildred D. Taylor (Ethiopia)
6
Review — BE STEADFAST by Bryan J. Meeker (Sierra Leone)
7
Review — FLORIDA LOST AND FOUND by Fran Palmeri (Benin)
8
Review — IT ATE ONE HUNDRED by Bill Sugrue (Ethiopia )
9
Review — I HAD SERVANTS ONCE by Kristina Engstrom (Philippines)
10
Review — ASIA WITHOUT BORDERS by Steve Kaffen (Russia)

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 . . .

Read More

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 . . .

Read More

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 . . .

Read More

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 . . .

Read More

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 . . .

Read More

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 . . .

Read More

Review — FLORIDA LOST AND FOUND by Fran Palmeri (Benin)

    Florida Lost and Found: Nature in the Changing Landscape By Fran Palmeri (Benin 1967-68) Green Pilgrimage Press 200 pages January 2020 $29.98 (paperback) Reviewed by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96) • Fran Palmeri and her husband Bob, who was with the USIA, were assigned to  Dahomey (now Benin) in 1967/68. When Sam Stokes, the Peace Corps Country Director, and Sam Longsworth, the Assistant Director came to Cotonou, the capital, to set up the Peace Corps program, Fran was there to help them. Volunteers arrived several months later.  “They were young and idealistic,” says Fran. “It was an exciting time to be in Africa. Many new countries had come into existence very recently, including Dahomey. It was an exciting time to be with the Peace Corps which also was relatively new.” Fran had been working in Washington for the Navy department as assistant editor of a magazine, and was . . .

Read More

Review — IT ATE ONE HUNDRED by Bill Sugrue (Ethiopia )

    It Ate One Hundred By Bill Sugrue (Ethiopia 1969-73) Self-Published 223 pages May 2019 $8.99 (paperback) Reviewed by Phillip LeBel (Ethiopia 1965-67) • Bill Sugrue, a career Foreign Service Officer with USAID, has written a memoir of his four-year experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in the village of Wajifo, in southern Ethiopia. Covering the 1969-1973 years, his account displays the enthusiasm and frustrations of rural life in Ethiopia at a time when elsewhere in the U.S. the Vietnam war and racial conflicts were dividing the country. His account evokes the emotional attachment that so many experienced when confronting their sense of personal identity in a developing country context. It is an engaging account, full of humor, sadness, and joy that unfold through a series of events that are recounted in discrete anecdotes. The title itself suggests the humor found in a cross-cultural experience. Local villagers, whose farming . . .

Read More

Review — I HAD SERVANTS ONCE by Kristina Engstrom (Philippines)

    I Had Servants Once: Peace Corps Volunteer Tell All by Kristina Engstrom (Philippines 1962-64) Levellers Press 219 pages October 2019 $25.00 (paperback) Order from the publisher.   Review by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76 and Costa Rica 1976–77 • First of all, this is a great memoir because Kristina Engstrom has led a very interesting life involving traveling to many countries and working for and with many different organizations doing very useful work, primarily in the public health field. From her Peace Corps service as a teacher in the Philippines from 1962 to 1964, to her work as a trainer of female PCVs who would vaccinate Afghan women and girls against smallpox in 1968, to her extensive work as an international consultant in various public health related gigs from 1984 onward, Engstrom has had a highly productive career. And she describes her experiences with impressive honesty and candor. As . . .

Read More

Review — ASIA WITHOUT BORDERS by Steve Kaffen (Russia)

    Asia Without Borders — Crossing the South Asian Expanse: Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bhutan by Steve Kaffen (Russia 1994-96) SK Journeys Publisher 285 pages 2018 $14.00 (paperback) Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson • I read a travel book for one of two reasons. Either when seeking up-to-date information on traveling in a given country or region — a guidebook — or when I primarily want to enjoy the story of traveling through a region or visiting a specific place at a given time in the past. Steve Kaffen made his journey across South Asia in the 1980s. His book is 284 pages, and over 150 photos from 9 countries constituting a treasure trove of travel related stories. Reading this book is like going to the annual membership gathering of your local RPCV group (Here in the Midwest this will most likely be a . . .

Read More

Copyright © 2019. Peace Corps Worldwide.