Book Reviews

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

1
Review — I HAD SERVANTS ONCE by Kristina Engstrom (Philippines)
2
Review — ASIA WITHOUT BORDERS by Steve Kaffen (Russia)
3
Review — SAYONARA SACRIFICE by Robert Cochrane (Morocco)
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Review — THE ADVOCACY by Melissa Fischer (Ghana)
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Review — AS WE THINK . . . SO WE AGE by Geri Marr Burdman (Bolivia)
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Review — QUEEN OF HEARTS edited by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal)
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Review — TWO YEARS BEHIND THE PLOW by Jonathan Stewart (Nepal)
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Review — HONOLULU DRAGON by Joseph Theroux (Samoa)
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Review — STRANGE BEAUTY OF THE WORLD: POEMS by Bill Preston (Thailand)
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Review — FRONTIER CABIN STORY: The Rediscovered History of a West Virginia Log Farmhouse by Joseph Goss (Afghanistan)

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 . . .

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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 . . .

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Review — SAYONARA SACRIFICE by Robert Cochrane (Morocco)

      Sayonara Sacrifice by Robert Cochrane (Morocco 1981–83) Xpat Fiction 320 pages November 2019 $15.00 (paperback)   Reviewed by Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) • You have to wonder what gets into some writers’ heads when they decide to land on some remote time and place nobody currently is giving a scintilla of thought to and then go ahead and do everything it takes to bring that time and place magically to life. God knows why he chose to do it, but Robert Cochrane has pulled off just such a—I want to say “stunt,” but that’s too feeble a word for the weight and richness of this lovely novel. There are lots of World War II novels, but how many World War II baseball novels are there, especially World War II baseball novels set in Japan whose main character is American? I am guessing none, so Cochrane gets additional points . . .

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Review — THE ADVOCACY by Melissa Fischer (Ghana)

    The Advocacy Melissa  Fischer (Ghana 1992–94) Kilometer Thirteen 472 pages November 2019 $19.99 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle) Review by D.W. Jefferson • RPCV Melissa Fischer has written a novel that reads like a memoir based upon her own experience in Ghana. The protagonist, Louisa Lehmann, is what I would label a super-Volunteer. Other RPCVs will recognize the type. Not only is she an experienced civil engineer, she spent most of the early years of her life in Libya so she understands African cultures better than most PCVs do. The narrative is complex with the primary thread of the plot involving her work for the Advocacy, an agency that works with local villages to help them obtain clean water and sanitation in an area profoundly affected by an open-pit gold mine. But the reader also learns about her neighbors, her living quarters, her perceptions of her coworkers, how she relates . . .

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Review — AS WE THINK . . . SO WE AGE by Geri Marr Burdman (Bolivia)

    As We Think . . . So We Age: Exploring Pathways to Meaningful Aging by Geri Marr Burdman, Ph.D.  (Bolivia 1962-64) GeroWise Books 136 pages July 2015 $14.99 (paperback) Review by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962 -64) • The author’s far ranging life combined with her education, career and recognition by peers should give readers comfort as she explores the challenges of aging in today’s world. As one reviewer writes, “A deeply insightful book, offering a message of hope in the midst of challenges, the author reflects upon …”Dr. Vikto Frankl’s exemplary lessons on finding meaning regardless of age or circumstance.”  That sums up the value of this remarkable 117 page guide for anyone looking ahead or is in the process of aging.  She designates entire pages at the end of each chapter for the reader’s reflections, thus encouraging engagement with the content.  The book lends itself to being . . .

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Review — QUEEN OF HEARTS edited by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal)

    Queen of Hearts: The Story of Anna Sipl Meyers by Anna Sipl Meyers; Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993–96) — Editor CreateSpace July, 2018 248 pages $20.00 (paperback)   Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77) • This is a life story worthy of a Horatio Alger novel, except that it is autobiographical rather than fiction, and the hero, Anna Sipl Meyers, continues her story after achieving her initial goal of owning a Las Vegas hotel and casino. In fact her ups and downs as a hotel and casino owner are among the most fascinating parts of her life story. The book is based on two years of interviews conducted by Claytee D. White, Director of the Oral History Research Center at UNLV (University of Nevada Las Vegas) Libraries. RPCV Leita Kaldi Davis organized the interviews and edited them into a book which is conversational, well organized, . . .

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Review — TWO YEARS BEHIND THE PLOW by Jonathan Stewart (Nepal)

Two Years Behind the Plow: Bringing the Green Revolution to Nepal by Jonathan Stewart (Nepal 1969-72) Self-Published 254 pages October 2019 $20.00 (paperback) order from the author at: 20116 Cumulus Land, Bend OR 97702   Reviewed by John Comings (Nepal 1969-72) • In August of 1969, Peace Corps Nepal’s Group 19 landed in Kathmandu. Fifty years later, one of the group’s agriculture volunteers, Jon Stewart, finished writing a memoir of his time as a PCV. I was a member of Nepal 19, and Jon’s book is an honest portrait of a Nepal PCVs experience at that time. Being a PCV in Nepal 19 meant not seeing or talking with your family or friends for two years, communicating by writing letters and waiting a month for a response, and sometimes going for months without seeing another American.  It also meant being sick all the time, often lonely, and occasionally malnourished. Why then, . . .

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Review — HONOLULU DRAGON by Joseph Theroux (Samoa)

    Honolulu Dragon by Joseph Theroux (Samoa 1975–78) Kilauea Publications August 2019 329 pages $12.00 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) • I’ve always been grateful that the Peace Corps sent me to Ethiopia with its culture of great richness and charm. But after reading Joseph Theroux’s engaging novel set in the South Pacific, I’m almost envious of his having landed in Samoa in 1975. His obvious love of the easy-in-the-islands way of life is infectious — not that Theroux shies away from the political and social turbulence that’s part of the region’s checkered history. It’s just like Ethiopia in that regard, and also of course the United States of America. Honolulu Dragon is the third in Theroux’s series featuring Robert Louis Stevenson and his actual step-son Lloyd Osbourne in which the two writers solve crimes. Other real-life characters show up in this tale of Honolulu . . .

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Review — STRANGE BEAUTY OF THE WORLD: POEMS by Bill Preston (Thailand)

    Strange Beauty of the World: Poems Bill Preston (Thailand 1977–80) Peace Corps Writers 148 pages August 2018 $14.00 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70) • Bill Preston (Thailand, 1977-1980) began his professional encounter with his native language, English, during his Peace Corps TEFL assignment, as did this reviewer. But Bill continued his formal engagement with English well beyond Peace Corps. This engagement has strengthened his expertise as a writer and poet. Strange Beauty of the Worldis a collection both personal and universal in its appeal, organized in broad sections of Bill’s experience and recollections. The universality of each poem enables the reader to find a unique voice and vision of the expressed sentiments and events. Regardless of style and form (mostly extended narrative forms, but a few, often playful, rhyming) the poems seem to this reviewer both appropriate to the themes and evocative of each . . .

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Review — FRONTIER CABIN STORY: The Rediscovered History of a West Virginia Log Farmhouse by Joseph Goss (Afghanistan)

    Frontier Cabin Story  — The Rediscovered History of a West Virginia Log Farmhouse by Joseph  Goss (Afghanistan 1967–69) Peace Corps Writers December 2018 208 pages $14.94 (paperback) Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77) • This is the story of a historic log farmhouse located near Shepherdstown, West Virginia which the author and his wife purchased when on the threshold of their retirement. But more than that, it is a valuable case study of how to go about researching the history of an interesting older building, its owners and occupants over the years, and the surrounding area. As the author explains: I began this project hoping to portray the historical record of one long-overlooked farmhouse and all that I could learn about the people with connections to it. And that is how it has culminated. But I also want it to serve as a useful reference . . .

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