Book Reviews

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

1
Review — FROM THESE BROKEN STREETS by Roland Merullo (Micronesia)
2
Review — POETRY SKETCHES by Eldon Katter
3
Review — A HUNDRED FIRES IN CUBA by John Thorndike (El Salvador)
4
Review — THE LONG ARC OF THE UNIVERSE by Kathleen Stocking (Thailand, Romania)
5
Review — Havana Odyssey by Stephen E. Murphy (HQ Staff)
6
Review — EVERY HILL A BURIAL PLACE by Peter H. Reid (Tanzania)
7
Review — JESSE, A MAN GOOD ENOUGH by Will Michelet (India)
8
Review — OWLS OF THE EASTERN ICE by Jonathan Slaght (Russia)
9
Review — THE WARM HEART OF AFRICA by Jack Allison (Malawi)
10
Review — YOUNG AMERICANS by Peter S. Rush (Cameroon)

Review — FROM THESE BROKEN STREETS by Roland Merullo (Micronesia)

  From These Broken Streets: A Novel Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979-80) Lake Union Publishing 376 pages November 3, 2020 $14.95 (Paperback) Reviewed by Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) • A gifted and versatile author of 24 books, including 18 works of fiction, Roland Merullo has now produced a historical novel that’s a humdinger, as suspenseful, revealing, and involving as any World War II fiction I’ve ever read. In his acknowledgments, Merullo describes visiting Naples with his family and being surprised to learn of a successful four-day uprising against Nazi occupation in 1943 and then being moved to write about this remarkable but little-known popular revolt. He created this deeply researched and powerfully told tale in under a year, an amazing feat. In September of 1943, Mussolini has been strung up, leading Fascists are in hiding, an armistice has been declared, and the Italian army is melting away.  But the Germans are . . .

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Review — POETRY SKETCHES by Eldon Katter

  Poetry Sketches: A Peace Corps Memoir Eldon Katter (Ethiopia 1962 – 1964) Peace Corps Writers June 2020 266 pages $10.48 (paperback) Reviewed by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) • In his evocative memoir artist Eldon Katter  made me want to learn to sketch with a pen as well as with words. Katter is able to do both and has been doing so beautifully for the last 50 years or so. He had the foresight to chronicle his time in Ethiopia and his subsequent travels with short poems and line drawings, both his own drawings, and those of his students. Individually they are interesting, and together, the drawings paired with the poems, they are wonderful. Katter was in the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers to go to Ethiopia, and had the good fortune to be assigned to the Teacher Training School in Harar, Ethiopia, along with 19 other Volunteers, “doubling . . .

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Review — A HUNDRED FIRES IN CUBA by John Thorndike (El Salvador)

  A Hundred Fires in Cuba by John Thorndike (El Salvador 1966-68) Beck & Branch Publishers 316 pages 2018 $9.79 (Paperback),$4.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Stephen Foehr (Ethiopia 1965-67) • Idealism fitted to pragmatism, with the inevitable conundrums and conflicts for balance in the personal as in revolution, is the bedrock of John Thorndike’s novel A Hundred Fires in Cuba. The novel is a love story. Camilo Cienfuegos is a real historical person, and Clare is a fictional American photographer and mother of Cienfuego’s (which translates as a hundred fires) illegitimate daughter. Clare is the passionate flame of their affair; Camilo’s passion is the Cuban revolution. As one of Castro’s main comandantes, he was appointed, after the fall the dictator Batista, head of the national army, a conglomerate of ragged rebels and Batista’s defeated troops. Camilo and Clare’s affair began in New York, where Camilo, an illegal, worked in a restaurant’s . . .

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Review — THE LONG ARC OF THE UNIVERSE by Kathleen Stocking (Thailand, Romania)

  The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale by Kathleen Stocking (Thailand 2006-07; Romania 2010-12) Stocking Press 384 pages’ January 2016 $19.95 (Paperback) Reviewed by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) • The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale is an ambitious title with reverberations from Theodore Parker and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. coupled with the expectation of going where you aren’t necessarily comfortable. It is also a big book for a collection of essays, 384 pages, 5 sections: California, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Home. These are not exactly parallel divisions: a state, three continents, and then Stocking’s home, the tiny village of Lake Leelanau, a knuckle on the skinny finger of land, Leelanau Peninsula, that juts into the northeastern waters of Lake Michigan. But it works. It works extremely well. For some reason I started at the end, which I never do, and read . . .

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Review — Havana Odyssey by Stephen E. Murphy (HQ Staff)

  Havana Odyssey: Chasing Ochoa’s Ghost by Stephen Murphy (HQ Staff 2002-03) Self Published 296 pages July 2020 $17.95 (Paperback), $8.49 (Kindle); Reviewed by Sean Sullivan (Liberia 1970-72; staff 1970-76) • It took Odysseus 10 years of incredible adventures to make his way back to his home in Ithaca after winning the Trojan War, as the ancient Greek writer Homer relates. It took Stephen Murphy 10 days to return home after his epic journey in Cuba, as he recounts in his fascinating new book, Havana Odyssey: Chasing Ochoa’s Ghost. Both books, the former written 2500 years ago, the latter 25 days ago, mix fact with fiction and hold the reader spellbound. Fact: Murphy had a brief affair in 1989 with Cuban dissident Ana Sanchez when they met while he was the U. S. Information Agency’s TV director in Washington DC. Ana was the niece of Arnaldo Ochoa, Cuba’s most decorated and . . .

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Review — EVERY HILL A BURIAL PLACE by Peter H. Reid (Tanzania)

  Every Hill a Burial Place: The Peace Corps Murder Trial in East Africa By Peter H. Reid (Tanzania 1964-66) University of Kentucky Press 332 pages September 2020 $35.10 (Kindle); $36.95 (Hardcover) A review by John Ratigan (Tanzania 1964-66) • Fifty-four years ago, in March 1966, in a small village in Tanzania, a young American woman died when she fell from a rocky hill where she and her husband of 16 months were picnicking. Peverly Dennett Kinsey, known to everyone by the descriptive nickname of “Peppy,” was a Peace Corps upper primary school teacher from Riverside, Connecticut, who had met and married her husband, Bill Kinsey, also a PCV upper primary school teacher, while they were in Peace Corps training at Syracuse University. Peppy had graduated only a few months before from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Bill was a ‘64 graduate of Washington and Lee University. At first, . . .

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Review — JESSE, A MAN GOOD ENOUGH by Will Michelet (India)

  Jesse, A Man Good Enough by Will Michelet [Richard Grimsrud] (India 1965-67) Glorybound Publishing 114 pages January 2020 $10.00 (Paperback), $0.00 (Kindle); Reviewed by, Bob Arias (Colombia (1964-66) • “One cannot patch an old shirt with new material, for the repair will not adhere to it!” Author Will Michelet [the nom de plume of Richard Grimsrud] served in India from 1965  to 1967), where as a Peace Corps Volunteer he developed an awareness and appreciation for the diversity of the communities in India. His compassion is shared with the readers as we walk the fields of Wisconsin, his home. In the story, Jesse La Follette is the community social worker who brings Christianity to the present time, but claims that he is not the Messiah. Jesse denies that he was the long-awaited Messiah. None the less, Jesse seems to be following the path as practiced by St. Luke . . . .

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Review — OWLS OF THE EASTERN ICE by Jonathan Slaght (Russia)

  Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl By Jonathan Slaght (Russia 1999—02) Ferrar, Straus and Giroux August 2020 358 pages $28.00 (Hardcover)   Reviewed by Fuller Torrey, MD (Staff/Ethiopia 1964-66) For those of us whose Peace Corps experience involved villages in countries such as Bolivia, Ethiopia, India and Thailand, placing Peace Corps volunteers in Russia seems like a disconnect. But indeed between 1992 and 2003 722 Peace Corps volunteers served there, including Jonathan Slaght, the author of this most interesting book. He spent three years in Russia’s Far East, 4,000 miles from Moscow in remote villages, a full day’s drive north of Vladivostok. In fact, he was among the last volunteers to leave when Russia kicked the Peace Corps out after accusing it of using volunteers as spies. The only disappointing thing about this book is that the author writes almost . . .

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Review — THE WARM HEART OF AFRICA by Jack Allison (Malawi)

  The Warm Heart of Africa: An Outrageous Adventure of Love, Music, and Mishaps in Malawi Jack Allison (1966 – 69) Peace Corps Writers June 2020 224 pages $14.95 (paperback), $6.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by: Charles F. “Chic” Dambach (Colombia 1967-69) • Jack Allison is legendary in Peace Corps circles, and The Warm Heart of Africa is the engaging story of one of the most remarkable Peace Corps Volunteers ever. The narrative is a marvelous combination of frustration, success, humor, humanity, music, medicine, and culture. Allison served in Malawi from 1967 to 1969. Along the way he wrote and performed the number-one hit song in Malawi and Newsweek magazine reported that he was more popular in the country than the president. Unfortunately, that publicity angered the president who tried to deport him and shut down the entire Peace Corps program! Prior to Peace Corps service, Allison overcame an impoverished and dysfunctional . . .

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Review — YOUNG AMERICANS by Peter S. Rush (Cameroon)

  Young Americans by Peter S. Rush (Cameroon 1972-73) Prior Manor Press 310 pages September 2020 $14.99 (paperback), $7.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64) • I suspect the author’s experience as a policeman informed him about the drug business in all it terrorizing, criminal based, bribery infested, and dehumanizing process. If even a fraction of what is described is true, it is no wonder drug trafficking has never been successfully controlled. The underlying story, however, is the impact sexual abuse of children has on them for the rest of their lives.  Children, who have no power over what is happening to them . . . even from those who are meant to love and protect them. For Tommy, images, constantly waking him up at night, have led him to a life of turmoil,  trouble, and eventually to a dangerous game he hopes will fulfill his dreams. His . . .

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