Book Reviews

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

1
Review — THE HERETIC OF GRANADA by David C. Edmonds (Chile)
2
Review — YOU KNOW YOU WANT THIS by Kristen Roupenian (Kenya)
3
Review — DRAGONFLY NOTES by Ann Panning (Philippines)
4
Review — LIVING LIBERIA by Robert Cherry (Liberia)
5
Review — TO SAVE AN EMPIRE by Allan R. Gall (Turkey)
6
Review — THE WHITE KAHUNA by Joseph Theroux (Samoa)
7
Review — THE COTTAGE ON THE BAY by Ruben Gonzales (Liberia)
8
Review — INTO THE BACKLANDS by Kenneth E. Dugan Flies (Brazil)
9
Review — A DANCER’S GUIDE TO AFRICA by Terez Mertes Rose (Gabon)
10
Review — THEN AGAIN by Ben Berman (Zimbabwe)

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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Review — THE WHITE KAHUNA by Joseph Theroux (Samoa)

   The White Kahuna: Robert Louis Stevenson, Detective  Joseph Theroux (Samoa 1975-78) Kilauea Publications 372 pages 2018 $12.00 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by: Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96) • My immediate question about the author’s name – was he related to Paul Theroux? — was answered by a New York Times article, noting that “A new voice from another writing family, Joseph Theroux, debuts with Black Coconuts, Brown Magic, a somber comedy set in Samoa. He is the younger brother of Paul …”  I also learned that Paul has four brothers and two sisters in another New York Times piece published in 1978 entitled “The Theroux Family Arsenal.”  Like Paul, Joseph became a Peace Corps Volunteer.  He served in Samoa  where he taught in a school and eventually became its principal.  He has lived in Samoa, Hawaii and Cape Cod. My next question was “Robert Louis Stevenson, Detective?”  Well, The Strange . . .

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Review — THE COTTAGE ON THE BAY by Ruben Gonzales (Liberia)

  The Cottage On the Bay: Family Saga of Scots Grove Plantation by the Sea in the Carolinas by Ruben Gonzales (Liberia 1971-76) Moonshine Cove Publishing February 2018 282 pages $14.99 (paperback), $6.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Peter V. Deekle ( Iran 1968-70) • There is a story in each of us . . . often more than one, and in Ruben Gonzales’s case he demonstrates a strong capacity for storytelling. Drawing on his keen powers of observation and, indeed, an individual emersion in a culture (honed by his Peace Corps experience, Liberia, 1971-1976) he tells a compelling story of the multi-generational Stewart family. Ruben’s story is really a sweeping saga of the South (particularly the Carolinas) first at the Civil War’s beginning and then following the local events there into the early twentieth century. The tale’s central character, Martha Stewart, is the unusually determined and committed oldest daughter of the Scots Grove Plantation owner, . . .

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Review — INTO THE BACKLANDS by Kenneth E. Dugan Flies (Brazil)

  Into the Backlands: A Peace Corps Memoir by Kenneth E. Dugan Fliés (Brazil 1961–63) Lost Lake Folk Art Books June 19, 2018 236 pages $17.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Bob Arias (Colombia 1964-66) • The Peace Corps is guilty of enthusiasm and a crusading spirit, but we are not apologetic about it! — Sargent Shriver Want to know what Peace Corps was like then and now? Into The Backlands, a Peace Corps Memoir takes you by the hand into the early years of JFK’s Peace Corps and the spirit and challenges of the times, 1961-1963. Ken Flies was 19 years old when he reported to training at the University of Oklahoma as part of Brazil II, one of the first. I doubt if Ken knew what he was getting himself into, and Brazil . . . where’s that? Ken’s memoir shares the beauty and innocence of Kennedy’s “kiddie corps” as the press portrayed . . .

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Review — A DANCER’S GUIDE TO AFRICA by Terez Mertes Rose (Gabon)

  A Dancer’s Guide to Africa by Terez Mertes Rose (Gabon 1985-87) Classical Girl Press 375 pages September 2018 $12.99 (paperback). $0.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Bonnie Lee Black (Gabon 1996-98) • It is March 1988 and Fiona Garvey, 22, of Omaha, Nebraska, has just received her letter of acceptance into the Peace Corps. Fiona is a tall, lithe, recent college graduate and ballet dancer, who is anxious to run away from home – and from a failed romance — to seek “true adventure, with soul.” So she gladly accepts the challenge of teaching English as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years in the tiny, equatorial country of Gabon, Central Africa. Thus begins Terez Mertes Rose’s newly published novel, A Dancer’s Guide to Africa, which perfectly evokes the Gabon she and I knew when we both served as PCVs (at different times, at different ages, in different towns, and . . .

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Review — THEN AGAIN by Ben Berman (Zimbabwe)

  Then Again Ben Berman (Zimbabwe 1998-2000) (Short prose pieces) Vine Leaves Press August 2018 58 pages $9.99 pre-order (paperback) Reviewed by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) • Ben Berman is in love with language. His melodious triptychs on life lived and remembered are so seductive that I began to wonder if his name wasn’t some sort of three-part word play: Ben enclosed in (or freed from) BErmaN, or the man in his surname scrolling out mythic memory of the life of one man. I googled him to reassure myself that he was in fact a single human being and not an allegorical creation. That’s how enticing this slender volume is. Then Again is a collection of three-paragraph narratives that could be called prose poems or flash memoir or short short essays–or all of that. The one word title of each of the 42 pieces . . . from “Breaks” and “Tears” to “Notes” . . .

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