Book Reviews

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

1
Review — QUICK & QUOTABLE by William Hershey (Ethiopia)
2
Review-We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest (Ghana)
3
Review — MICHAEL GOLD: THE PEOPLE’S WRITER by Patrick Chura (Lithuania)
4
Review — CREATIVE TYPES and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan)
5
Review — THE TIN CAN CRUCIBLE by Christopher Davenport (Papua New Guinea)
6
Review — AFRICA MEMOIR by Mark G. Wentling (Togo)
7
Review — AMERICA’S BURIED HISTORY: Landmines in the Civil War by Kenneth R. Rutherford (Mauritania)
8
My Sister, A Journey to Myself by Peter Breyer (India)
9
Review — ANDEAN ADVENTURES by Allan Wind (Ecuador)
10
Review — FEVER! AND OTHER STORIES FROM THE LAND OF MOBUTU

Review — QUICK & QUOTABLE by William Hershey (Ethiopia)

  Quick & Quotable: Columns from Washington, 1985–1997 (Bliss Institute series) William L. Hershey (Ethiopia 1968–70) The University Of Akron Press March, 2020 246 pages $24.74 (paperback) Reviewed by Kathleen Johnson Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) • Quick and Quotable is just that, and I would add amusing, insightful, and always interesting even if the main “characters” are new to the reader. The temptation for the reviewer is to simply quote Hershey’s best quotable lines, but then the review would  be almost as long as the book. The columns are from Hershey’s 13 years (1987—1997) as the Akron Beacon Journal’s Washington correspondent. He was charged to report news pertinent to Akron readers and wrote weekly columns “to take a look behind the headlines,” to engage and inform as well as entertain, and he thought of them “as sending letters back home from a foreign country.” For the reader in 2020, at least a . . .

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Review-We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest (Ghana)

  We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest — Ghana, 1807 by Dorothy Brown Soper (Ghana 1962–65), author; and  James Cloutier (Kenya 1962–66), illustrator Luminare Press October 2020 358 pages Reading level : 9 – 12 years October 2020 $8.99 (Kindle); $19.99 (Paperback) Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962–64) • Imagine this reader’s surprise to see the date of 1807 implying this was a historical story, in Africa!  Lucky would be the kids in school today who get to read about a powerful, intelligent, community-minded kingdom located in Ghana in West Africa, in 1807! The story follows young people going about their daily lives doing work for and about the community.  Their “educations” are mapped out and led by elders or older relatives. Women do honorable work and most important of all, each child’s experiences and attempts to accomplish tasks are rewarded with warm words of . . .

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Review — MICHAEL GOLD: THE PEOPLE’S WRITER by Patrick Chura (Lithuania)

  Michael Gold: The People’s Writer by Patrick Chura( Lithuania 1992-94) 354 pages SUNY Press December 2020 $33.95 (Kindle); $95.00 (Hardback) Reviewed by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963-65) • Counterintuitively, the hardest to write book reviews are for ones you most admire.  And Patrick Chura’s biography, Michael Gold: The People’s Writer is one such book. Reading Chura’s text has been an intimate labor of love for me. In the very last pages of his story of the life of Michael Gold a sentence stood out to describe my deep attachment.  “. . . (Michael) Gold managed the challenge of proving the existence of another America, and how difficult it made his life.” In writing of Michael Gold, an avowed and uncompromising Marxist, a man who has fallen out of the literary canon, out of the political history of America, despite his major contributions and successes, Chura has told the story of . . .

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Review — CREATIVE TYPES and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan)

  Creative Types and Other Stories By Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan 1996) Pantheon 225 pages March 2021 $12.99 (Kindle); $25.95 (hardback), $14.70 (Audible) Reviewed by Tony D’Souza (Ivory Coast 2000-02, Madagascar 2002-03) • TOM BISSELL’S LATEST SHORT STORY COLLECTION, Creative Types and Other Stories is an absolute pleasure to read if you are a Tom Bissell fan. First time readers of Bissell, however, will be lost in a nerdy, introverted world where conflicted couples make self-flagellating and embarrassing attempts at sex, where all sex is generally intellectually over-analyzed and very, very bad, and the reader begins to wonder just a few stories in whether Bissell’s own sex life — he has tellingly and unnecessarily noted that ‘This is, emphatically, a work of fiction’ — is as horrible as all the pages of this book seem to suggest. That Bissell has profound and embarrassing issues with sex is no secret to anyone . . .

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Review — THE TIN CAN CRUCIBLE by Christopher Davenport (Papua New Guinea)

  The Tin Can Crucible: A Firsthand Account of Modern-day Sorcery Violence by Christopher Davenport (Papua New Guinea 1994-96) Lume Books 237 pages December 2020 $12.08 (Paperback) Reviewed by Leo Cecchini (Ethiopia 1962-64) • The Tin Can Crucible is a fascinating description by a Peace Corps Volunteer of how he is inculcated into the customs, morals, values, and way of life by the inhabitants of a village where he trains for his teaching assignment in Papua New Guinea. The process is so complete he comes to ultimately accept what would be in his previous life a totally reprehensible act, the murder by the villagers of a woman accused of witchcraft. The writer uses his impressive command of the language to carefully build the step by step process that leads him to comply with his new “family” and their customs. In essence, the Peace Corps experience changes him, not the people he . . .

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Review — AFRICA MEMOIR by Mark G. Wentling (Togo)

  Africa Memoir by Mark G. Wentling (Togo 1970-73) Open Books Publisher 255 pages August 2020 $9.99 (Kindle); $21.95 (Paperback Reviewed by Robert E. Hamilton (Ethiopia; 1965-67) • To review fairly this first volume of three in the Africa Memoir trilogy, it will be generally useful to remember what it is, as a book and concept, rather than what it is not. It is not, for example, a history of the 54 countries in Africa, all of which Mark Wentling has visited (some only briefly). Neither is it a guide book which you would expect, like Lonely Planet or a Rick Steves publication, to be updated annually or regularly. Wentling says in his Foreword: The central purpose of this book is to share my lifetime of firsthand experiences in Africa. I also attempt to communicate my views about the many facets of the challenges faced by each of Africa’s countries. . . .

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Review — AMERICA’S BURIED HISTORY: Landmines in the Civil War by Kenneth R. Rutherford (Mauritania)

  America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War by Kenneth R. Rutherford (Mauritania 1987-89) Savas Beatie Publisher 216 pages April 2020 $17.95 (Kindle) $29.95 (Hardback) Reviewed by Paul Aertker (Mauritania 19988-89) • With exciting prose and perfectly chosen Civil War quotes, America’s Buried History weaves a little-known thread through a well-known story. This history of landmines is the first Civil War book I’ve read in a long time, and the first on the subject that I’ve ever read. For a non-fiction book, I was surprised by the thrilling pace, and at times the narrative felt like it was in the hands of great non-fiction masters like Sebastian Junger and Jon Krakauer. While it’s easy to see this book on a college Civil War syllabus, its educative value is matched equally by its readability. What’s more, the author’s use of war vocabulary — “abatis,” “fraise,” “glacis” — is “lagniappe”* to an . . .

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My Sister, A Journey to Myself by Peter Breyer (India)

  My Sister, A Journey to Myself by Peter Breyer (India 1965-67) Miah Books 263 pages 2010 $11.50 (paperback) Reviewed by Stephen Foehr (Ethiopia 1965-67) • Peter Breyer wrote this family memoir when he was a fifty-nine-year-old American white male with a professional career, former Peace Corps volunteer in India, a family man, a Christian who attended Bible study classes at his wife’s Black church. The story recounts his search for a German half-sister he never knew he had, and how the journey brought him face-to-face with the conundrum — how can we do this to each other? Breyer’s parents were German. His mother was well educated from an upper-middle-class Jewish family. His father came from the working class and was a vocal anti-Hitler critic, which brought him to the attention of Nazi authorities. His parents, Max and Marcelle, fled Germany in 1936, when the crackdown on Jews and dissidents . . .

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Review — ANDEAN ADVENTURES by Allan Wind (Ecuador)

  Andean Adventures: An Unexpected Search for Meaning, Purpose and Discovery Across Three Countries Allan “Alonzo” J. Wind (Ecuador 1980–82) Self-published August 2020 270 pages $14.99 (paperback), $4.19 (Kindle), $17.46 ( Audible) Reviewed byD.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77) • Allan Wind knew he wanted to join the Peace Corps from pretty early in his life. But he expected that he would serve two years abroad and then return to the US and continue his career. He became a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) and served for two years in Ecuador but after that he did not return home. He stayed on in Ecuador, working in development, later working in Bolivia and Peru as well. This is a memoir of the early years of Wind’s lifelong career in development. He begins his journey after college in 1980. From the beginning he is an agitator, always trying to go beyond his job . . .

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Review — FEVER! AND OTHER STORIES FROM THE LAND OF MOBUTU

  Fever! and other stories from The Land of Mobutu Peter Loan (Staff— CD Zaire 1976–79; Washington) Peace Corps Writers August 2020 100 pages $9.99 (paperback), $5.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Larry Trouba (Togo 1988–90; staff/APCD Benin 1997–2000) • Ebola, insanity and physical insecurity are just a few of the themes that Peter Loan explores in Fever! and Other Stories from the Land of Mobutu. In his debut short story collection, Loan gives the reader a glimpse of life in 1970s Zaire for Peace Corps Volunteers and staff living in a county which perhaps more than any other typified the kleptocracy that was omnipresent in sub-Saharan Africa, but also a land that nevertheless engendered a fond affection for those dedicated enough to face the challenge. This collection illustrates some of the issues faced by Peace Corps administrators in overseeing a large program in a vast African country, third the size of the . . .

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