Book Reviews

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

1
Review — THE SHAMAN OF TURTLE VALLEY by Clifford Garstang (Korea)
2
Review — CONVERSATIONS WITH US: GREAT LAKES STATES by Chris Register (El Salvador)
3
Review — OUR MAN: RICHARD HOLBROOKE by George Packer (Togo)
4
Review — COMING OF AGE IN EL SALVADOR by Jim Winship
5
Review — THE MOSQUITO COAST by Paul Theroux (Malawi)
6
Review — A GAME IN THE SUN by John Coyne (Ethiopia)
7
Review — WHAT SAHEL AM I DOIN’ HERE? by Steve Wisecarver (Senegal, etc.)
8
Review — BAD NEWS FROM A BLACK COAST by Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador)
9
Review — WITH KENNEDY IN THE LAND OF THE DEAD by William Siegel (Ethiopia)
10
Review — VODKA DIARIES by Richard Sayette (Russian Far East)

Review — THE SHAMAN OF TURTLE VALLEY by Clifford Garstang (Korea)

    The Shaman of Turtle Valley by Clifford Garstang (Korea 1976-77) Braddock Avenue Publisher 396 pages May 2019 $18.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64) • This novel spans the world from the Great Valley of Virginia beginning with its pre-Revolutionary War settlers all the way to Korea during the conflict known as the Korean War and back again to Virginia in 1996.  Location is everything in this novel and even takes on the role of a character in many ways.  It provides not only scenery vividly described and history essential to the plot but contains ghosts, memories, dreams, spirits, healing, death and life itself.  It is essential to the mysteries of the plot. The story revolves around a young man, Aiken Alexander, as he completes his service in Korea,  whose family lives in Turtle Valley in Virginia and brings home a very young Korean wife who . . .

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Review — CONVERSATIONS WITH US: GREAT LAKES STATES by Chris Register (El Salvador)

      Conversations With US – Great Lakes States: Two Wheels, Fifty States, Hundreds of Voices – One America Chris Register (El Salvador 2001–03) Spoke & Word Books 280 pages $22.00 (flexibound) Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962–64) • Conversations with US — Great Lakes States represents the first of a series of books on biking in every state by the author who had a concern about what he was reading and hearing . . .  ”that the United States was coming undone.” He decided to “wander” to find answers from “real America.”  Thus his first volume comes after his touring every state except Hawaii.  This bike ride in the Great Lakes States took place during the time frame from July to September 2015 and covered 1,916 miles! Although I am definitely not a biker I have been a long time hiker and wondered if I would have been brave . . .

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Review — OUR MAN: RICHARD HOLBROOKE by George Packer (Togo)

     Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and The End of the American Century by George Packer (Togo 1982-83) Knopf Publisher 592 pages May 2019 $30.00 (Hardcover);  $20.49 (Paperback); $14.99(Kindle)  Review by Jeremiah Norris (Colombia 1963–65) • He had come a long way . . . and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.” The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald                                                The Ego Has Landed  Introduction The author, George Packer, has a thoroughly beguiling style of writing in which the reader is being told a story rather than reading one, as with the opening line to Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael;” Packer writes “you have heard that he is a monstrous . . .

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Review — COMING OF AGE IN EL SALVADOR by Jim Winship

    Coming of Age in El Salvador Jim  Winship (El Salvador 1970–72) Verdada Press 2014 228 pages $16.95 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle) Review by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77) • If you are interested in a more in-depth discussion of immigration from Central America, its causes and effects, I highly recommend this book. Though, like the author, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in El Salvador (1974-76), and have followed events there since, I learned a great deal about the country’s current situation from this book. Jim Winship first lived in El Salvador from 1970 to 1972 as a PCV. He returned there in 2005 as a Fulbright Scholar and has been visiting at the rate of about twice a year since then. This book is based upon research Winship and his colleague Virginia Quintana of the Panamerican University of El Salvador have done, and upon other . . .

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Review — THE MOSQUITO COAST by Paul Theroux (Malawi)

    The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65) Houghton Mifflin Publisher 374 pages 1982 $21.20 (paperback); $9.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Mark Walker (Guatemala 1971-73) • I recently came across an interview of Paul Theroux in “By the Book” in The New York Times, in which he reveals that The Mosquito Coast was his favorite most personally meaningful book. He goes on to say, “…Over a period of two years, knowing it was a great idea and plot, I wrote confidently in rainy, cold, sedate London, and it is, of course, a book set in sunny, warm anarchic Honduras,” at which point I realized that although I had seen the movie, I had never read the book! I had read all of his non-fiction works but only Kowloon Tong in the fiction genre, so I decided to finally read The Mosquito Coast. I was also thinking about the . . .

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Review — A GAME IN THE SUN by John Coyne (Ethiopia)

    A Game in the Sun and Other Stories John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64) Cemetery Dance August 2018 $40.00 (hard cover)   Reviewed by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96) • John Coyne is the author of more than twenty-eight nonfiction and fiction books, including a number of horror novels, and his short stories have been collected in “best of” anthologies such as Modern Masters of Horror and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. His publisher, Cemetery Dance Publications, specializes in horror and dark suspense and includes Stephen King and Ann Rice in its list of authors. That gives you an idea of the high caliber of Coyne’s writing style and limitless imagination. A Game in the Sun is a collection of stories that he has written over a number of years from college days (“The Crazy Chinaman”) to one written last year about Catholic guilt. He has also written and edited books on golf, including The Caddie Who Knew Ben . . .

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Review — WHAT SAHEL AM I DOIN’ HERE? by Steve Wisecarver (Senegal, etc.)

    What Sahel Am I Doin’ Here? 30 Years of Misadventures in Africa Steve  Wisecarver (Senegal 1976–78; Staff-CD Madaagascar, Kenya 2008–2013) Booklocker.com 134 pages $13.95 (paperback) Reviewed by James W. Skelton, Jr. (Ethiopia 1970–72) • If you’re interested in knowing more about the good, the bad and the ugly in Africa, then you’ll enjoy reading Steve Wisecarver’s book entitled What Sahel Am I Doin’ Here? 30 Years of Misadventures in Africa.  The humorous title gives the reader an insight into the approach the author will take with the descriptions of his experiences in the great continent of Africa. In fact, it is stated on the back cover that the book “is a collection of light-hearted tales that captures the bizarre and the exotic as well as the comic, even magical, nature of life on the Continent.”  Steve Wisecarver succeeds in revealing those elements, and more, about living and working . . .

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Review — BAD NEWS FROM A BLACK COAST by Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador)

  Bad News from a Black Coast By Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965-67) Independently Published 370 pages $12.00 (paperback)   Reviewed by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971-73) • Like many Thomsen enthusiasts, I’ve wondered where his last, elusive manuscript was, and how it might come to be published, bringing the total number of  his travelogue classics to five. So when it suddenly appeared on Amazon, published, I jumped with joy. At last, 28 years after his death! And I was not disappointed; it was worth the wait. Thomsen began talking about this book in 1980 and sent some of the manuscript to fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and author, Christopher West Davis, who told him that it was some of his best work: “he was in the zone, in top form, etc. encouraging him to keep it up…” But later on Thomsen would lament the difficulties getting it published. This first . . .

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Review — WITH KENNEDY IN THE LAND OF THE DEAD by William Siegel (Ethiopia)

    With Kennedy in the Land of the Dead A Novel of the 1960s By William Siegel (Ethiopia 1962–64) A Peace Corps Writers Book 355 pages January 26, 2019 $20.00 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962—64) • The author, like myself, served in those very early days of the Peace Corps.  We had elected to serve as high school teachers throughout Ethiopia at Emperor Haile Selassie’s invitation beginning in September, 1962.  Around 300 of us landed in Addis Ababa eager to serve and demonstrate we could carry out President Kennedy’s call: Ask not what the country can do for you but what you can do for the country!  Who knew of the tragedies that would unfold starting in 1963 with John F. Kennedy’s assassination up to and including the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King? Camelot was unmistakably over. The author has the narrator, Gilbert . . .

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Review — VODKA DIARIES by Richard Sayette (Russian Far East)

    The Vodka Diaries: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Adventures in Russia Richard  Sayette (Russian Far East 1994–95) Peace Corps Writers May 2018 330 pages $16.00 (paperback), $9,99 (Kindle)   Reviewed by James W. Skelton, Jr. (Ethiopia 1970–72) • I jumped at the chance to review Richard Sayette’s Vodka Diaries: a Peace Corps Volunteer’s Adventures in Russia because I made well over 120 business trips to Russia between 1989 and 2007, working on various international transactions as a lawyer, plus I served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia in the early 1970s. Since the time I spent in Russia was almost totally dedicated to working on oil and gas deals while residing in hotels in Western Russia, I was fascinated by the prospect of finding out what it was like for Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) to live and work in Eastern Russia in the mid-1990s. I was surprised when I . . .

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