Book Reviews

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

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Review — ME RAMBLINS ’CROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI by David S. Smits (Guatemala)
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Craig Storti (Morocco) talks about Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador) in SIETAR newsletter
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Review — LEARNING PEACE: Stories from My Time in Peace Corps Ethiopia by Krista Jolivette
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Review — AFRICA MEMOIR by Mark G. Wentling (Togo)
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Review — JUROR NUMBER 2 by Efrem Sigel (Ivory Coast)
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Review —THE COUSCOUS CHRONICLES by Richard Wallace (Morocco)
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Review — Relicarios: The Forgotten Jewels of Latin America by Martha J. Egan (Venezuela)
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Review — AN INDIAN AMONG LOS INDIGENAS by Ursula Pike (Bolivia)
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Review — 101 ARABIAN TALES: How We All Persevered in Peace Corps Libya
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Review — UNDER CONSTRUCTION: TECHNOLOGIES OF DEVELOPMENT IN URBAN ETHIOPIA by Daniel Mains (Ethiopia)

Review — ME RAMBLINS ’CROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI by David S. Smits (Guatemala)

  Me Ramblins ‘Cross the Wide Missouri: The Adventures of a Wayfarin Man in the Ol’ West by David S. Smits (Guatemala 1963–65) Peace Corps Writers 2017 500 pages   Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974-76; Costa Rica 1976-77) • If most of what you believe you know about American frontier life in the pre-Civil War years is from movies and TV shows, you should definitely read this book. Author David Smitts was a professor of American history, specializing in U.S. westward expansion and the evolving frontier region for 38 years before retiring. He had often assigned his students to create a fictitious character and insert him or her into authentic events in history based on what primary sources they could find. The character, acting as chronicler, would interact with actual individuals of the time period who should behave in accordance with the historical record. The completed project would take . . .

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Craig Storti (Morocco) talks about Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador) in SIETAR newsletter

  LIVING POOR and THE SADDEST PLEASURE: Two by Moritz Thomsen Reviewed for BookMarks/SIETAR  by Craig Storti (Morocco 1970-72) • There’s a movement afoot (led in part by Mark Walker (Guatemala 1971-73), see the interview below) to elevate Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965-67) to the status of a Very Important Writer, someone whose books stay in print for generations and get assigned in college literature classes, someone whose name every well-read person should know. And we here at BookMarks SIETER [Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research USA] are happy to do our part. We briefly mentioned Thomsen in one of our previous columns (where we reviewed two Peace Corps memoirs), and now the time has come to bring him front and center. Living Poor: An American’s Encounter with Ecuador (image is the cover second edition) is widely considered the quintessential Peace Corps memoir. With deepest apologies to all my Peace Corps . . .

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Review — LEARNING PEACE: Stories from My Time in Peace Corps Ethiopia by Krista Jolivette

  Learning Peace: Stories from My Time in Peace Corps Ethiopia Krista  Jolivette (Ethiopia 2018-2020) Independently published August 2020 298 pages $9.99 (Facebook), $4.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by James W. Skelton, Jr (Ethiopia 1970-72) • Krista Jolivette has penned an unusual book about her 21 months of Peace Corps service as a teacher in Ethiopia from 2018 to 2020.  I expected it to be a memoir, but the Preface reveals something different altogether. There, Krista writes about unpacking her things when she got home (in March 2020, she was evacuated from Peace Corps Ethiopia due to the coronavirus pandemic), and shares her vision for the book as follows: “And that is what I’ve done here in this book — gradually unpacked my Peace Corps experience for you . . . in a way that is both honest and vulnerable . . ..”  Then she discloses that she tried to write one . . .

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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 Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971-73) • I’ve read and reviewed several of the author’s books over the years. We were both Peace Corps Volunteers in Central America and worked in West Africa, although Wentling went on to work and travel in 54 African countries over the years. My favorite book from his African Trilogy is Africa’s Embrace, which is fiction but reflects his experience working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa in the 1970s. The well-developed characters force the reader deep into the heart of Africa. Wentling worked with USAID and the State Department, so his book, Dead Cow Road, is an authentic and compelling work of historical fiction that focuses on the U.S. response to Somalia’s 1992 famine. Somalia is one of the most challenging, . . .

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Review — JUROR NUMBER 2 by Efrem Sigel (Ivory Coast)

  Juror Number 2: The Story of a Murder, the Agony of a Neighborhood Efrem  Sigel (Ivory Coast 1965-67) Writers Press Publisher 146 pages November 2020 $19.00 (Hardcover), $15.95 (paperback), $9.99 (Kindle) Reviewed by Dick Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) • This valuable short book about the author’s experience with the New York City criminal justice system is more like a long New Yorker article than a book.  But that’s fine  — it’s the kind of well-thought-out and well-written reporting you get drawn into and read all the way through and know afterwards that you’ve learned something. Picked as a juror in a trial involving a Bloods vs. Cripps double homicide outside an East Harlem public housing project, Sigel becomes puzzled over why Abraham Cucuta has gunned down two other young men during a supposed gang truce in what starts out as a friendly dice game. It becomes clear during the three-week trial . . .

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Review —THE COUSCOUS CHRONICLES by Richard Wallace (Morocco)

  The Couscous Chronicles — A Peace Corps Memoir Richard  Wallace (Morocco 1977–79) Self-published July 2020 260 pages $14.95 (paperback), $0 (Kindle) Reviewed by Liz Fanning (Morocco 1993-95) • I loved this book. The Couscous Chronicles: A Peace Corps Memoir was a delightful trip down memory lane just when I needed it most. Hard to say if I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn’t served as a PCV in Morocco myself, 20 years after Richard. I imagined a similar memoir written about a vastly different place, like Vanuatu, Namibia or China, and yes, I believe I would have enjoyed it just as much! Maybe even more, because I would have learned a ton. For me, this book was an important acknowledgment of the power of the Peace Corps — I the friendships, experiences, and the earnest good work that is universally synonymous with “PCV.” I’ll keep my dog-eared . . .

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Review — Relicarios: The Forgotten Jewels of Latin America by Martha J. Egan (Venezuela)

Relicarios: The Forgotten Jewels of Latin America By Martha J. Egan (Venezuela 1967-69) Papalote Press 175 Pages September 2020 $75.00 Hardcover Reviewed by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963-65) • Soon after I agreed to review Martha J. Egan’s new book, Relicarios, the Forgotten Jewels of Latin America, I had second thoughts about doing it. How could I, who have strong political opinions about the Conquest of Latin America by Spaniards and the consequent oppression of indigenous populations, be open enough to the material to give it an objective consideration? I still vividly recall arriving in the colonial city of Quito, Ecuador in March of 1964, where I witnessed the subjugation of Indians in the streets, soon discovering that they were literally considered untouchables, as they reflexively covered their hands with their ponchos if I reached out to shake theirs. It was caste-mandated that they do so. Still, I went forward with . . .

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Review — AN INDIAN AMONG LOS INDIGENAS by Ursula Pike (Bolivia)

  An Indian Among los Indigenas: A Native Travel Memoir by Ursula Pike (Bolivia 1994–96) Heyday Books 240 pages April 2021 $26.00 (Hardcover) Reviewed by Rich Wandschneider (Turkey 1965–67) • My two-year Peace Corps experience ended with a 20-kilometer minivan trip from our Turkish-Kurdish village to the train station in the city of Diyarbakir, in southeastern Turkey. When my village partner Barb and I got to the platform with our bags and boxes, other minivans showed up with a dozen or more of our village friends. The picture of that leaving and the faces and dress of some of those villagers have been fixed in my mind for 54 years. Ursula Pike’s new Peace Corps memoir, An Indian among los Indigenas, brought 1967 rushing back. There are many important things about this book, but let me tick off three: one, Ursula is a fine writer, with a fine eye for . . .

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Review — 101 ARABIAN TALES: How We All Persevered in Peace Corps Libya

  101 Arabian Tales: How We All Persevered in Peace Corps Libya By Randolph W. Hobler (Libya 1968-69) Self-Published 444 pages August 2020 $22.99 (Paperback) Reviewed by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971-73) • I’m always drawn to reviewing memoirs from Peace Corps volunteers. What makes this one unique is that it is a collective memoir garnered from interviews of over 100 Libyan Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. I can’t imagine what it must have taken to accumulate this information from so many fifty years after the fact, so I asked him. He sent me a bibliography with lists of people he contacted, books he’s read, interviews he’d made and emails he’d sent. He kept a diary as did his editor (a 76 pager) not to mention close to 60 letters containing information and some of the stories he brought to life in his book. The opening quote alludes to the interesting . . .

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Review — UNDER CONSTRUCTION: TECHNOLOGIES OF DEVELOPMENT IN URBAN ETHIOPIA by Daniel Mains (Ethiopia)

  Under Construction: Technologies of Development in Urban Ethiopia By Daniel Mains (Ethiopia 1998-99) Duke University Press 240 pages September 2019 $24.65 (Kindle); $82.49 (Hardback); $25.95 (Paperback) Reviewed by Janet Lee (Ethiopia 1974-76) • Under Construction is a scholarly work about the intersection of various forms of technological infrastructure in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian state that governs and develop the technologies, and the human element that service and should be served by the technologies. Construction projects in this study include dams, specifically GERD (the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam), Bajaj transportation, asphalt road construction, and paving stones. Under Construction is an apt title, because as the author details, these projects appear to be perpetually under construction. Mains is Wick Cary Associate Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of Hope is Cut: Youth, Unemployment, and the Future in Urban Ethiopia (2011), a fascinating culmination of . . .

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