Peace Corps writers

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FEEDING THE KIDS TO THE SHARKS by JJ Martin (Papua New Guinea)
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China’s Reform Generation Adapts to Life in the Middle Class by Peter Hessler
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Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan) Speaks With Literary Hub’s Jane Ciabattari
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Afghanistan 50 years ago
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THE ADVENTURES OF MAYANA by David Perry (Belize)
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RPCV book is one of New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of the Year — LAST BEST HOPE by George Packer (Togo)
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Memory vs. Truth: Review of OLIVER’S TRAVELS Clifford Garstang (Korea)
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A Thailand Memoir by James Jouppi
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A THOUSAND POINTS OF LIGHT by Marc-Vincent Jackson (Senegal)
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Roland Merullo writes: “What would happen if Jesus ran for president?” (Micronesia)

FEEDING THE KIDS TO THE SHARKS by JJ Martin (Papua New Guinea)

• “Maybe you and Mommy should hav thought a little more before you had us kids!!!” ~ Devon Martin, age 7 • The attempt to be a stay-at-island dad was, at first, a failed experiment. I blame biological evolution. My wife points to me losing the kids in a jungle on the side of a mountain. Someone once said, “In bringing up children, spend on them half as much money and twice as much time.” In an effort to do just that, we left our whirlwind workaholic world in Washington, D.C. with our two daughters, then ten and seven years old, and moved to Micronesia – specs of sand stretched across one million square-miles of water in the Western Pacific Ocean – where my wife accepted a position as the Peace Corps deputy director for the region. At long last, time was on our side. Be careful what you wish . . .

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China’s Reform Generation Adapts to Life in the Middle Class by Peter Hessler

China’s Reform Generation Adapts to Life in the Middle Class Peter Hessler (China 1996-98) made an unexpectedly early return to the U.S. this past summer. In 2019, the New Yorker correspondent, who served with Peace Corps China 1996–98, moved to the city of Chengdu to teach — more than 20 years after he taught at Fuling Teachers College as a Volunteer. He was planning on a five-year sojourn with his wife and daughters. In May he learned that his contract for teaching nonfiction at Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute had not been renewed. What happened? The university emailed a statement to Reuters explaining that they had been unable to reach terms for renewing Hessler’s contract. Reuters also noted that in March, Hessler participated in the China Development Forum, “a high-profile government-run event, where he spoke on a panel on media perspectives of how the COVID-19 outbreak was handled in Wuhan.” And as Foreign Policy noted, the government of . . .

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Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan) Speaks With Literary Hub’s Jane Ciabattari

 Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Bill Preston (Thailand 1977-80)   LITERARY HUB The Author of Creative Types Speaks With Jane Ciabattari By Jane Ciabattari December 14, 2021 Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan 1996–97) has built a career on being a master of the literary pivot. He has written eight books of nonfiction (including The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam, in which he and his veteran father return to Vietnam together, and The Disaster Artist, co-authored with Greg Sestero), countless features, essays and cultural criticism for magazines like Esquire, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, and The New Republic; video games (Gears of War: Judgment, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Battlefield Hardline), books about video games (Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, The Art and Design of Gears of War), and the 2021 TV series, The Mosquito Coast, based on the Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963–65)  novel. Talk about versatility. But he is, at his core, . . .

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Afghanistan 50 years ago

Described in autobiographical book by Peace Corps Volunteer Elana Hohl (Afghasnistan 1971-73) Holly Zachariah The Columbus Dispatch   There they were, two 21-year-old newlyweds and recent college graduates from the Midwest, staring out the windows as the chartered plane that carried them and 75 other Peace Corps volunteers into Afghanistan approached the airstrip of Kabul International Airport. The vast and barren land that Elana and Michael Hohl had been studying for hours from the sky suddenly gave way to a city below, and camels and donkeys came into clear view. As the plane bounced down onto the runway on that steaming July day in 1971, there wasn’t an ounce of trepidation in either of the Hohls’ hearts or minds. “We were excited,” Michael recalled recently as he and his wife of 51 years sat in the living room of their condominium in the Northland neighborhood, a cozy home where nearly every space . . .

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THE ADVENTURES OF MAYANA by David Perry (Belize)

  The Adventures of Mayana: Falling off the Edge of the Earth is the story of a 17-year Belizean girl named Mayana who finds herself on an adventure in a fantasyland of magic, monsters, and intrigue. She crosses over from her homeland of Belize to an alternate reality where the laws of nature and science are very different from what she learned. While she attempts to find her way back to Belize, she befriends a young man named Shifu who mysteriously appears, and speaks only in parables. He helps Mayana use her new-found magic powers to fight monsters and witches and to attempt to find her way home. Shifu also helps her to discover the meaning of life, how to understand why people are the way they are, and most of all how to understand herself. All during her journey, she relies on the recollections of conversations that she had over the . . .

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RPCV book is one of New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of the Year — LAST BEST HOPE by George Packer (Togo)

  Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal by George Packer (Togo 1982-83) This slim but forceful treatise begins with patriotic despair: With inequality persisting in the United States across generations, Packer paints a picture of a deeply fractured America that he divides into four irreconcilable categories. The result, he believes, is that we are losing the art of self-government.

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Memory vs. Truth: Review of OLIVER’S TRAVELS Clifford Garstang (Korea)

  Oliver’s Travels by Clifford Garstang (Korea 1976-77) Regal House Publishing May 2021 $9.49 (Kindle); $18.95 (Paperback)   Reviewed by Juliana Converse • All novels are mystery novels, a seasoned author tells hopeful writer, Ollie. At the core of everything we read about a character is their greatest desire. The mystery, as in real life, is what will the character do, and to what lengths will they go to attain this desire? Ollie’s desire is multifold: his most urgent need is to find his Uncle Scotty, and ask him why Ollie is haunted by childhood memories related to him. Underneath this urge runs the very familiar, existential dread of the recently graduated. But in Ollie’s case, this includes the question of his sexuality. In Oliver’s Travels, Clifford Garstang interrogates the folly of memory and meaning through a deeply flawed, possibly traumatized, occasionally problematic main character, asking, how do we know . . .

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A Thailand Memoir by James Jouppi

  After graduating with Cornell’s civil engineering class of 1971 and a five-week stint as a taxi driver in New York City, Jim Jouppi (Thailand 1971-73) shipped out for a Peace Corps adventure in Thailand. After completing his two-year tour, he was ready to go back home when, after meeting a flirtatious Thai jownatee, he decided to take a home leave and return for one more year. Upon his return to Thailand, he found himself immersed in a very personal dilemma while trying to escape the confluence of Thai government, Peace Corps, and counterinsurgency politics in the Communist sensitive province where he was stationed. Jouppi was later employed in America as an engineer-in-training, carpenter apprentice, refugee worker, and postal worker, spent three years in the Army as a medic, and earned a master’s degree in tropical public health civil engineering in England. His first sustained attempt at memoir writing was . . .

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A THOUSAND POINTS OF LIGHT by Marc-Vincent Jackson (Senegal)

  Beautiful and determined, an outcast Senegalese woman clings relentlessly to dreams of her beloved savior, a lost folklore hero, returning to her from across the ocean … Broken, but wise, a devoted griot painfully witnesses and faithfully tells her dogged plight, loving her from afar and mostly in vain … Committed American volunteers zealously navigate a developing, culturally rich African country, becoming intimately immersed, and sometimes, unwittingly entangled … Alienated and frustrated, one unsuspecting volunteer bitterly chronicles his uneasy experiences with unsparing criticism … A desperate journey, an unspoken heart, patriotic dedication, and a candid diary lyrically meld into a seamless mystical reality with surprising results. Inspired by his U.S. Peace Corps service during George H.W. Bush’s presidency, Marc-Vincent Jackson has written A Thousand Points of Light ‘s, and insightful debut novel that is an artfully written with an  engaging tale of interwoven lives and voices in 1980’s Senegal. It magically . . .

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Roland Merullo writes: “What would happen if Jesus ran for president?” (Micronesia)

Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Patricia Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962-64)   What would happen if Jesus ran for president? Roland Merullo’s writing explores this provocative question (and others) by Mike Mastromatteo September 30, 2021 • A nasty bout of Covid-19 swept through the Merullo household in December 2020, making traditional Christmas celebrations a bit of a problem. The Merullo capofamiglia, the Massachusetts writer Roland Merullo, had some weary words of advice for me. “Don’t get Covid,” Merullo said by way of warning. “My wife and I were down for two full weeks and truly miserable. It’s a beast.” The experience may have ironically provided a moment of pause and reflection for Merullo before we spoke together over several weeks at the end of 2020 about his long and varied writing life. Since publishing his first work in 1991, Leaving Losapas, Merullo has written nearly two dozen novels, memoirs, travelogues and, not surprisingly, a . . .

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