Peace Corps writers

1
RPCV Lipez's New Novel
2
The Barber of Mozambique–The Man Who Made Theroux A Writer
3
Theroux's Other African Fiction, Part 9
4
Paul Theroux's: Girls At Play, Part 8
5
Outsiders in Africa, Part 7
6
Theroux & Tarzan & Me, Part 6
7
Talking With Thomas Hollowell About Allah's Garden
8
Theroux's Love/Hate Relationship With The Peace Corps, Part 5
9
RPCV Mike Meyer Writes About Beijing One Year After the Summer Games
10
Theroux: In, Up, And Out Of The Peace Corps, Part 4
11
Paul Theroux, Persona Non Grata, Part 3
12
A Crack In The Earth, Paul Theroux, Part 2
13
Peace Corps Writer: Paul Theroux, Part 1
14
A Writer Writes: A Poem For Hemingway
15
Review: Peace Corps Memoir of Romania

RPCV Lipez's New Novel

Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975-77) reviews a new novel by Dick Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) who writes under the pseudonym of Richard Stevenson. The book is entitled, The 38 Million Dollar Smile, and is published by MLR Press. It comes out in September. • If you are looking for a page-turner this Indian Summer, The 38 Million Dollar Smile could be the book. The latest mystery in the Don Strachey series, this book describes the search for a rich American who disappeared in Thailand with his portion of a family fortune ($38 million). Told in first person, filled with slang in the mystery novel format, the story offers the unexpected, as do the previous Don Strachey books. Don Strachey is a gay private detective. In this particular book, he is chosen to search for the missing American by his ex-wife because the missing man was also gay. She believes that the . . .

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The Barber of Mozambique–The Man Who Made Theroux A Writer

[I am not sure where I found this short piece by Theroux, but it says it all about him, and why he is such a great writer.] I remember a particular day in Mozambique, in a terrible little country town, getting a haircut from a Portuguese barber. He had come to the African bush from rural Portugal to be a barber. . . . This barber did not speak English, I did not speak Portuguese, yet when I addressed his African servant in Chinyanja, his own language, the Portuguese man said in Portuguese, ‘Ask the bwana what his Africans are like.’ And that was how we held a conversation – the barber spoke Portuguese to the African, who translated it into Chinyanja for me; and I replied in Chinyanja, which the African kept translating into Portuguese for the barber. The barber kept saying – and the African kept translating – . . .

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Theroux's Other African Fiction, Part 9

Theroux would return to Africa in fiction in two other novels. My Secret HIstory (1989) and My Other Life (1996). These are fascinating accounts of how a writer uses his own life to create something else. I’ll write about these books in upcoming blogs, but first let me tell you one story that Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965-67), author of the best book on the Peace Corps, Living Poor, told me. I had asked Moritz why he titled his travel book to Brazil, The Saddest Pleasure, taking the line from Paul Theroux’s Picture Palace where the Frenchman says, “Travel is the saddest of the pleasures.” Thomsen replied, “It was the Frenchman who said travel was the saddest of the pleasures. I wish you had asked him. Though now it occurs to me that perhaps there was no Frenchman and Theroux just made him up; he has been known to do things . . .

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Paul Theroux's: Girls At Play, Part 8

Girls At Play is Theroux’s second novel based on his experiences in Africa. In this novel three white women teachers in an upcountry girls’ school battle each other and Africa. It is in this book that B. J. Lebow, the first of Theroux’s Peace Corps characters, appears. “It’s sort of Jewish,” Lebow says of her name. “It used to be Lebowitz, I guess. You probably knew that, everybody does. But I’m no Jew. I went to Israel one summer. That cured me. What a bunch of boy scouts.” A San Diego liberal, she has gone to Africa to help, but can reconcile her Hollywood fantasies of Africa with her liberal outlook. The other women are Miss Poole, the Headmistress, who was born in Africa and cannot live anywhere else. She wants to run her school [and Africa] on Christian principles. The third woman is Heather Monkhouse. She has left her dull . . .

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Outsiders in Africa, Part 7

In mid-winter, 1968, I wandered into Discount Books & Records off Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. and spotted a thin novel entitled Fong and the Indians. The author was Paul Theroux. The setting was Africa. Theroux would write later of this novel, “I began writing about the Chinese man who ran the grocery store around the corner from where I lived in Wandegeya [in Kampala, Uganda] . . . The Chinese man, his grocery store, his Indian competitors, his African customers – these were my characters . . . I had written two novels before this, but Fong was the first piece of fiction that satisfied me.” Theroux would come back to this Chinese immigrant. In a New York TimesOp-Ed piece about Hong Kong (June 10, 1997), he mentioned again this lone Chinese family in Africa. What Theroux was writing about was not Africa and Africans, but about the outsiders . . .

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Theroux & Tarzan & Me, Part 6

I forgot about Theroux until late in 1967, in my last months as an APCD in Ethiopia. One day, in that wonderful crammed English and French Giannopoulos Bookstore at the top of Churchill Road, just off the piazza in Addis Ababa, I picked up a copy of Transition, the Ugandan literary magazine. In it was an essay, “Tarzan is an Expatriate,” written by Paul, who was identified as a lecturer in English at Makerere University in Kampala. There was no mention of the Peace Corps. In the essay, Theroux confessed that he spent his pre-adolescent years reading comic books inspired by the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. [Theroux would later tell Harris Wofford (PC Staff: D.C & Ethiopia 1962-66) – early architect of the Peace Corps and former Pennsylvania senator – that when he read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness he put his finger on the title page and said, . . .

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Talking With Thomas Hollowell About Allah's Garden

By John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962-64) From a Google Alert I first read about Thomas Hollowell of Indiana and his new book  Allah’s Garden. It mentioned that Tom had been in Morocco as a PCV and his book was set in the Sahara Desert. Also it was published by a small-and new to me-Illinois press. Being from the farmlands myself, I was curious about Tom and I tracked down the press, and they helped me find, Thomas Hollowell, who is a hard man to find, busy as he is, and as you’ll see from this interview, trekking through the Sahara when he is not back in the U.S. However, by the magic of emails, I was able to interview Tom about his misadventures in the Peace Corps, and his adventures in the desert. First off, Tom, where are you from in the States? I’m from Gessie, Indiana, a quiet town of . . .

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Theroux's Love/Hate Relationship With The Peace Corps, Part 5

Like most RPCVs, Paul Theroux has a love/hate relationship with the Peace Corps. In the essay, “Reminiscence: Malawi,” which appeared in Making A Difference: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Fiveedited by Milton Viorst [NY: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1986], Theroux recalls, “I remembered all the official freeloaders who came out from Washington on so-called inspection tours, and how they tried to ingratiate themselves. ‘You’re doing wonderful work here. . . . It’s a great little country,’ they said; but for most of them it was merely an African safari. They hadn’t the slightest idea of what we were doing, and our revenge was to take them on long, bumpy rides through the bush.” A lot of his reaction to the agency goes back to being kicked out of the Peace Corps and left nearly penniless on the streets of Washington, as well as to those early staffers in Africa. Bob Poole was the . . .

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RPCV Mike Meyer Writes About Beijing One Year After the Summer Games

Michael Meyer (China 1995-97) author of The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed which won the Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award for 2009 given by PeaceCorpsWriters returned to Beijing recently and has written an article about his visit to the site of the 2008 Olympics for Sports Illustrated. “One World, One Dream One year Later” is in the August 3, 2009, issue of the magazine, but you can read it here: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1158404/index.htm By many measures, writes Meyer, “the 2008 Olympics were a smashing success, but for the people of Beijing, the Games have left a mixed legacy.” Meyer’s book on Beijing, published by Walker & Company in 2008, detailed the life in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and the dislocation and overturning of its storied culture as the city prepared to host the ’08 Summer Games.

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Theroux: In, Up, And Out Of The Peace Corps, Part 4

Sent home from Africa by CD McCone (who was also terminated from Malawi for ‘poor judgment,’) Theroux stayed at the Claridge Hotel in Washington, D.C., around the corner from the original Peace Corps Headquarters, then at 806 Connecticut Avenue in the old Maiatico Building. The quaint and small Claridge Hotel was the “Peace Corps” hotel and a steady stream of staff, would-be staff, and PCVs back from overseas stayed in its tiny rooms off of Farragut Squire. Next door to the hotel was the Chez Francois, the agency’s hang-out restaurant, with its outside tables and view of Lafayette Park, and the White House itself just beyond the leafy trees. Meals at Chez Francois cost more than what PCVs could afford and Theroux ate at the Hot Shoppe next to the Maiatico Building and the Peace Corps office. Theroux was in and out of the Claridge Hotel in less than a . . .

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Paul Theroux, Persona Non Grata, Part 3

Paul Theroux lived, not only on the edge of the Rift, but also on the edge of the Peace Corps. He was the Volunteer who lived in the African village without servants. He drank in the shanty bars instead of with the Brits at their gymkhanas. He went home with African women and did not date the pale daughters of British settlers when they came home on holidays from their all-white Rhodesian boarding schools. He hated the PCVs who ran with the ex-pats, the “wog bashers,” as they called themselves. But though he held himself apart from his fellow PCVs, Theroux was, according to his country director, Michael McCone, “an outstanding teacher who lived up to the Peace Corps standard of involvement in his school.” And it was this very involvement with his fellow teachers and African friends that finally got him into big trouble. “Two months before I was . . .

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A Crack In The Earth, Paul Theroux, Part 2

In 1964 Paul Theroux was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nyasaland (as Malawi was called before independence), living on the edge of “a crack in the earth,” as he wrote in a letter home to The Christian Science Monitor. That same year I was a PCV farther north, up in the highlands of Ethiopia, a few hours east of the Great Rift. Though our years in Africa overlapped, I didn’t know Theroux then. But I heard of him. By the time he was 23, his outspokenness had already made him notorious within the Peace Corps. In the fall of 1965, I returned to Ethiopia as an Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD), and Theroux appeared as a central character in a story that swept through Peace Corps/Africa. The Peace Corps CD in Malawi had been sent home by the U.S. Ambassador, Sam P. Gilstrap. It seems that the Malawi PCVs had . . .

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Peace Corps Writer: Paul Theroux, Part 1

He went – in the way the Peace Corps rolls the dice of our lives – to Africa as a teacher. “My schoolroom is on the Great Rift, and in this schoolroom there is a line of children, heads shaved liked prisoners, muscles showing through their rags,” he wrote home in 1964. “These children appear in the morning out of the slowly drifting hoops of fog-wisp. It is chilly, almost cold. There is no visibility at six in the morning; only a fierce white-out where earth is the patch of dirt under their bare feet, a platform, and the sky is everything else.” How many of us stood in front of similar classrooms and saw those young faces arriving with the dawn? How many of us could have written the same sentiments – though not the same sentences – home? And how many of us wanted to be the writer . . .

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A Writer Writes: A Poem For Hemingway

Sunday Morning July 2, 1961 The road home was flat. Miss Mary drove. The old hunter, watching The distant hills, Small breasts against the plains, Thought of Kenya, the rugged Mountains, where death was Close as brush, Gentler than the Slow defacing of flesh.   Fragile as the light birds he Picked from the sky Decades and miles away, He no longer heard the call. He wrote of sin as no small town Methodist ever had, Carving his prose with a new King of tool; Honed in the woods of Michigan, Sharpened by a fascist war, And tempered for an old man of Cuba. Pencils now were hollow in his hands, The juice that flowed so ready Had yellowed in his veins. He was what Gertrude had proclaimed.   Sunday he woke to our tragedy, Sought in the library of his exile His own Kilimanjaro. Feeling in sick hands the . . .

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Review: Peace Corps Memoir of Romania

Bread, Salt, & Plum Brandy: A True Story of Love and Adventure in a Foreign Land by Lisa Fisher Cazacu (Romania 2002–04) San Diego, CA: Aventine Books April 2009 224 pages $14.95 Reviewed by Don Messerschmidt (Nepal 1963-65). There’s something unsettling about one RPCV reading another Peace Corps Volunteer’s memoirs. It inevitably conjures up comparisons and, as often, both sharply similar and contrasting emotions. Never mind that our stories are two continents, four decades, and a gender apart (Romania vs. Nepal, the 2000s vs. the 1960s, and she vs. me), Lisa Fisher Cazacu’s memoir of her PC experience is both remarkably alike and uniquely different from my own. Our mutual experiences range from initial doubts about joining the Peace Corps, to serious culture shock upon arrival in country (and ‘reverse’ culture shock on return home to the states), to difficulties learning the language and various social do’s-&-don’ts, to a host . . .

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