Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77)
Cherie Kephart is the ultimate survivor. She lived through a brutal rape followed by a serious car accident while in college. Then survived both a nasty case of explosive diarrhea and possible malaria while a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia. Ten years after her Peace Corps experience she faced a myriad of severe symptoms which defied diagnosis. Through it all she keeps struggling gamely to find a treatment that will allow her to lead some semblance of a normal life and be a useful person in the world.
The title, “A Few Minor Adjustments,” is ironic, borrowed from a Peace Corps pamphlet discussing the life style changes a Volunteer faces in their host country.
This memoir could have been very dark, given how sick Kephart was through most of it. But she manages to mix enough humor (often gallows humor) into the narrative to prevent it from being hopelessly depressing. She does receive a good deal of support from her family and several good friends. Alex, in particular, qualifies as a real hero of her story! Her determination to leave no potential expert not consulted, and no alternative treatment not tried, helps keep the narrative more filled with hope than despair. I especially enjoyed her use of humorous nicknames for her doctors and other medical professionals (from Dr. Unsure and Dr. Loveless, to Dr. Know-it-all and Dr. Genius).
Kephart’s crisp and descriptive writing style makes this a great read. She is a talented storyteller who successfully incorporates drama, intrigue, colorful characters and, in the end, some much needed closure. Kephart doesn’t dwell on the negative. She says what needs to be said, then moves the story along at a good clip, skipping back and forth to different times (and locations) in her life. It’s inspiring to know that Kephart didn’t just survive her darkest moments, she turned them into this life-affirming story.
D.W. Jefferson was a Peace Corps agriculture Volunteer in El Salvador (1974–6) and Costa Rica (1976–7). A blog about his Peace Corps years is at Blogspot. He is currently retired from a career in computer software engineering.