Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, Volume III
Edited by Clifford Garstang (South Korea 1976-77)
Press 53 Publisher
Reviewed by Peter Van Deekle (Iran, 1968-70)
During my Peace Corps in-country training I always remember that one of my expatriate guides distinguished between visiting (short-term travel) and living (extended immersion including residency and employment) in a foreign culture. Despite what some erroneously called a “junket,” Peace Corps service represented an intensive cultural immersion that travel could not provide.
Much of the short fiction in Volume III of Everywhere Stories, edited by Clifford Garstang, is informed by that intensive immersion that only living in a society can supply. This collection’s short story authors individually reflect that unique awareness particular to each tradition and circumstance associated with a country.
The short fiction in Volume III is organized by five major geographic regions and countries within each. Many of the writers are former Peace Corps volunteers. Some of the stories illustrate the interplay between characters, like the first story by Debora Martin (which depicts the tension between a couple driving to Cape Verdean coast; or the final entry by Jeff Fleischer about a couple coming to terms with their commitment after many years of cohabitation.
Robert Kostuck’s account of a failed reunion of a married couple in Uruguay details the universality unrequited desire and expectation.
Jeanne D’Haem’s gripping story of a young Somali girl confronting the prospect of an arranged marriage prompted recollection of my Peace Corps involvement in an Iranian courtship between my Western-educated Farsi tutor and a local professional man. My tutor had never met him until he befriended me (learning much about her) and then approaching her father. I will never forget the expansive Tehran wedding ceremony (with the bride’s tear-streaked face).
Anne Sanow’s coming of age story centers on a young adolescent boy’s life in Saudi Arabia during his father’s engineering consultancy. His friendship with a local village boy with the prevailing cultural norms and his awareness of his parent’s relationship tested by unexpected pregnancy and an absence of familiar community support aptly juxtapose Eastern fatalism and the confident optimism of Western freedoms.
Underlying many stories is the harsh reality of war and strife along with the routine of daily domestic life. J. Thomas Brown writes of a tragically complicated friendship during World War II between a Finnish soldier and German SS captive.
Deonna Kelli Sayed’s fantastic tale of an American woman married to an Azerbaijani and a neighboring local friend describes the ultimate escape and return to Western life. My Peace Corps service brought me in contact with an Iranian couple (she, American) between whom I often felt trapped; he, a prominent Iranian professional, was too controlling and precipitated a divorce.
These are but a random selection of the excellent pieces in this collection that has been carefully curated to represent how small our planet is and how, allowing for substantial cultural differences, the stories are about us all. The book’s organizational structure almost reads like a diary of human experience, enabling the reader to associate personal perspectives with each account. Everywhere Stories contains many opportunities to find common ground for any reader.
Peace Corps contributors include Ben Berman [Zimbabwe 1998–2000] (Strange Borderlands, Figuring in the Figure), J. Thomas Brown (The Land of Three Houses), E. Shaskan Bumas (The Price of Tea in China), Jeanne D’Haem [Somalia 1968–70] (The Last Camel, Desert Dawn), Mark Jacobs [Paraguay 1978-80] (A Handful of Kings, Stone Cowboy), Arthur Powers (A Hero for the People), Anne Sanow (Triple Time), Louise Farmer Smith (One Hundred Years of Marriage, Cadillac, Oklahoma), and Lana Spendl (We Cradle Each Other in the Air) as well as Colwill Brown, Molly Fessler [Belize 2014–16], Jeff Fleischer, Teresa Hudson, Robert Kostuck, Barbara Krasner, Frank Light [Afghanistan 1970-72], Arthur Powers (Brazil, 1969-73) Debora C. Martin, Brenda Peynado, Deonna Kelli Sayed, and Gail Tyson.
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Reviewer Peter Van Deekle (Iran, 1968-70) began his Peace Corps service informally in the summer of 1963, as a teenage volunteer at headquarters in Washington, D.C. From that time onward he planned to serve abroad, and joined the 20th group of Volunteers to Iran in 1968, following graduation from the University of Pennsylvania.
Deekle has been an academic administrator in a variety of public and private colleges and universities since his return to the United States and currently, having retired to the Washington, D.C. area where he is the Community News Editor for the National Peace Corps Association.