Reviewed by Larry Trouba (Togo 1988–90; staff/APCD Benin 1997–2000)
Ebola, insanity and physical insecurity are just a few of the themes that Peter Loan explores in Fever! and Other Stories from the Land of Mobutu. In his debut short story collection, Loan gives the reader a glimpse of life in 1970s Zaire for Peace Corps Volunteers and staff living in a county which perhaps more than any other typified the kleptocracy that was omnipresent in sub-Saharan Africa, but also a land that nevertheless engendered a fond affection for those dedicated enough to face the challenge.
This collection illustrates some of the issues faced by Peace Corps administrators in overseeing a large program in a vast African country, third the size of the continental United States, lacking in basic infrastructure and fraught with crime, corruption and greed. Through it all, however, he also gives the reader a sense for the vibrant and engaged Zairian people and the creative and resilient Peace Corps personnel who worked with them. Each story is easily digestible and tells the story of how staff and volunteers were able to resolve, or at a minimum, survive the scenario.
It is the vantage point of the Peace Corps administration that makes this book a compelling read. While many Peace Corps-themed books explore the world from the perspective of volunteers, Loan gives us insight into the challenges faced by those who support them. Overseeing a large Peace Corps program is a difficult task in any era. In the time period covered by the book, communications, isolation and travel were even more problematic than they are today. Peace Corps staff had little direction or guidance from Washington and had to forge solutions on their own. This was both a blessing and a curse. The reader gets a sense for the complex weave of issues that confronted the staff, and gains an appreciation for the deftness and creativity with which they handled everyday problems that often seemed inscrutable.
Fever left me wanting more stories that will appeal to anyone who has ever known the chaotic pleasure of living and working in the tumult of a developing country that is at times harrowing and alternately charming, but never dull.
Reviewer Larry Trouba served as a PCV in Togo from 1988 to 1990 where he was an agricultural extension agent and later as an APCD for rural development in Benin from 1997 to 2000. Currently, he is Director for Agricultural Extension and Market Systems at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.