A Five Finger Feast: Two Years in Kazakhstan, Lessons from the Peace Corps
by Tim Suchsland (Kazakhstan 2007–09), author and illustrator
Peace Corps Writers, May 2022
Reviewed by Philip Montgomery (Kazakhstan 2007–09)
Travel is one of the greatest educators in life. Even more educational — worldview shaping even — is living in a country that is not your own, understanding what it means to be the outsider, the guest, the stranger. In this sense, all travel is not equal. Some journeys break up the monotony of everyday life, while others leave immense, immeasurable impacts on the sojourner, the kinds of experience that shape us more completely.
Tim Suchsland’s A Five Finger Feast is an account of one such journey. In this memoir, Suchsland takes the reader along with him through his 2-year adventure of travel, growth, and discovery. Rather than presenting a superficial touristy version of Kazakhstan and its history, Suchsland presents a nuanced understanding of the country’s unique history and culture.
The style of the author’s hand-drawn illustrations that accompany his exploration of the villages, trains, cities, and schools of Kazakhstan reflects how memories can be at once vivid and stripped down. In the same way that narrative and visuals are blended to create a richer picture of a Peace Corps experience in Kazakhstan, Suchsland’s personal experiences as a foreigner — from the awkward privilege bestowed upon him as a beauty pageant judge to the challenge of remote border crossings into neighboring Kyrgyzstan — are interwoven with historical accounts that help contextualize one person’s experience within a wider narrative of regional history and politics.
As it becomes rarer to find truly unique places in our globalizing world, A Five Finger Feast is on the one hand a nostalgic account of life in Kazakhstan in the late 2000s, and on the other a timeless tale of exploration, travel, and self discovery.
Reviewer Philip Montgomery is an RPCV who taught English in Kazakhstan with Tim. Since that experience over a decade ago, he has taught middle school Spanish in Arizona, high school English and research writing in Kazakhstan, and high school Spanish in Tennessee. He lives with his wife, daughter, and dog in Lansing, Michigan, where he is the Assistant Director of the Writing Center at Michigan State University.