Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974-76 and Costa Rica 1976-77).
Liberia is a fascinating little country. Founded by former slaves from the U.S., it is the oldest republic in Africa. This and much more I learned from reading Living Liberia by Robert Cherry. The primary narrative of this book tells the story of the author’s return visit to Liberia and his former Peace Corps site in 1982, 14 years after his service there from 1966-68. But it is also a memoir of his Peace Corps years serving as a teacher in an elementary school in the small, rural village of Kpaytuo. The author, a former journalist as well as a teacher, gives us a good deal of background about Liberian history along the way. Thus the book is a great resource for any one with an interest in Liberia, what its like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) or both, and is a surprisingly quick read for 314 pages, perhaps because the chapters are short and there are many photos, all of them relevant to the narrative.
Cherry is an experienced writer, and a previously published author whose books include Wilt: Larger Than Life, a biography of Wilt Chamberlain. His experience as a journalist is reflected in his writing, always giving us both the facts and the relevant background in a concise, conversational style. He doesn’t shy away from talking about subjects all of us Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) know about but too often consider not appropriate for polite conversation . . . bodily functions (and malfunctions), latrines (or the lack there of), and sex in-country. His obvious regard for the folks he met and interacted with as a PCV, and their culture are a big part of the book’s appeal. Spoiler alert: To end the book on a positive note, do not read the “Afterward.”
The book is a must-read for anybody with an interest in Liberia. But because it is self-published, I fear this great book will not reach the broad audience it deserves. So I urge all who read this review to not just buy the book and read it, but also to review it on Amazon, Good Reads, and your favorite web site for book information and reviews. Then either pass your copy on to a friend, or buy a copy for a friend (or two)! While you are at it, buy a copy for your local library as well.
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: dwjefferson.blogspot.com He is currently retired from a career in computer software engineering.