Review — MARIANTONIA by Robert Forster (Honduras)


Mariantonia: The Lifetime Journey of a Peace Corps Volunteer
Robert L Forster (Honduras 1971–73)
Peace Corps Writers 2021
218 pages
$19.99 (paperback); $6.99 (Kindle)

Reviewed by: Donald E. Dirnberger (Eastern Caribean-22/Antigua, West Indies 1977–79)

Building bridges is a thought formed into words by the narrative memoir of fellow RPCV Robert L. Forster in his book Mariantonia – The Lifetime Journey of a Peace Corps Volunteer. Inspired by the vision of John F. Kennedy, who eloquently challenged our generation to seek out bold new frontiers by going forth to serve as men and women dedicated to the progress and peace of developing countries. In a time of turmoil JFK spoke of opportunity and optimism that somehow touched the very soul of those who would answer his call. Robert was one of them.

Interwoven into his book he tells of life before, during, and after his Peace Corps days, both in simple direct sentences and references to the nuances of language. These weave a story that compels the reader to turn the page and listen through the mind’s eye. Kennedy knew intuitively that not only would the people of a country hosting these Peace Corps Volunteers begin to view America in a new light but the Volunteers themselves would, upon their return, bring new insights home. The weave of the cloth reveals a cross-cultural journey, without end.

Family is the building block of any society and the writer, with a masterful stroke, shows how the Peace Corps took this to heart. He speaks not only of his American, European (Austria, Italian) lineage and cultures, but also of those of the families from his time in-country (Puerto Rico, Honduras) and those he meets in his travels throughout Central America and Mexico. A child, as they grow, learns from the family not only language but the aspects of culture. The same can be said of a Peace Corps Volunteer adapting to their new environment. But more profound is the life they live in the years afterwards.

Mariantonia provides an account, first-hand, of the intricacies often faced by a Peace Corps Volunteer. The struggles of language barriers, politics, culture, religion, health, mental, history, economics, social, foods, etc. in a geographical context unfamiliar at first but once understood fascinates the Volunteer. Change is a process, a progression, an evolving over time, which Forster tells beautifully.

Reviewer Donald E. Dirnberger was a  curriculum development specialist as a PCV. Since then he has been a project resource specialist as a CCV [Crisis Corps Volunteer] (now called a Response Volunteer) in Honduras 1999; and currently he is  an AmeriCorps Volunteer, 2021-22, working with Habitat for Humanity/Metro Denver as a  new construction project leader.

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