Reviewed by Mark D. Walker (Guatemala 1971-73)
The book is well written as the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers Linda Joy Myers describes, “Evelyn LaTorre creates a masterful portrait of place — from the Montana hills to the peaks of Perú — and illustrates how place shapes us. The many lovely metaphors and descriptions throughout the book invite the reader to see through the eyes of an innocent girl as she discovers exotic, lively cultures; absorbs the colors, sounds, passion, and intensity of that new world; and allows it to change her life path.”
One scene in Cusco, Peru provides a myriad of details which gave a real sense of this exotic community,
Scores of small dark, leather-skinned Indians ran up and down the cobblestone streets carrying huge bundles. They carried market merchandise, food, or wood on their bent backs. The women wore several calf-length skirts, one on top of another, made of bright blue, black, or red homespun wool . . . My eyes widened in amazement.
Her training initiated in Cornell University in New York and her field training in Puerto Rico was more focused on physical stamina which included rappelling down a dam. The training must have been rigorous as 23 of the initial 102 trainees dropped out.
All Volunteers will appreciate the negotiation process for her site in an isolated community in the Andes. She told the Peace Corps director, “We’d be nine hours away from a doctor, not the required seven . . . There’s just a dirt trail up the mountain. No road . . .. We’d pestered our boss for half a month about a place in which to do our community development work. Now he seemed tired of us.” He finally broke down and allowed Evelyn to share the site with another female Volunteer.
The author was raised in a small Montana town and would move to California with her devoutly Catholic family and she was drawn to the Latino culture based on her interaction with migrant workers and on a college work project to a small Mexican town. She’d have a real head start once she joined the Peace Corps based on her appreciation of the culture and some basic knowledge of Spanish.
Once Evelyn and her roommate, Marie, finally did find an acceptable home base they worked for eighteen months in a hospital, started 4-H clubs, attended campesino meetings, and taught PE in a rudimentary school with a dirt floor. A number of black and white photos and a map help bring the author’s story to life.
The author does an excellent job describing her struggle to resist temptations as a good Catholic girl and dealing with her sexual desires with a local university student. By the end of this memoir when the author realizes that she’s pregnant, readers will be turning the pages quickly to learn if they’d eventually get married.
One of the more humorous and touching stories was when the author explains her predicament with a local priest as part of the sacrament of confession.
“Then you are only doing what comes naturally,” Father said. “Say three Hail Mary’s and three Our Fathers and go in peace . . ..” Father’s words were a revelation. A load of guilt lifted from me. I couldn’t believe I’d heard. Father O’Brien reinforced what my sister Charlene, had written in her letter months ago . . ..
But her parent’ response was very different.
Life changed quickly towards the end of the book — pregnancy test, writing a final report for the Peace Corps, and figuring out if she would marry her boyfriend, Antonio.
They were married in a civil ceremony followed by a religious ceremony with a few of Antonio’s family members and friends. As they emerged from a fifteenth-century Spanish chapel a new life awaited them as they ran laughing down a centuries-old cobblestone street “between the sturdy granite Inca walls that supported the big stone cathedral and the chapel behind it.
In the end, this relationship with Antonio would prosper and the author is working on her next book about bicultural marriage as she’s now gained a good deal of expertise. The following phrase at the beginning of the book explains not only what the author learned from her Peace Corps experience, but afterward as well, “This book is dedicated to my sons, Tony and Tim. May you value your origins in love— discovered in the blending of two cultures.”
About the Author
Evelyn Kohl LaTorre grew up in rural Southeastern Montana, surrounded by sheep and cattle ranches, before coming to California with her family at age sixteen. She holds a doctorate in multicultural education from the University of San Francisco, and a master’s degree in social welfare from UC Berkeley. She worked as a bilingual school psychologist and school administrator in public education until her retirement. Evelyn loves to travel; to date, she and her husband have traveled to some 100 countries. You can view her stories and photos on her website, www.evelynlatorre.com. Evelyn lives in Fremont, California.
Reviewer Mark Walker (Guatemala (Guatemala 1971-73) and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He came to Phoenix as a Senior Director for Food for the Hungry, worked with other groups like Make-A-Wish International and was the CEO of Hagar USA, a Christian-based organization that supports survivors of human trafficking.
His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Literary Association for Non-Fiction.