by Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz (Romania 2001-03)
Someone who has lived outside the United States, not merely visited other countries, but truly lived within a different culture, may be able appreciate the experiences that Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz vividly details in her first fiction publication, In the Valley of Birds. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania, and teacher of English in a variety of schools; she also holds an advanced degree in international peace and conflict resolution.
In the Valley of Bird is a collection of short stories written while the author lived and worked as an international school teacher in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, known as the “Murder Capital of the World.” Fergusson-Lutz dedicates her book “to the millions of Hondurans who navigate complicated and difficult economic, political, and social circumstances with grace, humor, and a deep and abiding contentment that is, quite frankly, not readily found in my home country.”
The stories reveal the keen insights of a writer who has known Honduran society intimately and who can observe a culture deeply and personally. Each little story is both separately distinct but also interconnected with the others. They offer a converging narrative of individual lives in the industrial and commercial capital of this Central American nation. This work of fiction offers greater insight into the people who live in the “valley of birds,” as well as the systemic political and economic issues that have caused the city to be granted its notorious identity.
The author’s adroit use of both English and Spanish helps to immerse the American reader in a collection of lives beyond the United States. The stories provide a compelling characterization of each man or woman through their actions, words, and local political and social environments. The characters in these stories occupy the highest and lowest places on the socioeconomic ladder, from the most prominent political and financial powerhouses of the nation, to those living on subsistence wages from manual labor.
The reader of this collection of short fiction will be captivated by the detailed description of the settings and seemingly mundane but ultimately dramatic circumstances associated with each tale. The writer’s skillful characterization, despite the relative brevity in each text, ensures a pervasive sympathy for all the individuals depicted – sustaining the reader’s attention and interest from beginning to end.
Reviewer Peter Van Deckle began his Peace Corps service informally in the summer of 1963, as a teenage volunteer at headquarters in Washington, D.C. From that time onward he planned to serve abroad, and joined the 20th group of Volunteers to go to Iran in 1968. He has been an academic administrator in a variety of public and private colleges and universities and currently, having retired to the Washington, D.C. area, is the Community News Editor for the National Peace Corps Association. Deekle met his wife, Barbara Maier (Iran 1968–70) during service and both taught English in local schools. He and his wife live near one of their two children in suburban Maryland.