Reviewed by Tess De Los Ríos (Panama 2003–06)
IN JOHN ROUSE’S FIRST NOVEL, Sendero, he delivers a fast-paced, satisfying plot with details and emotions to which many RPCVs can relate. From the opening chapter describing a ceremonial human sacrifice in the 1400s to uncovering possible government involvement in the supposed accidental death of the central character’s best local friend when he was a Peace Corps Volunteer, down to the last chapter when all is redeemed, Rouse’s writing kept me feeling that something big was just about to happen. Sendero has all the aspects of a quality novel-suspense, romance, sincerity, betrayal, even a car chase between good guys and bad guys.
The main character, Petrini, finds himself in a rough patch of life in the US. After three separate incidents that mentally take him back to Peru, his country of PC service, he decides to return to visit the people and the communities he served some 20 years ago. After having been dismissed from the Peace Corps for hitting a local man who happened to be the son of the city’s famous poet, Petrini hopes to now set the wrong right. While Petrini starts his trip to make amends and put 20+ years of pent up negativity behind him, he stumbles upon more emotion than he bargained for.
Any RPCV can relate to that uneasy feeling in Petrini’s stomach as he begins the journey to again meet with his former community members, and wonders how much of a lasting contribution he really made as a Volunteer. The focus of his visit abruptly changes when Petrini learns from an RPCV friend still living in Peru that Lucho, one of his best local friend’s has recently passed away, and his journey leads him to visit his deceased friend’s wife. Petrini realizes that Lucho married the girl Petrini fell in love with as a PCV and later discovers a secret he would have liked to know earlier.
Sendero was a quick and entertaining read and I especially enjoyed reading about the unique realities that many PCVs experience while living in a foreign land and working shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of the country — the reality of the inequality of races, socio-economic class, education; the reality of it’s who you know, not what that will get you where you want to be; and the reality of heavy-handed governments, both local and foreign and the ramifications their dealings have on the less fortunate.
If Rouse’s goal with this novel was to allow other RPCVs time to remember their local friends during PC service, while telling a captivating story . . . mission accomplished.
John Rouse was born in Baltimore in 1942. He grew up in Annapolis, but most of his adult life has been spent overseas: first as a junior officer in the US Navy Reserve on active duty in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean; then as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru in the mid-1960s; and later as a Peace Corps staff member in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. In 1984. He joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as a rural organization officer promoting credit unions, agricultural co-ops and farmer organizations in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Since retiring from FAO in 2004, he has dedicated most of his time to farming and to writing. His novel Sendero is his first published book, and it is partly based on his Peru experience. John currently lives and writes in Rome and in Mompeo, Italy.
Reviewer Tess (Sparks) De Los Rios worked as an Environmental Health Volunteer in Bocas del Toro province of Panama. Since March of 2007, she has been Panama’s Peace Corps Response Program Manager. Prior to Peace Corps, she worked as a literacy program manager for an NGO in Lincoln, Nebraska.