Review by D.W. Jefferson
RPCV Melissa Fischer has written a novel that reads like a memoir based upon her own experience in Ghana. The protagonist, Louisa Lehmann, is what I would label a super-Volunteer. Other RPCVs will recognize the type. Not only is she an experienced civil engineer, she spent most of the early years of her life in Libya so she understands African cultures better than most PCVs do. The narrative is complex with the primary thread of the plot involving her work for the Advocacy, an agency that works with local villages to help them obtain clean water and sanitation in an area profoundly affected by an open-pit gold mine.
But the reader also learns about her neighbors, her living quarters, her perceptions of her coworkers, how she relates to her parents and her reflections on how this experience shaped her personality — the inner conflicts between her engineer-self and her artistic-self (including her inner poet). As if this weren’t enough complexity, she also invites the reader to learn a bit of the Asante Twi dialect of the Akan language by providing a language guide in the front of the book and using Twi greetings when Ms Lehmann interacts with locals. Akan is one of at least seventy-nine indigenous languages spoken in Ghana.
The story is set in 1992 Obuasi, a gold mining boomtown. The mining company, West Africa Gold, has damned the Gyimi River, causing the water source for a number of small farming villages to become stagnant. Ms Lehmann must battle with mine management to fulfill their obligation to provide the villages with clean water and sanitation facilities, while striving to convince the local villagers that she and her colleagues can be trusted to advocate on their behalf.
Sometimes a fictionalized memoir is the best way to tell a complex story without compromising the positions of those still involved in an ongoing situation. I believe The Advocacy is a stellar example of this.
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.