White Cloud Free is a story of love and friendship, betrayal and loss, miracles, and memory. Set mostly in Latin America, it is a semi-autobiographical tale of an idealistic, naive Peace Corps volunteer who suffers a series of traumas abroad, leading to unlikely friendships with a semi-homeless 12-year-old boy, an ambitious transexual sex worker, and an eccentric Catholic priest.
At 23, Peter has enlisted in the Peace Corps and finds himself teaching beekeeping in a tiny village in Paraguay. When a lynch mob kills several people in his local village after a disagreement over harvest proceeds, Peter flees with his 12-year-old homeless friend in search of safety — taking him through an indigenous community, a Mennonite colony, a squatters camp, and finally the lawless, chaotic city of Ciudad del Este, where he meets a kind transgender sex worker.
Nearly two decades later, a midlife crisis compels the protagonist to return to Paraguay and find the friend who had helped to save his life so many years before. Through this journey, Peter discovers some hard truths about himself, his faith, and the fluidity of memory.
Author of Cheng & Eng, Darin Strauss, has said of Peter’s novel, “”Imagine Joseph Conrad writing the great Peace Corps novel. White Cloud Free is heartbreaking, vast, and tough. Johnson splashes the colors of Latin America onto these pages.”
Peter Johnson (Paraguay 2002-04) grew up in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Alabama. He studied English and philosophy at New York University, and serve in Peace Corps Paraguay, where he taught beekeeping to rural subsistence farmers.
After the Peace Corps, Peter moved to Senegal to compete on the amateur beach wrestling circuit. He has worked for a variety of nonprofit organizations for most of his adult life. His writing (all focused on his experience in Paraguay) has appeared in literary journals including Dappled Things, Seven Hills Review, and Rock & Sling and in a feature-length essay in the April 2017 issue of Christianity Today. He makes his home in Southwest Florida with his wife, Ashley, and three children.