Serendib by Jim Toner (Sri Lanka 1989-91). University of Georgia Press, 2001. Amazon pricing: $26.95.
I borrowed this book on interlibrary loan through my local library. I found it listed in an appendices’ of one of my memoir writing books. This says a lot, because it is the only Peace Corps memoir that I have ever seen on any of these reading lists.
This book has a great opening line, “I didn’t invite him.” Jim and his wife were Peace Corps volunteers in Sri Lanka and in April 1990 his 74 year old Father decides he wants to visit them in Sri Lanka. Turns out Jim not only didn’t invite him but he hardly knew him. What would it have been like if your Father had come to visit you in the Philippines?
You learn about Sri Lanka as Jim watches his Father experience it for the first time. You watch their relationship grow as you slowly see Jims Father change. His Father shows up in his wool pants and wing tip shoes and you watch as these things are traded for a native sarong and sandals. The vivid descriptions of long, over crowded bus trips, food, and many other experiences make you feel you’re right there with them. All this is told with a large dose of humor. This book is exciting and extremely entertaining. I couldn’t put it down.
Serendib is my favorite Peace Corps memoir to date. Not only is the beginning great but the following comment at the end of the book seems to express what many of us feel. “During our two year in Sri Lanka we cured no malaria, built no bridges, doubled no crop production. In the end our biggest achievement may simply have been that we stayed.”
I think that this very well written book is a big achievement as well.
For another review of this book by Joe Kovacs (Sri Lanka 1997-98) http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/pages/2001/0107/prntvrs107/pv107rvseren.html