Book Review

South of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir by Lawrence F. Lihosit, iUniverse 2010

Mr. Lihosit’s served in the Peace Corps in Honduras, yet the first half of his book recounts his adventures in Mexico prior to his Peace Corps Service.  This section is a good base from which to understand the author and who he came to join the Peace Corps.  Although interesting I found myself wishing we could get to the Peace Corps part of the memoir.

The author’s voice is clear, consistent and unmistakably masculine. Lihosit provides vivid descriptions of places and people.   The portrait of Margaritas mother is unique and memorable.

The book chapters seem random and often take place in the middle of a scene.  This made it necessary for me, to reread small sections each time I returned to the book.  There were places where I found myself a bit lost and trying to figure out where the story was taking me.

On the whole this was an interesting memoir.  Both the Mexican and Honduran parts where well linked through Lihosit’s wonderful continuous relationship with Margarita and her family.  As with most Peace Corps memoirs there are bugs and worms, sickness and hardships, and a good dose of humor.

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Book Review

Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii by Frances H. Kakugawa, Watermark Publishing, 2011.

A totally change of pace from my usual Peace Corps reading and thus a great escape from my own writing. I decided to read one of Ms. Kakugawa’s books after reading her poetry and short stories on her blog,  I found her poetry very enjoyable and you will find examples throughout this book.

This memoir is about a young girl of Japanese ancestry living in the small village of Kapoho, Hawaii.  It is a touching story and the author’s voice is clearly heard from childhood through to her adult live.  A recurring theme was her goal to speak proper ‘haole’ English rather than Pidgin English.  This is a story that illustrates the Japanese experience in a unique Hawaiian setting.

If her goal was to bring her village of Kapoho and her beloved family back to life than she succeeded.  This is a portrait of a unique experience told in a totally delightful way.  From outhouses to college, from fear to joy; her story is full of real life.

I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to read a short memoir, a memoir about Hawaiian life, or wanting to better understand the Japanese experience in Hawaii.  It is a joy to read.

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A Little About Revising

It’s work!  Writing was relatively easy.  I’m not saying all writing is easy but writing a memoir can be as simple as transcribing your journals or letters.  Several of the memoirs I have reviewed were actually just a selection of letters and I am now beginning to understand why they simply let the letters tell the story.  Because my letters were so old and I was so young at the time I felt that more was needed.  So I took pits and pieces from my letters and used my letter to jog my memory.  Thus I find that I know have a conglomeration of memories.  Now comes the hard part, making them into a memoir.

I have read that revising is about making “big picture” changes.  The revision stage is sometimes called A.R.R.R. (adding, rearranging, removing, replacing).

Adding:  What else does the reader need to know?  What areas could you expand on?  Go back to your notes and memories to find stories you didn’t use.

Rearranging:  Even though I planned a chronological memoir, I may need to rearrange paragraphs.  Also look for duplication such as telling a story that happened before Easter, then telling it again from a letter that I wrote after Easter.  Also consider starting point for a strong starting paragraph.

Removing:  I will look for any duplication of stories or repetition of similar events.  How many Fiesta’s does my ready care to read about?  Look for things that don’t really fit.

Replacing:  Would more vivid details help bring the piece to life?  If a paragraph isn’t working, rewrite it. The memories are vivid in my head, are they vivid in my memoir?

Let the work begin.

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Book Review

From Peace Corps with Love:  Letters from a Peace Corps Volunteer: 1970-1972.  Judythe Pearson Patberg.  Llumina Press 2007

As the title shows, Judythe uses her letters home and letters that she received to present a memoir of her Peace Corps experience in the Philippines.  The correspondence certainly brings back memories of how hard it was to communicate in the era before the internet and cell phones.  The slow sporadic mail service of the Philippines is made vividly clear through repeated requests and lost packages.

Judythe lived with a family in San Pablo and the growth of her attachment to that family is lovingly revealed.  Along with her Philippine family we are introduced to various members of her U.S. family and through their letters we learn about Judythe’s life before Peace Corps.

There seem to be a few dead-ends or letters that are not there that might complete the story.  Also it seemed at times that the details from home seemed to somewhat slow the pace of the story.  Of course, I know that those details from home are extremely important to a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Judythe included pictures of the Philippines and they are a welcome addition.  At times I was wished to see pictures of her home and family in Minnesota because they were so prominent in the story.

The struggles with climate and health were prominently portrayed.  All of her highs and lows and emotions were clearly illustrated through her letters.  I enjoyed reading about her trip to the Olympics and I was very pleased that she chose to include her trip home.  Both were essential piece of the overall experience.  The ending was unique and surprising.

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Book Review

One Grain of Sand:  A Peace Corps/Philippines Experience by Steve M. Shaffer.  Gasat Company, Orlando, Florida. 1988

This is a fine first person account of Mr. Shaffer’s Peace Corps experience.  It moves along logically through all the phases of Peace Corps from “The Decision” to “Close of Service”.  He includes some unique adventures including a few near death experiences. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the book is his courtship and marriage to his Filipina language instructor.  This book should be a must read for any volunteer who fell in love and/or married someone from their country of service.

Mr. Shaffer expresses many of the feelings and emotions that most of us go through during two years of Peace Corps service.  Surprisingly, he also points out some of the flaws in Peace Corps programs, although always in a positive and constructive way.  Even more surprising are his characterizations of the “bad volunteer”; those who are perhaps less dedicated, joined for the wrong reasons, or simply never make the adjustment to the Philippine culture.

Throughout his story you are always aware of his honesty and dedication as well as his idealistic philosophy.  This is not to say that he didn’t enjoy a little John Hay break once in a while.  All and all Mr. Shaffer presents a heartwarming and adventurous account of his years in the Peace Corps.

Although Mr. Shaffer served ten years after my time in the Philippines his writing makes it  easy to see that a few things have changed but many things have not.  This book was hard to put down and would make a great Peace Corps Experience movie.  I highly recommend this book to all and particularly to those thinking of joining the Peace Corps.

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Reading and Writing

Have you visited your local library lately?  I love to buy books but sometimes it is simply not the most practical way to get your books.  While searching for my preferred reading list of books written by Peace Corps volunteers who served in the Philippines, I discovered that several of the books where not readily available for various reasons.  So I made a list and gave it to the librarian at my local public library.  Note:  I volunteer there; so I am there often.  She proceeded to work her magic and I have been happily reading.  I just finished One Grain of Sand: a Peace Corps/Philippines Experience by Steve M Shaffer. Review to follow.  Next read, From Peace Corps with Love:  Letters from a Peace Corps Volunteer: 1970-1972 by Judythe Pearson Patberg.

I’ve also recently been writing letters to the editor of my local paper.  I just felt that I had to speak to a local issue.  I won’t go into it here but let’s just say that this is the reason I have neglected my blog.

I’m still writing.  Actually while going through boxes in my basement I found a small stash of seven letters that I had send home during my time in Peace Corps as well as a small ledger of expenses incurred on my way home.  I have been working to interject the contents of these letters into my existing first draft.  All my letters home have served as valuable reminders and prompts for my writing so I write on.

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Book Review

Later Maybe: A Taste of the Tropics by Beryl Gutnick. Lots Wife Publishing, 2000.

Yet another point of view, this time from a mature adult woman. Beryl’s Peace Corps site was in Luna on the western coast of Northern Luzon just Northwest of Baguio. She often visited Baguio and other places in the region that are familiar to me; although she was in- country 20 years after my departure.

Beryl uses her letters to friends and family to tell us about her experiences. At times this method felt a little disjointed to me; yet her highs and lows came through clearly. When writing about our Peace Corps experiences we are apt to remember the good times and forget all those low time. The times of self doubt, isolation, loneliness, bug bits and illness. Beryl’s letters do not forget.

Her descriptions and perceptions of the people give clear insight into the Filipino people as well as to Beryl herself. I especially felt her isolation and problems with communication. Beryl’s portrayal of the importance of her friendships with other Peace Corps Volunteer  brought back strong memories of my own friendships and the camaraderie among volunteers.

A fine read that clearly illustrates the frustrations of a volunteer.  Even more importantly, you noticeably become aware of the many ways we change during our Peace Corps service.

In the Philippines it appears that much remains the same, even after 20 years. Things may change, later maybe.

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