Peace Corps Writers
You can purchase The Climate of the Country at (Buy this book)

Marnie Mueller drew on her Peace Corps experience in writing her first novel, Green Fires: Assault on Eden, A Novel of the Ecuadorian Rain-Forest (Buy this book). It was the winner of the Maria Thomas Fiction Award in 1994, given by RPCV Writers & Readers.

The Climate of the Country
by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963–65)
Curbstone Press, $24.95
305 pages

Reviewed by Bird Cupps (Kenya 1987–89)

I have to admire any writer willing to go into territory already written about so beautifully and with so much respect as David Guterson has in Snow Falling On Cedars. While Marnie Mueller's content only overlaps partially, I couldn't help but recall Guterson's book. And it's a compliment to Mueller to point out how she, like Guterson, chooses to acknowledge the complexities of history rather than to view the past with the clarity of hindsight, with a point of view that simply condemns our ancestors rather than acknowledges their struggles.
     The Climate of the Country tells the story of a W.W.II conscientious objector and his Jewish wife working in the Tule Lake Japanese American Segregation Camp. Conflicts in the camp pit captors against captives, captors against each other, and most tragically, Japanese Americans against Japanese Americans. Protagonist Denton Jordan tries to adhere to his morals until he loses track of them, the principles muddied in more base human impulses. He is a man challenged — and thank God for it. Were he to remain a character of irrepressible good, he'd be insufferable.

Carried on by a driving plot
I find it interesting that a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer should write this. The notion that helping others is work fraught with conflict, fraught by no clear path toward righteousness, seems to me to be something known by the doers of such work and not by those who think about doing. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the story here is gleaned from Mueller’s parents who worked in the real Tule Lake camp. (Marnie was born there.) However, that’s probably my bias for nonfiction creeping in. Mueller's parents would probably have a more mundane story, an experience that didn’t include a month-long episode filled with plotting, intrigue, erotic encounters, violence, friendships, and so on — the sort of stuff that makes a page-turner. And here again, Mueller emulates Guterson. You really can’t put this book down for her ability to string along a driving plot.

Small matters
Complaints? Only small matters: at times I felt the discussions between characters got a little endless. The narrator filled me in on too many of Denton Jordan's thoughts so that those conversations seemed circular, coming around again and again, hashing through the same thought patterns. This left me feeling, at page 200, ready for about 20 more pages instead of 100. But what are such complaints in a world that insists on sound bites and simplistic reasoning?
     If only the world were easy. It wasn’t in 1942 and it isn’t now.

Bird Cupps writes nonfiction because she can’t imagine anything more bizarre than reality. She also teaches creative writing at Penn State.

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