Peace Corps Writers
Review
Journey from Kilimanjaro
by Hoover Liddell (Nigeria 1967-69)
Writer’s Showcase Press/iUniverse, 2000
360 pages
$17.95

Buy this book

  Reviewed by Steve Manning (Nigeria 1965–66)
 
   THIS BOOK IS AN OBSCURE TREASURE. It combines adventure, insight, and autobiography. It is worth a lot more publicity than it has gotten.
Printer friendly version     Though the Peace Corps is hardly mentioned by Hoover Liddell, it was his “enabler.” His book is part autobiographical and part existential. His unique style’s most obvious manifestation is the use of the present tense to describe past events, and it is occasionally countercultural.
     It is however mostly the story of challenge, survival and hope. Hoover suffered serious traffic accidents and disabling illness while overseas, and like most Volunteers, has experienced personal growth during and after overseas service.
     The author is (1) an inner-city Black American; (2) a math teacher; (3) an educator; and (4) a school administrator. The reader is enriched by the author’s insights regarding schools and their place in society, in Africa and in the United States.
     Many of Hoover’s experiences and impressions are as a Peace Corps teacher in Nigeria just before and during Nigeria’s civil war. They are described in a matter-of-fact way and are well told and informative about Nigeria, particularly in the Yoruba region.

The chapters of his life
The book is divided into the “chapters” of his life. Hoover opens the book with growing up in America, being a merchant marine, and adapting to teaching in western Nigeria and later in Kenya among Africans, Asians and other expatriates. It is this section that most Volunteers can identify with, while being thankful that the worst of the experiences did not happen to them.
     “San Francisco” touches upon some of the author’s life after the Peace Corps. In San Francisco he taught math in public schools and was a high school principal. The violence of some of the experiences impinging on his life there stands in contrast to his earlier days of teaching in Nigeria.
     “Conventional Objects” covers Hoover’s life as director of high schools and a consultant to the school district. It is a series of dramatic snapshots and often-tragic events that punctuated the lives of students and their families in this large school district. In poignant ways, he documents the underlying themes of violence, drugs and intimidation that are part of normal life for the community.
     “City Journey" often ventures beyond the school environment and describes and analyzes the components of life in a large American city, the common humanity; the contrasts between rich and poor; drug addiction; racial and ethnic tensions; entrapment; public housing; and some successes despite the odds.
     “The Adventure” includes experiences of 9- and 10-year olds learning some calculus. Primarily, it emphasizes personal growth stimulated by individual long-distance running and group wilderness hiking and mountain climbing in the western United States. It leads to a return to Kenya, to not only climbing but also successfully descending Mt. Kilimanjaro and moving on from there. The description of this accomplishment is the book’s climax.

An authentic adventure
This book would be absorbing as fiction, but the authenticity of the
adventures lends a “ring of truth” which makes it even more compelling.
     Journey from Kilimanjaro is “action-packed” and holds one’s interest as an adventure story. It is inspirational — an example of successfully meeting external challenges. It is insightful about the human aspects of the educational process. Above all it is “real” in that it chronicles actual experiences.
     Journey from Kilimanjaro is well worth the purchase price for anyone concerned about improving schools or interested in personal growth, adventure, or yes, nostalgia for similar experiences, either overseas or in America.

Steve Manning (Nigeria 1965-66) is a professor of Biology at Arkansas State University in Beebe, Arkansas.
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