Two Years in Kingston Town:
Reviewed by Bonnie Lee Black (Gabon 199698)
FOR BETTER OR WORSE, Peace Corps memoirs tend to have a predictable time-order coherence, with which every RPCV can readily relate: I applied I trained I was posted I was (culturally) shocked I taught I explored I listened I (slowly) adapted I was humbled I learned. This one, Two Years In Kingston Town: A Peace Corps Memoir, by Jeff Koob, is no exception to this basic, time-honored formula. But this book goes further. It relates the authors Peace Corps experience in minute detail, almost day by day.
Jeff, a psychologist from South Carolina, and his wife, Maria, a psychiatric nurse, joined the Peace Corps as newlyweds in their forties and served together as Health volunteers in Jamaica from 1991 to 1993. They were both assigned to work at the University Hospital of the West Indies, on the outskirts of Kingston. Maria was an instructor of psychiatric nursing and Jeff, a counselor and group leader in the hospitals newly established detox/rehab ward, the only such program in Jamaica.
This memoir focuses on Jeffs obviously carefully documented observations and experiences. Maria is often in the picture, but generally very much in the background. We see her, sometimes, but dimly. She seldom speaks. Frequently, she goes to bed early, leaving Jeff free, presumably, to get caught up on his journal writing. Hed packed, along with a fat Swiss Army knife, he says, several blank books to write in when theyd left for training. He must have filled all of them, and then some.
When Jeff writes of his work at the detox ward, he shines. Working in substance abuse is difficult under the best of circumstances, and the circumstances Jeff had to deal with there were far from the best. His contribution, as he describes it in vivid scenes and long passages of true-to-life (was he wearing a hidden recording device?) dialogue, is commendable. Anyone working in this field would appreciate his rich account of the challenges he faced as ward psychologist.
When he and Maria were not working at their respective, demanding (and often frustrating) jobs, the couple took every opportunity to explore Jamaicas beauty and enjoy the islands colorful carnivals and reggae concerts. They went snorkeling, birding, turtle-watching, touring, dancing, partying. Again, Jeff paints vivid word pictures of every outing for the reader, such as:
And he records the sound, too, by capturing the Jamaican patois to a tee (and even includes a glossary). On the way to one outing, for example, Jeff and Maria charged toward the door of a bus along with the crowd, and Jeff managed to get on. He tells us
Jeff Koob writes well, but too much. How many readers, one wonders other than those members of the Koobs inner circle of friends and relatives would likely be interested in every minute detail of their daily existence in Jamaica?
Bonnie Lee Black (Gabon 199698), an honors graduate of Columbia University's writing program and author of the nonfiction book, Somewhere Child (Viking Press, 1981), was a writer and editor in New York City for 20 years. She now lives in northern New Mexico and teaches Essay Writing at UNM-Taos.