The Booklocker

Leaving Losapas
by Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1978–80)
Houghton Mifflin Company
291 pages

    Roland Merullo has kept his distance from the Peace Corps establishment, which, I’ve found, is true enough for most RPCVs from Micronesia. Micronesia, by the way, seems to have also produced the most Peace Corps writers. Is it the water? The endless sand? The lonely island placements? I’m not sure but I know that Merullo, as a writer, is up there with P. F. Kluge (Micronesia 1965–67) who is the best line-by-line writer we have — with the possible exception of one other writer — from the Peace Corps.
         That said, Leaving Losapas, published in 1991 by Houghton Mifflin was Roland Merullo’s first novel and it is a gem.
         What Merullo did was take a Vietnam veteran and drop him into Peace Corps Micronesia. Leo Markin is an ex-Marine tortured by his memories of the war. This conflict shook his faith in Catholicism and his trust in the military — which had been another kind of religion for him. It likewise made him question the canons of his Boston childhood — the ideals of Manhood, Family and Patriotism. We find him first in Losapas, Micronesia. Here Leo has arrived at peace with men and women who, he says, live so gently with the earth and one another that to speak about sin among them was almost to invent the concept. But then comes an emissary from the bigger world “back home,” and Leo is forced to make a choice — where truly is his home? Against his will, he’s drawn back to the ethnic Boston suburb where he’d grown up; there he learns that to live in Losapas he had to leave it. In his review of this novel years ago, P.F. Kluge summed up: “Whether in war or peace, overseas experience enriches and divides us. This tension between places and selves, between versions of our lives, is a huge theme. Merullo addresses it honorably.”
         Picked by Barnes & Noble as one of their “Discover Great New Writer’s” in 1991. The book was also optioned for the movies by John Turturro and GreeneStreet Films in 2000.
         It’s a great read.