Literary Type

The February 28th issue of The New Yorker published “Testing Ground” by George Packer (Togo 1982–84) about Iraq. Packer’s book on the Iraq war, The Assassin’s Gate will be published in the fall of this year.

The New York Times Book Review section on Sunday, February 27th, carried a long review of God Lives in St. Peterburg: and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan 1996–97). Reviewer Pankaj Mishra summed up this first collection of stories by Bissell, “Bissell reveals himself to be not only a subtle craftsman but also a mordant observer of a new generation lost in a complex and dangerous world.”

Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991–93) won the 2004 George Garrett Prize in Short Fiction for his short story “An American Affair.” It will appear in a book that will be published by Texas Review Press later this year. The collection contains twelve stories, all but two published previously in literary magazines, and centers on relationships, often romantic, between people from the United States and people from Latin America. Several of the stories’ protagonists are Peace Corps Volunteers or former Peace Corps Volunteers. Brazaitis’ first short story collection, The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, won the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award. He has also published a novel, Steal My Heart, winner of Peace Corps Writers’ Maria Thomas Fiction Award in 2001.

Current PCV Liz Richardson who is now serving in Togo is the winner of the first Vanity Fair Essay Contest which asked readers to “explain the character of the American people to the rest of the world.” It was selected from over 4,000 essays entered in the contest.
     According to Liz, who was contacted by Peace Corps Writers in Lome, Togo, where she is a Health Volunteer, “I heard about the contest from my mother. She told me on a phone conversation last July, right before I headed up to IST (In-Service Training). On the whole, IST tends to drag, and I thought it seemed like a good way to spend the time that didn’t involve beer or complaining about having to be at IST. The subject of the essay was supposed to be: explain the character of the American people to the rest of the world, but I spent a good portion of the essay talking about Togo, about what it’s like being a Volunteer, since so much of my view of the United States is colored by my experiences here.”
     Her essay is entitled, “To Sleep, Perchance,” reflects on her time in the Peace Corps, her difficulty explaining the American character to the residents of the African village where she lives, and her personal impressions of who the typical American is and strives to be. Liz will receive a $15,000 prize, a Montblanc Meisterstück 149 fountain pen, and a week-long trip to the Santa Maddalena writers’ colony, in Tuscany.
     Liz is from North Carolina, and graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in anthropology and French. This is her first published work and it appears in the April 2005 issue of Vanity Fair.

Mark Jacobs (Paraguay 1978–80) recently had his first story accepted by The Atlantic Monthly. The short story is entitled, “Weightligting for Catholics.” No publication date at the moment.

Reilly Ridgell’s (Micronesia 1971–1973) anthology of Micronesian Peace Corps Stories, Bending to the Trade Winds, is available again. The publisher, University of Guam Press, has ceased to function and the University has relinquished all remaining inventory to Ridgell. The book, first published in 1991, contains stories set in Chuuk in the early 1970s. It can now be obtained through Amazon.
     Meanwhile Ridgell’s textbook on the Pacific Islands, Pacific Nations and Territories, is being revised for a 4th edition to be released by the publisher, Bess Press of Honolulu, sometime this fall. The book has been in print since 1983.

The website PublishersLunch reports that Roland Merullo’s Golfing with God, a novel that blends philosophy, mysticism, and enchantment with golf instruction has been sold to Algonquin Press.

The New York Times Book Review section on Sunday March 13, 2005 carried a long piece “The World’s Biggest Book Market” on the China publishing scene written by Mike Meyer (China 1995–97). Meyer taught English in Sichuan Province while in the Peace Corps and now lives in Beijing. He is writing a book about the destruction of the ancient neighborhood where he lives. He is also studying Chinese literature and urban planning at Tsing Wah University. In his report on China’s publishing scene he writes, “Last year, a Chinese publisher offered to buy the rights to River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, by Peter Hessler (China 1996–98), a Beijing-based writer who contributes to The New Yorker. Hessler passed [on the offer] after learning that unspecified parts would be cut. ‘The point is to be honest to the people you write about,’ Hessler says. ‘It’s condescending to them to allow the material to get softened. I have faith that one day it will be translated directly.’” Meyer and Hessler served together in China.

In the same March 13th issue of The New York Times Book Section, The Manhattan Beach Project by Peter Lefcourt (Togo 1962-64) received a favorable review.

Richard Sitler (Jamaica 2000–02) has the cover photograph and other photos published in the spring 2005 issue of Glimpse Quarterly. The issue of Glimpse features the Caribbean and Sitler’s photographs document his time away from tourist destinations. His photos show Jamaicans of the village of Lluidas Vale in St. Catherine Parish, providing a stark juxtaposition to the image of Jamaica advertised in travel brochures.

A small item in the March 20th Style Section of The New York Times caught my eye. It was a short piece by Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65) on how he never travels without a shortwave radio. “In 1963, when I began a stint in the Peace Corps in Africa, I bought my first shortwave; and over the years, as the radios have become smaller and more efficient, I have traded up.” Even today when he travels his only electronic indulgence is a shortwave radio. “It is,” Paul writes, “enlightenment, security and amusement.” Paul’s favorite shortwave is a Sony ICF-SWO7.

This Is Not Civilization, a novel by Robert Rosenberg (Kyrgyzstan 1994–96) has just been
released in paperback by Mariner Books. Last year, the novel was a BookSense Pick, a Border's Original Voices Selection, and chosen as a #1 Staff Pick of the Year by It follows the efforts of a Peace Corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, whose host family eventually follows him to Istanbul just before the 1999 earthquake. Rosenberg is scheduled to read at Powells Books, in Portland, on June 3rd. 

“Leviathan,” a short story by Cliff Garstang (Korea 1976–77) appeared in North Dakota Quarterly Vol. 71, No. 4 (Fall 2004), and another story of his, “Hand-painted Angel,” appeared in the January/February 2005 issue of Bellowing Ark.

Peter McDonough (East Pakistan/Bangladesh 1961–63) and Professor Emeritus in Political Science at Arizona State University has an essay coming out in the spring issue of Studies in the Spirituality of the Jesuits, a quarterly published by the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality. Each issue is taken up by one essay. The publication office is at the Institute of Jesuit Sources, headquartered at the prestigious Saint Louis University.