Review

    The Seed of Joy
    by William Amos ( Korea 1979-80)
    London and Bordeau: Online Originals
    523 pages
    2000

    Reviewed by Bill Coolidge (Bolivia 1966–68)

    WILLIAM AMOS GIVES US insight into the coming of age of a young Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea. Set in the late 1970s, The Seeds of Joy tracks Paul, a recent college graduate from Indiana attempting to become a public health worker in a small village while teaching his boss English and learning a new language.
         Soon Paul’s life becomes more complex and conflicted. He takes language lessons from Mi Jin, challenges the political views of his boss and develops an awareness of the combustibility of his host country’s authoritarian rule.
         William Amos presents a full picture of life in a small village paying close attention to the rituals of food preparation, holidays, and the unspoken tension between and among families. However the main attraction of this book is the romance that develops between Paul and his language instructor, Mi Jin. We see Mi Jin’s conflict with her family, her work, and with her friends at the university resulting from this romance.
         Unfortunately, Mr. Amos is too slow in bringing his readers to the point of becoming invested in this story. Not until page 135 of this 523 page book does the issue of romantic feelings get addressed. Until then, we are spectators as Paul makes the rounds of his village, gets lonely, eats new food, burns under the authority of his boss and Peace Corps administrators.
         When Paul does speak his truth, stands up for himself and Mi Jin, and challenges the Peace Corps administrators, the book becames fascinating.
         There is plenty of turmoil and intrigue from then on. Some of it is a bit far fetched, as when he goes A.W.O.L. from Peace Corps. But why not? I once risked my life for love. Paul does just this and shows us the cost. But I’m rooting for him by then.
         I appreciate Mr. Amos’s comprehensive view of the political chasms between North and South Korea and the internal conflicts within the political processes of South Korea. Less interesting were the bumbling efforts of Peace Corps and State Department officials.
         The ending is painful and, unlike the beginning of the book, the resolution of conflict occurs too quickly. As a returned Volunteer, I would have liked Mr. Amos to follow Paul’s life when he returned to the United States and give us some insight on how Paul’s alienation as a United States citizen propelled him into a new vocation, setting him apart, once again, from his returned Peace Corps colleagues.
         Each of us, upon our return to the United States, had to renegotiate our life, for we had been changed. Mr. Amos could offer us some assistance by answering the question, “How is it we begin to improvise a life?”
         I don’t think Peace Corps administrators would recommend this book to newly sworn-in Volunteers. This is perhaps a book of what not to do in-country to be successful. For that reason I can think of no better reason for new recruits to read it.
         Mr. Amos shows us how natural it is to become invested romantically and politically. How he gives closure to to this creative tension stretches my imagination but then again, Peace Corps Volunteers are committing themselves to live on this edge. Sometimes we fall.

    Bill Coolidge lives along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Beaufort, North Carolina where he writes essays and poems on endangered species, homelessness, sex, love and loss.