Literary Type: January 2008

    A new publication from Quito, Ecuador, is out with a scholarly look at Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1964–66). It is the online publication LiberArte, from the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito. The link is: www.usfq.edu.ec/liberarte/04/english.html
         There is also a call for papers for a conference on Thomsen to be held there in May. If anyone is interested in presenting, please let them know and they will do all they can to help with logistics. Comments and critiques are also welcome. The editor is Martín Vega at vegamart@gmail.com.

    Bill Moseley (Mali 1987–89) and Paul Laris (Mali 1987–89) have just published an article in Geographical Review. The article speaks to a literature on environmental narratives in West Africa (mainly in geography, history and anthropology) and explores the potential role of volunteer development workers in perpetuating such ideas.  More specifically, it examines the factors that led to the questioning or non-questioning of environment-development discourses and their influence, if any, on the actual work undertaken by Peace Corps Volunteers in Mali in the late 1980s. The writers also explore the role that the development volunteer experience subsequently had in shaping their own research as academics.  While some interpret this article as a critique of Peace Corps, they actually see it as an endorsement of Peace Corps’ bottom-up philosophy as, at the end of the day, villager perceptions were given priority.  The reference is: Moseley, W.G. and P. Laris. 2008.  “West African Environmental Narratives and Development-Volunteer Praxis.” Geographical Review. 98(1): 59-81.

    Paul Karrer (Western Samoa 1978–80) has had another story published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.  This time in Love Stories. His story “Vegetable or Fruit” is about a little Korean confusion regarding the status of tomatoes and breakfast cereals.
         Paul was also be filmed as a panelist on January 27, 2008 in Santa Cruz, California for a pilot TV program called Treasures. This first show will highlight five local writers as they reveal the process of submitting and reading their short stories and editorials over radio station  KUSP — an NPR affiliate — 88.9 FM in Santa Cruz.

    On February 6, 2008, George Packer’s (Togo 1982–83) play “Betrayed” about a group of Iraqi translators opened at the Culture Project in SoHo in New York City. The play was adapted by George from a 16,000-word article he wrote last year for The New Yorker. In the article George detailed the ordeals facing Iraqi translators, who have been hunted, tortured and killed by insurgents. And he showed how their pleas for help were met by indifference from the very American officials for whom they were risking their lives. [In 2007 the U.S. admitted about 1,600 Iraqi refugees, a small fraction of whom had been American employees. At the same time, Sweden, who is not involved in Iraq, admitted 20,000 Iraqi refugees.]
         In an article in the New York Times Theater Section on Sunday, February 3, 2008 written by Dexter Filkins, who has worked and traveled with Packer in Iraq, George is quoted: “I wanted to do something with the material I had that I didn’t think journalism could do, which was to go deeper into the experience of the Iraqis. . . . To explore them as human beings in this incredibly complicated and heartbreaking situation. Loyalty between friends, hope and betrayal — these are universal themes.”
         The play opens in the Palestine Hotel in the center of Baghdad, where two close friends — Adnan and Laith — one Sunni, the other Shia, have agreed to meet. It’s Baghdad at its spookiest, some years after the American invasion, Filkins writes, and the two friends begin to reminisce, taking us back to April 2003, when they felt the thrill of deliverance from their fearful, wasting lives. “The faith and enthusiasm from the United States expressed by Adnan and Laith may surprise some in the audience,” writes Filkins, “but it should not. In April 2003 Iraq was filled with people who saw hope and joy in the arrival of the Americans; many Iraqis expected them to modernize and humanize their broken country in one easy swoop.”
         As Iraq begins to disintegrate and the Americans lose control, the two translators find that they are now seen as traitors by their own people. And so begins their double lives. “I fell in between heaven and hell,” one translators says in the play. “The Americans didn’t want me, and the Iraqis didn’t want me. Where will I go? Help yourself by yourself, that’s the best way. Find a solution for yourself. But I can’t see any solution. I am, how do you say it, hung out to dry.”

    The early reviews of Tony D’Souza’s (Cote d’Ivoire 2000–02; Madagascar 2002–03) novel, The Konkans, have been great: a starred review in Publishers Weekly, a starred review in Library Journal, and now a full-page lead rave review  in Entertainment Weekly. The book and Tony get a full page in EW and a grade of A-. The reviewer writes, “What he has created — with an appealingly unfashionable simplicity of language — is a rich, warm, personal yarn, bright with a pride and love . . .. THE KONKANS is D’Souza’s own roar in the crowd, an affectionate exploration of personal identity in order to make sense of conflicting parts — and thus become whole in a multicultural world. In this Age of Obama, the search couldn’t be more timely, nor the result more gratifying.”

    Fred Kluge (Micronesia 1967–69) arrived in Saipan in 1967. He was a 25-year-old PCV and went to work as a Volunteer editing a magazine called the Micronesian Reporter. “I traveled freely and interviewed people. I suppose you can say that I got hooked. And I swore, when I left, that I would come back.” He was back last month and spoke on January 25th at the Visitor’s Center Theater of the American Memorial Park. Over 100 people came to hear him talk about Saipan and the islands where he was a Volunteer. He has been to the Commonwealth several times over the years. Kluge, now 66, talk was entitled “Writing on Saipan, writing about Saipan.”
         “Once you get into a conversation with a place like this, you don’t walk away. You find yourself writing an article or two, then a book or two, but you always return to find out what is going on,” Fred said.
         He said many things make him come back: The camaraderie, the scenery, and the weather are a few.
         “When I’m not here I find myself thinking about the place so a part of me always stayed here.“
         He said he could be sitting in his office in New York when he used to write for the Wall Street Journal or Life Magazine, and he would get a faraway look in his eyes, his mind drifting to what is going on in this speck of rocks in the middle of the Pacific.
         “I write about the place whenever I can,” he said. His first novel, The Day That I Die, was set on Span. He is now working on a novel that is also set on Saipan.
         Kluge, who has a PhD from the University of Chicago, is currently teaching at Kenyon College in Ohio. His next book will be his tenth.