Review

Land of Smiles
by A. A. Maytree (Thailand 1969-72)
iUniverse
January 2008
278 pages
$20.95

Reviewed by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975–77)

    A. A. MAYTREE IS THE PEN NAME of Michael Schmicker. He must believe that few things are harder to put up with than a good example, for he seems to have broken every Peace Corps rule that I ever heard of. His memoir, Land of Smiles, will make current and former Peace Corps staff wince as they read about how he traveled clandestinely on C.I.A.-operated Air America, hung out in brothels, befriended world traveling vagabonds so stingy that they’d skin a flea for hide and tallow, experimented with drugs, moonlit as a night club singer, bootlegged rock music, rode a Triumph motorcycle, and even published under several nom de plumes to avoid Peace Corps’ censorship. The irony is that the Peace Corps extended his service for a third year.
         A seminary dropout, Schmicker had already forsaken the road to sainthood before applying. Heck, maybe the Peace Corps thought his education was a good Christian grounding. What they got instead was a young Keroauc, running as fast as he could to embrace life — all of it, good and bad.
         He was assigned to Thailand during a fever-pitch in the Vietnam War, the same year that Kerouac died, 1969. According to Schmicker, “the ‘War Corps’ dwarfed the Peace Corps” with “over 45,000 U.S. Air Force personnel and 500 aircraft and another 5,000 military advisors, spooks, information spinners, and rural development specialists.” This book is a collection of war dispatches from Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Like a slightly mad Kerouac, the author describes his travels and adventures as a war correspondent interspersed with anecdotes about his day job as a Peace Corps Volunteer English teacher and later, film director. Thank God this book was not published when Schmicker first arrived home or I might not have had a program to serve in three years later!
         Akin to Kerouac’s literary work, this book moves fast and holds the reader’s interest. Whether you lived this era or are a younger generation, Schmicker’s adventures will enthrall. For those who would like to read the author’s original articles from the front (in the complete format with photos), go to www.thai27.com/MikeSmickerArticles.htm.

    Lawrence F. Lihosit works as a city planner. His latest book is titled Across the Yucatan (2007), a humorous travel narrative available through A Book Company at abookcompany.net as will be his July release of poetry about teaching titled Attack of the Claw. He can be contacted directly at LawrenceFLihosit@gmail.com.