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  • Communications Intern posted an article
    A tribute to decades of work by children’s author Mildred D. Taylor. see more

    A tribute to decades of work by children’s author Mildred D. Taylor. This year, Peace Corps Writers recognized her with the Writer of the Year Award.

     

    By John Coyne

    Illustration by Montse Bernal

     

    Mildred Delois Taylor is a critically acclaimed author of children’s novels. In 1977, she won the Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature, for her historical novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. It was the second book in a series of ten novels focusing on the Logan family, and portraying the effects of racism counterbalanced with courage and love. Her latest book, All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, published last year, is the final novel in the series. 

    Since receiving the Newbery Medal, she has won four Coretta Scott King Awards, a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the PEN Award for Children’s Literature. In 2021 she received the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, honoring an author whose books have made a significant and lasting contribution to literature for children. In presenting the award, Dr. Junko Yokota said of Taylor’s storytelling, “It shows how courage, dignity, and family love endure amidst racial injustice and continues to enlighten hearts and minds of readers through the decades.”

    Mildred Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1943. Her paternal great-grandfather, the son of a white Alabama plantation owner and a Black woman forced to serve him as a slave, became a successful farmer in Mississippi. His large extended family thrived despite the racism they encountered. 

    Her parents, Wilbert and Deletha, wanted their daughters to grow up in a less racist society. Mildred was only four months old when they, like thousands of other African American families, boarded a segregated train bound for the North. 

    Arriving in Toledo, Ohio, the Taylors stayed with friends until they earned enough money to buy a large duplex on a busy commercial street. This house soon became home to aunts, uncles, and cousins, all moving away from Mississippi in search of a better life.

     

    “I learned a history not then written in books but passed from generation to generation on moonlit porches and beside dying fires in one-room houses, a history of great-grandparents and of slavery and the days following slavery; of those who lived still not free, yet who would not let their spirits be enslaved.”

    Mildred stored in her memory the tales she heard as a child at family gatherings. Many of these stories would later become plots in her novels. In her author’s note to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Taylor acknowledged her debt to this family who generously shared stories of their history, and to her father in particular. “By the fireside in our northern home and in the South where I was born, I learned a history not then written in books but one passed from generation to generation on the steps of moonlit porches and beside dying fires in one-room houses, a history of great-grandparents and of slavery and of the days following slavery; of those who lived still not free, yet who would not let their spirits be enslaved. From my father the storyteller I learned to respect the past, to respect my own heritage and myself.”

     

    Illustration of Mildred Taylor

    Illustration by Montse Bernal. Originally commissioned for O The Oprah Magazine

     

     

    In addition to the oral stories, books also played an important role in Taylor’s life from an early age. 

    “I can’t remember when I received the very first book of my own,” she says today, “but reading, at times, caused trouble. At night I would sit in the closet when I was supposed to have long been asleep. And I got into trouble during the daytime, too, when I would be reading in hiding when I was supposed to be doing my chores.”

    In 1965, Mildred Taylor applied to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. Milly, as she was always known in-country, was sent to teach secondary school in the town of Yirgalem in southern Ethiopia. She was one of a large group of new PCVs to that rural location 260 kilometers south of Addis Ababa. She lived with another Volunteer; a woman older than herself who had previously taught overseas at a U.S. Army base. The two women became the best of friends.

     

    “Reading, at times, caused trouble. At night I would sit in the closet when I was supposed to have long been asleep. And I got into trouble during the daytime, too, when I would be reading in hiding when I was supposed to be doing my chores.”

     

    It was in Yirgalem that I first met Milly, when I was serving as associate Peace Corps director for Ethiopia. I remember her as someone who caused no trouble, made no demands, and was a silent observer of other Volunteers, some of whom in her town were real “characters” — but she never wrote about them in her novels.

    What none of us knew was that Milly was already an accomplished writer. By the time she arrived in Ethiopia, she had completed her first novel. At the age of 19, she wrote Dark People, Dark World, the story of a blind white man in Chicago’s Black ghetto, told in the first person. Publishers were interested in the book, but Milly disagreed with the revisions they wanted, and the novel was never published.

    Returning home from Ethiopia, she worked as a Peace Corps recruiter, and she also trained new Volunteers for Ethiopia. She then enrolled at the University of Colorado School of Journalism and earned a master of arts. While a graduate student, she worked with university officials and fellow students and structured a Black Studies program at the university.

    In 1971, she moved to Los Angeles to write full time, and she supported herself by doing temporary editing and proofreading. She also married and gave birth to a little girl. Her life and career, however, were about to change. When she was offered a position to work as a reporter for CBS, she declined it, knowing her future was in writing novels, not reporting news. In 1973, she entered a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. Her book, Song of the Trees, won first prize in the contest’s African American category and was published by Dial Books in 1975. The New York Times listed it as an outstanding book of the year.

    This book, about the Logan family, was to be the first in a series of ten novels based on stories from Milly’s own family history. One of her best-known books, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, was nominated for the 1982 National Book Award and received the Coretta Scott King Award in 1983.

    Having grown up immersed in family stories, Milly often revisited her great-grandfather’s house, built at the turn of the past century and without running water or electricity. Memories of those visits found their way into her Logan family stories, most notably Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the 1977 Newbery Medal winner. Taylor’s stories reveal struggles, racial tension, and tragedy, as well as triumph, pride, and family honor.

    In an interview published in Book Links, Milly talks about her family and the novels she has written about growing up in a Black family in the South. 

    “All of my books are based on something that happened to a family member or a story told by a family member, or they are based on something that happened to me when I was growing up,” she says. 

    “I write about history because I was very affected by it as a child. When I was in school, many people did not know about the true history of Black people in America. I wanted to tell the truth about what life was like before the civil rights movement.”

    Milly Taylor is an example of someone who has made a difference overseas as a Peace Corps Volunteer and also here at home as a novelist. 

    Recently she wrote me that it was an honor to be included with so many fine writers who are former Peace Corps Volunteers. “Being in the Peace Corps was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I cherish the memories of my days in Ethiopia. So many times now I find myself wishing I could relive it all.”

    Don’t we all, Milly. Don’t we all.


     

    TOO REAL  

     

    3 covers of books by mildred taylor

    Mildred Taylor’s honest depictions of racial injustice have inspired many readers over the years. Some who lived through the eras she writes of extol how the stories echoed their firsthand experience; others comment on how the books opened their eyes for the first time to the horrors of racism. Not surprisingly, that honesty has also brought a different kind of scrutiny. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry made the American Library Association’s top 100 list of banned and challenged books for 2000–2009. It came in at No. 66, a few below Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and a few above Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. 

     

     

    This essay appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine.


    John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64) is the author of more than 25 fiction and nonfiction books and is the co-founder of Peace Corps Worldwide.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Biographer Patrick Chura also brings to light the struggles of “another America.” see more

    Michael Gold: The People’s Writer

    By Patrick Chura

    SUNY Press

     

    Reviewed by Marnie Mueller 

     

    In the very last pages of his story of the life of Michael Gold, Patrick Chura writes: “Gold managed the challenge of proving the existence of another America, and how difficult it made his life.” An avowed and uncompromising Marxist, Gold has fallen from the literary canon and political history of America, despite his major contributions. In writing of him, Chura has also told the story of my parents and people like them, who dedicated their lives to making a better, more equitable nation, and suffered as a result of their beliefs and actions. In this biography he brings to light, as Gold did, an insidious, anti-democratic thread in America — a long historical strain of racism, classism, and anti-Semitism lying in wait for a leader to tap into that vein of ugliness.

    Michael Gold was born in a tenement in 1893 as Itzok Isaac Granich (aka Irwin Granich), and he later wrote: “It was in a tenement that I first heard the sad music of humanity rise to the stars. The sky above the airshafts was all my sky, and the voices of the tenement neighbors in the airshaft were the voices of all my world. There in my suffering youth, I feverishly sought God and found Man.”

    In order to become “Michael Gold” the author, Irwin Granich had to break with that old culture. Chura describes how it felt like suicide for Gold to separate himself from his parents and their assimilationist desires for prosperity and choose his own path, his “synthesis for life,” as an author and activist. This was his talent and his undoing. His major literary gift to the American canon was Jews without Money in 1930, an autobiographical proletarian novel about growing up in that world. It was enormously successful and translated into over a dozen languages. His only novel, it served as a model for political fiction and the touchstone and source of strength for his own critical writing and editorial influence in progressive and Marxist periodicals.

    Gold’s strong views on political literature gained followers, but as time went on, the strength and some would say rigidity of his beliefs undercut his standing in that intellectual world. Chura doesn’t shrink from showing how Gold could turn against his fellow authors—even those whose work he had lauded on first encounter, like Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, whom he later determined didn’t live up to his notions of true proletarian and anti-racist writing. During the McCarthy Era, they retreated to safer ground; Gold deemed them mere visitors to the life of the poor and underprivileged. 

    This biography brings to light, as Michael Gold did, an insidious, anti-democratic thread in America — a long historical strain of racism, classism, and anti-Semitism lying in wait for a leader to tap into that vein of ugliness.

    In Faulkner’s case, Gold’s aggrievement seems especially justified. In 1956, when Autherine Lucy attempted to integrate the University of Alabama, Faulkner the liberal Southerner walked back his support of Black Americans, retreating to a stance against “forced integration,” saying he would join with “that embattled white minority who are our blood and kin.” Shocked, Gold responded, “This surely is thinking with the blood … the sort of ‘thinking’ that loomed large in Nazi ideology, and has long kept the South in pauperism.” 

    In this stand, Gold linked racism, anti-Semitism, capitalism, and classism as the greatest of political evils. Gold’s criticism and opinion pieces also foretold of a progressive rigidity in promulgating what is correct and non-correct in proletariat storytelling, morphing into our current conundrum of demanding authenticity of class and racial credentials.

    Nearer to my own life and family was the support Gold gave to the cooperative movement, which was thought of as a subversive, socialist concept in the 1930s and 1940s. My father, an economist, was a strong believer in and promulgator of co-ops as giving an economic power base for the “little guy” against the corporate state. So it was with great surprise that upon entering the Peace Corps I found myself in Puerto Rico in 1963 with a group training to work in Ecuador as specialists in co-operative movement credit unions. Gold might have been even more astonished to learn that this once-thought radical movement was being used in the fight against Communist inroads in Latin America.

    My parents became an example of those progressive commitments when they decided to spend their honeymoon and first year of marriage in 1938 working in the Farm Security camp which John Steinbeck used as research for The Grapes of Wrath. They later went to work in the Tule Lake Japanese American High Security Camp to try to make a horrific situation tolerable for those who had been imprisoned there. But they, along with many progressives of their generation, were punished during the McCarthy period and accused of being Communists, resulting in their loss of livelihood and vocation.

    Signing up for the Peace Corps brought it home to me. I remember my father’s distress when the FBI walked from house to house in our neighborhood asking about our family, in preparation for deciding whether the Peace Corps would accept my application for service. My father feared that the attacks on him during the McCarthy witch hunts would ruin my possibility of following my dream. It’s a tribute to the Peace Corps they judged me solely on my accomplishments.

     

    In vividly bringing to us the life and struggles of Michael Gold, Chura has told the inside story of “another America” — one in which those of us who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s were fearful that the political secrets of our parents would be revealed to our more conventional playmates and the surrounding community. 

     

    In addition to a mastery of research, synthesis, analysis, compassion, and fluid prose in vividly bringing to us the life and struggles of Michael Gold, Chura has told the inside story of “another America” — one in which those of us who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s were fearful that the political secrets of our parents would be revealed to our more conventional playmates and the surrounding community. 

    Patrick Chura himself served as a Volunteer in Lithuania 1992–94 and is a professor of English at University of Akron, where he teaches 19th- and 20th-century American literature and cultural studies. In introducing Gold’s family life into the narrative, Chura lets the reader see that political activists of that time — like Gold and like my parents — loved their children and tried to protect us, with as much commitment as they invested in making our country a better place for all Americans.



    This review originally appeared on Peace Corps Worldwide and appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine


    Marnie Mueller served as a Volunteer in Ecuador 1963–65. She is the author of three novels, including The Climate of the Country, which takes place in the Tule Lake Japanese American Internment Camp in Northern California.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    A love affair with the undersea world. see more

    Coral Reef Curiosities

    INTRIGUE, DECEPTION AND WONDER ON THE REEF AND BEYOND

    By Chuck Weikert

    Dayton Publishing

     

    Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum

     

    Chuck Weikert served as a Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga 1977–79. He recounts a snorkeling excursion to the windward side. “The reef opened up in a virtual explosion of colors, textures, and life that stretched into the deep blue beyond. It was mind boggling!”

    So begins a love affair with the undersea world — captured here in 25 chapters tracing the lives of creatures that inhabit coral reefs, and weaving in the history of humans’ interaction and impact. Weikert went on to work with the National Park Service — including 13 years at Virgin Islands National Park on the island of St. John, where he served as chief of interpretation.

     

    Brain coral hideout: a spotjaw blenny (Acanthemblemaria rivasi) near Bocas del Toro, Panama. Photo by iStock

     

     

    This review appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine. Story updated September 9, 2022.


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Cover to Cover, Partnering with Rotary, and Reflections on the Book Locker see more

    Letters, emails, LinkedIn and Instagram comments, Facebook posts, tweets, and other comments. We’re happy to continue the conversation here and our social media platforms. One way to write us: worldview@peacecorpsconnect.org

     


    Cover to Cover

     

    I want to congratulate you and the whole NPCA team for producing an outstanding magazine. Yesterday I read through the two most recent issues cover to cover and found the content to be rich and very informative. You should be proud of the role that WorldView plays in supporting and connecting the Peace Corps community.

    Tony Barclay
    Kenya 1968–70, NPCA Board Chair 2011–15

     

    I have been reading your magazine for a while. I thought your last magazine was just wonderful — as were many before that — and want to congratulate you.

    Kathleen Harnig
    Bulgaria 1998–2000, Liberia 2013–14

     

    You should be proud of the role that WorldView plays in supporting and connecting the Peace Corps community.

     

    Congratulations on your special books edition. I found the quiet time to read this issue (as I try to read most issues of WorldView) from cover to cover. Your page 11 article on Ukraine is powerful and personal. I will be sharing it with a Ukrainian friend who is a former choir director at UC Berkeley and organized two concerts of Ukrainian religious and folk music to raise funds for the country of her origins. One was hosted here at our parish; the other at the concert hall on campus. 

    I also need to thank you for the Book Locker and your extraordinary overviews of the books you reviewed. I joined Peace Corps (India 30, 1966–68) at the height of the idealism and call to service that brought PC into existence and led to its times of great success and accomplishment. But as transformative as the experience was for me, and as consequential as I think it was for some of the people with whom we worked, I have to see it as a small contribution to the larger movement of a nation and its people.  

    I was part of a series of Peace Corps groups that were sent to Andhra Pradesh in south India to help high school science teachers teach using an investigative approach in place of the old British “learn by rote” Cambridge exam approach. Since commercial laboratory equipment was expensive and therefore unavailable to small village level schools, we taught ways of improvising laboratory apparatus using materials available in any village setting.

    The impact of this effort is impossible to measure concretely, but in the years following our service, Andhra went from scoring very low on the Indian National Science test to being among the highest in India, I’ve been told. Whatever the contribution of Peace Corps, it was the Indians who took the resources that were made available to them and turned them into something transformative. 

    The cover line of the most recent edition of WorldView, “The Stories We Tell,” fits well with my own embrace of my PC experience. We went to India and did what we were invited to do, and things changed. We may have been only a small part of the cause, but change definitely happened in a remarkably good way, and so we rejoice with and for the people we served.

    Steve Bossi
    India 1966–68


    Great job on the latest PC mag. Especially liked all the books.   

    Peter von Mertens
    Nepal VIII (1966–68)

     



    The Book Locker and the Third Goal

     

    During the first few years of the Peace Corps, Volunteers were given book lockers. Mine included a copy of War and Peace, which I still have — and still have not read. Among books in the lockers were Animal Farm, Learning English, the James Beard Cookbook, Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, and The Wonderful World of Peanuts by Charles Schultz. So it is fitting that at the Ohio State University we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps this spring in the Jean and Charles Schultz Lecture Hall.

    In the early 1960s, a group of Peace Corps parents in Columbus established the Columbus Peace Corps Service Council — either the first or second one in the U.S. In part, their purpose was to help fulfill the third goal of the Peace Corps: To help promote a better understanding among Americans of other peoples of the world. To do this, they set about informing the community about Peace Corps through news stories, booths at fairs, festivals and conferences, TV interviews, and exhibits at the OSU library, among many other activities.

    But I’ve always thought another reason for those first parent-organized service councils was to try to understand where their children had gone and what exactly they were doing there. As a result of those first service councils, similar groups were formed in every state. Today there are four affiliate groups of the National Peace Corps Association in Ohio.

    For the public, for those considering joining the Peace Corps, and even for returned Volunteers, the Third Goal has always been a bit of an afterthought. It’s more fun to talk about what we did instead of what we need to do now to strengthen, promote, and expand the Peace Corps. Whether you have just been accepted, if you’ve recently returned, or if you’ve been home a few years: It is your voice that will keep Peace Corps alive and keep Volunteers in the field.

    Wallis Harsch
    Panama 1966–68

     


    The Peace Corps and Rotary International

     

    In the special 60th anniversary edition of WorldView, Shaylyn Romney Garrett, co-author with Robert Putnam of The Upswing: How American Came together a Century Ago and How We can Do It Again, posits a policy prescription for the administration “that would help us move to an ‘upswing’ (a return to the ‘we’ of service to others, vs. the ‘I’ of self-service that has prevailed since the 1960s). National Service is my absolute go-to answer.” As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and Rotarian for 27 years, I can attest that we already have vibrant national and international service organizations.

    There have been many calls for a national service; AmeriCorps, the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps, has been a partial answer. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of international forces in Afghanistan and head of the “Serve America. Together.” campaign, called on the president to invest in universal national service for 1 million young Americans annually as “the most important strategy we can implement to ensure the strength and security of our nation.” But the foremost national and international service organization is Rotary International, dedicated to the motto “Service Above Self.”

    As of 2006, Rotary had more than 1.4 million members in over 36,000 clubs among 200 countries and geographical areas. I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkey and have been able to continue my community development work as a Rotarian; I have been involved in countless local community projects and international projects, such as in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo assisting in its recovery from the various civil wars it suffered. More important, I am a founding board member of Partnering For Peace, an NPCA affiliate that has joined with the Peace Corps to support Peace Corps projects worldwide. That is a natural partnership of like minds and hearts, committed to both national and international service. It is time to acknowledge Rotary International’s role in both foreign and domestic public service for its growth and vitality. It is a testament to how well Rotarians and the Peace Corps Community are already working together. I already see this “upswing” happening for millions worldwide, as well as in the U.S.

    Harlan Green
    Turkey 1964–66



    CORRECTION: Our Words

    In the print edition, the review of On Corruption in America by Sarah Chayes (p. 22) included a brief excerpt in italics with one extra line in italics at the end: “There is no comforting answer to that.” Those were our words, not hers. Sorry about that.

     

    WRITE US: worldview@peacecorpsconnect.org

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    In ‘Capote’s Women,’ Laurence Leamer writes a ‘Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era’ see more

    Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era

    By Laurence Leamer

    G.P. Putnam’s Sons

     

    Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum

     

    “For years, Truman Capote had been proudly telling anyone within hearing that he was writing ‘the greatest novel of the age,’” begins Laurence Leamer’s latest biography, a tale of the literati and glitterati. Capote’s book “was about a group of the richest, most elegant women in the world. They were fictional, of course … but everyone knew these characters were based on his closest friends, the coterie of gorgeous, witty, and fabulously rich women he called his ‘swans.’” 

    Following publication of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, Capote was a writer of renown, feted and admired. Among those he befriended and who took him into their confidence: Barbara “Babe” Paley, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, Slim Hayward, Pamela Churchill, C.Z. Guest, and Lee Radziwill (Jackie Kennedy’s sister). But Capote also suffered serious writer’s block, never completing his magnum opus, Answered Prayers, that he was sure would deserve a place beside Proust and Wharton. He only managed to complete and publish a few chapters in Esquire in 1975. When Capote’s authorized biographer, Gerald Clark, read the excerpt pre-publication, he was alarmed that the women would recognized themselves immediately. “Naaah, they’re too dumb,” Capote told Clark. “They won’t know who they are.”

     

    Laurence Leamer has written here a story of betrayal. And it’s a story of failure — a swan song not at all like the one Capote intended — by a great American writer who found “nothing in love was too bizarre for his scrutiny.”

     

    Bestselling author Leamer has indeed written here a story of betrayal. And it’s a story of failure — a swan song not at all like the one Capote intended — by a great American writer who found “nothing in love was too bizarre for his scrutiny.” 

    Leamer himself served as a Volunteer in Nepal 1965–67, “where I had a remote placement two days walk from a road,” as he told Peace Corps Worldwide. Leamer went on to cover the war in Bangladesh for Harper’s, and his journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, New York, Playboy, and elsewhere. He drew on his knowledge of Nepal for Ascent: The Spiritual and Physical Quest of Legendary Mountaineer Willi Unsoeld. But he has no doubt become best known for tales of the wealthy and powerful in book form that include Make-Believe: The Life of Nancy and Ronald Reagan; a trilogy on the Kennedys; Fantastic, a biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger; and Madness Under the Royal Palms, telling the secrets and scandals of South Florida. A deeper dive into one of that area’s most famous denizens appeared in 2019 — Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace — a book, Leamer says, “written with all I know about Palm Beach after living there for a quarter-century and all I know about politics and human personality after a lifetime as a writer.”

    Over the years, Leamer has also turned his sights on projects that have had a profound effect on the wider world. The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan, earned a place on must-reads lists by Oprah Winfrey and Tavis Smiley. For The Price of Justice, he went undercover to work in a West Virginia coal mine and told the story of two lawyers’ struggle against Don Blankenship, “the most powerful coal baron in American history. Blankenship was indicted and sent to prison,” Leamer notes. “People in West Virginia will tell you it would not have happened without The Price of Justice.” 

     

    This review appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is editor of WorldView.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Imposing Western-style institutions in Afghanistan is not a panacea. see more

    Land, The State, and War: Property Institutions and Political Order in Afghanistan

    By Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili and Ilia Murtazashvili

    Cambridge University Press

     

    Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum

     

    Could it all have gone differently in Afghanistan? That was the premise for a conversation last September with Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili about her recently published book, Land, The State, and War: Property Institutions and Political Order in Afghanistan. Surveys, fieldwork, and historical analysis point to this conclusion, among others: Imposing Western-style institutions is not a panacea. Rather, as Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili distilled in another conversation: “It wasn’t because Afghan social norms don’t support democracy. They do. And Afghans understood darn well what they were supposed to have. But they never even got the minimum of what they were promised in the constitution.” 

     

    “It wasn’t because Afghan social norms don’t support democracy. They do. And Afghans understood darn well what they were supposed to have. But they never even got the minimum of what they were promised in the constitution.” 

     

    Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Samarqand, Uzbekistan, 1997–99. She is Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh and a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She is also the author of Informal Order and the State in Afghanistan (2016).

    Her involvement with Afghanistan is far from only academic. In August 2021, she was at the center of efforts at University of Pittsburgh to coordinate work by dozens of volunteers to assist refugees fleeing Afghanistan as the U.S. withdrew.

     

    This review appears in the Spring/Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Eldon Katter chronicles his time with the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia. see more

    POETRY SKETCHES

    A PEACE CORPS MEMOIR

    By Eldon Katter

    Peace Corps Writers

     

    Reviewed by Kathleen Coskran

     

    Eldon Katter sketches with images and words alike. He had the foresight to chronicle his time with the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia (1962–64) through short poems and drawings — both his and his students’. He had the fortune to be assigned to teach in Harar, Ethiopia — one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, the only walled city in Ethiopia, and now a World Heritage Site.

    I don’t think many subsequent Volunteers received an engraved invitation from His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, but Katter did: for a dinner at the Messerate Palace on October 13, 1962, featuring French wine and Italian pastries.

     

    This review appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine. It is excerpted from a review that originally appeared on Peace Corps Worldwide.

     


    Kathleen Coskran served as a Volunteer in Ethiopia 1965–67.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Elana Hohl and her husband traveled to Afghanistan to serve with the Peace Corps 1971–73. see more

    A Few Minor Adjustments

    TWO YEARS IN AFGHANISTAN: A PEACE CORPS ODYSSEY 

    By Elana Hohl

    Independently Published

     

    Reviewed by Jordan Simmons

     

    Before Elana Hohl and her husband, Mike, traveled to Afghanistan to serve with the Peace Corps 1971–73, she had only been beyond her native Midwest a handful of times. The journey filled her with constant amazement — at the smells and tastes of foods, the splendor and beauty of the land in which she found herself. That includes her first trip north with an Afghan friend, Faiz, to the Salaang Pass in the heart of the Hindu Kush Mountains — and later to see the enormous statues of Buddha in Bamiyan. The overall experience served up a consistent need for “minor adjustments” — from navigating lengthy greetings, learning differing attitudes toward time, and developing skills at haggling over the price of goods. They learned to understand the importance of the camel, the imperative to save face, the attitude of “making it work” in marriage, the intricacies of hospitality culture, and the vast historical influences of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Islam.

    There are the absurd moments as well. Canned cheese, which was provided by UNICEF to alleviate starvation, proves too far a stretch for many Afghans from their dietary customs; the stuff gets resold to foreigners at a discount. Over two years of living with everyday reality in Afghanistan, Hohl comes to have a more nuanced understanding of the effectiveness — or lack thereof — of foreign relief efforts.

    There is also an Afghanistan and Peace Corps epilogue to this story. “Our son Chad has spent 20 years in the Army and has seen seven deployments — two of them in Afghanistan,” Hohl writes. “Aaron was a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, working in an agroforestry project. He later earned his Ph.D. in forestry. Our daughter Sarah also joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in a remote village in southeastern Senegal working as a public health Volunteer. She subsequently worked for a non-government organization in Kenya for three years and now holds a Ph.D. in public health.” 

     

    This review appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.


    Jordan Simmons is an intern with WorldView. He is a studying at Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Afghanistan at a Time of Peace traces Robin Varnum’s years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, 1971–73. see more

    Afghanistan at a Time of Peace

    By Robin Varnum

    Peace Corps Writers

     

    Reviewed by Jordan Simmons

     

    Friends en route to a provincial school. Photo courtesy Robin Varnum

     

    Afghanistan at a Time of Peace traces Robin Varnum’s years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, 1971–73. Varnum chronicles her journey into learning the place she came to call home: adapting to the chilly weather in Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, and understanding why she and other foreigners are mocked as “Mister Kachaloo” (literally, “Mr. Potato” in Dari), and traversing the length and breadth of the country — from Jalalabad to Mazar-i-sharif.

    As a Volunteer she taught English to girls in grades 8–12 at Lycée Jahan Malika, the only girls school in the province. Friendships are at the center of her story — hosting dinners, trading stories, sharing wine. While navigating the male-dominated Afghan society she also does her best to build confidence in the girls she teaches, so that they might become the leaders of tomorrow. But the tomorrow that arrived was very different than the one Varnum imagined.

    On July 17, 1973, near the end of Varnum’s service, her then-husband Mark, with whom she served as a Volunteer, “came home from Lycée Sanai after giving his last exam and told me there had been a coup d’état at 5:00 that morning and Afghanistan was now a republic. Mohammad Daoud Khan, a cousin of King Zahir Shah, had deposed his cousin and taken over as president. Mark said everything seemed normal at school and in the town. Nobody seemed upset.”

     

    Outside a village school: Anwar, seated, served as a teacher and principal and worked with follow Volunteer Juris Zagarins. Photo by Juris Zagarins

     

    Five years later, Daoud was overthrown and assassinated in the so-called Saur Revolution of April 1978, with factions of the Afghan communist party taking power. The U.S. Ambassador was kidnaped in 1979 and the Peace Corps program shuttered. And a cycle of suffering that has lasted generations began.

    Varnum went on to teach at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, retiring as professor emerita. 
     

     

    This review appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.


    Jordan Simmons is an intern with WorldView. He is a studying at Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Illustrator Maria Krasinski teams up with writer Lori Zimmer for Art Hiding in New York see more

    Art Hiding in New York

    AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO THE CITY’S SECRET MASTERPIECES

    By Lori Zimmer | Illustrated by Maria Krasinski

    Running Press

     

    Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum

     

    In this compendium of delight, illustrator Maria Krasinski brings playful color and a lightness of touch to an exploration of art and artists whose work populates dedicated spaces and so much more in Manhattan. She teams up with writer Lori Zimmer to traverse unexpected places and limn faces of the artists.

    Works range from Alexander Calder’s “Janey Waney” in Gramercy Park to Francoise Schein’s “Subway Map Floating on a New York Sidewalk” in Soho to Leo Villareal’s ceiling installation “Hive” in the subway, at Bleecker and Lafayette. Chapters invite you to “Dine Amongst the Masters,” and to discover “Artists’ Homes and Haunts” and “Architectural Interventions.”

    Andy Warhol’s Town House and Cats. He and his mother once lived here with 25 felines — all named Sam. Illustration by Maria Krasinski

     

    Krasinski served as a Volunteer in Georgia 2017–18 and is now managing director for News Decoder, a global news service and education startup for youth that is based in Paris. That’s where her fans can head later this fall, when Art Hiding in Paris is due out.

    Does Krasinski’s name ring a buzzer — er bell? “You might have seen me get steamrolled by Amy Schneider on Jeopardy!” she says. Indeed, she took second in her appearance on the game show in 2022. 

     

    This review appears in the Spring/Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Finding Refuge by Victorya Rouse brings together real-life immigration stories by young people. see more

    Finding Refuge

    REAL-LIFE IMMIGRATION STORIES FROM YOUNG PEOPLE

    By Victorya Rouse

    Zest Books

     

    Reviewed by Nathalie Vadnais

     

    In the Newcomers Center at Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington, Victorya Rouse teaches immigrants from all over the world how to speak English. It’s work she has done for three decades, after she served as an education Volunteer with the Peace Corps in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) 1981–84. For Finding Refuge, she has put together firsthand accounts of kids’ and teenagers’ experiences — some recounted many years later — to help young readers understand war, conflict, and what it means to be a refugee.

    Many young refugees contributed memories of their lives before, during, and after evacuation of their home often due to political tension or aggressive conflict. Among the contributors: Fedja Zahirovic, who fled war in Bosnia in the 1990s; and Abdulrazik Mohamed, who fled the civil war in Sudan and, after years in refugee camps, arrived in Spokane in 2012. Other contributors were refugees from Libya and Syria, Iraq and Mexico, Moldova and Ukraine.

    “The experiences that brought them here,” Rouse writes, “to my classroom—reflect the ongoing realities faced by refugees around the world.”

     

    EXCERPT:

    Fedja from Bosnia and Herzegovina, entered the U.S. in 1995

    We were only able to bring clothes, some family photos, and documents — and I brought a few cassettes with my favorite music. My mom kept telling me to leave things. “We are only taking our clothes and toiletries.” It was like going on vacation, only this time I was bringing a lot more clothes. I couldn’t bring my guitar, piano, or record collection. My bike had already been stolen. I was leaving my few remaining friends and all of my family. My grandmother was staying behind to keep the apartment from being taken away by the refugees and to keep our cabin from being seized by the military. I felt like I would never get to see any of it again. I was right.

     

    My grandmother was staying behind to keep the apartment from being taken away by the refugees and to keep our cabin from being seized by the military. I felt like I would never get to see any of it again. I was right.

     

    Epilogue: Life was difficult for a long time, but my life is good now, and I try to give back and to help people whenever I can. My mother and grandmother live in Portland, near enough that I can see them often. I am married now. My wife has her degree in early childhood education. I do in-home care for people with developmental disabilities as I near completion of my B.A. in musicology and ethnomusicology. My dream is to get an M.A. in music education and to start my own music program for children who are immigrants, who are high risk, or who have learning disabilities—in other words, those who often don’t have the access or privilege to enroll in regular music programs. 

     

     

    EXCERPT:

    Trang from Viet Nam, entered the U.S. in 1975

    On the ship, women and children were being sent to the upper deck, and the men to the lower deck. Somehow, on that huge ship, we all found each other. It was a miracle: The whole family — all ten of us children and both parents — made it onto that ship. So few families made it out together.

    People were crowded together like sardines. We couldn’t even lie down. We didn’t have room to move. The ship took us to the Philippines, but on the way, we ran out of food and water. I was so hungry and thirsty. Someone told us to tap sea water on our lips. We couldn’t drink the sea water, but we could make our lips damp.

     

    “On the ship, women and children were being sent to the upper deck, and the men to the lower deck. Somehow, on that huge ship, we all found each other. It was a miracle: The whole family — all ten of us children and both parents — made it onto that ship.”

     

    In the Philippines, we were given military C-rations. I had peanut butter for the first time. Peanut butter and crackers were so good. There was cheese too. It was so good to eat again. There we were transferred to an even bigger ship and taken to Guam. There were not enough toilets on the ship, so they built an outhouse over the rail. It was so scary to look down and see the ocean!

     

    Epilogue: What I would like people to know about refugees is how grateful we are to have the chance to have a life. The English language is hard. It is not easy to come to a new country and learn a whole new language and way of life, but we are grateful for what we have been given, for the help we have received.

    My husband and I have a comfortable life. We have the basics, everything we really need. We are grateful for our lives here in the United States, for having a roof over our heads, food to eat, and children we are proud of. That is what a successful life is to me. Our children have grown up healthy and happy, with good careers. Now my dream is to retire healthy so I can spend time with our grandchildren.

     

    This review appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.


    Nathalie Vadnais is an intern with WorldView. She is completing a degree in international studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    DEMO is Smith’s ninth collection of poetry. see more

    DEMO | Poems

    By Charlie Smith

    W.W. Norton

     

    Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum

     

    Early on in Charlie Smith’s recent collection comes the poem “Samsara,” lines of joy and memory and death and rebirth. How it begins: “The ocean, uncomfortable with itself, bangs and slurs, / mixing flavors, holding its own against infinity, scarred with ice.” Before it ends, he assesses, “I’ve caught up lately on everything / but time.”

    In between, the poem traverses continents and piano concertos, seasons and marriages, plum flowers and the first pear blossoms. The images summoned are in a voice at once exuberant and mournful. Of a wife who once stood “wrapped in a red Navajo blanket / by the doorway of an old hogan on the rez” he laments: “She’s gone now / into the far lands of chaos; sun-shaped molecules, scent of sweet bay.”

    Two decades ago, David Kirby wrote for The New York Times that here is a poet who reminds us “that we don’t really know what beauty is until we’ve looked hard at the horror that throws beauty into bright relief.” Carry forward that sentiment into Demo — Smith’s ninth collection of poetry. He has also published eight novels and a book of novellas.

    Originally from Moultrie, Georgia, Smith served with the Peace Corps in Micronesia 1968–70. His debut collection, Red Roads, was selected for the National Poetry Series and published in 1987. Five of his books have been named Notable Book of the Year or Editor’s Choice by The New York Times. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Harper’s, and The New York Review of Books, among many other publications.

     

     

    This review appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Doris Rubenstein’s historical novel is based on the life of Enrique Cohen see more

    The Boy with Four Names

    By Doris Rubenstein

    IUniverse

     

    Reviewed by Nathalie Vadnais

     

    In Germany in 1935, just after the Nuremberg Laws were passed, a young Jewish man named Abie is confronted by Nazi soldiers while walking with his Aryan girlfriend in public. In self-defense, Abie attacks one soldier and, believing him dead, flees to relatives in Holland. They equip him with their son’s identification and he takes a train to Milan, where he finds an old friend — and refuge. 

    So begins Doris Rubenstein’s historical novel The Boy with Four Names. In the story, Abie meets a young Jewish woman in Italy and, together, they flee — thanks in part to some forged documents courtesy of the Olivetti family of typewriter fame. They try their luck in Mexico, Argentina, and finally Ecuador. There they are welcomed as refugees and earn citizenship while working in agriculture. A son is born — Enrico, the Italian version of Heinrich, in tribute to poet Heinrich Heine. Enrico grows up in an unstable world and adopts four different names to assimilate into different cultures and escape dangers.

     

    This is a novel written for young adults, Rubenstein says, but she hopes it will strike a chord with older adults, too. One reason: There is a real boy with four names — Enrique Cohen, whose family fled Europe when he was a toddler and wound up in Ecuador.

     

    This is a novel written for young adults, Rubenstein says, but she hopes it will strike a chord with older adults, too. One reason: There is a real boy with four names — Enrique Cohen, whose family fled Europe when he was a toddler and wound up in Ecuador. Rubenstein served with the Peace Corps in Ecuador 1971–73, though she had actually met Enrique before that; he attended University of Michigan, met Rubenstein’s cousin, they wed, and together returned to Ecuador. When Doris Rubenstein would visit Quito during her Peace Corps service, she would stay with the Cohens. “I’ve been back for visits five or six times over the past 48 years,” she told interviewer Donald Levin. “I was always curious about their story, but they really didn’t talk about it much. I got snippets here and there, but nothing close to a narrative.”

     

    Jewish farmers in Ecuador: a scene Enrique might have known. Photo courtesy Jewish Refugee Assistance Library

     

    That changed in 2013, when Rubenstein was invited to an event at the synagogue in Quito. “My Jewish (and non-Jewish) friends in the States were amazed to learn that there are Jews living in Ecuador, some for four generations now,” she told Levin. “Their exposure to Holocaust stories pointed toward those who fled to the U.S. or Canada, or Israel. Maybe some of our generation knew that Jews had gone to Argentina because of the Eichmann trial. But Ecuador? As for teens, the only ‘teen’ story they seem to know of is Anne Frank’s, and that’s got a pretty sad ending. I thought that a different story directed at them—like Enrique’s life—would shed new light on the lives of Holocaust survivors.”

    Rubenstein is the author of five previous books and considers herself primarily a writer of nonfiction. She sat down for an extended interview with Enrique Cohen in 2019. “His wife sat in on it, and after it was over, she said that she’d never heard most of the stories he told,” Rubenstein says, “and they’d been married over 50 years at that time!” 

     

    This review appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.


    Nathalie Vadnais is an intern with WorldView. She is completing a degree in international studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Mark K. Shriver teamed up with illustrator Laura Watson to publish 10 Hidden Heroes. see more

    A conversation with author Mark K. Shriver

     

    By Steven Boyd Saum

     

    Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark K. Shriver teamed up with illustrator Laura Watson on 10 Hidden Heroes, published by Loyola Press, which aims to help children develop counting skills while learning ways to make the world a better place. It shows how acts of kindness and generosity can be found all around us. 

    Shriver has served as president of Save the Children Action Network and now leads Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Maryland as its first lay president. He is the author of Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis and the memoir A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver. Here are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mark Shriver and WorldView editor Steven Boyd Saum.

     

    2 Hidden Heroes working for peace

     

     

    Why this project?

    I’ve written a couple books centered on the idea of goodness — how to find and celebrate goodness and spiritual gifts of joy. As a culture, we celebrate power, money, and prestige. What we should be celebrating are folks doing important and good work in our communities every day. This book is a fun way of teaching kids how to count, but also having kids have conversations with their parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles — and readers of all ages — to see: Why is a Peace Corps Volunteer a hero? Why is a Special Olympics athlete a hero? 

    We should be celebrating people who are dedicating two and a half years of their lives — and in many cases the rest of their lives — to pushing for peace and understanding between human beings. Maybe we’ll think about what our real definition of who a hero is.

     

    We should be celebrating people who are dedicating two and a half years of their lives — and in many cases the rest of their lives — to pushing for peace and understanding between human beings.

     

    On the opening pages, you have hidden heroes nursing people back to health.

    We started on this project during the beginning of COVID-19, in 2020. There are nurses and doctors, and we celebrate them. But also the custodian in the hospital, who keeps the place clean and functioning, needs to be celebrated. Firefighters setting up car seats so children are safe need to be celebrated.

    What I’m afraid will happen in this country is, while we celebrate first responders and health care workers, as COVID dies down, people will go back to not paying enough attention to those who are keeping our communities together.

     

    A book like this seems deeply connected to the work you’ve done over many years with Save the Children, which has focused on helping the youngest and most vulnerable.

    Save the Children is in the book as well. A lot of Peace Corps Volunteers come back from serving overseas, and they work with USAID, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, and other organizations doing wonderful, important work. 

    Now at Don Bosco Cristo Rey, we’re working with minority kids, making sure they graduate from high school and can be the first in their families to graduate from college. Students work one day a week at a job; it helps them get access to networks many people take for granted, and exposes them to a different world. They’re excited about their futures. That gives me hope. Ultimately, I believe in God, so I believe that goodness will win out.

     

    What I’m afraid will happen in this country is, while we celebrate first responders and health care workers, as COVID dies down, people will go back to not paying enough attention to people who are keeping our communities together.

     

    What would you say to Peace Corps Volunteers and returned Volunteers during this time?

    There was no one that my father liked talking to more than Peace Corps Volunteers and returned Volunteers. He was so proud of the work Volunteers do all around the world — and not just teaching English or building a water system. Really, world peace is about human connection. That got my dad so fired up it was crazy. 

    He didn’t believe in might is right. He had fought in a war. He believed in the power of peace, and he believed in the power of human interaction, in trying to work together. 

    Some people want to have a building named after themselves. My father never talked about that. Peace Corps Volunteers, Head Start teachers — that’s a living legacy, which is so much more powerful. This book, which we began working on at such a difficult time, is a small gesture to say thank you to the heroes who include Peace Corps Volunteers. Who they are — and the work they do together with community members around the world — that should be celebrated!

     

    This interview appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Eccentric Days Of Hope And Sorrow — translated by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky see more

    Eccentric Days Of Hope And Sorrow

    By Natalka Bilotserkivets

    Translated from the Ukrainian by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky

    Lost Horse Press

     

    Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum

     

    Prologue to this collection spanning four decades is the poem “ДІТИ,” or “Children.” It’s a word that readers have seen in photos from Ukraine scores of times since February. Usually it is rendered in Russian, for the benefit of the invaders. Spray-painted on gates to a yard in a village house. In pen on a sign taped to the inside window of a car fleeing rocket fire and shelling. Spelled out in enormous letters at the drama theatre in Mariupol, big enough to be seen from the air, and offered as a plea to Russian forces to show mercy to those sheltering inside.

    Which is not to say that this 2021 book of selected poems by Natalka Bilotserkivets is about war. Not explicitly. But it is to say that it is now impossible to read her lyrical works without having them refracted through the lens of an imperial aggressor who wants to erase Ukrainian identity from the face of the earth. Which is also to say how important this collection is now — through its intimate moments as well as in the places where it bears witness to epic events. It arrives as part of the contemporary Ukrainian poetry series published by Lost Horse Press. 

    It is also to say, as translator Ali Kinsella does in the introduction, that even when Bilotserkivets wrote verse decades ago retelling a fairy tale, as in “The Lame Duckling,” there’s a lesson for a nation finding its place in the world:

    Fly alone. Don’t trust even those
    happy flocks, proud and young,
    that once abandoned you.

    Bilotserkivets has been grouped with Ukrainian poets known as the Visimdesiatnyky, or “eightiers.” Born in 1953, she published her first collection, Ballad of the Unconquerables (Balada pro neskorenykh), in 1976, while still a student at Kyiv University. So while she didn’t exactly come of age as a poet in the 1980s, she was part of an “in-between group whose first work came out in the seventies, but who were able to reinvent themselves for the post-Brezhnev era and respond to the zeitgeist,” Kinsella writes. Indeed, it was Bilotserkivets’ 1989 collection November (Lystopad) that earned her wide recognition in Ukraine — in no small part thanks to her poem “We’ll Not Die in Paris.” The fact that L’viv-based rock group Mertviy Piven’ (Dead Rooster) set the lines to music found her wider audiences still.

    we’ll not die in Paris I know now for sure
    but in a sweat and tear-stained provincial bed
    no one will serve us our cognac

    Five sections compose the book, with poems in Ukrainian and facing English translation. Each section, Dzvinia Orlowsky writes in her translator’s note, “reflects some aspect of Natalka’s spiritual and emotional journey from despair and a sense of foreboding to acceptance and self-transcendence.” There are also moments of bearing witness — as in “May,” Bilotserkivets’ long poem about the Chornobyl’ disaster of 1986. In 2022, as Russian troops captured and then retreated from that very atomic plant — and as the invaders turn Europe’s largest nuclear plant, in Zaporizhzhia, into an atomic hostage, this is a poem that bears revisiting:

    Yes, we survived that spring,
                                                     until recently, weak
    school children appeared, milk damp on their lips,
    poets who no longer hurt —
    We, passive, inert, and others put out the fire,
    the reactor’s red heat;
    we in our white robes holding dosimeters,
    in police epaulets, in military uniforms,
    young pregnant women and girls
    with children unborn
    victims and rescuers,
    in the hot heart of Europe. 

     

    IT WAS SERVING AS A PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER IN UKRAINE 2008–11 that co-translator Ali Kinsella learned Ukrainian; altogether she lived there some five years. Now back in Chicago, for the past eight years she has been translating and publishing essays, poetry, and monographs. With Ostap Kin she translated Vasyl Lozynsky’s chapbook The Maidan After Hours (2017). She won the 2019 Kovaliv Fund Prize for her translation of Taras Prokhasko’s Anna’s Other Days. She also serves as associate director for translation for the Tompkins Agency for Ukrainian Literature in Translation. 

    Her colleague in the translation is Pushcart prize poet, translator, and a founding editor of Four Way Books, Dzvinia Orlowsky, author of six poetry collections published by Carnegie Mellon University Press, including Bad Harvest, a 2019 Massachusetts Book Awards “Must Read” in Poetry. Her translation from the Ukrainian of Alexander Dovzhenko’s novella, The Enchanted Desna, was published by House Between Water Press in 2006, and in 2014, Dialogos published Jeff Friedman’s and her co-translation of Memorials: A Selection by Polish poet Mieczslaw Jastrun for which she and Friedman were awarded a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship.

    Earlier this year, Eccentric Days was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, for which hundreds of collections were considered. As for the collection’s title, it comes from a line in “Children.” Bilotserkivets’ narrator is addressing about-to-be teenagers on the night when the new millennium dawns. These young people have no time for parents — after all, they are “old, / some over forty.” In this moment, Bilotserkivets’ narrator remembers a time before — her own compatriots’ youth:

            Sometimes someone
    remembers what we wore and drank
    and listened to in cramped cafes
    in times of languor — in eccentric days
    of beauty, hope, worry and sorrow.

     


     

    FIRE

    Natalka Bilotserkivets

     

    This red fire of dry stalks —
    and what dry stalks
    and sweet crackling of first rains! —
    of fallen leaves that fell for a long time,
    warm with currant smoke, or maybe raspberry,
    the gentle crunch of branches cut from bushes

    slowly unfolded. The ashy edges grew,
    and the broken toy the child carried over
    and laid at the foot of perhaps its first temple
    only smoked through the varnish
    of its dirty, wooden side.

    O, red fire with the blue, violet eye!
    Noon, and then, at once, an evening village —
    a child who’s grabbed onto its mother,
    dark groves far beyond the river.

    Suddenly and everywhere — here
    on the quiet, sleepy street, in the dark
    groves far beyond the river,
    fires blaze up in rays of evening sun
    and the smoke of sweet leaves
    spread its arms to us.

    And when the evening oval faces lit up,
    cleansed with sparkling grain and strange delight,
    we tossed the child in the air, kissed
    and twirled with it — and laughed
    as if we, too, were children.

    You will never die — in your little blue coat;
    your thin lips will never break,
    just as this fall evening will never disappear,
    this fire that dances and flies into the air.

    Can we not rejoice in the happy rhythm
    that fills the universe and our hearts?
    Can we not catch the divine light
    wiping tears, like years, from our faces?

     

    From Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow, by Natalka Bilotserkivets, translated from the Ukrainian by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky (Lost Horse Press, 2021). Reprinted with permission from Lost Horse Press.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView magazine. This article and poem appear in the Spring/Summer 2022 edition.