John Clark's Reviews > To Benin and Back: Short Stories, Essays, and Reflections about Life in Benin as a Peace Corps Volunteer and the Subsequent Readjustment Process.

To Benin and Back by Chris Starace
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Jan 01, 12

Read in December, 2011

There are many things to like about this book. Granted, it has a few flaws, but they are minor and certainly don't detract from the enjoyment and enlightenment one gets from following the author through his two years as a Peace Corps member in the West African country of Benin. Fresh from college and wanting adventure that also would make a difference in the world, Chris Starace joined the Peace Corps. This book evolved from his extensive journal entries and will provide readers with an excellent idea of what such an experience, particularly in a country not far removed from French colonial rule and with a primitive infrastructure, is like. Among the things I particularly enjoyed were the glossary in the front where readers can get a sense of the language and idioms quickly. Many times these are more confusing than helpful. The author did a very good job with this one.
The depth of detail about people, events and places is another big plus for the book. I liked his use of frequent conversations and greetings he had where he used both Fon and English so you could get a feel for the language as well as how daily interactions went. The author's description of places and ceremonies is another positive aspect. He is able to capture the essence of both in a way that enables the reader to 'see' them quite easily. The comparisons between daily living in Benin and America are another aspect that will help readers understand not only the culture shock, but the vast challenges of making significant changes in such a culture.
Starace's inclusion of the effect on him when he returned , while a bit longer than it could have been, is enlightening and would be a valuable insight for those either in the Peace Corps or contemplating joining. This is a great book for anyone interested in an intimate look at another country, planning on serving in a third world country, or who wants an intimate cultural immersion in literary form. It would also be of value in libraries with an interest in other parts of the world, whether they be academic or public.
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