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Living Poor

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  432 ratings  ·  59 reviews
At the age of 48, Moritz Thomsen sold his pig farm and joined the Peace Corps. As he tells the story, his awareness of the comic elements in the human situation--including his own--and his ability to convey it in fast-moving, earthy prose have made Living Poor a classic.
Paperback, 280 pages
Published April 1st 1990 by University of Washington Press (first published January 1st 1969)
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3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  432 ratings  ·  59 reviews

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Apr 14, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: peacecorps
this was the one of MANY peace corps memoirs i suffered through (reading material choices were limited to our paltry communal bookshelves in the volunteer lounge of the swaziland peace corps office).
anyway, i used to write a monthly literature review box or our volunteer newsletter, and one month i ranted about this genre. below are my thoughts:

Dissecting the Peace Corps Memoir
One of my least favorite genres of nonfiction is hands-down the “peace corps memoir.” I attribute it to both the f
Jul 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Probably the most interesting thing I've done all day is Google Moritz Thomsen, this book's vivacious, troubled, sharply eloquent author. This man is so interesting to me.
Having lived and volunteered (albeit for only about a month) in a tiny Ecuadorean farming cooperative, this book meant a lot to me. Even though my time there was about three years ago, I look back on it with a hazy mixture of pride and embarrassment for how much I thought I knew about the world, and how much I thought I knew a
Feb 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
"Living Poor" is Thomsen's chronicle of how, in middle life, after failing as a farmer, he became a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. Perhaps because he was in one of the poorest regions in the world, battling hunger, poverty, and ignorance, his memoirs have no middle ground: his experiences are either hilarious or deeply sad.

Not only does Thomsen relate what is going on around him, he also has an analysis of what is going on inside himself. He marks his own transformation from a bumbling, naive
May 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cultural
My one year experience as a WorldTeach volunteer in Quito ('99-'00), and two subsequent years working in sales, also in Quito ('00'-'02), were a much different experience than the author had in Rio Verde. He truly lived with the people in a much more humbling environment than I did. I had my humbling experiences in Ecuador, but nothing like this guy did for that long.

It's interesting to note some of the similarities between what the author describes in the mid '60s and what I had 35+ years lat
Nov 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Living Poor is the moving, inspirational, and heartbreaking story of a Peace Corps volunteer who spent four years trying to make a small, poor Ecuadorian town a better place... and failed. Thomsen arrived in Ecuador a freshly-minted volunteer already half-broken by the Peace Corps training, feeling unprepared for the job ahead and knowing only a little Spanish--most memorably, "Los alumnos llegan a la puerta"--but nonetheless full of enthusiasm for his mission.

After his first stay is cut short
Scott Munden
Jan 01, 2016 rated it liked it
To see this memoir as just another volume in the Peace Corps genre is to make a mistake. With him as a Peace Corps volunteer, Moritz Thomsen brings to Ecuador a confused mix of cultish Corps Group Think and a dwindling faith in humanity, the world we inhabit and his place in it. He comes to the Corps late in life, having lost a farm that had thrived at one time. That alone sets Thomsen apart from a typical Peace Corps volunteer.

The strength of the book is this: having explored poverty and its in
Mar 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Martin goes to Ecuador as a Peace Corp voluteer to help a small town in poverty become more self-reliant. A very real story is told that sheds light on the ways of those in poverty, their thinking process, their beliefs, and what keeps them there. Living Poor provides a perspective not just into poverty, but into human nature itself.

The author uncovers a few truths about how we are all alike, and how the situations we find ourselves in shape us. Circumstances can lift the same man to grandeur, o
Feb 10, 2011 rated it liked it
At times I was appalled by his racism, his use of DDT and his selfishness. However, this book was written in the 1960's which would explain a little bit about the first two. I liked the fact he was only human and he told a compelling story, hitting on several key points of the unique Peace Corps experience. However, i did not come away from this book with a strong sense of place. His descriptions of the village were sparse and needed more details for those of us who have never been to equador. I ...more
Nov 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is by far the best Peace Corps book I've ever read, and not just because Moritz signed up for the Corps in my nowhere hometown when I was actually living there. (That was a pleasant surprise on page one!)

Moritz writes bluntly and well. He is earthy and doesn't hesitate to cover his own failings in addition to those of others he is living among.

He also searches long and hard to find good answers to the problems that beset the poor people on Rio Verde in Ecuador. His narrative does a fine job
Jan 01, 2009 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book, though pretty depressing overall. It was remarkable in that the author joined the Peace Corp at age 48 in the 60s--unusual then, I think. He also stayed in a small village in Ecuador for 4 years. I wondered why and it would be interesting to know what life is like there now--both unanswered questions. It does provide a very realistic view of what poverty feels like, up close and personal.
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a former Peace Corps volunteer myself, I thoroughly enjoyed Moritz Thomsen's memoir. His writing is very evocative, very vivid. This book was recommended to me as one of the best (if not the best) Peace Corps memoir ever written. After reading it, I agree.

But also, it is a unique perspective on the Peace Corps experience. Thomsen was 48 years old when he joined the Peace Corps, a WWII bombardier, and an experienced California farmer. He wrote the book as a series of articles for a San Franci
Colt Bradley
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
A book by a Peace Corps volunteer living in a small town in Ecuador for four years, trying to teach people how to raise chickens and form agriculture and fishing cooperatives. But really, it's about his experiences with poverty and the people who lived in this town. He's frank and down to earth, and his writing is funny and heartbreaking.
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A great book to read to understand the Peace Corp in Ecuador in the 60’s.
Perhaps because I have both spent time in Ecuador and am currently working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, I really enjoyed reading this book. The best part of this book was undoubtedly learning about the people themselves and following their lives through Thomsen's service. Reading this book, you will meet a wide cast of characters, both tragic and comical, and will finish wishing to know more about them. How did Ramon, Ester and their baby end up? Did the town escape their constant hu ...more
Moira McPartlin
In the 1960s Moritz Thomsen, a Californian farmer, signed up for the Peace Corps at the age of forty eight and spent the next four years living and working in a poor village in Ecuador. The village of Rio Verde was coastal, relied on crops from poor land and scant fishing to survive. The infant mortality rate was high and those that did survive were malnourished. Thomsen tried to organise the villagers to raise chickens and start a cooperative but he had an on going battle with resistance to cha ...more
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
First of all, I am in awe of those who join the Peace Corps. I think they are truly the unsung heroes. This man was not only selfless, he was human with flaws and a wonderful writer. He cared and tried to help this village out of it's hopeless condition. He also opened eyes to what poverty does to ambition, intelligence and how it destroys hope for something better. To pull oneself out of conditions that work together to thwart ambition at every turn is remarkable and surely none of any people I ...more
Tara Mciver
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I recently applied to join the Peace Corps and decided to do a little reading on RPCV experiences. Thomsen's book was the first book I selected and I am thrilled to have done so. Although I did not begin this book with strong interest in agriculture, Thomsen's unrelenting efforts to improve the quality of life for his community had me wanting to jump into the book, grab a machete, and start clearing out forest myself. The problems of protein starvation and other malnutrition that are caused by w ...more
Sep 09, 2012 rated it liked it
The forty-five year old author lived on the coast of Ecuador for five years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, this book told the story of his time there. The author was a likable protagonist and the book was easy to read. By the end of the book, you weren’t sure what the point of the Peace Corps was. It seemed that (despite his dedicated hard work) he really only helped three people from his town and wasn’t able to accomplish any systemic change. There seemed to be no central vision for Peace Corps wo ...more
Dana Berglund
Dec 25, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: stalled-out-on
Solid book in the Peace Corps Memoir genre. I only read a little more than half of it before I had to return it to the library, so I'm considering it "stalled-out-on". I had some difficulty keeping the cast of characters set in my mind, but overall found the setting interesting. A big concern I had was that he invested himself so heavily financially in the community. Risky in several ways to be lending money to people, regardless of your motives. It does lead to jealousies and problems in the po ...more
Jul 29, 2015 rated it liked it
A Peace Corps chronicle --living poor in Esmeraldas province in Ecuador -- a remote beach community between Atacamas and the Colombian border. Accurately captures the many very real frustrations of Peace Corps life (and of living in remote coastal Ecuador!). The relationships -- tinged always with the knowledge that ultimately you have options beyond the "living poor" experience. The conceit of trying to "help", to facilitate change, when ultimately you can never belong or understand. Well-writt ...more
Sep 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Read this in college and really liked the stories. This book was a key inspiration for my desire to do PeaceCorps, which I almost did but then went to DC instead.

One note: Thomsen was a farmer who knew a lot about farming, and then did PeaceCorps to share his knowledge. Of course, he was going to teach people who had thousands of years' experience with sustainable agriculture. But what I wondered as I went through the PeaceCorps application process was: what skills am I bringing - at all? Seems
Oct 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
I loved Thomsen's humorous style. Surprisingly, thanks to his honest and frank opinions about his experiences in Ecuador, I became frighteningly attached to the people and the story, so moving were his words. Most of the story was emotionally frustrating, but there were two events (for me) that moved me to the extreme -- one made me so angry, the other made me deeply sad. I wouldn't tell anyone not to pick up this book, even if they only want a 'happy' read -- it's something I think everyone sho ...more
Nov 03, 2013 rated it liked it
This book offers some nice points of view but it draws on in a manner that makes you want to claw your eyes out. Halfway through the read it seems as though the book concludes, yet it just reboots out of the blue and retells roughly the same story again.

To sum it up, the guy lives in a village and he was in no way prepared for the climate. He is continually frustrated by the locals and they repeatedly choose not to listen to him, but somehow he pulls off some minor change and makes some friends.
Joey Coleman
Oct 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
I went into this book with reservations, both regarding the Peace Corps and the book itself. Nonetheless, I took the recommendation of a friend and came away impressed. This is much more than simply a "Peace Corps memoir" and it pains me that it has Peace Corps written right there on the cover. Thomsens writing is dry, humorouus, straightforward and insightful. He readily admits his own failures along with his frustration and anger with those very people whom he is trying to help while painting ...more
Aug 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Although the book wasn't a page-turner, it was a good account of Peace Corps life and how many of our projects don't always succeed. Being a PCV currently serving in South Africa, I enjoyed reading about how Peace Corps life then was different and sometimes similar to today. This book took place in the 60's and it is amazing how many things in Peace Corps service have not changed at all while other things are very different.
Mar 24, 2010 rated it it was ok
I wanted this book to be a fine read, but it did not happen. The author chronicles his time in the Peace Corps living - and trying to make a small difference -- in Ecuador. Unfortunately, the author repeats the same theme time and again--so and so begged for money, so and so sold his chickens, so and so got drunk, etc. It was getting difficult to keep reading, so I gave up about 3/4 of the way through the book. If there is a payoff, I didn't get to it.
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of Peace Corps' very best. As a former volunteer having served in Latin America, he depicts volunteer life with extreme wit humility. As always, there is never a "typical" Peace Corps story, but there are common threads - quarter-life crisis, sickness, solitude, deep anxiety, tremendous joy, pain, suffering, and finding pleasure in life's simplicities. I appreciated his thoughts.
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Anyone preparing to become a Peace Corps volunteer needs to read this book. I learned a lot about how the Peace Corps used to work and enjoyed contrasting that to the present-day institution. The same message reads for any PC volunteer: we meet a lot of intriguing and strange individuals in this world... and they all rub off on us a little.
Jun 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Quite possibly my favorite book of all time. California farmer, in the autumn of his life, joins the Peace Corps and goes to coastal Ecuador to teach farming. Poverty, humor, cross cultural differences, and the author's own growth and self exploration, all occur in front of a kaleidoscopic backdrop of color, texture, and exhausting jungle humidity. Read book more than once.

Jun 25, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: current and potential volunteers
I would recommend this to any current or incoming volunteers. A very simple read. Although much has changed, training, placement etc, since this book was written the essence is still the same. I read it during my first 4 months of service and could definitely still relate to many of the sentiments and feelings the author expressed.
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