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At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir Paperback – April 3, 2015
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
At Home on the Kazakh Steppe is memoir writing at its best--moving, informative and deeply insightful. ...
I recommend this book ... to everyone interested in the transformative effects of travel and immersion in foreign cultures. Buy this book--you won't regret it!
From the Back Cover
When a mid-fifties grandmother follows her husband of just three years into the Peace Corps, she leaves behind a promising new career, her home, two brand-new grandbabies, and her beloved dog. Assigned to Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country finding its own way after generations under Soviet rule, she too must find a way to be in a world different from what she knew. Feeling the stresses of a difficult new language, surprising cultural differences, and unexpected changes in her husband, Givens questions the loss of all she's given up. Will it be worth it?
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Janet has woven several narratives masterfully into this multilayered story to create an engaging and intriguing memoir about her two years in the Peace Corps. The first narrative is the story of a married couple who sell everything and strike out for a foreign land to teach English by joining the Peace Corps The second narrative is the changing dynamic between a husband and a wife who are placed in unknown territory and forced to cope with their own individual responses and the preservation of their relationship. The third narrative is a glimpse into the culture and politics of the Kazakhstan people. The fourth narrative is the transformation that occurs within the narrator as she adjusts to the cultural differences and develops a deep bond with the people and the country.
Janet’s descriptions of the people and the country are so rich in detail that I feel I am right there with her. Her reflections and introspection bring her reader deep into her experience. Her writing is fluid and her voice is authentic and believable, laced with a delightful sense of humor which kept me turning the pages. Her love for the people shines through and I was captivated by their kindness and generosity.
Reading this Peace Corps memoir was enriching, educational and enjoyable. I highly recommend it
More important, however, is the book’s gentle but insistent message that the differences between cultures are so much less important than the similarities among people everywhere. Janet is particularly deft at creating a narrative arc across the two years’ of her stay in Kazakhstan in which customs and mannerisms that seemed jarring or simply “foreign” in the beginning came to seem charming and wonderfully universal at the end. Very skillful indeed.
I recommend this book not only to people interested in Kazakhstan and former-Soviet countries, but to everyone interested in the transformative effects of travel and immersion in foreign cultures. Buy this book—you won’t regret it!
There is just so much else to comment on...from the premise of the Peace Corps work, to the selection of the assignment... the host families and friends befriended, the students, the Kazakhstan tapestry...just so much that I'm sure many scenes will be with me forever. Two scenes however, really resonated. It was the second host family, and the visit with friends where in both instances I, too, wondered what nonverbal cues were the families picking up, and how they were being interpreted that created the disconnect.
Above all, this was simply a book I struggled to put down. Any reader who enjoys travel memoirs, or who are interested in Peace Corps work, will find this memoir a delightful true page-turner. Highly recommended.
The writing is brisk, frequently humorous, and also philosophical without being ponderous. The excellent quotes about travel and perception show that the author has let the experience settle in the mind and heart, connecting it with all her prior learning in psychology and sociology. We see her set goals, meltdown, reset, and finally learn to let the experience come to her rather than try to shape it around a preconceived narrative.
The only criticism I have is that the last chapters seemed too compressed. I wondered if some material was excised that might have helped the reader go even deeper into the transformation experience. Nevertheless, the story satisfies and teaches.
I will always think of this book whenever I encounter references to Kazakhstan. It was a riveting read.