November 2018 Book Club Selection

Writing Abroad
Chilson, Peter*, and Joanne B. Mulcahy: Writing Abroad: A Guide for Travelers** (2017)

* RPCV Niger (1985-1987)

** 2018 Peace Corps Worldwide Best Travel Book

Discussion: Thursday, November 8, 2018, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Mimi Sanders, 318 SW Palatine Hill Rd (big yellow church) in Portland, 503-293-6195. Participating in our discussion will be Peter Chilson and Joanne B. Mulcahy, the book’s authors. This will be a joint gathering of CRPCA’s Book Club and Writers Workshop.

Synopsis: “Tell me all about your trip!” It’s a request that follows travelers as they head out into the world, and one of the first things they hear when they return. When we leave our homes to explore the wider world, we feel compelled to capture the experiences and bring the story home. But for those who don’t think of themselves as writers, putting experiences into words can be more stressful than inspirational. Writing Abroad: A Guide for Travelers is meant for travelers of all backgrounds and writing levels: a student embarking on overseas study; a retiree realizing a dream of seeing China; a Peace Corps worker in Kenya. All can benefit from documenting their adventures, whether on paper or online. Through practical advice and adaptable exercises, this guide will help travelers hone their observational skills, conduct research and interviews, choose an appropriate literary form, and incorporate photos and videos into their writing. Writing about travel is more than just safeguarding memories—it can transform experiences and tease out new realizations. With Writing Abroad, travelers will be able to deepen their understanding of other cultures and write about that new awareness in clear and vivid prose.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

July 2013 Book Club Selection

We Never Knew Exactly Where
Chilson, Peter*: We Never Knew Exactly Where: Dispatches from the Lost Country of Mali (2013)

* RPCV Niger (1985-1987)

Our discussion took place: July 2013. Participating in our discussion was CRPCA’s Peter Chilson, the book’s author.

Synopsis: What happens when a country suddenly splits in two? In 2012, Mali, once a poster child for African democracy, all but collapsed in a succession of coups and countercoups as Islamist rebels claimed control of the country’s north, making it a new safe haven for al Qaeda. Prizewinning author Peter Chilson became one of the few Westerners to travel to the conflict zone in the following months to document conditions on the ground. What he found was a hazy dividing line between the uncertain, demoralized remnants of Mali’s south and the new statelet formed in the north by jihadist fighters, who successfully commandeered a long-running rebellion by the country’s ethnic Tuareg minority to turn Mali into a new frontier in the fast-morphing global war on terror. Chilson’s definitive account — the first in the new Borderlands series of ebooks from Foreign Policy magazine and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting — is a gripping read, taking us back to the founding of French West Africa and right to the very front lines of this contentious new flashpoint.

Where to find it: Only available as an e-book: in Kindle format for Amazon devices; and as a PDF for other e-readers, tablets, and computers. The price is $4.99. Go to, then either click the “Buy for Amazon Kindle” button or the “Buy the PDF version from FP here” link.

July 2010 Book Club Selection

Riding the Demon
Chilson, Peter*: Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa (1999)

* RPCV Niger (1985-1987)

Our discussion took place: July 2010. Participating in our discussion was CRPCA’s Peter Chilson, the book’s author.

Review: © Publishers Weekly: In this vivid exploration of road culture in the West African nation of Niger, Chilson describes a crucial aspect of African culture as a whole: the bush taxi, or “taxi brousse.” A year spent taking journeys in this most common form of transportation in Africa leads Chilson further inside modern Africa than an earnest anthropologist would get, not least because of the danger involved. The people of West Africa abhor an empty Peugeot 504. The rickety old station wagons with balding tires, no windows and engines held together by a wing and a prayer gather at chaotic motor parks where they wait until at least 10 passengers are crammed aboard before taking off. These bush taxis are the great social leveler, since people from all walks of life use them. Auto accidents, horrendous and frequent, are a leading cause of death in Africa. Stationed along all routes are “checkpoints” manned by aggressive soldiers who expect bribes, the cost of which is factored in to the passengers’ fare. Little wonder that a fatalistic belief in the “demons” of the road dominates the drivers’ set of beliefs that also draws in the author, whose own fear is assuaged by amulets and, on occasion, numb withdrawal. There is an unrelenting quality to the excellent descriptive writing, appropriate perhaps because of the unrelenting life, but readers will hunger for more humor and better characterizations of the people the author met. Riding the Demon received the Associated Writing Programs award for creative nonfiction.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble