GEORGE PACKER is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq, which received several prizes and was named one of the ten best books of 2005 by The New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of two novels, The Half Man and Central Square, and two other works of nonfiction, including Blood of the Liberals, which won the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. His play, Betrayed, ran for five months in 2008 and won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play. His most recent book is Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century. He lives in Brooklyn.
In 1982-83, Packer worked for the Peace Corps as an English teacher in the village of Lavie in Togo, West Africa, and here recounts his occasionally comic, more often poignant, and frequently tragic experiences in sharp, descriptive prose. He does not romanticize Africa or Africans, but writes with an honest sense of realism and the perspective of an outsider who nevertheless cares very deeply for his subject: ``The struggle to stay afloat took on endless variations in Togo. And the white foreigner who'd come on an enlightened mission, and once there managed to keep his eyes open, quickly lost his bearings in the face of it.'' A great deal of his passion and frustration is directed at an educational system that is impoverished, archaic and based in equal parts on rote and beatings. For Packer, Togo's educational system is a symbol of its present condition, the enduring product of a colonial legacy that has fostered both a chronic national economic crisis and a deep sense of personal inferiority among many of the Africans whom he met. The author presents a full view of Togolese customs and society, exploring such topics as work, medical care, marriage and sex, politics, drought and tourists. He is at his best when he writes about people, including himself, because he treats them not as simple characters or types, but as complex personalities, revealing their histories and psychologies with great sympathy and care. (August)
Peace Corps volunteer Packer evokes both sympathy and amusement, while pointing out the dilemmas of contemporary African society in this tale of his experiences as an English teacher in a southern Togolese village in the early 1980s. He observes the political charades, the stalled development, and the resigned indifference of villagers, and also stands back for a wry look at himself in situations he could hardly have imagined as an undergraduate at Yale. He draws portraits of a few Togolese who are poignantly caught in a cultural and economic limbo, and in the end finds himself in a kind of psychic limbo. Recommended. Janet Stanley, Smithsonian Inst. Lib., Washington, D.C.
"Lovely in its feeling for the people and realistic in its assessment of the African situations, this is a first-rate piece of social reportage."--Irving Howe"[A] fond and angry account...An impressively unself-righteous and questioning work of intimate introduction, in which each dislocation of hope and breakdown of sense matters. Truthful throughout."--The New Yorker"Glowing...A masterful book."--The New York Times Book Review