Looking for inspiring, international reads? It’s no secret that Peace Corps Volunteers have incredible stories about their service.
No two Peace Corps Volunteers have the same experience, even when serving in the same country. Match that with the ever-changing nature of the Peace Corps as an agency and advancements in developing countries, and you’ve got a near-endless supply of unique, international book reads.
So, whether you’re an aspiring Peace Corps Volunteer, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, or an armchair traveler, we’ve got excellent recommendations about Peace Corps-related stories for you.
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9 Books About the Peace Corps
It took us a long time to compile this list; there are a plethora of great reads out there directly related to, or inspired by, the Peace Corps.
Speaking of which, this list contains a mishmash of non-fiction and fiction Peace Corps books to give you a more well-rounded choice.
Are you an aspiring Peace Corps Volunteer? You’ll find a how-to guide among many other stories to help you prepare (…kind of…there’s no way to fully prepare) for service.
Are you a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer? You’ll surely relate to everyone’s story in some way (who hasn’t tried a seemingly inedible kind of food in their Peace Corps community?). And, just maybe, when there are inevitable divergences, you’ll be inspired to jot down your own story.
Armchair travelers, we’ve got you, too. Let’s face it; the Peace Corps isn’t for everyone. With the possible exception of the handbook, anyone without Peace Corps experience can enjoy these books as much as any volunteer.
But you’re surely tired of hearing us gab. So, let’s jump into ten books we recommend about the Peace Corps.
1. Monique and the Mango Rains
Author: Kris Holloway
Peace Corps Service: 1989 – 1991 (Mali)
Monique and the Mango Rains is a beautifully written account of Holloway’s friendship and work with midwife Monique Dembele in her Peace Corps community in Mali, West Africa. In this memoir, Holloway describes Dembele’s passion and efforts to advocate for birth control, stop the practice of female genital mutilation, and women’s rights to receive an education and salary, among many other topics. Monique and the Mango Rains is a critically acclaimed work used in the curriculum of over 150 colleges and universities.
2. First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria
Author: Eve Brown-Waite
Peace Corps Service Years: 1988 (Ecuador)
First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria is a memoir where Brown-Waite offers a witty, page-turning account of her Peace Corps stint in Ecuador (cut short for medical reasons) followed by her return to the U.S. to date her Peace Corps recruiter. The book follows her and John, who is now her husband, across the world, as she tries to find her place and do good in rural, foreign lands. Brown-Waite is a brilliant story-teller and will have you laughing, crying, and thinking- in many cases, at the same time.
3. When the World Calls
Author: Stanley Meisler
Category: Non-fiction History
Peace Corps Service Years: Meisler worked as a Peace Corps administrator
History lovers are bound to appreciate this in-depth look at the first fifty years of the Peace Corps. When the World Calls highlights how the Peace Corps was formed, how different presidents impacted the agency’s ability to function, and challenges that Peace Corps Volunteers experience in their host countries. This book is by far the most detailed piece of literature currently on the market regarding Peace Corps’ history.
4. River Town
Author: Peter Hessler
Peace Corps Service Years: 1996 – 1998 (China)
In this prize-winning memoir, New York Times Best Selling Author Hessler details his experiences living in his Chinese Peace Corps village in the late 1990s. Sent to teach English and American literature at a college in Fuling, Hessler describes the challenges, achievements, and relationships formed along the way in River Town. He also explores what it was like living in a town that hadn’t had an American resident in over fifty years.
5. It Depends
Author: Kelly Branyik
Peace Corps Service Years: 2014 – 2016 (China)
It Depends is both a book and a phrase that marks the epitome of a Peace Corps Volunteer’s experience; no two services are exactly the same. In this handbook, Branyik explains the process of applying for the Peace Corps, what to (mildly) expect from service itself, and what to expect after service. This is one of the most recent non-fiction works out there on more current Peace Corps service, although keep in mind that the Peace Corps process and policies are everchanging.
6. Kilometer 99
Author: Tyler McMahon
Peace Corps Service Years: 1999 – 2002 (El Salvador)
Kilometer 99 is a contemporary novel based in El Salvador. It follows the story of Malia, a Peace Corps Volunteer working on an aqueduct project in her community who meets an American surfer, Ben, in nearby La Libertad. After an earthquake, Malia and Ben plan to travel around South America…until they get coaxed into staying due to the arrival of a new, mysterious surfer. Kilometer 99 is a great read for those looking for Peace Corps fiction.
7. Not Exactly Retired
Author: David Jarmul
Peace Corps Service Years: 1977 – 1979 (Nepal) & 2016 – 2018 (Moldova)
Not Exactly Retired is a fascinating look at Author David Jarmul’s second venture as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He talks about his experience volunteering in Moldova, with his wife, Champa, both of whom are in their sixties. He also shares other off-the-beaten-path travel adventures they have, particularly in Nepal. Not Exactly Retired is an excellent book for people nearing the age of retirement who are considering joining the Peace Corps or simply looking for an international travel adventure outside of resorts and other traditional comforts.
8. Living on the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers
Author: 17 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
Category: Short story fiction
Peace Corps Service Years: A variety of years and countries served in
It seems safe to say that most books about the Peace Corps are in the form of memoirs, but Living on the Edge shakes this up. In this book, seventeen former Peace Corps volunteers share fiction short stories that were inspired by their time serving. Each story has its own tone and style, making it a great option to find the authors you connect with most so that you can look into other works they may have published.
9. The Vodka Diaries
Author: Richard Sayette
Peace Corps Service Years: 1994 – 1995 (Russia)
Running with and from the Mafia, anyone? The Vodka Diaries is a thought-provoking and humorous memoir about Sayette’s Peace Corps service in Russia. He worked in a community near the Chinese and North Korean borders and talks about his observations and experiences at a time when Russia began dabbling with the concept of a more open society.
Resources for Books About the Peace Corps
Itching for more Peace Corps book reads? The resources below will help you out.
Peace Corps Blogs
Reading other Peace Corps Volunteers’ blogs is a great way to get a feel for what life as a volunteer is like. We’ve compiled a list of 155 Peace Corps blogs, organized by country, to get you started.
Peace Corps Worldwide
Peace Corps Worldwide publishes books, short stories, and other literary work from current and former Peace Corps Volunteers. You can view their list of books here, which are categorized by Experience Books, Books that have Received Peace Corps Writers Awards, and Books Published by Peace Corps Writers.
Goodreads has compiled a list of over sixty books about the Peace Corps. Many books have hundreds of ratings, and in some cases, even thousands. Their recommended list is updated every five minutes, factoring in the latest reviews. You can view the list here.
What are your favorite books about the Peace Corps?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books written about and inspired by the Peace Corps. We’d love to hear about your favorite books that have a Peace Corps theme and/or authors who were Peace Corps Volunteers.
Go on, leave a comment. We look forward to hearing (and reading) what you have to share!
P.S.—If you’re looking for more great travel books, check out my recommendations on the best books for wanderlust.