Cover illustration by Stan Klimley
Kathy’s decision to join the Peace Corps was the most important step she’d ever taken—and the toughest. Strict self-discipline was required to face the cram courses, endurance tests and survival outings. Each day offered new—and demanding—experiences. Then, suddenly, she realized that something sinister was happening at the training school. A strange African spirit mask had been stolen—and the theft threatened the success of the entire program. Kathy knew that if she tried to solve the mystery, she’d be risking everything she had worked for … but she also knew that if she didn’t try, she would never find peace with herself …
“I’ve seen movies of Africa, and it’s no place for a girl.”
“Falling in love isn’t like falling in a swimming pool. There’s no lifeguard around to haul you out if you can’t make it.”
This book is billed as a romance novel, but I have to say that is a huge stretch. Nurse Kathy Martin does have a boyfriend, Steve, who is mentioned now and again, but the truth of the matter is that she is basically leaving him for a couple years to head off to Liberia with the Peace Corps, and we’ll see if he’s decided to wait around until then.
Though titled Peace Corps Nurse, this book is about Kathy’s application to the Peace Corps and then her training, which is held in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has nothing to do with any actual nursing while on assignment, which disappointed me, but it was still a pleasant enough story. Kathy arrives on the college campus with her best friend, nurse Jenny Ramirez, who has also been accepted into the Peace Corps. The pair has been assigned to Liberia—as has pretty much everyone they run into on their training—so they are especially interested in Africa and are taking classes about what life is like there. In a book written in 1965, this could well be a recipe for a racist-laden nightmare, but author Josephine James does a stellar job of discussing the problem. One character, Tony Kepatu, is a Liberian native who is a graduate student acting as a teaching assistant for the Peace Corps training, and he is an upstanding, intelligent teacher. Though accused of stealing a Liberian mask, Kathy and her fellow students largely refuse to believe it. Another Peace Corps student, Faith Channing, is a wealthy black woman whose father is a college professor. She is somewhat spoiled, but she is also vigilant about pointing out racism when she sees it, such as when a group of costumed native Liberians sings and dances for the trainees. “That’s how people think about all Negroes. Happy, dancing clowns,” she says.
The main story is about Kathy’s efforts to locate the Liberian mask, which belongs, coincidentally, from her field nursing teacher, a woman who has spent many decades practicing nursing in rural Liberia. The mystery is not the strongest element of the story, as clues are dropped ham-handedly at routine intervals. But the main reasons to read this story are its light touch, its sense of humor, and the Bay Area armchair travel. If it’s not the greatest nurse novel, it’s easily a pleasant afternoon.