Review by Mack Hassler
The Diaries of a Marshall Islands Peace Corps Volunteer (1975 – 1977) is a non-fiction volume that is loaded with wonderful photographs from a part of the globe about as distant from the snowy North as one can get as well as distant in time from the pandemic and Trumpian anxieties. Although I know the vestige of the Peace Corps still exists in our government, the sunny hopefulness of the original JFK program needs exactly the skill of imagination performed here by Besonen and the polish of Globe Printing to come to life. My further endorsement in this review is not only for the skill of self-publishing but also for the enclave of UP writers lately associated with the community around Vermilac Lake in the south of Baraga County. My wife and I know these writers by the lucky chance of “being there” in the last several decades. Many of the names are Finn: Kallio, Koskela, Besonen, Kaurenen, Forsburg. Hilton Moore came North from downstate and now has two volumes of stories titled North of Nelson in print. A friend of mine has still yet to surface in print: the son of a Lutheran Pastor: Mark Nelson, who is a retired professor from the University of Wisconsin (no relation to the Nelson of Moore’s fiction). The sister-in-law of Joanne Besonen is Nancy Besonen, who wrote a column in the local newspaper for the last thirty years or so. All the names in this paragraph are part of a vibrant community that has welcomed and included my late wife Sue and me from the start. I think this community is becoming more and more productive.
The Besonen family, in particular, shines in this fine Memoir of Joanne’s “diaries” from which we get, also, a fine set of details of just how the Peace Corps functioned. When her husband David died unexpectedly several years ago, Joanne made the decision to pull together the work for this book from the records and photos she had kept. The printers in Ishpeming helped her with the editing and design. Nancy who is a photojournalist as well as a fine writer supplied some new graphics and photographs. The book is a rich and beautiful work, a fine tribute to the whole Besonen/ Rajala family. I understand that at least two more books can be expected from the Besonens. Joanne is working with Globe to produce a book on her travels following the Peace Corps tenure. Nancy has collected her newspaper columns, and they will be published by the Modern History Press later this year. I strongly recommend all this work from Baraga County. Along with the fiction of Hilton Moore, I think it is vital and exciting work that helps to mute the pain and loss of death and represents the proper response of what we can do with the remoteness of history and with skillful publishing.
The Diaries of a Marshall Islands Peace Corps Volunteer 1975-1977, by Joanne Besonen (Globe Printing, Ishpeming MI 49849), 196 pages, paper, n.p.