THE MAKING OF AN UN-AMERICAN: A Dialogue with Experience by Paul Cowan

THE MAKING OF AN UN-AMERICAN: A Dialogue with Experience

Email this review


A memoir of self-development through cautious activism by a young writer who with his wife joined the Peace Corps in 1966 after an uneasy Choate-Harvard education, Mississippi civil rights work, and Village Voice reporting. After an orientation full of absurdities and misgivings, Cowan found himself in Ecuador making more and more trouble for his American supervisors by writing, researching, and questioning the very possibility of community development without broader change, castigating Ugly-Americanisms, demanding freedom to protest the Vietnam war. He describes his co-Corpsmen's demoralization and local bureaucrats' axe-grindings, his friendships with Ecuadorian slumdwellers and his political radicalization. (One of the book's best passages, an account of his disenchantment with Allard Lowenstein, appeared in Ramparts.) The book is graphic, earnest, intelligent, self-aware -- and for the most part dull, one is unsure just why. The interpretive efforts seem too often banal (""In those days the conflicts that would tear the civil-rights movement apart seemed manageable""); the complaints about ""people from Nixonia"" are pat and irritating; the touches of young-radical ginger seem forced (""'peer ratings,' an institutionalized buddyfuck""). For aesthetic pleasure and generational insight it can't compare with The Strawberry Statement, but it has enough documentary and subjective interest to engage the predisposed reader.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1969
Publisher: Viking