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Don Quixote, U.S.A.    by Richard Powell order for
Don Quixote, U.S.A.
by Richard Powell
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 1967 (1966)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Richard Powell - author of Pioneer, Go Home, The Soldier, and A Shot in the Dark amongst many others - is one of my favorite writers, but his books are, most unfortunately, out of print. He has a wonderful, wisecracking, self-deprecating style that adds hilarity to both his contemporary and mystery novels, all of which successfully stand the test of time.

Having just read a serious and disturbing account of Peace Corps work in Africa, I turned back to Powell for comic relief - rather, make that roll-around-the-floor-laughing relief - in Don Quixote, U.S.A.. Which is not to say that there is no serious commentary. The author manages to poke farcical, subtle fun at the Peace Corps, foreign service, revolutionaries, and the press amongst other groups, while engaging the reader on the inside track of a fast-moving, exciting story.

It could be called a coming of age, except that its hero, Arthur Peabody Goodpasture, is already all grown up. Instead Don Quixote, U.S.A. is the tale of the transformation of this mild, meek Peace Corps volunteer into his alter ego, Arturo - a very funny Candide crossed with Jekyll and Hyde.

Arthur Peabody Goodpasture brings his Master's in Agriculture and extreme naiveté to the Republic of San Marco in the Caribbean. He is an 'agricultural extension agent' of the Peace Corps, heading to a country whose 'campesinos were noted for their ability to make a dozen plants grow where two dozen grew previously.'

Goodpasture is asking to be fleeced by canny locals and he soon is, repeatedly, by young Pepe. But there is something awfully appealing about Arthur's innocence, which eventually draws protectors to him. Between Pepe and Conchita's nudging of events, and serendipitous fortune, everything Arturo touches turns to ... revolution. And there's a romance lurking in there as well. As his older and wiser self comments at the end, 'He was a fine young man and I miss him, but, Name of God, he was certainly stupid.'

If you haven't read this book yet, track down a copy (from a library or second-hand bookstore) and settle down for hours of chuckling, chortling fun. And if anyone hears about plans to reissue Richard Powell's excellent novels, please let me know as I'd love to acquire more of them!

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