4 out of 4 stars
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It’s really easy to let the smallest things “ruin our lives.” When the internet goes out and Netflix stops working, or autocorrect refuses to let me type the word “sci-fi” without changing it 50 times, I have a hard time not letting it get to me. And hey, I’m sure I’m not the only one! But when I hear about how badly people have it in other places, suddenly getting disconnected from Fallout 76 doesn’t seem so horrible. After all, at least my belly isn’t bloated from parasites, and getting a hot shower is as easy as adjusting a knob and pushing in a piece of metal.
Through Eyes of Love by Kit Rockey-Swain-Baldwin is an autobiography that covers 4 years of her life. These years begin with a few months in Costa Rica to learn Spanish and get ready for her eventual trip to Bolivia. There she does all sorts of work, from coming up with and carrying out programs for children’s health to chauffeuring students and ending a cycle of cheating in class.
While Kit did loads of work in Bolivia, and the book is almost entirely centered on her time there, this is a far lighter, happier book than one might expect. Sure, Kit shows readers just how bad things were there, but she also points out the fun they had. Music and dance seemed popular everywhere she went, and Kit also talks about Carnival, watching movies, and fun ways to teach things like the importance of cleanliness.
When I first saw Through Eyes of Love, I was really confused as to how Kit would talk about 4 years of her life in 40-ish pages. I assumed it would be so jam-packed with facts and stories that it would be drier than a mouthful of Nesquik powder. Boy, was I surprised; the book is actually very fast-paced. Within the first 7 pages, she arrives not Costa Rica, is shocked to find someone she knows who is also from Illinois, discusses how she had to learn to speak differently (“We from the Midwest, California and some other states are guttural speakers. This means we speak nasally, at the back of our mouths and with plenty of jaw movement... The Spanish speakers don’t use their jaws so much but instead use their cheek muscles and roll their tongue at the front of the mouth.”), deals with altitude sickness when she moves to Bolivia, acts as a part-time chauffeur and chemistry teacher where she breaks a terrible cycle of cheating on tests and then figures out a brilliant way to write prescriptions for people who can’t read. Furthermore, while the book moves quickly, I never once felt lost or bored. Instead, Kit has the book set up in a way that we learn a bit about lots of things. There are individual chapters for all sorts of things, such as bullfighting, the insanity of getting her driver’s license, and bits about all sorts of Bolivian culture. There are also over a dozen photos throughout the book; some of my favorites include the magnificent costumes from Carnival and photographic proof of the boy who killed a rattlesnake, then let Kit and a woman named Ann take turns wearing it around their necks.
As I said, it’s amazing what people go through. Kit says “five [children] had stomachs so bloated with parasites that they could rest their arms and hands on their stomachs. It reminded me of a German with a big beer belly” and “if a person got measles, they would surely die or be very, very ill. They would usually burn down the house of the infected patient.” Both of these are from the author’s time near Montero in Bolivia. Worse yet, Kit also says “Most of the people at that time (the sixties) didn’t live past twelve years of age. The infant mortality rate was 65 to 80 percent.”
As for the negatives, I found a half-dozen grammatical errors. It was odd that, while one was on the back cover and one was early in the book, the other four are all between page 31 and page 37. At the end of the book, Kit says that she “remembered all the letters to her family which she had written and they saved. She took the letters, saved in three grocery bags, arranged them chronologically and wrote this book.” With that bit of info, it’s very possible these letters were just edited less well than the others.
Aside from the grammatical errors, the only other negative I found is that I wanted more. More background info, more details about what Kit did, more of everything, I wanted it all! But that’s a good thing to some extent - I enjoyed it so much that I would’ve been happy to have more.
I really enjoyed Through Eyes of Love, and these negatives are nowhere near enough to keep me from recommending it. I’d give the book 3.5 stars if I could, but if I’m judging the book based on its content, not my desire for more of it, I have to give it 4 out of 4 stars. If you enjoy books about people who go to another country to do good things, this book is for you. That’s even truer if you like a newcomer’s take on the country and some information about the culture and people as well. But if you want a deep dive into the topic, this’ll just feel like a great appetizer before a full meal.
Through The Eyes of Love
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