Mongolia Monologues is Joanne Nussbaum’s travelogue memoir about her time as a Peace Corp volunteer in Mongolia at the age of 53, following the death of her daughter. She wanted to work in sub-Saharan Africa, but instead was sent to Mongolia to work in youth community development. The book is a comprehensive overview of the whole trip – from applying as a volunteer, to the ins and outs of Mongolian culture, to the Peace Corps process, and the wisdom learned along the way. The memoir is told with good humor and optimism, even when things get tough.
There’s a refreshing honesty throughout the book. Nussbaum doesn’t hold back her fears and insecurities, as well as her profound revelations about herself and the world she learns from the experience. Her narrative is compelling because she’s so normal. She’s not a extreme thrill seeker, so her adventure overseas seems attainable, while also being completely exotic. Much of the time, she seems like a fish out of water. She doesn’t immediately take to the sights, smells, and tastes of the place. Yet she goes ahead and tries everything. She’s unafraid to reveal her discomforts, because ultimately it was a rewarding experience.
As if to save the memory before it fades, at times the book bowls along. But that breeziness serves the book as well. The book may act as a deterrent or inspiration for making the trip, but either way, you can benefit from what she’s learned. If you happen to be taking a trip to Mongolia, Nussbaum’s book offers a handy guide, including a nice collection of images from her adventures.