So Long, John Wayne

Fiction - Literary
322 Pages
Reviewed on 09/11/2023
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

So Long, John Wayne by Rick Ramsey is a coming-of-age novel with a unique twist. Set in Lima, Peru, it tells the story of the unusual friendship that develops between two teenage boys, one Peruvian, the other American. Set around the time of the military coup in Peru in 1968, it tells of the clash of cultures between both the political philosophies of the United States and South American nations at the time, plus the socio-economic divide between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Jose Miguel is one of the lucky Peruvians. In a country beset by political unrest and dominated by a small, yet powerful elite, Jose’s father is a well-respected and rewarded physician. The family is solidly Catholic, middle-class, and large. Jose attends a private Catholic school where he cruises along, just doing enough to ensure a passing grade but his two big passions in life are basketball and surfing; he excels at both. When Joe, a “gringo” whom Jose nicknamed Joe the American, arrives unexpectedly in Jose’s class at the start of a new term, he takes an immediate dislike to the boy and begins to plan his demise, socially, culturally, and on the basketball court. To Jose, Joe represents all that is wrong in his beloved Peru – Americans who come into his country with their swagger, their wealth, and their power, buying off the politicians and generals to rape the natural resources of Peru, which rightfully belong to the poor people of his country. What develops is an enigmatic, indefinable, and unexpected quasi-friendship along with a grudging respect.

So Long, John Wayne is set at a pivotal time in both U.S. and South American (incl. Peruvian) history. With the intense anti-communist fervor at the height of the Cold War in America, and many South American nations flirting with Socialism and Communism, it was a tense time for the ordinary citizens of Peru. With the threat of military juntas and politicians who lined their pockets and served only the elite, for the common Peruvian merely surviving was a daily struggle. Author Rick Ramsey beautifully captures this tension dynamic between the elites and the common Peruvian in this insightful story. His deeply descriptive writing transports the reader into not only the slums and favelas of the very poor but also into the country clubs, fancy restaurants, and luxury of the ruling elite. I particularly appreciated the descriptive prose, describing the scenery, especially around Pico Alto and the Andes, which was almost poetic in its linguistic beauty. It made me feel part of the scene and experience the same events as the participants.

The relationship between Jose and Joe was fascinating, especially as it developed through the success of the basketball team and a grudging respect grew between the pair that defied logic in many ways and confused Jose. It is unusual to see the effects of U.S. economic imperialism, or globalization, from the perspective of the “third-world” countries that it was ultimately intended to help and support and this was a real plus for the story. What this story reminds us forcefully, is, that unintended consequences can arise from even the most seemingly benevolent actions. This is a nuanced tale with many layers and I thoroughly enjoyed peeling back the endless perspectives, to see what lies underneath. This is a solid, meaty read and one I can highly recommend.

Parul Sood

In So Long, John Wayne by Rick Ramsey, readers are transported to 1960s Peru, where the captivating and reflective narration of Jose Gamarra takes us on a journey filled with political turmoil, adolescent rivalry, and the transformative power of friendship. The novel weaves together historical events and personal experiences, painting a vivid portrait of Lima's societal upheaval amidst an impending military coup. Narrated by Jose Gamarra, the story centers around his encounters with Joe the American, a character who becomes both his friend and his nemesis. The protagonist, now living in the States and working as a lifeguard, delves deep into the complex relationship of his relationship with Joe, highlighting their contrasting backgrounds, personalities, and aspirations. Along this journey, he takes us through the dusty barrios of Lima, the barren highlands of the Andes, and the thrills of surfing the Peruvian coast, providing a rich backdrop for the story's events.

In So Long, John Wayne, Rick Ramsey's prose shines throughout the narrative, effortlessly guiding our imaginations through the vibrant landscapes of Peru. The protagonist, Jose Gamarra, emerges as a complex and multifaceted character. Beneath his teenage angst and humor, we discover a brilliant mind grappling with issues of envy, admiration, and forgiveness. Ramsey masterfully captures the internal struggle of a young boy growing into manhood, exploring themes of identity, loyalty, and the choices that shape our lives. One of the book's highlights lies in the portrayal of the 'bromance' between Jose and Joe. The author deftly explores the complexities of their relationship, which oscillates between camaraderie and rivalry. Their interactions are imbued with sensitivity, genuine emotions, and a profound sense of connection, rivaling even the most compelling love stories. So Long, John Wayne is a thought-provoking and beautifully written novel that offers a unique perspective on friendship, rivalry, and personal growth. Rick Ramsey's ability to blend historical events with intimate storytelling creates a compelling narrative that will captivate readers. Whether you're drawn to coming-of-age tales, historical fiction, or stories of profound human connection, this book is a must-read.

Asher Syed

So Long, John Wayne by Rick Ramsey is a historical fiction novel set in the late 1960s and revolves around two young men, Jose Miguel and Joe “the American.” Political instability has rocked Peru and a different form of social disorder disrupts Jose's life. Joe, for all his uncomplicated, easygoing nature, is still an American and his popularity overshadows Jose's. In a 'keep your enemies closer' move, Jose acts as a friend to Joe, connected by degrees of interest in hoops, surfing, girls, and luxury cars. Joe catches the attention of the beautiful daughter of an important family, the Milagros family, and Jose loses control of his jealousy. He wants nothing more than to use what he knows about Joe to show the world that he is a phony and to get Joe out of his own and the Milagros' lives for good at any cost.

My daughter would call the relationship between Jose and Joe a “frenemy” situation and I think that's a pretty darn good descriptor of what Rick Ramsey has built in So Long, John Wayne. For all of the crap that is going on in Joe's life, he is still in a position of privilege compared to Jose, whether it is deserved or not. Joe unlocks doors closed to Jose and through the latter's point of view narrative that drives the story, he says as much when he strolls into a club with Joe and harnesses that confidence. “This is what simply assuming you have a privilege you don’t actually have can do for you.” The rising coup d'état and militias on both sides form a backdrop that, ultimately, engulfs the young men and they do rise to the challenge in a scene-stealing act of courage that Ramsey executes beautifully. Also on display are the almost cinematic descriptions of Lima and the parts of Peru others would not see but are brought to life completely. I can see where the novel might fit into the genre of literary fiction. However, with its coming-of-age themes and a writing style that is on the simpler side with functional prose, I do feel that it would be best suited for older teens and younger adults. Recommended.

Jamie Michele

In So Long, John Wayne by Rick Ramsey, the story revolves around two boys named Jose Miguel and Joe. Jose is attending a Catholic school in the capital city where he is a natural leader who can easily handle his teachers and classmates. Joe is an American who sits at Jose's desk and becomes the target of his jealousy and desire to dominate. Despite the political crisis brewing in their country, Jose introduces Joe to the beauty of Peru and takes him on adventures. One of these adventures leads them to the heart of a military coup, in which they survive and rescue a group of university students. Joe's kindness and genuine affection for his Peruvian friend eventually leads Jose to discover a weakness that allows him to defeat the American. However, Jose becomes blinded by envy when Joe wins the heart of the daughter of a prominent family in Peru. Despite Jose's growing affection for Joe, he plots to expose him and remove him from his life.

Rick Ramsey's So Long, John Wayne takes us on an armchair tour of mid-century Peru to gain a deeper understanding of Peru's natural wonders and cultural complexities, while simultaneously witnessing a war that mars its tranquility. This is compounded by the intricate emotions of envy, jealousy, and obsession which are embodied in Jose's character. Although not always likable, Jose is lifelike and someone with whom readers can at least empathize. Ramsey's decision to tell the entire story from Jose's point of view adds an interesting layer to the narrative, challenging readers to scrutinize their biases and consider the motives behind Jose's actions. Despite being the antagonist, Jose's growing affection for Joe demonstrates his humanity, making him a more relatable character...until Jose's obsessive need to destroy Joe rears its head again. The ending shows promise and when I had turned the final page I was satisfied that the novel was the perfect weekend escape.

Pikasho Deka

Rick Ramsey's slice-of-life drama So Long, John Wayne tells the story of two teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. Set in Peru during the late 60s, the book follows sixteen-year-old Jose Miguel Gamarra, who first encounters Joe Duncan, an American, in one of Lima's reputable Catholic high schools. Initially, at odds with each other, Jose Miguel and Joe soon develop a budding friendship and rivalry, with Jose Miguel feeling constantly outshone by Joe, especially in basketball. When a military coup topples the government, Jose Miguel and Joe find themselves caught in the political chaos plaguing the nation, inadvertently ending up rescuing several university students. Meanwhile, Joe becomes progressively better at surfing and wins the heart of a girl Jose Miguel has a crush on. Can their friendship triumph over their petty rivalry, or will they go their separate ways?

It's our choices that define who we are as people. So Long, John Wayne is a coming-of-age tale that plays around with that very notion. The story revolves around two young adults from very different backgrounds and contrasting personalities who form an unlikely bond yet struggle to move past their differences due to jealousy, envy, and selfishness. Set against the backdrop of the Peruvian military coup in 1968, Rick Ramsey's novel touches upon some relevant social issues, including the pros and cons of capitalism and communism. The dynamic between Jose Miguel and Joe is thoroughly riveting. They have mutual admiration for each other, yet envy and jealousy pervade their relationship, prohibiting them from becoming true friends. This is an absorbing tale about friendship, young love, and growing up.