Memoir finds humor in touching tale

"Clueless Gringos in Paradise" is one of the funniest memoirs I've read in a long time.

Pamela Foster takes a nearly impossible situation in the most unpleasant and crazy conditions and retells it with wit, humor and sarcasm. Who knew moving with two 150-pound mastiff service dogs and her husband, a former Marine and Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder, to live in Panama — where they expected to find tropical paradise — could be funny?

Readers will laugh out loud to keep themselves from crying with Foster, who nearly has a breakdown in every chapter.

In the beginning of the book, Foster explains how loving and living with a vet with PTSD is different than what most people have experienced in their lives. One thing is that these men and women often get restless and bored, and they are always ready for any adventure.

Foster is usually on board and excited, too. But in this case, Panama turned out to be a bit more than the couple bargained for.

Two of the biggest obstacles throughout the entire move are the wonderful, humongous black mastiff service dogs, Chesty (a male) and Rocca (a female). Because they are service dogs and trained to help Jack, Foster's husband, survive in a world where unexpected noises and situations can startle him and send his PTSD into a whirl, the dogs must be with him at all times.

This includes on the plane ride to Panama, where the dogs lie at the feet of Foster and her husband on a commercial flight, and the dogs' heads cannot stick into the aisle. The dogs cram into small taxis in spite of the drivers' fear, accompany their masters into cafes without service animal laws and stay in hotel rooms that don't allow pets without some extra cash.

By the time Foster and her husband actually make it to Panama and get a hotel room, she is the one who is anxiety-ridden and freaking out. Her husband is now in adventure mode and wondering why she is so out of whack.

He continues to tell her everything will be fine, even when they can't find a way to Bocas del Toro, where they want to buy a house, or when their dogs can't leave the geckos and cats alone. He even manages to stay calm when they finally find a house to rent ... and Rocca almost throws herself out an upstairs window.

The reason this book is funny is obviously not any of those events. They are all serious and could have been tragic for the dogs and Foster. But the author's humorous voice and talent for storytelling is what moves this book along and makes readers giggle at parts and erupt into laughter at others.

I won't reveal how the memoir ends: Do they make it to the section of Panama they wanted? Do they buy a house? Does their marriage survive? How are the dogs? You'll have to buy a copy of "Clueless Gringos in Paradise" to find out.

But the great thing about that is $1 of every purchase goes to Freedom Dogs (http://www.FreedomDogs.org), whose slogan is "Heroes for our heroes." Foster mentions that Freedom Dogs "speed the recovery and enhance the lives of wounded military heroes through the use of specialty-trained service dogs."

If you enjoy funny memoirs, you'll love "Clueless Gringos in Paradise." This book is unique with a fitting title, and it's refreshing to find a writer who can laugh at herself and a nearly impossible situation.

Most of all, if you are a dog lover or a vet, you will especially enjoy this story. It's a great way to honor vets on Veterans Day, whether you buy a book, check out the Freedom Dogs website or simply say thanks to someone who put their life on the line for the United States — one whose life might now be an adventure every day.

Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.

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