November 2020 Book Club Selection

The Sympathizer
Nguyen, Viet Thanh: The Sympathizer* (2015)

* 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Discussion: Thursday, November 12, 2020, 6:30-8:00 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information.

Review: © Publishers Weekly: This astonishing first novel has at its core a lively, wry first-person narrator called the Captain, and his two school friends Bon and Man, as they navigate the fall of Saigon and the establishment of the Communist regime in Vietnam in 1975. The Captain is a half-Vietnamese double agent; he reports to his Communist minder Man who, unbeknownst to Bon, is a Republican assassin. The Captain and Bon make it on to one of the harrowing last flights out of Saigon as the city is overtaken by the Viet Cong. They travel with the Captain’s superior, the General, and his family, although Bon’s own wife and son are shot making their escape. The Vietnamese exiles settle uncomfortably in an America they believe has abandoned their country, as they are reduced to new roles as janitors, short-order cooks, and deliverymen. The General opens a liquor store, then a restaurant (in which his proud wife cooks the best pho outside Vietnam) as a front to raise money for a counter rebellion. In order to protect his identity as a spy, the Captain is forced to incriminate others, and as lines of loyalty and commitment blur, his values are compromised until they are worthless. Nguyen’s novel enlivens debate about history and human nature, and his narrator has a poignant, often mirthful voice.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

October 2020 Book Club Selection

Say You're One of Them
Akpan, Uwem: Say You’re One of Them (2008)

Discussion: Thursday, October 8, 2020, 6:30-8:00 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information.

Review: © Booklist: With this heart-stopping collection, which includes the New Yorker piece, An Ex-Mas Feast, that marked Akpan as a breakout talent, the Nigerian-born Jesuit priest relentlessly personalizes the unstable social conditions of sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout, child narrators serve as intensifying prisms for horror, their vulnerability and slowly eroding innocence lending especially chilling dimensions to the volume’s two most riveting entries: Fattening for Gabon (one of the book’s three novellas), about the systematic grooming of a Benin 10-year-old and his sister for sale to a sex-slavery ring; and the collection’s title story, a harrowing plunge into the mind of a mixed-race girl during the Rwandan genocide. From the slurp of machetes slashing into flesh to a toddler’s oblivious stomping through blood puddling from his mother’s crushed skull, Akpan tackles grisly violence head-on, but most of the stories, with the exception of the overlong, metaphor-laden Luxurious Hearses, are lifted above consciousness-raising shockers by Akpan’s sure characterizations, understated details, and culturally specific dialect. Don’t expect to emerge with redemption delivered on a silver platter. The stories’ tattered hope comes indirectly, from the thirst for broader knowledge about Africa’s postcolonial conflicts they’ll engender, and from the possibility that the collection’s opening map, with the featured nations labeled (as helpful as it is a glaring symbol of most Western readers’ woeful ignorance), will someday prove superfluous.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

September 2020 Book Club Selection

Disoriental
Djavadi, Négar: Disoriental (2018)

Discussion: Thursday, September 10, 2020, 6:30-8:00 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information.

Review: © Booklist: We meet Kimiâ in a fertility-clinic office. She is alone, waiting with a tube of sperm, for the chance to become a mother. She has already lied to the fertility-clinic staff about her intentions to marry the man whose sperm she carries, but the reason for her deception is not immediately clear. What is obvious from the beginning of this riveting novel is that Djavadi is an immensely gifted storyteller, and Kimiâ’s tale is especially compelling. The winner of multiple awards in France, this debut novel in translation follows the fortunes of one Iranian family from the dawn of the twentieth century through the revolution and their Parisian exile. The youngest of three daughters, Kimiâ was still a child when her family fled Iran, crossing the Turkish border under cover of night. Her father, a journalist and political dissident who played a role in the start of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, fought the extremist regime with a passion that culminated in a tragedy the family can only refer to as THE EVENT. But the roots of their story go back much further, to her great-grandfather and the harem of wives he kept on his land near the Caspian Sea. Kimiâ unthreads the narratives of her family history, and the shaping of her own identity, with the insight and verve of a master storyteller.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble