PPCA’s Book Club gatherings are open to all who have read that month’s book. Typically we start out discussing the book, and inevitably someone relates a theme in the book to their own experiences or other readings, so the conversation takes an interesting turn. Our Book Club discusses books of broad interest set in parts of the world in which Peace Corps Volunteers have served, or books which were authored by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). We love author appearances! Between 2010 and 2019, we have hosted or will host 34 different authors – in person, by phone, or via Skype.
Here are our next three book discussions:
Eggers, Dave: What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (2006)
Discussion: Wednesday, August 12, 2020, 6:30-8:00 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information.
Review: © Publishers Weekly: Valentino Achak Deng, real-life hero of this engrossing epic, was a refugee from the Sudanese civil war-the bloodbath before the current Darfur bloodbath-of the 1980s and 90s. In this fictionalized memoir, Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) makes him an icon of globalization. Separated from his family when Arab militia destroy his village, Valentino joins thousands of other “Lost Boys,” beset by starvation, thirst and man-eating lions on their march to squalid refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, where Valentino pieces together a new life. He eventually reaches America, but finds his quest for safety, community and fulfillment in many ways even more difficult there than in the camps: he recalls, for instance, being robbed, beaten and held captive in his Atlanta apartment. Eggers’s limpid prose gives Valentino an unaffected, compelling voice and makes his narrative by turns harrowing, funny, bleak and lyrical. The result is a horrific account of the Sudanese tragedy, but also an emblematic saga of modernity-of the search for home and self in a world of unending upheaval.
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.
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.
Most of our books are selected by an annual survey, featuring curated options from books widely available in local libraries. We schedule additional discussions when an author of a non-self-published book offers to meet with us. If you are interested in learning more about PPCA’s Book Club, please contact Bill Stein, at 503-830-0817 or bookclub AT crpca.org.