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:
Luloff, Joanna*: The Beach at Galle Road: Stories from Sri Lanka (2012)
* RPCV Sri Lanka (1996-1998)
Discussion: Thursday, March 28, 2019, 7:00-8:30 pm. Location at the home of Carole Beauclerk, 1500 SW Park Ave in Portland. Participating in our discussion will be Joanna Luloff, the book’s author, in person. On-street parking in downtown Portland is free beginning at 7:00 pm. Upon arrival, call 503-780-2722 to be buzzed in, then turn right into the building’s lobby and then take an immediate left into the community room. Feel free to bring snacks to share. Note date change to accommodate the author’s appearance.
Review: © Kirkus Review: In her debut, Luloff weaves a montage of stories into a cohesive whole as she explores the roles of tradition and family and the destructive power of war through the lives of each character. With simplicity, the author, a former Peace Corps volunteer, gives voices to those who’ve been touched, however remotely, by a conflict that lasted for decades and destroyed the fabric of a country. Mohan, Janaki and their two daughters live a comfortable family-oriented life in Baddegama, a village in southern Sri Lanka, and pay scant attention to the struggle occurring between Tamil insurgents and the Sinhalese government. The skirmishes are taking place in the northern section of their country, so it’s had little impact on their lives. But not so for Lakshmi, Janaki’s older sister: Her husband, Sunil, a Tamil sympathizer, disappeared from the streets of Colombo in 1987, and now Lakshmi is returning to her family, a person incontrovertibly different from the girl Janaki once knew. Peace Corps volunteer Sam, a boarder in Janaki’s home, falls in love with a student from the north and insists on staying in the country even though his visiting parents pressure him to leave. And other volunteers, whether for altruistic reasons, adventure or escape, journey to Sri Lanka to find purpose or refuge along the beautiful beaches or in mountain retreats. Like Lucy, who manages an International Aid rest home, some discover that fulfilling a desire for adventure can lead to witnessing unimaginable horrors. Perhaps the most affecting tale is the story of Nilanthi, a brilliant young teaching candidate and the object of volunteer Sam’s love. When the violence causes her program to shut down, she returns home to her parents, three brothers and best friend, Sunitha. What follows is a study of societal barriers, family dynamics and individual strength. Each story is subtly presented and, for the most part, disturbingly believable.
Wrong, Michela: I Didn’t Do It For You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation (2005)
Discussion: Tuesday, April 9, 2019, 7:00-8:30 pm. Location at the home of Jane and Mike Waite, 7008 Kansas St in Vancouver WA, 360-314-4117. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Foreign Affairs: Wrong has written a penetrating history of Eritrea, starting with Italian colonialism, working her way through the 30-year struggle against Ethiopian occupation, and ending with independence, the pointless 1998 border war with Ethiopia, and the current dispiriting drift toward a police state. Her major theme is the raw deal the Eritrean nation has gotten from the rest of the world for much of the modern era. Italy, Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and, of course, Ethiopia, have all exploited the country or ignored the welfare of its people. Few Americans know, for example, that the U.S. Army long ran a large intelligence base there, Kagnew Station, that housed over 4,000 people — at a time when Eritrea was an integral (albeit contested) part of Ethiopia and Washington had little regard for its national aspirations. Wrong has an eye for the telling anecdote, and the book’s many vignettes, rich characters, and empathetic writing make for excellent reading.
Müller, Herta*: The Fox Was Ever the Hunter (1992/2016)
* 2009 Nobel Literature Prize
Discussion: Thursday, May 9, 2019, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Lee Norris, 3748 SE Salmon St in Portland, 503-236-0998. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Publishers Weekly: Set in Romania at the end of the Ceausescu era, this Kafkaesque tale offers a glimpse of a society unhinged by fear and paranoia and crushed by the hopelessness of its dead-end future. Its principal characters include Clara, a worker in a wire-making factory; her lover, Pavel, a married lawyer; Paul, a musician whose concerts have been raided by the police; and Adina, a schoolteacher who discovers that someone is regularly entering her apartment and systematically—and symbolically—dismembering a fox rug in her bedroom. Suspicions suggest that someone in this circle of friends and acquaintances is giving information to the authorities—but who? Nobel Prize–winner Müller (The Hunger Angel) foregrounds her tale against a bleak landscape mired in pollution and industrial waste, where the natural world is menacing: poplar trees ringing the town are described as “knives,” and the sun as a “blazing pumpkin.” In short, staccato chapters etched with her spare but crystalline prose, she parades scores of nameless working-class people who seem devoid of any inner life and whose prospects for rising above their circumstances are summed up as “Nothing but this gutter of poverty, hopelessness, and tedium, from mother to child and on to that child’s children.” More than a portrait of individual lives under the suffocating weight of a dictatorship, Müller’s novel is a searing appraisal of a people whose souls have been strangled by despair.
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.