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:
Cooke, Julia: The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba (2014)
Discussion: Tuesday, February 11, 2020, 7:00-8:30 pm. Location at the home of Paul and Susie Robillard, 5405 NW Deerfield Way in Portland, 503-430-1776. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Booklist: As the title suggests, this is a rather dreary portrait of post-Fidel Cuba. Cooke is a journalist and teacher at the New School in New York. Her observations are the result of living in Cuba and interacting with a variety of ordinary Cuban citizens over a five-year period. Her account is absorbing, touching, but certainly depressing. As described here, Cuba is a postrevolutionary culture in which the fires of revolution have burned out. So largely gone is the optimism, the spirit of community and self-sacrifice, and the belief in the creation of “the new socialist man.” What remains, unfortunately, is the political repression, stifling bureaucracy, and material deprivation. Cooke’s narrative includes wonderful vignettes covering the daily lives of Cubans in which their hopes, dreams, and frustrations are revealed. Lucia, a well-educated and relatively privileged young woman, sees little future for herself in Cuba and hopes to emigrate. So does Sandra, a street-smart prostitute who refutes government claims to have ended “exploitation.” But there are snippets of optimism, as citizens bravely and brazenly complain about their government.
Wiley, Richard*: Tacoma Stories (2019)
* RPCV South Korea 1967-1969
Discussion: Thursday, March 19, 2020, 7:00-8:30 pm. Location at the home of Jane and Mike Waite, 7008 Kansas St in Vancouver WA, 360-314-4117. Participating in our discussion–-in person-–will be Richard Wiley, the book’s author! Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Publishers Weekly: Wiley’s antic, wrenching collection of 14 interlocking stories reveals the subtle connections among a dozen characters whose unpredictable lives evolve through the decades in the title city. The first story, “Your Life Should Have Meaning on the Day You Die,” takes place on St. Patrick’s Day in a formerly popular Tacoma, Wash., bar that has “started on its coast to oblivion.” The story stands on its own, but it also introduces the characters who will populate the rest of the volume. Lindy, for example, introduced in the first story as “a woman whose ex was doing time at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary,” appears in the following one, “A Goat’s Breath Carol,” as a ninth grader asking her reluctant seventh grader neighbor to “show her his weenie.” Ralph, an English teacher in his 50s who plays a minor role in the first story, stars in a story set 10 years later, “Anyone Can Master Grief but He Who Has It.” Readers may need to take notes to keep track of the characters and their connections, but that close reading will pay off. The collection provides a tentatively affirmative answer to the question raised by a fictional version of the daughter of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth: “Do you think a town can act as a hedge against the unabated loneliness of the human heart?”
Nayeri, Dina: The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You (2019)
Discussion: Weekend morning TBA, 10:00-11:30 am. Location at the home of Jackie and Mike Spurlock, 2211 SW Park Pl in Portland. Feel free to bring snacks to share. The date will be determined in concert with author Dina Nayeri, who intends to participate via video hookup from Paris. It will be either Sat 4/04, Sun 4/05, Sat 4/11, Sat 4/18, Sun 4/19, or Sun 4/26.
Review: © Booklist: This book’s combination of personal narrative and collective refugee story is compelling, necessary, and deeply thought and felt. Writing with truth and beauty, Nayeri (Refuge, 2017) reckons with her own past as a refugee, having left Iran at age eight with her mother and brother to eventually settle in Oklahoma. As an adult she has a daughter and does not want to pass down a legacy of identity confusion and a compulsion to move every few years. Throughout her escape, migration, and assimilation, Nayeri understood the importance of telling a story (even if only partially true) that casts her as an intensely desperate person welling with gratitude to be in a better place. Trouble would follow if she judged Iranian pastry superior to the bright blue American slushy, or if she admitted that Iranian school was more rigorous while waiting for her American peers to catch up in math. As part of her inquiry, Nayeri visits a refugee camp in Greece and talks to families still enduring years-long limbo. Folks live in Isobox containers, shop at a store with points in lieu of money, and approximate dishes from home to feel grounded. This valuable account of refugee lives will grip readers’ attention.
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.