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:
Roy, Arundhati: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017)
Discussion: Thursday, August 8, 2019, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Mimi Sanders, 318 SW Palatine Hill Rd (big yellow church) in Portland, 503-293-6195. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Publishers Weekly: Appearing two decades after 1997’s celebrated The God of Small Things, Roy’s ambitious, original, and haunting second novel fuses tenderness and brutality, mythic resonance and the stuff of front-page headlines. Anjum, one of its two protagonists, is born intersex and raised as a male. Embracing her identity as a woman, she moves from her childhood home in Delhi to the nearby House of Dreams, where hijra like herself live together, and then to a cemetery when that home too fails her. The dwelling she cobbles together on her family’s graves becomes a paradoxically life-affirming enclave for the wounded, outcast, and odd. The other protagonist, the woman who calls herself S. Tilottama, fascinates three very different men but loves only one, the elusive Kashmiri activist Musa Yeswi. When an abandoned infant girl appears mysteriously amid urban litter and both Anjum and Tilo have reasons to try to claim her, all their lives converge. Shifting fluidly between moods and time frames, Roy juxtaposes first-person and omniscient narration with “found” documents to weave her characters’ stories with India’s social and political tensions, particularly the violent retaliations to Kashmir’s long fight for self-rule. Sweeping, intricate, and sometimes densely topical, the novel can be a challenging read. Yet its complexity feels essential to Roy’s vision of a bewilderingly beautiful, contradictory, and broken world.
Cleave, Chris: Little Bee (2009)
Discussion: Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at Rose City Yacht Club, 3737 NE Marine Dr in Portland. When you arrive at the gate, call or text Liz Samuels at 503-701-6218, and she will give you the code for the keypad to get in. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Kirkus Review: Cleave follows up his outstanding debut (Incendiary, 2005) with a psychologically charged story of grief, globalization and an unlikely friendship. The story opens in a refugee detention center outside of London. As the Nigerian narrator—who got her nickname “Little Bee” as a child—prepares to leave the center, she thinks of her homeland and recalls a horrific memory. “In the immigration detention center, they told us we must be disciplined,” she says. “This is the discipline I learned: whenever I go into a new place, I work out how I would kill myself there. In case the men come suddenly, I make sure I am ready.” After Little Bee’s release, the first-person narration switches to Sarah, a magazine editor in London struggling to come to terms with her husband Andrew’s recent suicide, as well as the stubborn behavior of her four-year-old son, Charlie, who refuses to take off his Batman costume. While negotiating her family troubles, Sarah reflects on “the long summer when Little Bee came to live with us.” Cleave alternates the viewpoints of the two women, patiently revealing the connection between them. A few years prior, Sarah and Andrew took a vacation to the Nigerian coast, not realizing the full extent to which the oil craze had torn the country apart. One night they stumble upon Little Bee and her sister, who are fleeing a group of rapacious soldiers prowling the beach. The frightening confrontation proves life-changing for everyone involved, though in ways they couldn’t have imagined. A few years later Sarah and Little Bee come together again in the suburbs of London, and their friendship—in addition to that between Little Bee and Charlie—provides some salvation for each woman. Though less piercing and urgent than his debut, Cleave’s narrative pulses with portentous, nearly spectral energy, and the author maintains a well-modulated balance between the two narrators. A solid sophomore effort, and hopefully a sign of even better things to come.
Luiselli, Valeria, and John Lee Anderson: Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions (2017)
Discussion: Wednesday, October 2, 2019, 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: © Kirkus Review: A heartfelt plea to change the dialogue on Latin American children fleeing violence in their homelands to seek refuge in America. A Mexican-born novelist, Luiselli (The Story of My Teeth, 2015, etc.) began the inquiry that informs her book-length essay as a Mexican-born writer, living in America, awaiting her green card. Her sense of mission intensified when she began working as a translator for those seeking pro bono legal assistance in their attempts to avoid deportation. She found that their stories could not match neatly with the 40 questions on the immigration questionnaire. Some of the children lacked fluency in Spanish as well as English, and some of their memories were vague or evasive. Yet the dangers they had encountered were real, as was the threat of returning to their countries of origin. Luiselli effectively humanizes the plights of those who have been demonized or who have been reduced to faceless numbers, the ones caught in the web of gang violence fueled by drug wars and the American arms trade. She writes with matter-of-fact horror in response to question No. 7, “did anything happen on your trip to the U.S. that scared you or hurt you?, that “eighty percent of the women and girls who cross Mexico to get to the U.S. border are raped on the way.” Yet the victims are often criminalized in the American debates over immigration: “In the media and much of the official political discourse, the word ‘illegal’ prevails over ‘undocumented’ and the term ‘immigrant’ over ‘refugee.’” The author also explains how the immigrant crisis predated the triumph of Trump and how policies of the Obama and Bush administrations were heartless in treating such refugees as some other country’s problem. Though Luiselli may not convince those adamantly opposed to loosening regulations, she hopes that those who have been willfully blind to the injustices will recognize how they “haunt and shame us…being aware of what is happening in our era and choosing to do nothing about it has become unacceptable. A powerful call to action and to empathy.
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.