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:
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.
Kadare, Ismail*: The Fall of the Stone City (2008/2012)
* 2005 Man Booker International Prize
Discussion: Tuesday, November 12, 2019, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Jackie and Mike Spurlock, 2211 SW Park Pl (unit 902, with a view) in Portland, 503-827-4126. This gathering will be 90 minutes certain, as that’s the limit for on-street parking in this area. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Kirkus Review: An ironic, sober critique of the way totalitarianism rewrites history, from an Albanian author who’s long been the subject of Nobel whispers. The novel opens in 1943, as the Nazis are poised to move into Albania, retaking the country from Italy and invading the city of Gjirokastër. The locals are understandably restless, and an advance party is fired upon. Hostages are taken, and bloodshed seems inevitable. But in an effort to calm tensions, a leading doctor, Gurameto, meets with the Nazi commanding officer, Col. Fritz von Schwabe, who also happens to be an old college classmate. The loose plot of Kadare’s novel (The Accident, 2010, etc.) turns on the question of what exactly happened at that meeting. Various theories circulate among the citizenry: the invasion was all about locating and handing over a prominent Jew, Gurameto was angling for a governorship, the Albanians were being punished for their own incursions into Greece, and so on. Through these stories, Kadare explores the way people project their own nationalistic anxieties and prejudices onto every situation; the lyrics of a local bard turn the events into a kind of folklore. Kadare’s omniscient view emphasizes political processes at the expense of characterization, but if we don’t get to know the doctor, the colonel or the residents very well, Kadare is still a potent storyteller, and as the story jumps to 1944 and then to 1953, he reveals the grim consequences of dictatorships on identity. The tail end of the novel focuses on Stalinist interrogators’ efforts to bully and torture the truth about the meeting out of Gurameto, and his refusals don’t symbolize heroism so much as resignation—a realization that the facts will never be clear in the face of anti-democratic thuggery. A harsh but artful study of power, truth and personal integrity.
Gimlette, John: At The Tomb Of The Inflatable Pig: Travels through Paraguay (2003)
Discussion: Tuesday, December 10, 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: © Publishers Weekly: Over the past 500 years, Paraguay has been invaded by successive waves of conquistadors, missionaries, Mennonites, Australian socialists, fugitive Nazis and, perhaps most improbably, Islamic extremists. “An island surrounded by land,” bordered by vast deserts and impenetrable jungles, Paraguay is a country uniquely suited for those seeking to drop out of sight or, like Gimlette, find themselves. The author was 18 when he first traveled to Paraguay more than two decades ago; return visits only deepened his appreciation for the nation and its tragicomic past. Gimlette seems to have gone everywhere and talked to everyone. He boats down piranha-infested rivers, hobnobs with Anglo-Paraguayan socialites and hunts down the former hiding place of notorious Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele. Gimlette, a travel writer and lawyer in London, proves a chatty, amiable guide to local institutions like the national railway (which has no running trains) and native wildlife, like the fierce, raccoon-like coatimundis (who, Gimlette writes, “make up for their absence of pity with fistfuls of dagger-like claws”). Yet he doesn’t shirk from the nastier aspects of Paraguay’s bloody history. Gimlette describes in horrific detail, for example, the rape and conquest of the Guarani Indians as well as the brutally repressive regime of Don Alfredo Stroessner (whose U.S.-backed dictatorship lasted longer than any other in the Western Hemisphere). Gimlette could have used some judicious editing-the narrative drags in parts, and its scattered chronology can be confusing-but he never fails to impress with his ingenuity, sincerity and sense of humor.
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.