CRPCA’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 discuss fiction and nonfiction works by authors from around the world, and we love author appearances! Between 2010 and 2017, we hosted 27 different authors – in person, by phone, or via Skype.
Here are our next three book discussions:
Paradiso, Dante*: The Embassy: A Story of War and Diplomacy** (2016)
* RPCV Kenya (1993-1995)
** Winner of 2017 Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award
Discussion: Tuesday, December 19, 2017, 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 will be Dante Paradiso, the book’s author, via Skype from Hong Kong. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Kirkus Reviews: Paradiso (The Pure Life, 2005) tells the story of how the staff of the American Embassy in Monrovia attempted to halt the second Liberian civil war. By the summer of 2003, “the Liberian civil war had lasted three years, or thirteen, or twenty-three, depending on how you counted.” As two different rebel armies approached Monrovia from different directions, the government of the corrupt, violent president Charles Taylor was struggling to hold onto power. The capitol was filled with militias loyal to Taylor, including units composed of child soldiers, whose unpredictable behavior made them as fearsome to the local populace as the rebels on the city’s outskirts. When word reached Liberia that an international criminal court was seeking to indict Taylor for war crimes, the fragile situation exploded: the rebel armies attacked and plunged Monrovia into heated combat. The last bastion of reason and hope for the city was U.S. Ambassador John William Blaney III and his team, holed up in the American Embassy. As the neighborhoods around them descended into chaos, this disparate group of diplomats, soldiers, and contractors worked to broker a cease-fire and provide a beachhead for the West African peacekeeping force that was attempting to restore order. Paradiso’s book tells a story about people who took on the seemingly impossible task of keeping all hell from breaking loose. He has a novelist’s sense of pacing and character, assembling the story from the perspectives of the various people involved—from those who witnessed the events from the embassy offices to others in the streets of the capital. Paradiso’s prose captures the surreal landscape of his subject, although he takes pains not to exoticize or romanticize the various groups involved: “The world press, which otherwise ignored the country, was quick to run images of child fighters dressed in lurid wigs and wedding dresses, wearing necklaces of human fingers.” Overall, this book offers an engaging story that will be unfamiliar to many American readers as well as a nuanced look at the grittiness and complexity of war and diplomacy. A compelling account of an obscure international crisis.
Marks, Mary Dana*: Walled In, Walled Out: A Young American Woman in Iran (2017)
* RPCV Iran (1964-1966)
Discussion: Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Jackie and Mike Spurlock, 4101 SW Hillsdale Ave in Portland, 503-827-4126. Participating in our discussion will be Mary Dana Marks, the book’s author, via Skype. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Synopsis: When Mary joins the Peace Corps the shah reigns in Iran and John F. Kennedy has left his mark on the world. Sent to Kerman, a conservative city on the Iranian plateau, she teaches English to high school girls. In the classroom, or walking through the bazaar amid turbaned Baluchi tribesmen and chanting Sufi dervishes, she is the exotic one. The adobe walls that seclude women exclude her, a bareheaded foreigner. Woven throughout are dusty travels from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea, colorful feasts, rich history and hidden romance. Walled In, Walled Out recounts her convoluted, often humorous journey from ignorance to understanding in a country where the people speak with many voices.
Alexievich, Svetlana*: Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets (2013/2016)
* 2015 Nobel Literature Prize
Discussion: Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 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: © The New York Times: Already hailed as a masterpiece across Europe, Secondhand Time is an intimate portrait of a country yearning for meaning after the sudden lurch from Communism to capitalism in the 1990s plunged it into existential crisis. A series of monologues by people across the former Soviet empire, it is Tolstoyan in scope, driven by the idea that history is made not only by major players but also by ordinary people talking in their kitchens.
Most of our books are selected by an annual survey; the next one will be conducted in spring 2018. We schedule additional books when an author offers to meet with us. If you are interested in learning more about CRPCA’s Book Club, please contact Bill Stein, at 503-830-0817 or bookclub AT crpca.org.