May 2020 Book Club Selection

Fruit of the Drunken Tree
Contreras, Ingrid Rojas: Fruit of the Drunken Tree (2018)

Discussion: Tuesday, May 12, 2020, 6:30-8:00 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information.

Review: © Booklist: In this incomparable debut novel, Contreras draws on her own experience growing up in turbulent 1990s Bogotá, Colombia, amid the violence and social instability fueled by Pablo Escobar’s narcotics trafficking. In vividly rendered prose, textured with generous Spanish, Contreras tells the story of an unlikely bond between two girls on the verge of womanhood: Chula, the daughter of a middle-class family, and Petrona, the teenager hired to serve as the family’s maid. While Chula’s family can afford to protect themselves behind the suburban walls of a gated community, Petrona must support her many siblings as they struggle to survive the inner-city slums. Despite their differences, and driven by Chula’s curiosity about Petrona’s odd habits, the two become inseparably close until decisions must be made that will alter their futures forever. Contreras’ deeply personal connection to the setting lends every scene a vital authenticity, and a seemingly unlimited reservoir of striking details brings the action to life, like the trumpets and accordions on Christmas Eve, or the messy Afro of Petrona’s suspicious new boyfriend. A riveting, powerful, and fascinating first novel.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

April 2020 Book Club Selection

The Ungrateful Refugee
Nayeri, Dina: The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You (2019)

Discussion: Thursday, April 9, 2020, 10:00-11:30 am. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information. Participating in our discussion will be Dina Nayeri, the book’s author!

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.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

March 2020 Book Club Selection

Tacoma Stories
Wiley, Richard*: Tacoma Stories (2019)

* RPCV South Korea 1967-1969

Discussion: Thursday, March 26, 2020, 2:30-4:00 pm. Online meeting via Zoom; e-mail bookclub AT crpca.org for the login information. Participating in our discussion will be Richard Wiley, the book’s author!

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?”

Where to find it:
Libraries: Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble