January 2016 Book Club Selection

And the Mountains Echoed
Hosseini, Khaled: And the Mountains Echoed (2013)

Discussion: Tuesday, January 12, 2016, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Phyllis Shelton and Tom DeMeo, 1002 SE 50th Ave in Portland, 503-704-6298. Feel free to bring snacks to share.

Review: © Booklist: Saboor, a laborer, pulls his young daughter, Pari, and his son, Abdullah, across the desert in a red wagon, leaving their poor village of Shadbagh for Kabul, where his brother-in-law, Nabi, a chauffeur, will introduce them to a wealthy man and his beautiful, despairing poet wife. So begins the third captivating and affecting novel by the internationally best-selling author of The Kite Runner (2003) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007). An immense, ancient oak stands in Shadbagh, emblematic of the complexly branching stories in Hosseini’s vital, profound, and spellbinding saga of family bonds and unlikely pairings forged by chance, choice, and necessity. We meet twin sisters, one beautiful, one plain; one an invalid, the other a caretaker. Two male cousins, one a charismatic wheeler-dealer; the other a cautious, introverted doctor. A disfigured girl of great valor and a boy destined to become a plastic surgeon. Kabul falls and struggles to rise. Shadbagh comes under the rule of a drug lord, and the novel’s many limbs reach to Paris, San Francisco, and a Greek island. A masterful and compassionate storyteller, Hosseini traces the traumas and scarring of tyranny, war, crime, lies, and illness in the intricately interconnected, heartbreaking, and extraordinary lives of his vibrantly realized characters to create a grand and encompassing tree of life.

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

March 2011 Book Club Selection

Chasing the Sea
Bissell, Tom*: Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia (2004)

* RPCV Uzbekistan (1996-1997)

Our discussion took place: March 2011

Review: © Google: In 1960, the Aral Sea was the size of Lake Michigan: a huge body of water in the deserts of Central Asia. By 1996, when Tom Bissell arrived in Uzbekistan as a Peace Corps volunteer, disastrous Soviet irrigation policies had shrunk the sea to a third its size. Bissell lasted only a few months before complications forced him to return home, but he had already become obsessed with this beautiful, brutal land. Five years later, Bissell convinces a magazine to send him to Central Asia to investigate the Aral Sea’s destruction. There, he joins forces with a high-spirited young Uzbek named Rustam, and together they make their often wild way through the ancient cities (Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara) of this fascinating but often misunderstood part of the world. Slipping more than once through the clutches of the Uzbek police, who suspect them of crimes ranging from Christian evangelism to heroin smuggling, the two young men develop an unlikely friendship as they journey to the shores of the devastated sea. Along the way, Bissell provides a history of the Uzbeks, recounting their region’s long, violent subjugation by despots such as Jenghiz Khan and Joseph Stalin. He conjures the people of Uzbekistan with depth and empathy, and he captures their contemporary struggles to cope with Islamist terrorism, the legacy of totalitarianism, and the profound environmental and human damage wrought by the sea’s disappearance. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes powerfully sobering, Chasing the Sea is a gripping portrait of an unfamiliar land and the debut of a gifted young writer.

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

November 2010 Book Club Selection

When Things Get Dark
Davis, Matthew*: When Things Get Dark: A Mongolian Winter’s Tale (2010)

* RPCV Mongolia (2000-2002)

Our discussion took place: November 2010

Review: © Booklist: In 2000, at the age of 23, Davis leaves Chicago, his hometown, to travel to Mongolia to work as a teacher for the Peace Corps. Once he arrives in the small town of Tsetserleg, Davis moves into a ger, the circular tent that will be his home for the next two years, and gets to know the family whose land he is living on. He finds his students difficult to motivate, and a romance with a beautiful Mongolian teacher is heated but brief. After enduring a brutal Mongolian winter and a plague-induced quarantine, Davis finds himself falling into the trap he sees so many Mongolian men around him succumbing to: drinking constantly and giving into violent tendencies. The longer he’s in Mongolia, the deeper he falls into depression and ennui, until a violent encounter shakes him into realizing his life has to change. Both a raw personal examination and an insightful look at Mongolian history and culture, Davis’ illuminating memoir sheds light on a remote region.

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