August 2015 Book Club Selection

Angry Wind
Tayler, Jeffrey*: Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel (2005)

* RPCV Morocco (1988-1990)

Discussion: Tuesday, August 11, 2015, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Gabriella Maertens, 13302 NE Sacramento Dr in Portland, 503-254-5161. Feel free to bring snacks to share.

Review: © Publishers Weekly: This engrossing narration of crossing the Sahel–the Saharan borderlands of Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Mali–by tortuous and frequently hair-raising local conveyances finds a barren, wind-scoured region, wracked by hunger, tribal conflict, animosity between Muslims and Christians and–a particular bane of wayfarers at border crossings–an infuriatingly corrupt and high-handed bureaucracy. Journalist Tayler (Glory in a Camel’s Eye) is guilt-stricken by the appalling poverty and enchanted with a Tuareg tribal sword dance (“This is how people were meant to live… shouting their joy into the wild night sky!”), but he generally avoids being overwhelmed by either the region’s problems or its exotic charms. Indeed, his critical perspective makes him an often cantankerous presence. Fluent in Arabic and French, he is drawn into debates about religion and politics (President Bush’s words and deeds are a favorite topic among Sahelian Muslims), skeptically cross-examines folklore about tourist spots, argues vehemently.with local defenders and Western relativists alike.against the persistent customs of slavery and female circumcision, and faces down bribe-hungry customs officials. Appreciative of the generosity and patience of the region’s long-suffering inhabitants, he also sees their cultures as bogged down by dogma and fatalism. Vividly written and trenchantly observed, Tayler’s account opens an everyday window on a world that the West normally confronts only in crisis.

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

December 2014 Book Club Selection

Things Fall Apart
Achebe, Chinua*: Things Fall Apart (1958)

* Winner of 2007 Man Booker International Prize

Our discussion took place: December 2014

Review: © The Observer: First published in 1958 – the year after Ghana became the first African nation to gain independence, as Britain, France and Belgium started to recognise the end of colonialism in Africa and began their unseemly withdrawal – Chinua Achebe’s debut novel concerns itself with the events surrounding the start of this disastrous chapter in African history. Set in the late 19th century, at the height of the “Scramble” for African territories by the great European powers, Things Fall Apart tells the story of Okonkwo, a proud and highly respected Igbo from Umuofia, somewhere near the Lower Niger. Okonkwo’s clan are farmers, their complex society a patriarchal, democratic one. Achebe suggests that village life has not changed substantially in generations. But then the English arrive in their region, with the Bible – rather than the gun – their weapon of choice. As the villagers begin to convert to Christianity, the ties that had ensured the clan’s equilibrium come undone. As Okonkwo’s friend Obierika explains: “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one.” Unwilling to adapt, Okonkwo finds himself the protagonist in a modern Greek tragedy. The first part of a trilogy, Things Fall Apart was one of the first African novels to gain worldwide recognition: half a century on, it remains one of the great novels about the colonial era.

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

June 2010 Book Club Selection

Half of a Yellow Sun
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi: Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)

Our discussion took place: June 2010

Review: © Publishers Weekly: When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent nation of Biafra, a bloody, crippling three-year civil war followed. That period in African history is captured with haunting intimacy in this artful page-turner from Nigerian novelist Adichie (Purple Hibiscus). Adichie tells her profoundly gripping story primarily through the eyes and lives of Ugwu, a 13-year-old peasant houseboy who survives conscription into the raggedy Biafran army, and twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, who are from a wealthy and well-connected family. Tumultuous politics power the plot, and several sections are harrowing, particularly passages depicting the savage butchering of Olanna and Kainene’s relatives. But this dramatic, intelligent epic has its lush and sultry side as well: rebellious Olanna is the mistress of Odenigbo, a university professor brimming with anticolonial zeal; business-minded Kainene takes as her lover fair-haired, blue-eyed Richard, a British expatriate come to Nigeria to write a book about Igbo-Ukwu art–and whose relationship with Kainene nearly ruptures when he spends one drunken night with Olanna. This is a transcendent novel of many descriptive triumphs, most notably its depiction of the impact of war’s brutalities on peasants and intellectuals alike. It’s a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing.

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