February 2015 Book Club Selection

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Boo, Katherine: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity* (2012)

* Winner of 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction

Our discussion took place: February 2015

Review: © Booklist: While the distance between rich and poor is growing in the U.S., the gap between the haves and have-nots in India is staggering to behold. This first book by a New Yorker staff writer (and Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the Washington Post) jolts the reader’s consciousness with the opposing realities of poverty and wealth in a searing visit to the Annawaldi settlement, a flimflam slum that has recently sprung up in the western suburbs of the gigantic city of Mumbai, perched tentatively along the modern highway leading to the airport and almost within a stone’s throw of new, luxurious hotels. We first meet Abdul, whose daily grind is to collect trash and sell it; in doing so, he has “lifted his large family above subsistence.” Boo takes us all around the community, introducing us to a slew of disadvantaged individuals who, nevertheless, draw on their inner strength to not only face the dreary day but also ponder a day to come that will, perhaps, be a little brighter. Sympathetic yet objective and eloquently rendered.

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

July 2013 Book Club Selection

We Never Knew Exactly Where
Chilson, Peter*: We Never Knew Exactly Where: Dispatches from the Lost Country of Mali (2013)

* RPCV Niger (1985-1987)

Our discussion took place: July 2013. Participating in our discussion was CRPCA’s Peter Chilson, the book’s author.

Synopsis: What happens when a country suddenly splits in two? In 2012, Mali, once a poster child for African democracy, all but collapsed in a succession of coups and countercoups as Islamist rebels claimed control of the country’s north, making it a new safe haven for al Qaeda. Prizewinning author Peter Chilson became one of the few Westerners to travel to the conflict zone in the following months to document conditions on the ground. What he found was a hazy dividing line between the uncertain, demoralized remnants of Mali’s south and the new statelet formed in the north by jihadist fighters, who successfully commandeered a long-running rebellion by the country’s ethnic Tuareg minority to turn Mali into a new frontier in the fast-morphing global war on terror. Chilson’s definitive account — the first in the new Borderlands series of ebooks from Foreign Policy magazine and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting — is a gripping read, taking us back to the founding of French West Africa and right to the very front lines of this contentious new flashpoint.

Where to find it: Only available as an e-book: in Kindle format for Amazon devices; and as a PDF for other e-readers, tablets, and computers. The price is $4.99. Go to http://www.foreignpolicy.com/ebooks/we_never_knew_exactly_where, then either click the “Buy for Amazon Kindle” button or the “Buy the PDF version from FP here” link.

October 2012 Book Club Selection

Nothing to Envy
Demick, Barbara: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2010)

Our discussion took place: October 2012

Review: © Booklist: In spite of the strict restrictions on foreign press, award-winning journalist Demick caught telling glimpses of just how surreal and mournful life is in North Korea. Her chilling impressions of a dreary, muffled, and depleted land are juxtaposed with a uniquely to-the-point history of how North Korea became an industrialized Communist nation supported by the Soviet Union and China and ruled by Kim Il Sung, then collapsed catastrophically into poverty, darkness, and starvation under the dictator’s son, Kim Jong Il. Demick’s bracing chronicle of the horrific consequences of decades of brutality provide the context for the wrenching life stories of North Korean defectors who confided in Demick. Mi-ran explains that even though her “tainted blood” (her father was a South Korean POW) kept her apart from the man she loved, she managed to become a teacher, only to watch her starving students waste away. Dr. Kim Ki-eum could do nothing to help her dying patients. Mrs. Song, a model citizen, was finally forced to face cruel facts. Strongly written and gracefully structured, Demick’s potent blend of personal narratives and piercing journalism vividly and evocatively portrays courageous individuals and a tyrannized state within a saga of unfathomable suffering punctuated by faint glimmers of hope.

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