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

July 2019 Book Club Selection

Dream of Another America
McMahon, Tyler*: Dream of Another America (2018)

* RPCV El Salvador (1999-2002)

Discussion: Tuesday, July 2, 2019, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Bill Stein, 4308 SE Lexington St in Portland, 503-830-0817. Participating in our discussion will be Tyler McMahon, the book’s author, via Skype. Feel free to bring snacks to share.

Review: © Kirkus Review: A Salvadoran father attempts the perilous journey to America while his wife and son stay behind in El Salvador to await his return. McMahon (Kilometer 99, 2014, etc.) spins a beautiful but heartbreaking tale of the classic migrant story, one of sacrifice, danger, and small victories for those who have left and those still at home. Jacinto, his wife Mina, and their 13-year-old son Wilmer live in a small rural town in El Salvador, still reeling from the destructive civil war that left thousands dead and many more permanently changed. Wilmer has asthma, which is a life-threatening condition in their small Salvadoran town that lacks electricity and clean running water. After a particularly serious asthma attack, Jacinto accepts a local smuggler’s expensive offer to get him to the United States, where he hopes to work and save enough to buy the medicine Wilmer needs. Jacinto faces an enormous setback early on, when his group gets lost in the Mexican desert, resulting in five deaths and his capture. He prepares to be bussed back to El Salvador, but in a strange twist of events, he finds himself with a second chance to cross the border into America. Back home in El Salvador, Mina and Wilmer attempt to maintain their livelihoods without Jacinto and without any updates on his whereabouts. The smuggler that arranged Jacinto’s original journey demands an exorbitant interest on their down payment and Wilmer is bullied at school by those who believe his father is dead. Without Jacinto to bring in an income and to stand up for his family, hope for Mina’s and Wilmer’s survival gradually deteriorates. These two parallel stories collide at a moment when all three appear to have little left to lose. Their story of suffering and sacrifice is devastating yet also embedded in love. Every sacrifice made on behalf of a loved one is a testament to human resilience and the fight for a better life. McMahon’s contribution to the body of immigrant literature is entrenched in questions of nationality, poverty, and family. He achieves a storytelling feat by creating an incredibly realistic narrative that is as poignant as it is breathtaking.

Where to find it:
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble