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Book Club

PPCA Book Club

PPCA’s Book Club gatherings are open to all who have read that month’s book. Typically we start out discussing the book, and inevitably someone relates a theme in the book to their own experiences or other readings, so the conversation takes an interesting turn. Our Book Club discusses books of broad interest set in parts of the world in which Peace Corps Volunteers have served, or books which were authored by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). We love author appearances! Since 2010, we have hosted 40 different authors – in person, by phone, or via video.

Here are our next book discussions:

 

June 2022 Book Club Selection

Segovia, Sofía: The Murmur of Bees (2019)

Discussion: Monday, June 6, 2022, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Rosemary Furfey, 7022 SW 33rd Ave in Portland. Feel free to bring snacks to share. Zoom is an option for those who can't make it; click on https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87587396601?pwd=cmQ2QnM5VE50M095SU1saXkxSlB4QT09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 875 8739 6601 and passcode 248270.

Review: © Booklist: Acclaimed Mexican author Segovia's first work translated into English is a gorgeous novel of family, friendship, land, and murderous envy, a tale reminiscent of Isabel Allende's early works. A magical child born with a cleft palate, a foundling found covered with bees, the enigmatic Simonopio maintains a mystical connection to the creatures that continue to come to his aid and to that of his adopted family, the Morales Cortéses. Large landholders in Northern Mexico during revolutionary times, the Morales Cortéses are kind patrones and leaders in the nearby village of Linares. Feeling nostalgic, Francisco Junior tells this story to a cabdriver while on a journey back to his homeland to find Simonopio, the bees, and his younger self. The family's idyllic life is disrupted by the arrival of Epiricueta, a malcontent and rebellious man looking for work who brings resentment, superstition, and violence from the revolutionary south. With the help of a gifted translator, Segovia skillfully envelops readers, fully engaging their senses and imagination in this wonderful novel.

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

 

July 2022 Book Club Selection

Chen, Te-Ping: Land of Big Numbers: Stories (2021)

Discussion: Thursday, July 7, 2022, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Ann and Roger Crockett, 1922 NE 12th Ave in Portland. Feel free to bring snacks to share; we will be gathering outside. Zoom is an option for those who can't make it; click on https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86184011201?pwd=TFJOM2llR2ZZSE82ZjN5M053dUxRZz09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 861 8401 1201 and passcode 287160.

Review: ©Kirkus: An astonishing collection of stories about life in contemporary China by a Chinese American writer. Chen, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has an eye for the wry, poignant detail in her fiction debut: Elderly men who meet in the park to play chess bring their pet birds along, hanging the birdcages from tree branches while they play. Most of the stories are set in China. In one, a young girl who works in a flower shop becomes dangerously interested in one of her customers. In another, an older man in a remote village tries to build a robot and, later, an airplane. Whether her characters are women or men, young or old, Chen displays a remarkable ability to inhabit their minds. She is gentle and understanding with her characters so that their choices, desires, and regrets open up, petal-like, in story after story. Often, in the background or off to the side, a hint of violence will make itself known: A young man's twin sister is arrested and beaten by the police; a woman's abusive ex-boyfriend appears without warning, and she remembers his old penchant for harming animals. A young man borrows money to invest in the stock market, and as his hopes begin to plummet, he learns the details of his father's traumatic past. Again and again, Chen reveals herself to be a writer of extraordinary subtlety. Details accrue one by one, and as each story reaches its inevitable conclusion, a sense emerges that things could have gone no other way. Still, there's nothing precious or overly neat here. Chen's stories speak to both the granular mundanities of her characters' lives and to the larger cultural, historical, and economic spheres that they inhabit. She is a tremendous talent. Chen's stories are both subtle and rich, moving and wry, and in their poignancy, they seem boundless.

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

 

August 2022 Book Club Selection

Villoro, Juan: Horizontal Vertigo: A City Called Mexico (2019/2021)

Discussion: Thursday, August 4, 2022, 7:00-8:30 pm. Hosted by Carole Beauclerk, 1500 SW Park Ave in Portland. On-street parking in downtown Portland is free beginning at 7:00 pm. Upon arrival, call 503-780-2722 to be buzzed in, then turn right into the building's lobby and then take an immediate left into the community room. Feel free to bring snacks to share. Zoom is an option for those who can't make it; click on https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87519481020?pwd=V1RVdnkxT2FMNFdCT1Q5Z04rNnlZdz09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 875 1948 1020 and passcode 486546.

Review: ©Kirkus: A deeply learned appreciation of the author's native Mexico City. Trained as a sociologist but well known to Spanish-speaking readers as one of Mexico's most acclaimed novelists, Villoro writes appreciatively of a city that is constantly changing—and whose landmarks are different for each generation, if they haven't been torn down in the course of rebuilding or destroyed by earthquakes. For him, the "outstanding sign of the times is the Latin American Tower," built in 1956, the year of the author's birth, and then one of the rare buildings in Mexico City to be more than a few stories tall, since the plateau on which the city sits is both tectonically active and so sandy that building collapse is a real danger. In his lifetime, Villoro notes, the territory embraced by the city megalopolis "has spread out like wildfire" and "grown seven hundred times." Growth, he adds, "meant spread," so much so that to find Villoro's house, located on a street named for the revolutionary figure Carranza, you would have to know which one of 412 streets and avenues named for Carranza it was on. Natural and cultural landmarks are matters of memory and nostalgia, he writes, and since "Mexico-Tenochtitlán buried its lake, and the smog blotted out the volcanoes," there are few points of orientation. As such, memory has to make up for the destruction of the environment. Along his leisurely, illuminating path, Villoro delivers an essential update of Octavio Paz's The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). He can be both brittle and funny, as when he dissects the overstaffed and bureaucratized retail sector. "Although overpopulation is one of our specialties," he writes, "we have an abundance of stores where there are few customers and an excessive number of workers," one of whom, the manager, serves as "a final potentate, a Chinese emperor in his Forbidden City." Celebrating food, wandering through earthquake-struck ruins, reflecting on literary heroes, Villoro makes an excellent Virgil. An unparalleled portrait of a city in danger of growing past all reasonable limits.

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

 

September 2022 Book Club Selection

Badkhen, Anna: Walking with Abel: Journeys with the Nomads of the African Savannah (2015)

Discussion: Tuesday, September 13, 2022, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Peggy McClure, 5480 SW 18th Dr in Portland. Feel free to bring snacks to share. Zoom is an option for those who can't make it; click on https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82411965906?pwd=b0JuTWdLaVpINFM3VGZPVFUydzIydz09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 824 1196 5906 and passcode 129340.

Review: ©Booklist: Badkhen's lyrical, off-the-beaten-path travel memoir also serves as a trenchant sociological study of one of the "planet's largest remaining group of nomads," the Fulani, of West Africa. Embedding herself with a Fulani family, she thoroughly immerses herself in their culture and their lifestyle—a curious hybrid of the primitive and the contemporary—as they, together with herds of cows, trek their way across the Mali savannah during their seasonal migration to the grasslands. Inevitably, the journey is dotted with incursions of modern life. Still, the Fulani display a remarkable ability to adapt to certain new realities while honoring centuries-old traditions. Badkhen, a seasoned reporter and author (The World Is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village, 2013), vividly captures and communicates an increasingly rare and wondrous experience.

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

 

October 2022 Book Club Selection

Mairal, Pedro: The Woman from Uruguay (2016/2021)

Discussion: Tuesday, October 11, 2022, 7:00-8:30 pm. Hosted by Carole Beauclerk, 1500 SW Park Ave in Portland. On-street parking in downtown Portland is free beginning at 7:00 pm. Upon arrival, call 503-780-2722 to be buzzed in, then turn right into the building's lobby and then take an immediate left into the community room. Feel free to bring snacks to share. Zoom is an option for those who can't make it; click on https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81733356639?pwd=NGFYTU5SVkpxVFNMdTM5Q29JT2xxQT09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 817 3335 6639 and passcode 637083.

Review: ©Booklist: Argentine novelist Mairal's latest, La uruguaya in the original Spanish, won Spain's Tigre Juan Award for best novel in 2017. Now beautifully translated into English by Man Booker International Prize winner Croft, it is told in the second person by the narrator, Lucas, as an apologia to his wife, Cata. Lucas is a writer living off his wife in Buenos Aires with a dull teaching job, a kid, and a full-blown midlife crisis. While bumbling toward finishing his next book, he builds an elaborate fantasy surrounding his advance for the book deposited in his account across the Río de la Plata in Montevideo. This planned day trip to game the exchange rates in his favor will put his life back on track with plenty of cash to engage in a decadent tryst with Guerra, the intriguing young woman of the title. Of course, nothing goes as planned. Into this brief novel, Mairal fits the humor and pain of being human, especially male, fully on display. In vivid prose that turns grotesque moments sublime, as in the description of Lucas' flight of fancy while he pees in a filthy public restroom, this is a luminous and witty work of literary fiction.

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

 

Most of our books are selected by an annual survey, featuring books widely available in local libraries. We schedule additional discussions when an author of a non-self-published book offers to meet with us. If you are interested in learning more about PPCA’s Book Club, please contact Bill Stein, at 503-830-0817 or bookclub@portlandpeacecorps.org.

 

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