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Book Club

PPCA Book Club

Read with us!

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 over 40 different authors – in person, by phone, or via video.

Here are our next book discussions:

June 2024 Book Club Selection

Rojas Contreras, Ingrid: The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir (2022)

Discussion: Tuesday, June 11, 2024, 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/85809874596?pwd=UmQ2OWt1UzV5Y0NqVURtckhZbGd5QT09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 858 0987 4596 and passcode 459594.

Review: ©Publishers Weekly: Novelist Rojas Contreras (Fruit of the Drunken Tree) returns with a lyrical meditation on her family's history and the legacy of colonialism in Colombia. Though guerrilla and drug warfare forced Rojas Contreras's family to leave Colombia in 1998 when she was 14, the specters of their past remained present. After a bicycle accident in Chicago nine years later rendered Rojas Contreras amnesiac for eight weeks, she slowly recovered her memory with the help of her family. "They say the amnesias were a door to gifts we were supposed to have," Rojas Contreras muses as she offers readers a gift of another kind, recounting in mesmerizing prose family stories of magic and survival, starting with that of her grandfather, Nono, a curandero who could tell the future, heal the sick, and change the weather. While his powers were passed down to his children, Rojas Contreras writes, they were diluted by the inherited traumas of Colombia's brutal colonial history: "We were a damned people, and not by God but by white people." In grappling with the violence embedded in her family's DNA, Rojas Contreras affectingly reveals how darkness can only be vanquished when it's brought to the light. Fusing the personal and political, this rings out as a bold case against forgetting in a forward-facing age.

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

 

July 2024 Book Club Selection

Hoja, Gulchehra: A Stone is Most Precious Where it Belongs: A Memoir of Uyghur Exile, Hope, and Survival (2023)

Discussion: Thursday, July 11, 2024, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Mike Waite, 7008 Kansas St in Vancouver WA. 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/88498645214?pwd=aXN4VUFxMjBGTnpvL1l4WWpaU0dhQT09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 884 9864 5214 and passcode 517461.

Review: ©Publishers Weekly: Uyghur journalist Hoja debuts with an inspiring account of her path to prominence as a voice against the Chinese Communist Party’s oppression of the Uyghur people. Hoja’s childhood in Umruchi, East Turkestan, was steeped in Uyghur culture and history; her father, an archaeologist, ran the local Uyghur arts center. Following her graduation from Xinjiang Normal University, Hoja produced Uyghur children’s programs for television that were heavily censored by the Chinese government. This precipitated her immigration to the U.S. to work for Radio Free Asia beginning in 2001, where she reported on the horrific events occurring in her homeland, though not without repercussions for her family, many of whom are still missing after being detained by the Chinese government. “In this Orwellian system of authoritarianism, with a complete lack of privacy and its swift, brutal racialized state violence, my beautiful homeland has been turned into an enormous open-air jail,” she writes. Hoja masterfully weaves harrowing national history and her own experience, enhancing the reader’s investment in both. It’s a powerful take on what it means to survive, and inspiring and infuriating in equal measure.

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

 

August 2024 Book Club Selection

Allende, Isabel: The Wind Knows My Name (2023)

Discussion: Tuesday, August 6, 2024, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Peggy McClure, 5450 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/89167221304?pwd=SGFPQS9BSDJVcDNUU1FsVmVSbUdpZz09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 891 6722 1304 and passcode 551744.

Review: ©Publishers Weekly: Refugee children flee from war and unrest in the powerful latest from Allende (Violeta). In 1938 Austria, five-year-old Samuel Adler is grudgingly placed by his mother on a rescue train to Great Britain. He completes the journey, and never sees his parents again. Samuel struggles in an orphanage until he settles in 1942 with a Quaker couple. At 25, he is a violinist with the London Philharmonic, and soon his interest in jazz takes him to America. In a parallel narrative set in 2019, Anita Diaz, seven, leaves El Salvador with her mother to escape ceaseless gang violence, and the two embark on an odyssey that sees them traveling on top of train cars and by foot. They make it to the U.S., where a new family separation policy leaves Anita, who is partially blind, alone in Nogales, Ariz., and her mother deported. Anita shuttles from one host family to another while a social worker and lawyer work tirelessly to safeguard her until she can be reunited with her mother. The two threads converge, first, with bitter irony—Samuel’s grandson is a presidential adviser who advocates for harsh immigration policies (and will remind readers of Trump administration political adviser Stephen Miller)—and, by the end, with hope. The dual narrative structure gives historical weight to the contemporary story line, and Allende finds real depth in her characters, especially when portraying their sacrifices.

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

September 2024 Book Club Selection

Gayle, Mike: All the Lonely People (2020/2021)

Discussion: Wednesday, September 4, 2024, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Liz Samuels, 3737 NE Marine Dr in Portland. Feel free to bring snacks to share. Hosted by Liz Samuels. Location is the Rose City Yacht Club. When you arrive at the gate, call or text Liz at 503-701-6218, and she will give you the code for the keypad to get in. Zoom is an option for those who can't make it; click on https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85170012210?pwd=WkpqYjRlZTJ4Rjg2OU9RRG5OQjdTdz09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 851 7001 2210 and passcode 041839.

Review: ©Publishers Weekly: British author Gayle (Half a World Away) returns with a winning tale of a lonely 82-year-old widower. Hubert Bird, a Black immigrant from Jamaica living in south London, gradually lost touch with all of his friends after an unspecified traumatic event five years earlier. When single mother Ashleigh introduces herself as his new neighbor, he shoos her away to take a call from his daughter Rose, whom he’s lied to about having a trio of pals so as not to worry her. When Rose says she’s planning a visit, he scrambles to find friends to fool her. So begins Gayle’s engaging narrative, enriched by flashbacks from 1950s England, when he faced hardships and racism and fell for the white Joyce Pierce while working at a department store. After Joyce gets pregnant and they plan to marry, her racist family disowns her. Decades later, Hubert’s son battles drug addiction and Joyce faces early-onset dementia. In the present, with Hubert still at a loss for friends, he babysits for Ashleigh and agrees to be part of her “Campaign to End Loneliness in Bromley,” which ends up going viral with Hubert as its spokesperson. While a late plot twist feels destabilizing, Gayle finds many endearing moments in Hubert and Ashleigh’s search for friendship and community.

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

 

October 2024 Book Club Selection

Gospodinov, Georgi, and Angela Rodel: Time Shelter* (2020/2022)

* 2023 International Booker Prize

Discussion: Tuesday, October 8, 2024, 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/87107497861?pwd=UFppa1pyYjJCQU8wWnFxa1pVTWdwZz09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 871 0749 7861 and passcode 836036.

Review: ©Kirkus Reviews: The unnamed narrator of Bulgarian author Gospodinov’s third novel translated into English has stumbled into the orbit of Gaustine, who’s opened a facility in Zurich for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia—“those who already are living solely in the present of their past,” as he puts it. Memory care is a legitimate treatment for such patients, but Gospodinov’s digressive, philosophical novel is less a work of realist literature than an allegory about the perils of looking backward and attempting to make Switzerland (or Sweden or Germany...) great again. As the popularity of the clinic expands—with different floors dedicated to different decades of the 20th century—the narrator alternates between sketches of various patients and ruminations about modern European history (particularly that of his native Bulgaria) and how time is treated by authors like Thomas Mann, W.H. Auden, and Homer. Eventually, the novel expands into a kind of dark satire of nostalgia and patriotism as more clinics emerge and various European countries hold referendums to decide which point in time it wishes to live in. (France picks the 1980s; Switzerland, forever neutral, votes to live in the day of the referendum.) But, of course, attempting to live in the past doesn’t mean you can stay there. Though the story at times meanders, translator Rodel keeps the narrator’s wry voice consistent. And in its brisker latter chapters, the story achieves a pleasurably Borges-ian strangeness while sending a warning signal about how memory can be glitch-y and dangerous. As Gaustine puts it: “The more a society forgets, the more someone produces, sells, and fills the freed-up niches with ersatz-memory.”

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

 

November 2024 Book Club Selection

Kara, Siddharth: Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers our Lives (2023)

Discussion: Wednesday, November 13, 2024, 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/85740326770?pwd=clZ4QTlMUHI2d3B5Ynl5bGR0bjFhUT09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 857 4032 6770 and passcode 671100.

Review: ©Publishers Weekly: In this tour-de-force exposé, Kara (Modern Slavery), a professor of human trafficking and modern slavery at Nottingham University, uncovers the abuse and suffering powering the digital revolution. Explaining that cobalt is “an essential component to almost every lithium-ion rechargeable battery made today,” and that the Katagana region in the Democratic Republic of Congo “holds more reserves of cobalt than the rest of the planet combined,” Kara describes young children and pregnant women mining the metal by hand for a dollar a day. Predatory middlemen then sell the cobalt to foreign- and state-owned mining operations, who supply the materials for Apple, Samsung, and Tesla products. The details are harrowing: young men and boys are crushed in tunnel collapses, women and girls work in radioactive wastewater, villages are razed, and 14-year-olds are shot for seeking better prices. While corrupt government officials siphon the profits from the cobalt industry, ordinary Congolese “eke out a base existence characterized by extreme poverty and immense suffering.” “Here,” says the widow of one artisanal miner, “it is better not to be born.” Throughout, Kara’s empathetic profiles and dogged reporting on the murkiness of the cobalt supply chain are buttressed by incisive history lessons on the 19th-century plunder of the Congo for ivory and rubber, the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of democratically elected president Patrice Lumumba in 1960, and more. Readers will be outraged and empowered to call for change.

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

 

December 2024 Book Club Selection

Ressa, Maria*: How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for our Future (2022)

* 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

Discussion: Wednesday, December 11, 2024, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Paul and Susie Robillard, 5405 NW Deerfield Way 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/89716141887?pwd=UXVaeGV5Tm16VmI2MW4vZUp2blJvZz09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 897 1614 1887 and passcode 899634.

Review: ©Publishers Weekly: Nobel Peace Prize cowinner Ressa (From Bin Laden to Facebook) delivers an outstanding memoir-cum-action plan for creating “a vision of the internet that binds us together instead of tearing us apart.” Born in the Philippines and raised and educated in New Jersey, Ressa returned to her native country in the 1980s and spent nearly two decades at CNN before cofounding the digital media organization Rappler in 2012. Her reporting on political corruption and “networks of disinformation” on Facebook and other platforms made Ressa and Rappler the targets of online threats and smear campaigns by Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte; his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and their supporters, and led to her 2020 conviction for “cyberlibel” and other charges (she’s currently out on bail pending appeal). Ressa’s shock at the damage Duterte’s regime did to the rule of law in the Philippines is matched by her indignation at Facebook, a company she once believed could help foster democracy, but where “every decision became about making a profit and protecting Facebook’s interests” after Sheryl Sandberg’s arrival in 2008. Ressa’s suggestions for reform include increased cooperation among journalists; the involvement of church groups, NGOs, and other organizations in amplifying factual information; and regular reports on “how the public sphere is being manipulated.” Elegantly written yet stuffed with research data and technical details, this is an essential update on the battle against disinformation.

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

 

January 2025 Book Club Selection

Samatar, Sofia: The White Mosque: A Memoir (2022)

Discussion: Wednesday, January 15, 2025, 7:00-8:30 pm. Hosted by Lesly Sanocki, 2090 NW Overton Ct in Beaverton. 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/83829557537?pwd=cy9yRVhRb01valY1UWY3WGtvczRrUT09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 838 2955 7537 and passcode 672554.

Review: ©Kirkus Reviews: In the 1880s, a group of German-speaking Mennonites known as the Bride Community followed the charismatic visionary Claas Epp on a harrowing journey into pre-Soviet Uzbekistan, where Epp predicted Christ would return. Despite losing many followers to death or disillusionment, the core group reached the Muslim khanate of Khiva and founded the Christian community known as Ak Metchet—the White Mosque—a village that survived 50 years before its dissolution by the Bolsheviks. Embarking on a Mennonite heritage tour through Uzbekistan, Samatar—fantasy novelist, professor of African and Arabic literature, and daughter of Swiss Mennonite and Somali Muslim parents—chronicles her journey through the century-old footsteps of the Bride Community in an attempt to see this beautiful, alien region through their eyes. In addition to the community’s path, the author traces their intersections with the Muslim people of the region, whose generosity carried the Christian pilgrims to their destination. Samatar interweaves this historical narrative with her own personal history and a litany of religious, literary, and philosophical texts, stitching together a multifaceted account of faith, identity, and acceptance. “It’s the contrast, the incongruity, that delights,” she writes. “Beyond the initial shock of the story of reckless prophecy, this story that makes my listen­ers shake their heads, recoil, or laugh, there’s the reverberation of Menno­nites in Uzbekistan. Rendered in the author’s vivid prose, Uzbekistan—a place unknown to most Western readers—feels like a fantastic land of deep history, stunning architecture, and uniquely diverse culture. The author devotes the same careful attention to Mennonite theology and society, depicting the complicated international religious and ethnic community with a caring but critical eye. Reaching beyond all state and religious boundaries, Samatar is “always saying we,” incorporating more and more of humanity into a growing inner circle.

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

February 2025 Book Club Selection

Diop, David, and Sam Taylor: Beyond the Door of No Return (2021/2023)

Discussion: Tuesday, February 11, 2025, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Ann and Roger Crockett, 1922 NE 12th 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/88118523809?pwd=RnMvY254UmVRMXRIYS83OHNPQ1V6UT09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 881 1852 3809 and passcode 327054.

Review: ©Kirkus Reviews: Michel Adanson journeyed to Senegal to catalog new fauna and flora for “Universal Orb,” his magnum opus. A half-century later, following his death in 1806, his daughter, Aglaé, discovers his hidden notebooks, which document his intense experiences on and around the island of Gorée. Life will never be the same for him after he learns of Maram Seck, known as “the revenant,” who is said to have miraculously “returned alive from beyond the seas, from that land where, for slaves, there is no return” and disappeared on Senegal’s Cap-Vert. Consumed by Maram’s story, Adanson and his guide endure harsh conditions to find her, and when they do, they learn that her painful tale is very different from the face-saving version told by her uncle Baba Seck, a village chief. When she was 16, he sold her to a white man for a musket after she bashed him unconscious during an attempted rape. Overwhelmed by her natural beauty, spiritual strength, and beguiling use of the nontonal Wolof language, Adanson falls helplessly in love with her. But fearful that he will never be worthy of her love, he ultimately exposes the traits that make that so. Less brutal than Diop’s International Booker Prize–winning At Night All Blood is Black (2020) but no less powerful, the new book takes its title from the familiar name for the place on “the island of slaves” where millions of Africans were shipped to the Americas. With its sumptuous physical descriptions, shades of language, and smooth overlap of truth and invention, this is masterful storytelling. The ease with which the narratives (including Aglaé’s) unfold belies the emotional force they gather.

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.