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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; we've returned to in-person gatherings!

 

August 2021 Book Club Selection

Lopez, Barry: Horizon (2019)

Discussion: Tuesday, August 10, 2021, 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/86486695757?pwd=c3k4OXZhUVpvNlpBL296R1IzOG5TQT09.

Review: © Publishers Weekly: A globe-trotting nature writer meditates on the fraught interactions between people and ecosystems in this sprawling environmentalist travelogue. Essayist Lopez (Arctic Dreams) recounts episodes from decades of his travels, most of them tied to scientific investigations: camping on the Oregon coast while considering the exploits of British explorer James Cook; examining archaeological sites in the high Arctic while reflecting on the harshness of life there; hunting for hominin fossils in Kenya while weighing human evolution; scuba-diving under an Antarctic ice shelf while observing the rich marine biota. His free-associative essays blend vivid reportage on landscapes, wildlife, and the knotty relationships among the scientists he accompanies with larger musings on natural history, environmental and climate crises, and the sins of Western imperialism in erasing indigenous cultures. It's often hard to tell where Lopez is going with his frequent digressions: one two-page section skitters from global cancer rates past a one-eyed goshawk he once saw in Namibia to an astrophysics experiment at the South Pole to detect dark matter, with no particular conclusion. Still, his prose is so evocative-during a tempest at sea, "veils of storm-ripped water ballooned in the air around us" amid "the high-pitched mewling of albatrosses, teetering impossibly forty feet away from us on the wind"-and his curiosity so infectious that readers will be captivated.

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

 

September 2021 Book Club Selection

Davis, Wade: Magdalena: River of Dreams: A Story of Colombia (2020)

Discussion: Wednesday, September 8, 2021, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Paul and Susie Robillard, 5405 NW Deerfield Way in Portland. Allow time to get there in rush hour traffic if crossing the west hills. 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/87368177244?pwd=UW1MckpuNVlXS05CalJIelBQVks4Zz09.

Review: © Booklist: Rivers are the planet's veins and arteries, and the life blood of human civilizations. Intrepid anthropologist and award-winning and entrancing writer Davis, a former Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, portrays the Amazon in One River (1996), and travels the Colorado River in River Notes (2012). In this deeply inquisitive, dazzlingly fluent scientific, cultural, and spiritual investigation, Davis illuminates the natural and human history of Río Magdalena, "the Mississippi River of Colombia." This far-reaching, centuries-encompassing river biography is shaped by Davis' love for Colombia, which enabled him "to imagine and dream" as a 14-year-old Canadian on a school trip in 1968. Davis has extensively explored this wondrous "home to the greatest ecological and geographical diversity on the planet," but Colombia is not known for its natural splendor, but rather for catastrophic civil wars, shocking atrocities, brutal drug cartels, and incalculable suffering and loss. Fifty years of terror which echo the genocidal invasion of the Spanish, and which turned the Magdalena into a river of death. Always with a discerning eye to the symbolic and metaphorical, Davis tells the river's saga of fecundity and horror through the lives of remarkable individuals past and present. Among the former are José Celestino Mutis, the "patriarch of American botany," and the "revolutionary hero," Francisco José de Caldas, both of whom worked with naturalist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt, during his Colombian sojourns. Among the people Davis met along the river are resilient Juan Guillermo, who survived guerilla violence to create a nature preserve, and Jenny Castañeda, who courageously carries on work that cost her mother, the "fiery social activist" Damaris Mejía, her life. Throughout Davis emphasizes Colombia's many Indigenous peoples and their abiding belief that protecting the river is a sacred duty. The story of Magdalena, as for every river, is that of an epic struggle between the sacred and the profane, between worship and preservation and reckless exploitation and wanton abuse.

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

 

October 2021 Book Club Selection

Badkhen, Anna: Fisherman's Blues: A West African Community at Sea (2018)

Discussion: Tuesday, October 12, 2021, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Liz Samuels, 3737 NE Marine Dr in Portland. When you arrive at the Rose City Yacht Club gate, call or text Liz at 503-701-6218, and she will give you the code for the keypad to get in. 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/87384612154?pwd=VlJTY0ZTVHAzZk9saVBSQ3JFYXRJZz09.

Review: © Publishers Weekly: Journalist Badkhen (Walking with Abel) delivers an evocative, hauntingly beautiful narrative of life in Joal, a fishing village in Senegal. As she embeds herself within boat crews and frequents the seaside gazebos where the fishermen spend their time on shore, Badkhen lucidly describes the rhythm of the village's daily life (hauling the catch, building a pirogue), as well as its challenges. Between overfishing, illegal foreign ships, and climate change, Joal's catch is a tenth of what it was a decade ago. Acutely observant, Badkhen meticulously documents Joal's cuisine (po'boys with murex sauce); lore (spells for catching fish, genies); and special rituals, such as the sacrificial feast to prevent the sea's anger. She captures the fishermen, their wives, children, dreams, feuds, and banter, and her writing is descriptive and poetic. Images flash before the reader: the barefoot fishwives "in bright multi-layered headwraps and embroidered velvet bonnets" rushing down to greet the catch of the day, the ancient mounds of shells "among the brackish channels that vein the mangrove flats between the Petite Côte and the mouth of the Gambia River," and a "murmuration of weavers" flying out of an acacia tree. This is a moving tribute to a traditional way of life facing enormous change.

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

 

November 2021 Book Club Selection

Desai, Kiran: The Inheritance of Loss* (2006)

* Winner of 2006 Man Booker Prize

Discussion: Tuesday, November 9, 2021, 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/84692272426?pwd=dVFiOTJndXd6UTVRY2xlTUFOc3dDZz09.

Review: © Booklist: Desai's Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998) introduced an astute observer of human nature and a delectably sensuous satirist. In her second novel, Desai is even more perceptive and bewitching. Set in India in a small Himalayan community along the border with Nepal, its center is the once grand, now decaying home of a melancholy retired judge, his valiant cook, and beloved dog. Sai, the judge's teenage granddaughter, has just moved in, and she finds herself enmeshed in a shadowy fairy tale-like life in a majestic landscape where nature is so rambunctious it threatens to overwhelm every human quest for order. Add violent political unrest fomented by poor young men enraged by the persistence of colonial-rooted prejudice, and this is a paradise under siege. Just as things grow desperate, the cook's son, who has been suffering the cruelties accorded illegal aliens in the States, returns home. Desai is superbly insightful in her rendering of compelling characters and in her wisdom regarding the perverse dynamics of society. Like Salman Rushdie in Shalimar the Clown (2005), Desai imaginatively dramatizes the wonders and tragedies of Himalayan life and, by extension, the fragility of peace and elusiveness of justice, albeit with her own powerful blend of tenderness and wit.

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

 

December 2021 Book Club Selection

King, Lily: Euphoria (2014)

Discussion: Thursday, December 9, 2021, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Mike Waite, 7008 Kansas St in Vancouver WA. Allow time to get there in rush hour traffic if crossing the Columbia River. 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/89851564282?pwd=M1hmTDZrZ0JFWC9nOHgyLzdxYTdoQT09.

Review: © Library Journal: Inspired by an event in the life of Margaret Mead, this novel tells the story of three young anthropologists in 1930s New Guinea. Professional superstar Nell Stone and her Australian husband, Fen, flee one tribe, and, with the help of English anthropologist Andrew Bankson, settle with the Tam, an unusual, female-dominated tribe. A love triangle soon develops among the three. The attraction Bankson feels for Nell saves him from loneliness and suicide, but it heightens tensions between Nell and Fen, ultimately exploding in violence. This three-way relationship is complex and involving, but even more fascinating is the depiction of three anthropologists with three entirely diverse ways of studying another culture. They disagree on the extent to which it is possible and even necessary to intrude on a culture in order to understand it. These differences, along with professional jealousy and sexual tension, propel the story toward its inevitable conclusion.

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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