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:
January 2024 Book Club Selection
Murphy, Laura T.: Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives (2014)
Discussion: Thursday, January 4, 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/89732062937?pwd=WUNqbTV3YWp1ZGJwRnRsZUJGU203QT09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 897 3206 2937 and passcode 585839.
Review: ©Publishers Weekly: Murphy, assistant professor of English at Loyola Univ. New Orleans, has compiled an anthology of narratives told or written by survivors of modern-day slavery. The experiences of women forced into sex work, children exploited as laborers, female domestics held prisoner, and others who endured forced factory work are described with unflinching honesty. By highlighting the various types of slavery and its persistence worldwide—the venues are as varied as the forms it takes, from Southeast Asia and the U.S. to Europe and Africa—Murphy makes clear that slavery is not simply some other country’s problem. Each story is succinct and is preceded with summaries that give the victim’s country of origin, the place to which they were trafficked, the form of slavery, and their current status. Cumulatively these summaries and interviews give testimony to the horrific affect slavery has on its victims, but also the life affirming potential of freedom. In addition to the first-person narratives, Murphy describes the mechanisms of enslavement, how people become victims, the work of slavery, and how those affected have fought back. It is not an easy read, but Murphy never sensationalizes, and by making the stories seem almost ordinary, paradoxically succeeds in underscoring the breadth and perniciousness of slavery’s evils.
February 2024 Book Club Selection
Weiwei, Ai, and Allan H. Barr: 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir (2021)
Discussion: Tuesday, February 13, 2024, 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/85359770965?pwd=RXZ3ZDFKU1ZxSnlTS3Z3eE9Ka0RGZz09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 853 5977 0965 and passcode 134869.
Review: ©Publishers Weekly: In this impassioned and elegant work, acclaimed Chinese artist and activist Weiwei (Humanity) tells his story alongside his father's--renowned poet Ai Qing--to describe the personal cost of resistance. In 1957, the year Weiwei was born, Qing was exiled during China's purge of "rightist" intellectuals, first to the far northeast and later to the base of Xinjiang's Tian Shan mountain range. "The whirlpool that swallowed up my father... a mark on me that I carry to this day," Weiwei writes. Though Qing's reputation was later restored, Weiwei, at 19, felt alienated by "the new post-Mao order." Novelistic in its scope and detail, his story follows his search for freedom across decades and borders, from New York City--where he moved in 1981 and found minor success as an artist--back to Beijing in 1993, where he continued his subversive art, "damaging the past and reconstructing it." Despite being commissioned to design Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics ("I was as much of an attraction to as the Great Wall"), Weiwei continued to rail against the country's oppressive systems with his art and writing, continuing to do so even after his imprisonment in 2011. Astounding and provocative, this easily sits in the top tier of dissident writing.
March 2024 Book Club Selection
Forbes, Curdella: A Tall History of Sugar (2019)
Discussion: Tuesday, March 12, 2024, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Adrienne Wolf-Lockett and Bob Lockett, 6230 SE 44th 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/84810026167?pwd=WmJVVnRXS0dIbTBtRWc1RXF4ZWI2QT09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 848 1002 6167 and passcode 563465.
Review: ©Booklist: Rachel, a childless Jamaican fisherman's wife, discovers a baby in a basket, wrapped in swaddling clothes, whom she names Moshe. Milky white with African features, hair blonde and straight in front and black and kinky in back, Moshe eventually forms a mysterious bond with dark-skinned Arrienne Christie, the princess of a prominent family cursed with a fiery birthmark on their bottoms which become inflamed during the sugar cane harvest. The two grow up along with their country as Jamaica struggles toward independence in 1962. Forbes' novel, rich in metaphors and biblical and fairy-tale allusions, explores the cyclical nature of birth and death, and the overwhelming and terrifying power of love. It is also a forceful critique of colonialism, peopled with white Britons lamenting the lost pearl of the Empire as Jamaicans are literally poisoned by cane sugar, its principal export. This, too, makes the point: as the fields are burned clear of underbrush, the black soot floats through windows and doorways, soiling chenille bedspreads and the pristine white of lace doilies artfully strewn on tables. Born to this complicated heritage, Moshe and Arrienne discover their voices in art and social protest as Jamaica grapples with independence and identity. A fascinating post-colonial blend of romance, social history, and myth.
April 2024 Book Club Selection
Gurnah, Abdulrazak*: Afterlives (2020)
* 2021 Nobel Literature Prize
Discussion: Tuesday, April 9, 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/83640187163?pwd=NHhqR1BZSE5YdFFlSVpSUHZ4OHNMdz09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 816 1452 9257 and passcode 263275.
Review: ©Booklist: The latest novel from Nobel laureate Gurnah resists categorization. As a breathtaking historical account, this underscores decades-long horrors of war, displacement, slavery, and colonial conquest. Yet Gurnah also intimately captures luminous facets of humanity through unique characters, each with a rich personal background and attention-grabbing, often humorous, sometimes disturbing idiosyncrasies. Ultimately, in this story of a love that transcends pain, suffering, tragedy, and misfortune, Gurnah constructs a remarkable portrait of tenderness, deep affection, and longing that stretches over time and across continents. Set in colonial East Africa in the early twentieth century, the book centers on Hamza, who volunteers as an askari (local soldier) fighting for German colonial troops. After recovering from a debilitating injury, Hamza flees to his old home. He secures work and meets Afiya, who was rescued by her brother, Ilyas, from a terrifyingly abusive childhood and a life of oppressive and violent servitude. As Hamza and Afiya begin their courtship and find love, Ilyas, who also volunteered as an askari, has disappeared, perhaps as a casualty of war. While Ilyas' whereabouts remain unknown, Afiya discovers, through Hamza's old war contacts, priceless information regarding her long-lost but never-forgotten brother. Absorbing, powerful, and enduring, Afterlives is an extraordinary reading experience by one of the great writers of our time.
May 2024 Book Club Selection
Iyer, Pico: The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise (2023)
Discussion: Wednesday, May 8, 2024, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Louise Shabazz, 195 N Broadway St in Estacada. 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/81898078223?pwd=cWwxTE1USEZFQUlrSmkrRWFVWmtpUT09 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 818 9807 8223 and passcode 481908.
Review: ©Kirkus Reviews: Iyer has written many beloved books on his expeditions around the world, and he has a gift for capturing the texture and cadence of a place and its people. His latest, which he sees as something of a capstone to his life’s work, is more than a travel memoir. He explores the idea of paradise held in different cultures and religions, making the text a spiritual journey rather than an itinerary, a pilgrimage to a semi-imagined place “where so many of our possibilities lie.” The author begins in Iran, a country caught between the ambitions of its theocratic rulers to return to an earlier time and the desires of its people to build a faith and society suitable for the 21st century. Not for the only time in this book, Iyer finds that he has to discard his preconceptions if he is to make sense of the reality he finds. The search for paradise often intersects with real-world conflict, and the author was stunned by the ethnic violence that has torn apart the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. The irony is that the center of the island is an oasis of Buddhist calm, untouched by the ocean of warfare. In Jerusalem, Iyer discovered “a holy turbulence” of competing beliefs, but somehow people have learned to live with the chaos. Perhaps, then, heaven can only be found after death? His visit to Japanese shrines points that way, but Iyer finds the idea rather cold. He does not reach a definitive conclusion, but he begins to accept that the search for peace leads to a place within. “I decided that I would no longer seek out holy places in [a] city of temples,” he writes near the end. “I would just let life come to me in all its happy confusion and find the holiness in that.”
June 2024 Book Club Selection
Roja Contreras, Ingrid: The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir (2022)
Discussion: Thursday, June 6, 2024, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Don and Kathy Evans, 9930 NW Justus Ln 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/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.
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.
August 2024 Book Club Selection
Allende, Isabel: The Wind Knows My Name (2023)
Discussion: Wednesday, August 7, 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.