Skip to Main Content

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.

Survey Open Now

The survey we will use to determine most of the books we'll discuss in 2023-2024 is now open at, but only through the end of November 2022. Please begin studying the 30 options today, and proceed to the survey link at the bottom of the page when you have chosen which books (no more than ten) you'll be voting for.

Here are our next book discussions:


December 2022 Book Club Selection

Greisen, Susan E*, Susan Corbett*, and Karen E Lange*, editors: Never the Same Again: Life, Service, and Friendship in Liberia (2022)

* RPCVs Liberia (1971-1973, 1976-1979, and 1984-1986)

Discussion: Tuesday, December 6, 2022, 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 or go to, enter meeting ID 899 5540 2914 and passcode 150815. Participating in our discussion, in person from his own home, will be Mike Waite (RPCV Liberia 1974-1975), author of one of the stories in the book. Mike will arrange for 2-4 of the other authors to join us on Zoom.

Synopsis: Never the Same Again is a collection of sixty-three true stories and poems that will take you on a storytelling journey about life, service, and friendship in Liberia. This anthology of enduring hope spans sixty years. Written by those of us who lived and worked in Liberia, we share heartfelt accounts of adversity and acceptance, illness and healing, and escape from war and reunion. Glimpse into everyday life in the village, classroom, and clinic where relationships were formed and lost, and many were found again. Once you read this book you will feel as we do…never the same again.

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


January 2023 Book Club Selection

Mikhail, Alan: God's Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World (2020)

Discussion: Tuesday, January 17, 2023, 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 or go to, enter meeting ID 875 9553 1194 and passcode 005956.

Review: ©Publishers Weekly: In this revelatory and wide-ranging account, Yale historian Mikhail (Under Osman's Tree) recreates the life of Sultan Selim I (1470–1520) and makes a convincing case for the outsize impact of the Ottoman Empire and Islamic culture on the history of Europe and the Americas. Tracking Selim's rise from governor of a recently conquered frontier outpost on the Black Sea to his seizure of the Ottoman throne from his own father, capture of vast territories in the Middle East and North Africa, and investiture as caliph in 1517, Mikhail brings the era to vibrant life. Recasting Christopher Columbus as a Christian crusader bent on countering the Ottoman Empire's territorial expansion and political and cultural dominance, Mikhail demonstrates how the push for European exploration of the New World actually weakened the Catholic Church, opening the door for Martin Luther and other reformers. Spotlighting the role Selim's mother, Gülbahar, played in his political education and early administration, Mikhail also sheds new light on female political power during the era, and offers intriguing discussions on topics ranging from the Sunni-Shiite split to the discovery of coffee. Written with flair and deep insight, this thought-provoking account is both a major historical work and a genuine page-turner.

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


February 2023 Book Club Selection

Sesay, Isha: Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram (2019)

Discussion: Tuesday, February 7, 2023, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Lee Norris, 3748 SE Salmon St in Portland. Feel free to bring snacks to share. Zoom is an option for those who can't make it; click on or go to, enter meeting ID 820 6443 0643 and passcode 716415.

Review: ©Kirkus: A longtime CNN Africa reporter delivers a close-up report on the Chibok girls, attempting to bring their story "full circle" and "resurrect public interest in this mass abduction." On April 14, 2014, the extremist group Boko Haram stormed into a predominately Christian school in Chibok, Nigeria, and kidnapped 276 schoolgirls. This event triggered worldwide press coverage, but as the months wore on and the girls didn't return home, the world's attention turned elsewhere. Fortunately, award-winning journalist Sesay—the former host of CNN Newsroom Live From Los Angeles who spent more than a decade reporting on Africa for the network—didn't forget this story, and she offers a compelling, empathetic tale that focuses on the lives of four of the Chibok girls and their immediate family members. The author, who grew up in Sierra Leone and Britain, intertwines her thoughts and feelings regarding the kidnapping with the history of the region, the political, social, and economic events that gave rise to Boko Haram, and the personal accounts of Priscilla, Dorcas, Mary, and Saa. Sesay's attention to detail places readers with the girls under a giant tama rind tree, one of their many naturally made prisons deep in the Sambisa forest, where they scrounged for food and water and fought off the constant demands of their captors to convert to Islam. Although many of the girls did convert and have not been heard from since, a greater portion remained steadfast in their Christian beliefs. The author also explains what the Nigerian government has done to find the missing girls. She notes that, in the beginning, many Nigerians believed the abduction was "no more than an elaborate hoax with political objectives." The joyous homecoming of 21 of the Chibok girls in 2016 prompted Sesay to compile her notes on this fascinating and emotionally charged telling of the girls' story, which will hopefully put those still missing back into the limelight. Rich details and dedicated, courageous reporting create a powerful tale of faith, love, and loss.

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


March 2023 Book Club Selection

Ratner, Vaddey: In the Shadow of the Banyan (2012)

Discussion: Monday, March 20, 2023, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Liz Samuels, 3737 NE Marine Dr in Portland. Location at Rose City Yacht Club. Once you know you are coming, email Liz (, and she will send you instructions. If it's last minute, you can text or call 503-701-6218. Feel free to bring snacks to share. Zoom is an option for those who can't make it; click on or go to, enter meeting ID 868 1414 7450 and passcode 971448.

Review: ©Publishers Weekly: The struggle for survival is relayed with elegance and humility in Ratner's autobiographical debut novel set in Khmer Rouge–era Cambodia. Raami is seven when civil war erupts, and she and her family are forced to leave Phnom Penh for the countryside. As minor royalty, they're in danger; the Khmer Rouge is systematically cleansing the country of wealthy and educated people. Escaping their Phnom Penh home aboard a rusty military vehicle, a gold necklace is traded for rice, and literacy can mean death; "They say anyone with glasses reads too much... the sign of an intellectual." Amid hunger, the loss of much of her family, and labor camp toil, Raami clings to the beauty that her father has shown her in traditional mythology and his own poetry. Raami's story closely follows that of Ratner's own: a child when the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975, she endured years under their rule until she and her mother escaped to the United States in 1981. This stunning memorial expresses not just the terrors of the Khmer Rouge but also the beauty of what was lost. A hauntingly powerful novel imbued with the richness of old Cambodian lore, the devastation of monumental loss, and the spirit of survival.

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


April 2023 Book Club Selection

Soyinka, Wole*: Chronicles From the Land of the Happiest People on Earth (2021)

* 1986 Nobel Literature Prize

Discussion: Tuesday, April 11, 2023, 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 or go to, enter meeting ID 896 2949 6408 and passcode 181502.

Review: ©Publishers Weekly: Nobel Prize winner Soyinka's first novel in almost 50 years (after the essay collection Beyond Aesthetics) delivers a sharp-edged satire of his native Nigeria. The tone is set early, as an omniscient narrator caustically refers to the country as the home of "the Happiest People in the World," a status bolstered by a Nigerian governor's creation of "a Ministry of Happiness," to be led by the governor's spouse. Soyinka presents a dizzying array of characters and plotlines to bolster the notion that his country's "success" is a facade built on corruption and lies. This is perhaps best illustrated by the story line involving Dr. Kighare Menka, a surgeon particularly adept at treating the victims of terror attacks. Menka's approached by representatives of Primary Resources Management, dedicated to combating waste by maximizing "human resources." Menka learns that behind the slogans is a business plan to obtain body parts for an affluent clientele, and that he's viewed as a steady source for the limbs and organs the venture needs. Soyinka injects suspense as well with a whodunit plot. Those with a solid grounding in current Nigerian politics are most likely to pick up on allusions to events and personalities that will elude the lay reader. Still, the imaginatively satirical treatment of serious issues makes this engaging on multiple levels.

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


May 2023 Book Club Selection

Alharthi, Jokha, and Marilyn Booth: Celestial Bodies* (2010/2019)

* 2019 Booker International Prize

Discussion: Tuesday, May 16, 2023, 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 or go to, enter meeting ID 890 5446 6810 and passcode 393833.

Review: ©Publishers Weekly: Alharthi's ambitious, intense novel--her first to be translated into English and winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize--examines the radical changes in Oman over the past century from the perspectives of the members of several interconnected families. With exhilarating results, Alharthi throws the reader into the midst of a tangled family drama in which unrequited love, murder, suicide, and adultery seem the rule rather than the exception. She moves between the stream-of-consciousness musings and memories of businessman Abdallah as he flies to Frankfurt and vignettes from the lives of those in his family, the slaves who raised him under the rule of his abusive father, and the members of the large family he married into. These include, among many others, a wife who apparently loves her sewing machine more than him, her two conflicted sisters, a father-in-law conducting a torrid love affair with a Bedouin woman, and an unhappy physician daughter. The scenes establish the remarkable contrasts among the generations, whose members are united primarily by a fierce search for romantic love. The older generation has grown up with strict rules and traditions, the younger generation eats at McDonald's and wears Armani jeans, and the members of the middle generation, particularly the women, are caught between expectations and aspirations. The novel rewards readers willing to assemble the pieces of Alharthi's puzzle into a whole, and is all the more satisfying for the complexity of its tale.

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


June 2023 Book Club Selection

Leng'ete, Nice: The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree: How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide (2021)

Discussion: Tuesday, June 20, 2023, 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 or go to, enter meeting ID 882 1551 8326 and passcode 657619.

Review: ©Kirkus: An inspirational memoir from a human rights activist who has devoted her life to fighting female genital mutilation. The author is a member of the Maasai tribe, born in the small Kenyan town of Kimana, and she evocatively explores the culture of her people. Historically, Maasai men are known as fierce warriors who protect their people and animals, while Maasai women serve as the caregivers of the house and children. A community bound by tradition, they live in hand-built circular homes and raise cattle as the primary food source. When they are young, children have one of their cheeks branded by a hot coil of wire; the scab creates a circle that serves as "a special symbol to mark us as Maasai." When it was Leng'ete's turn, she ran away, and she "still [has] no marks." Another tradition is referred to as "the cut." During this ceremony, the women subject the young females to a procedure in which their clitoris is either cut or removed completely—without anesthesia. Leng'ete refused to undergo FGM. "I loved my family. I loved my people. But this, I thought, was wrong," she explains. "Tradition can be good. Tradition can be beautiful. But some traditions deserve to die." Following her defiant act, she was shunned. With urgent, shocking, and heartbreaking detail, Leng'ete brings readers into her life. Beginning her work with the African Medical and Research Foundation when she was still a teenager, she found her calling. Armed with scientific evidence about the significant health risks associated with FGM, Leng'ete returned to her community in hopes of instilling change. Due in part to her relentless efforts, tribal leaders "changed the Maasai constitution to reflect our commitment to end FGM." Leng'ete was also awarded the black walking stick, a symbol of leadership not normally given to women. She went on to campaign globally, including building A Nice Place in Kimana, "a safe haven for girls fleeing FGM." An incredibly powerful story that offers real hope for the future.

Where to find it:
Libraries: 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


Recent News

Stay up to date with the latest updates from our group and the broader Peace Corps community.