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.

Here are our next book discussions:

 

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 18, 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

 

November 2022 Book Club Selection

McMahon, Tyler*: One Potato (2022)

* RPCV El Salvador (1999-2002)

Discussion: Monday, November 7, 2022, 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/83368511617?pwd=nRFg8W206AP35pbdbMExxULc5R-zYx.1 or go to zoom.us, enter meeting ID 833 6851 1617 and passcode 379553. Participating in our discussion, via Zoom from his home in Hawaii, will be the book's author, Tyler McMahon.

Synopsis: Eddie Morales finds his lowly R&D life completely upended when his Boise-based biotech firm dispatches him to Puerto Malogrado, a tiny but tumultuous country in South America where the international media is accusing their experimental potatoes of causing a bizarre medical crisis. Eddie unwillingly arrives in South America only to find his plans for a quick resolution thwarted when he gets caught between the two sides of an impending revolution, each hoping to capitalize on the potato scandal in order to seize power. Eddie stumbles into a conspiracy that reveals just how far his company will go to advance its potato empire. He is forced to make a choice: what—and who—will he sacrifice to preserve his own future in this brave new world of biotechnology? Darkly funny and compassionately rendered, One Potato charts the crooked line between nature and technology and takes a deep look into a future shaped by disasters both natural and devastatingly man-made.

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

 

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 https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89955402914?pwd=QnUvaCtyc3RnbjJtOWNBNW1UODZwQT09 or go to zoom.us, 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 10, 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 https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87595531194?pwd=YnpocTNzekRjOTdmWEJpdHlkT1ZkUT09 or go to zoom.us, 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 https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82064430643?pwd=UUk5R0RTckl3WndWaEZ6NlE4YlUrQT09 or go to zoom.us, 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: Tuesday, March 14, 2023, 6:30-8:00 pm. Hosted by Liz Samuels, 3737 NE Marine Dr in Portland. Location at 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. 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/86814147450?pwd=UnJlUDc1cWh3QkNqWmpLQ0R0WitGdz09 or go to zoom.us, 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 https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89629496408?pwd=R295bGNEWFhqb0k0TG1nTHNUYUZudz09 or go to zoom.us, 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: Thursday, May 18, 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 https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89054466810?pwd=VUZHTDBweThFcXVZbi9EdlJiR1l0QT09 or go to zoom.us, 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 https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88215518326?pwd=T2o4Q2xNZWVudVlYbUdiRmJwQkZ1Zz09 or go to zoom.us, 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 bookclub@portlandpeacecorps.org.

 

Recent News

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