Book Club Archives

Past readings of the SEAPAX book club.

2011

Book Event Description
PurgePurge. Sofi Oksanen. 2010 November 20, 2011, 3:00 pm,
Zeitgeist Coffee, 171 S. Jackson St. (Pioneer Square)
The winner of Finland’s two most prestigious literary awards–the Finlandia and the Runeberg–“Purge” is a breathtakingly suspenseful tale of two women dogged by their own shameful past and the dark, unspoken history that binds them.
Even Silence Has An End. My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle. Ingrid Betancourt. 2010 October 23, 2011, 3:00 pm,
Home of SEAPAX member, just south of Woodland Park Zoo (please email for address)
SPECIAL NOTE: Ingrid Betancourt FREE author reading on Tues, Sept. 27, 7pm at Seattle Central Library
Ingrid Betancourt tells the story of her captivity in the Colombian jungle, sharing teachings of resilience, resistance, and faith. Born in Bogotá, raised in France, Betancourt at age 32 gave up a life of comfort and safety to return to Colombia to become a political leader in a country that was being slowly destroyed by terrorism, violence, fear, and hopelessness. In 2002, while a candidate in the Colombian presidential elections, she was abducted by the FARC. She spent the next six and a half years in the depths of the jungle as their prisoner. Chained day and night for much of her captivity, she succeeded in getting away several times, always to be recaptured. The facts of her story are astounding, but it is Betancourt’s indomitable spirit that drives this very special account, bringing life, nuance, and profundity to the narrative
Baking Cakes in Kigali. A Novel. Gaile Parkin September 25, 2011, 3:00 pm,
B&O Espresso, 204 Belmont Ave. E, Seattle
This soaring novel introduces us to Angel Tungaraza: mother, cake baker, pillar of her community, keeper of secrets big and small. Angel’s kitchen is an oasis in the heart of Rwanda, where visitors stop to order cakes but end up sharing their stories, transforming their lives, leaving with new hope. In this vibrant, powerful setting, unexpected things are beginning to happen: A most unusual wedding is planned, a heartbreaking mystery involving Angel’s own family unravels, and extraordinary connections are made—as a chain of events unfolds that will change Angel’s life and the lives of those around her in the most astonishing ways.
Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali July 31, 2011, 3:00 pm,
Ballard Locks, 3015 NW 54th
Hirsi Ali tells of coming to America to build a new life, an ocean away from the death threats made to her by European Islamists, the strife she witnessed, and the inner conflict she suffered. It is the story of her physical journey to freedom and, more crucially, her emotional journey to freedom–her transition from a tribal mind-set that restricts women’s every thought and action to a life as a free and equal citizen in an open society. Through stories of the challenges she has faced, she shows the difficulty of reconciling the contradictions of Islam with Western values. In these pages Hirsi Ali recounts the many turns her life took after she broke with her family, and how she struggled to throw off restrictive superstitions and misconceptions that initially hobbled her ability to assimilate into Western society. She writes movingly of her reconciliation, on his deathbed, with her devout father, who had disowned her when she renounced Islam after 9/11, as well as with her mother and cousins in Somalia and in Europe. Nomad is a portrait of a family torn apart by the clash of civilizations. But it is also a touching, uplifting, and often funny account of one woman’s discovery of today’s America. While Hirsi Ali loves much of what she encounters, she fears we are repeating the European mistake of underestimating radical Islam. She calls on key institutions of the West–including universities, the feminist movement, and the Christian churches–to enact specific, innovative remedies that would help other Muslim immigrants to overcome the challenges she has experienced and to resist the fatal allure of fundamentalism and terrorism. This is Hirsi Ali’s intellectual coming-of-age, a memoir that conveys her philosophy as well as her experiences, and that also conveys an urgent message and mission–to inform the West of the extent of the threat from Islam, both from outside and from within our open societies. A celebration of free speech and democracy, Nomad is an important contribution to the history of ideas, but above all a rousing call to action.
Saving the World by Julia Alvarez June 19, 2011, 3:00 pm,
El Diablo Coffee Company, 1811 Queen Anne Ave. N
Latina novelist Alma Huebner is suffering from writer’s block and is years past the completion date for yet another of her bestselling family sagas. Her husband, Richard, works for a humanitarian organization dedicated to the health and prosperity of developing countries and wants her help on an extended AIDS assignment in the Dominican Republic. But Alma begs off joining him: the publisher is breathing down her neck. She promises to work hard and follow him a bit later. The truth is that Alma is seriously sidetracked by a story she has stumbled across. It’s the story of a much earlier medical do-gooder, Spaniard Francisco Xavier Balmis, who in 1803 undertook to vaccinate the populations of Spain’s American colonies against smallpox. To do this, he required live “carriers” of the vaccine. Of greater interest to Alma is Isabel Sendales y Gómez, director of La Casa de Expósitos, who was asked to select twenty-two orphan boys to be the vaccine carriers. She agreed— with the stipulation that she would accompany the boys on the proposed two-year voyage. Her strength and courage inspire Alma, who finds herself becoming obsessed with the details of Isabel’s adventures. This resplendent novel-within-a-novel spins the disparate tales of two remarkable women, both of whom are swept along by machismo. In depicting their confrontation of the great scourges of their respective eras, Alvarez exposes the conflict between altruism and ambition.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Sunday, April 17, 2011, 3:00 pm,
Panama Hotel Tea House, 607 South Main St
A novel about the tenuous friendship that blooms between two disparate strangers–one an illegal Nigerian refugee, the other a recent widow from suburban London.

2012

Book Event

The Tiger’s Wife By Tea Obreht

December 16, 2012, 3:00 pm,
Irwin’s Neighborhood Bakery and Cafe in Wallingford
2123 N. 40th St., Seattle

Not even Obreht’s place on the New Yorker’s current “20 under 40” list of exceptional writers will prepare readers for the transporting richness and surprise of this gripping novel of legends and loss in a broken land. Drawing on the former Yugoslavia’s fabled past and recent bloodshed, Belgrade-born Obreht portrays two besieged doctors. Natalia is on an ill-advised “good will” medical mission at an orphanage on what is suddenly the “other side,” now that war has broken out, when she learns that her grandfather, a distinguished doctor forced out of his practice by ethnic divides, has died far from home. She is beset by memories, particularly of her grandfather taking her to the zoo to see the tigers. We learn the source of his fascination in mesmerizing flashbacks, meeting the village butcher, the deaf-mute Muslim woman he married, and a tiger who escaped the city zoo after it was bombed by the Germans. Of equal mythic mystery is the story of the “deathless man.” Moments of breathtaking magic, wildness, and beauty are paired with chilling episodes in which superstition overrides reason; fear and hatred smother compassion; and inexplicable horror rules. Every word, every scene, every thought is blazingly alive in this many-faceted, spellbinding, and rending novel of death, succor, and remembrance. [Booklist Reviews.]

The Year of Living Dangerously By C.J. Koch (limited library availability, so please try to procure as early as possible – used copies are a few dollars on Amazon, Powells, etc)

November 18, 2012, 3:00 pm,
Le Fournil Ltd Bakery & Catering
3230 Eastlake Ave E, Seattle
Hosted by Marilee Fuller

It is 1965 and Jakarta lies inert, the hot brown twilights and stormy nights smelling of petrol and frangipani. A group of Western journalists carry on with their lives as they wait for the abortive revolution that will leave half a million dead. A novel which became a film starring Mel Gibson.

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. By Guy Deutscher

October 21, 2012, 3:00 pm,
Herkimer Coffee House (the corner of 74th and Greenwood)

Linguistics has long shied away from claiming any link between a language and the culture of its speakers: too much simplistic (even bigoted) chatter about the romance of Italian and the goose-stepping orderliness of German has made serious thinkers wary of the entire subject. But now, acclaimed linguist Guy Deutscher has dared to reopen the issue. Can culture influence language—and vice versa? Can different languages lead their speakers to different thoughts? Could our experience of the world depend on whether our language has a word for “blue”?
Challenging the consensus that the fundaments of language are hard-wired in our genes and thus universal, Deutscher argues that the answer to all these questions is—yes. In thrilling fashion, he takes us from Homer to Darwin, from Yale to the Amazon, from how to name the rainbow to why Russian water—a “she”—becomes a “he” once you dip a tea bag into her, demonstrating that language does in fact reflect culture in ways that are anything but trivial. Audacious, delightful, and field-changing,
Through the Language Glass is a classic of intellectual discovery. (Publisher description)

Sea of Poppies. By Amitav Ghosh

September 23, 2012, 3:00 pm,
Ballard Coffee Works
2060 NW Market Street
Seattle
(corner of 22nd & Market Street, in the space formerly occupied by Tully’s)

At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean; its purpose, to fight China’s vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts.
In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a freespirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races, and generations.
The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, the exotic backstreets of Canton. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, that makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive—a masterpiece from one of the world’s finest novelists. (Publisher description)

The Pickup By Nadine Gordimer

August 19, 2012, 3:00 pm,
BluWater Bistro (Leschi),
102 Lakeside Ave., Seattle
Find us outside on the patio!

While Nobel Prize-winner Gordimer’s trenchant fiction has always achieved universal relevance in capturing apartheid and its lingering effects in South Africa, this new work attains still broader impact as she explores the condition of the world’s desperate dispossessed. To Julie Summer, rebellious daughter of a rich white investment banker, the black mechanic she meets at a garage is initially merely an interesting person to add to her circle of bohemian friends. But as their relationship swiftly escalates, Julie comes to understand her lover’s perilo1us tightrope attempts to find a country that will shelter him. Abdu, as he calls himself (it’s not his real name), is an illegal immigrant from an abysmally poor Arab country. Now on the verge of deportation from South Africa, he’s forced to return to his ancestral village. Julie insists on marrying him and going with him, despite his fears that she does not understand how primitive conditions are in the desert town where his strict Muslim family lives. Abdu (now Ibrahim) is astonished when she willingly does manual labor to earn his family’s respect. They clash, however, over his decision to try once again to gain entry into a country that discriminates against immigrants from his part of the world. Gradually realizing that she has finally found a center to her heretofore aimless life, Julie matures; in many ways, she has become more cognizant of reality than her frantically hopeful husband. Gordimer handles these psychological nuances with understated finesse. With characteristic bravado, she reprises a character from her previous book, The House Gun, to show how some blacks are now faring in a reorganized South African society. The brilliant black defense lawyer in that book has taken advantage of opportunities to join a banking conglomerate; he is now involved in “the intimate language of money.” It’s the people still trapped by economic chaos and racism who now interest this inveterate and eloquent champion of the world’s outcasts. (Publishers Weekly)

July 22, 2012, 3:00 pm,
At home of Judith Cederblom in West Seattle.
Please RSVP to jcederblom4@gmail.com for directions.


As a young woman, Leymah Gbowee was broken by the Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart her life and claimed the lives of countless relatives and friends. Years of fighting destroyed her country—and shattered Gbowee’s girlhood hopes and dreams. As a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse, she found the courage to turn her bitterness into action, propelled by her realization that it is women who suffer most during conflicts—and that the power of women working together can create an unstoppable force. In 2003, the passionate and charismatic Gbowee helped organize and then led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike. With an army of women, Gbowee helped lead her nation to peace—in the process emerging as an international leader who changed history.Mighty Be Our Powers is the gripping chronicle of a journey from hopelessness to empowerment that will touch all who dream of a better world. [publisher’s description]

June 17, 2012, 3:00 pm,
Home of SEAPAX member Carey Homan near Woodland Park Zoo.
email jensimon7@gmail.com for address details


From land-locked Afghanistan to the smallest of islands in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean, stories by peace Corps Volunteers from this region come from (mostly) Hindu India—1,269,210 square miles worth of democracy patched together from princely states—Confucian Korea, Muslim Indonesia and Buddhist Thailand.
Imagine delivering a baby—with the help of the handy Peace Corps first aid kit—on a rust bucket of a passenger ship in the Pacific or practicing agriculture with armed Pathan farmers in the Pashtun region of Pakistan. How about trekking into the far reaches of Afghanistan to inoculate women and children for small pox, or returning 25 years later to your school in India to find that, yes, your students do remember you? These stories say. “I Was There.” [publisher’s description]
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. By Jared M. Diamond
May 20, 2012, 3:00 pm,
Zeitgeist Coffee
171 S. Jackson St. (Pioneer Square)
Many bus lines pass close by, and street parking is free on Sundays(Be sure to check out the PBS series based on the book)

In this “artful, informative, and delightful” (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, Jared Diamond convincingly argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. Societies that had had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed religion –as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war –and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures. A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history. Winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize, the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Rhone-Poulenc Prize, and the Commonwealth club of California’s Gold Medal. [publisher’s description]
The Submission. By Amy Waldman
April 22, 2012, 3:00 pm,
Tougo Coffee
1410 18th Ave
(between Union & Pike in the Central District)

A jury gathers in Manhattan to select a memorial for the victims of a devastating terrorist attack. Their fraught deliberations complete, the jurors open the envelope containing the anonymous winner’s name—and discover he is an American Muslim. Instantly they are cast into roiling debate about the claims of grief, the ambiguities of art, and the meaning of Islam. Their conflicted response is only a preamble to the country’s.
The memorial’s designer is an enigmatic, ambitious architect named Mohammad Khan. His fiercest defender on the jury is its sole widow, the self-possessed and mediagenic Claire Burwell. But when the news of his selection leaks to the press, she finds herself under pressure from outraged family members and in collision with hungry journalists, wary activists, opportunistic politicians, fellow jurors, and Khan himself—as unknowable as he is gifted. In the fight for both advantage and their ideals, all will bring the emotional weight of their own histories to bear on the urgent question of how to remember, and understand, a national tragedy.
In this deeply humane novel, the breadth of Amy Waldman’s cast of characters is matched by her startling ability to conjure their perspectives. A striking portrait of a fractured city striving to make itself whole, The Submission is a piercing and resonant novel by an important new talent. [publisher’s description]
A Bend in the River. By V.S. Naipaul
March 25, 2012, 3:00 pm, home of Pat McGovern in Wallingford; RSVP to Jen for the exact address

V.S. Naipaul takes us deeply into the life of one man—an Indian who, uprooted by the bloody tides of Third World history, has come to live in an isolated town at the bend of a great river in a newly independent African nation. Naipaul gives us the most convincing and disturbing vision yet of what happens in a place caught between the dangerously alluring modern world and its own tenacious past and traditions. [publisher’s description]
The Blue Sweater: bridging the gap between rich and poor in an interconnected world. By Jacqueline Novogratz
February 26, 2012, 3:00 pm,
home of Joana Ramos in NE Seattle. RSVP for address.

The Blue Sweater is the inspiring story of a woman who left a career in international banking to spend her life on a quest to understand global poverty and find powerful new ways of tackling it. It all started back home in Virginia, with the blue sweater, a gift that quickly became her prized possession—until the day she outgrew it and gave it away to Goodwill. Eleven years later in Africa, …
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Jamie Ford. 2009January 22, 2012, 3:00 pm,
Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee House
607 S Main St
(International District)
Free street parking and easy access from Intl District Transit Station.

Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, this debut novel tells the heartwarming story of widower Henry Lee, his father, and his first love Keiko Okabe.

2013

Book Event
the turn around bird

The Turn-Around Bird, By Lucinda Wingard

April 7, 2013, 3:00 pm, Northgate Library Meeting room, 10548 5th Ave NE, Seattle, 98125

Teenage protagonist Aimee Thurman tells the story of how her modern African American family is hurled to the “end of the earth”-Timbuktu, in the fourteenth century. It’s a time and place teeming with devious djinn and other wilderness spirits, griots and sorcerers, devout Muslim marabouts and fierce Tuareg generals. Above it all reigns Mansa Kankan Musa, emperor of Africa’s legendary Golden Empire. Will he allow them to return to the twenty-first century with their heads still attached?
 the springs of namje

The Springs of Namje, By Rajeev Goyal

June 9, 2013, 3:00 pm, Firehouse Coffee 2622 NW Market St, Seattle, WA 98107

A Peace Corps volunteer’s inspirational story about the power of small change In 2001, Peace Corps volunteer Rajeev Goyal was sent to Namje, a remote village in the eastern hills of Nepal. Brimming with idealism, he expected to find people living in conditions of misery and suffering; instead, he discovered a village full of happy, compassionate people. After organizing the villagers to build a water-pumping system in the midst of the dangerous Maoist war that had gripped the country, Goyal learned how complex rural development truly is. He also witnessed how the seemingly lowliest villager can hold profound power to influence not only his or her own village but also the highest rungs of government. 

 Years after this experience, Goyal applied the lessons he learned in Namje to his work on Capitol Hill. Approaching Congress as if it were a Nepalese caste system, Goyal led a grassroots campaign to double the size of the Peace Corps. His unique approach to advocacy included strategically positioning himself outside the men’s room of the capitol building waiting for lawmakers to walk out. As a result of his determined bird-dogging, Goyal managed to make allies of more than a hundred members of Congress and in the process, he ruffled the feathers of some of the most powerful figures in Washington. But due to his efforts, the Peace Corps was granted a $60-million increase in funding, the largest dollar-amount increase in the organizations history. On this path to victory Goyal endured a number of missteps along the way, and, as he reveals, his idealism at times faded into fear, anger, and frustration. In this honest and inspirational account of his life as an activist, Goyal offers daring ideas for how the Peace Corps and other organizations can be even more relevant to our rapidly changing world. He urges environmentalists, educators, farmers, artists, and designers to come together and contribute their talents. Filled with history, international politics, personal anecdotes, and colorful characters, The Springs of Namje is a unique and inspiring book about the power of small change.
 fieldwork
Fieldwork, By Mischa Berlinski

August 11, 2013, 3:00 pm, Starbucks Coffee 4000 E Madison St, Seattle, WA ‎

When his girlfriend takes a job as a schoolteacher in northern Thailand, Mischa Berlinski goes along for the ride, working as little as possible for one of Thailand’s English-language newspapers. One evening a fellow expatriate tips him off to a story. A charismatic American anthropologist, Martiya van der Leun, has been found dead-a suicide-in the Thai prison where she was serving a fifty-year sentence for murder.Motivated first by simple curiosity, then by deeper and more mysterious feelings, Mischa searches relentlessly to discover the details of Martiya’s crime. His search leads him to the origins of modern anthropology-and into the family history of Martiya’s victim, a brilliant young missionary whose grandparents left Oklahoma to preach the Word in the 1920s and never went back. Finally, Mischa’s obssession takes him into the world of the Thai hill tribes, whose way of life becomes a battleground for two competing, and utterly American, ways of looking at the world.
 the village of waiting

The Village of Waiting, By George Packer

October 13, 2013, 3:00 pm, Forza Coffee 6900 East Green Lake Way N, Seattle,WA 98115

This book is a frank, moving, and vivid account of contemporary life in West Africa. Stationed as a Peace Corps instructor in the village of Lavié (the name means “wait a little more”) in tiny and underdeveloped Togo, Packer reveals his own schooling at the hands of an unforgettable array of townspeople–peasants, chiefs, charlatans, children, market women, cripples, crazies, and those who, having lost or given up much of their traditional identity and fastened their hopes on “development,” find themselves trapped between the familiar repetitions of rural life and the chafing monotony of waiting for change.
 this is how you lose her

This is How You Lose Her, By Junot Diaz

December 15, 2013, 3:00 pm, Cintli Latin Folklore Cafe, 202 Broadway E, Seattle

The stories hinge on Yunior de las Casas, Diaz’s Nick Adams: a Dominican-born, Jersey-raised writer and-as is especially on display here-chronic womanizer. Diaz tells of love won and lost with his signature verve; the book pulses with Spanish, sf, and the music and apocalyptic TV shows of the late 1980s. Through the lens of the women that Yunior, his older brother Rafa (who dies of cancer while Yunior is in high school), and their mostly absent father love, leave, and are left by, Diaz maps out a painful, aching geography of desire. The final story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” which will be of particular interest to fans of Oscar Wao, further explores Yunior’s (who was the novel’s primary narrator) relationship with Lola, Oscar’s sister.

2014

Book Club Chair: Marilee Fuller,  Turkey 1964-1966

Book Event
Behind the Beautiful Forevers Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
February 9, 2014, 3:00 pm, Zoka’s, 2200 N. 56th St (corner of Keystone)
In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi’s “most-everything girl,” might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds–and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.
The Lowland The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri
April 13, 2014, 3:00 pm, Bengal Tiger, 6509 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle
Lahiri’s haunting second novel crosses generations, oceans, and the chasms that despair creates within families. Subhash and Udayan are brothers, 15 months apart, born in Calcutta in the years just before Indian independence and the country’s partition. As children, they are inseparable: Subhash is the elder, and the careful and reserved one; Udayan is more willful and wild. When Subhash moves to the U.S. for graduate school in the late 1960s, he has a hard time keeping track of Udayan’s involvement in the increasingly violent Communist uprising taking place throughout West Bengal. The only person who will eventually be able to tell Subhash, if not quite explain, what happened to his brother is Gauri, Udayan’s love-match wife, of whom the brothers’ parents do not approve. Forced by circumstances, Gauri and Subhash form their own relationship, one both intimate and distant, which will determine much of the rest of their adult lives. Lahiri’s skill is reflected not only in her restrained and lyric prose, but also in her moving forward chronological time while simultaneously unfolding memory, which does not fade in spite of the years. A formidable and beautiful book.
The Unheard The Unheard, by Josh Swiller
June 8, 2014, 3:00 pm, Cederberg Tea House, 1417 Queen Anne Ave N, Seattle, WA
A young man’s quest to reconcile his deafness in an unforgiving world leads to a remarkable sojourn in a remote African village that pulsates with beauty and violence These are hearing aids. They take the sounds of the world and amplify them.” Josh Swiller recited this speech to himself on the day he arrived in Mununga, a dusty village on the shores of Lake Mweru. Deaf since a young age, Swiller spent his formative years in frustrated limbo on the sidelines of the hearing world, encouraged by his family to use lipreading and the strident approximations of hearing aids to blend in. It didn’t work. So he decided to ditch the well-trodden path after college, setting out to find a place so far removed that his deafness would become irrelevant. That place turned out to be Zambia, where Swiller worked as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. There he would encounter a world where violence, disease, and poverty were the mundane facts of life.
River Town River Town: Two years on the Yangtze, by Peter Hessler
August 10, 2014, 3:00 pm, Regent Bakery and Cafe, 1404 E Pine St., Seattle
In the heart of Chias Sichuan province lies the small city of Fuling. Surrounded by the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, Fuling has long been a place of continuity, far from the bustling political centers of Beijing and Shanghai. But now Fuling is heading down a new path, and gradually, along with scores of other towns in this vast and ever-evolving country, it is becoming a place of change and vitality, tension and reform, disruption and growth. As the people of Fuling hold on to the China they know, they are also opening up and struggling to adapt to a world in which their fate is uncertain. Fulings position at the crossroads came into remarkably sharp focus when Peter Hessler arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1996, marking the first time in more than half a century that the city had an American resident. He found himself teaching English and American literature at the local college, discovering how Shakespeare and other classics look when seen through the eyes of students who have been raised in the Sichuan countryside and educated in Communist Party doctrine. His students, though, are the ones who taught him about the ways of Fuling — and about the complex process of understanding that takes place when one is immersed in a radically different society. As he learns the language and comes to know the people, Hessler begins to see that it is indeed a unique moment for Fuling. In its past is Communist Chinas troubled history — the struggles of land reform, the decades of misguided economic policies, and the unthinkable damage of the Cultural Revolution — and in the future is the Three Gorges Dam, which upon completion will partly flood the city and force the resettlement of more than a million people. Making his way in the city and traveling by boat and train throughout Sichuan province and beyond, Hessler offers vivid descriptions of the people he meets, from priests to prostitutes and peasants to professors, and gives voice to their views. This is both an intimate personal story of his life in Fuling and a colorful, beautifully written account of the surrounding landscape and its history. Imaginative, poignant, funny, and utterly compelling, River Town is an unforgettable portrait of a city that, much like China itself, is seeking to understand both what it was and what it someday will be.
Americanah Americanah, by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie
October 12, 2014, 3:00 pm,
Tougo Coffee, 1410 18th Ave, Seattle
Ifemelu, the Nigerian expat and Princeton lecturer at the heart of this latest novel by Orange Prize winner Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun), writes biting, dead-on blog posts taking aim at the cultural schism between non-African blacks, Africans, and everyone else. She also observes her Auntie Uju turning herself inside out to attract a man as Ifemelu’s nephew silently accepts his mother’s aspirations. Whether Ifemelu is writing a treatise on how to care for black hair or a scathing take on American students earning extra credit for bombast, her opinions bring her money and acknowledgment. But one day, as she is complimented on her nurtured American accent, Ifemelu senses that she has lost her way. A parallel plotline follows Obinze, the man Ifemelu left behind in Lagos, who emigrated to London and longs for a life in America with her. -VERDICT Witty, wry, and observant, Adichie is a marvelous storyteller who writes passionately about the difficulty of assimilation and the love that binds a man, a woman, and their homeland. Her work should be read by anyone clutching at the belief that we’re living in a post-racial United States.
I heard the owl I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven
December 14, 2014, 3:00 pm,
Firehouse Coffee, 2622 NW Market St., Ballard
A place of salmon runs, ancient totems, and a lesson a young vicar must learn…. Amid the grandeur of the remote Pacific Northwest stands Kingcome, a village so ancient that, according to Kwakiutl myth, it was founded by the two brothers left on earth after the great flood. The Native Americans who still live there call it Quee, a place of such incredible natural richness that hunting and fishing remain primary food sources. But the old culture of totems and potlatch is being replaces by a new culture of prefab housing and alcoholism. Kingcome’s younger generation is disenchanted and alienated from its heritage. And now, coming upriver is a young vicar, Mark Brian, on a journey of discovery that can teach him–and us–about life, death, and the transforming power of love.

2015

Book Club Chair: Marilee Fuller,  Turkey 1964-1966


In the Time of ButterfliesIn the Time of Butterflies
Julia Alvarez
February 8, 2015, 3:00 pm
El Diablo Coffee, 1811 Queen Anne Ave N, Seattle

It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found dead near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their death as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas–the Butterflies.


The Sky UnwashedThe Sky Unwashed
Irene Zabytko
April 12, 2015, 3:00 pm
European Foods, 13540 Aurora Ave N, Seattle (near Home Depot)

Marusia Petrenko lives with her family in a small farming village in the Ukraine. The year is 1986. Her son, Yurko, leaves for his shift at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl. In a matter of hours, the lives of Marusia, her son, and the rest of the village change forever as they find themselves in a permanent evacuation of their village. Chernobyl has had a meltdown. Marusia eventually returns to the village along with 5 other older women who are determined to live out their days in the village of their birth.


Oracle BonesOracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China
Peter Hessler
June 14, 2015, 3:00 pm
Foo Lam, 7101 Martin Luther King Blvd (opposite Othello light rail station; plenty of parking)

From the acclaimed author of River Town comes a rare portrait, both intimate and epic, of twenty-first-century China as it opens its doors to the outside world. A century ago, outsiders saw China as a place where nothing ever changes. Today the country has become one of the most dynamic regions on earth. That sense of time–the contrast between past and present, and the rhythms that emerge in a vast, ever-evolving country–is brilliantly illuminated by Peter Hessler in Oracle Bones, a book that explores the human side of China’s transformation.


Thousand Splendid SunsA Thousand Splendid Suns
Khaled Hosseini
August 9, 2015

A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love. Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul–they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman’s love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.


LandfallLandfall
Ellen Urbani
September 3, 2015, 7:00 pm
Elliott Bay Book Company
1521 10th Ave, Seattle

Urbani will be reading from Landfall, hosting a Q&A, and talking with local bestselling author Stephanie Kallos. The book is a work of contemporary historical fiction set in Tuscaloosa and New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and is due to release on the 10-year anniversary of the storm this August. Urbani’s first book, When I Was Elena, was a memoir of her experiences as a PCV in Guatemala.


Memory of LoveThe Memory of Love
Aminatta Forna
October 11, 2015

Adrian Lockheart is a psychologist escaping his life in England. Arriving in Freetown in the wake of civil war, he struggles with the intensity of the heat, dirt and secrets this country hides. A story unfolds about ordinary people in extrordinary circumstances and the indelible effects of the past.


Unnecessary WomanAn Unnecessary Woman
Rabih Alameddine
December 13, 2015, 3:00 pm
Cedars on Brooklyn
4759 Brooklyn Ave NE, Seattle

Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced, Aaliya is her family’s ‘unnecessary appendage.’ Every year, she translates a new favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The thirty-seven books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read–by anyone. After overhearing her neighbors, ‘the three witches,’ discussing her too-white hair, Aaliya accidentally dyes her hair too blue. In this breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman’s late-life crisis, readers follow Aaliya’s digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Colorful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya’s own volatile past.


2016 

Book Club Chair: Caroline Nelson, Mali 2008-2010


A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Ishmael Beah
February 14, 2016, 3:00 pm
Bahati Restaurant, 5212 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle

Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived. Ishmael Beah, now 25 years old, tells how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence.


The Yacoubian Building
Ala Aswani
April 10, 2016, 3:00 pm
TBA

The Yacoubian Building holds all that Egypt was and has become over the 75 years since its namesake was built on one of downtown Cairo’s main boulevards. From the pious son of the building’s doorkeeper and the raucous, impoverished squatters on its roof, via the tattered aristocrat and the gay intellectual in its apartments, to the ruthless businessman whose stores occupy its ground floor, each sharply etched character embodies a facet of modern Egypt one where political corruption, ill-gotten wealth, and religious hypocrisy are natural allies, where the arrogance and defensiveness of the powerful find expression in the exploitation of the weak, where youthful idealism can turn quickly to extremism, and where an older, less violent vision of society may yet prevail. Alaa Al Aswany’s novel caused an unprecedented stir when it was first published in 2002 and has remained the world’s best selling novel in the Arabic language since. 


Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle
Dervia Murphy
June 12, 2016, 3:00 pm
TBA

This book recounts a trip, taken mostly on bicycle, by a gritty Irishwoman in 1963. Her route was through Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and ended in New Delhi. She carried a pistol, got sunstroke, and suffered the usual stomach disorders. She endured bad accommodations but reaped much local hospitality, too, including a dinner with the Pakistani president. Most of the book concerns the high mountain country of Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Ghana Must Go
Taiye Selasi
August 14, 2016, 3:00 pm
TBA

Kweku Sai is dead. A renowned surgeon and failed husband, he succumbs suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of Kweku’s death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before.


Iran Awakening
Shīrīn ʻIbādī
October 9, 2016, 3:00 pm
TBA

The moving, inspiring memoir of one of the great women of our times, Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and advocate for the oppressed, whose spirit has remained strong in the face of political persecution and despite the challenges she has faced raising a family while pursuing her work. Best known in this country as the lawyer working tirelessly on behalf of Canadian photojournalist, Zara Kazemi – raped, tortured and murdered in Iran – Dr. Ebadi offers us a vivid picture of the struggles of one woman against the system.


Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
December 11, 2016, 1:00 pm
Book Store Bar & Cafe, Alexis Hotel
1007 1st Ave, Seattle

Coates takes readers along on his journey through America’s history of race and its contemporary resonances through a series of awakenings–moments when he discovered some new truth about our long, tangled history of race, whether through his myth-busting professors at Howard University, a trip to a Civil War battlefield with a rogue historian, a journey to Chicago’s South Side to visit aging survivors of 20th century America’s ‘long war on black people,’ or a visit with the mother of a beloved friend who was shot down by the police.


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