Thursday, December 10, 2009

Starting 2010 with a little bit of faith!

Happy Holidays! What a better way to enjoy the holidays by reading a book that shares a journey from well-known local author Anne Lamott. Our first book of 2010 will be Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. We'll be meeting in the Hayes Valley neighborhood on Sunday January 24, 2010.

Here's a book summary: 

A chronicle of faith and spirituality that is at once tough, personal, affectionate, wise, and very funny. Anne Lamott claims the best two prayers she knows are "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Despite — or because of — her irreverence and wit, faith is a natural subject for Lamott. With an exuberant mix of passion, insight, and humor, in Traveling Mercies she takes us on a journey through her often troubled past to illuminate her devout but quirky walk of faith. In a narrative spiced with stories and scripture, with diatribes, laughter, and tears, Lamott tells how, against all odds, she came to believe in God and then, even more miraculously, in herself.
Whether writing about her family or her dreadlocks, sick children or old friends, the most religious women of her church or the men she's dated, she shows us the myriad ways her faith sustains and guides her, shining light on the darkest part of ordinary life and exposing surprising pockets of meaning and hope.

Hoping that everyone has a wonderful holiday!
See you in 2010!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A beautiful memoir on a piece of Isabel's life

We had an incredible discussion on Isabel Allende's first memoir that gave us a glimpse in a period where her daughter was in a coma on her life story that highlighted the time her grandparents' story, her parents' story, the coup that ousted Salvador Allende in Chile, her exile, her marriage, and so forth.

Her writing really brought us to the moments when she's with Paula and is talking to her about where she comes from. We see Isabel as a gutsy woman who is trying to seize as many opportunities as she's presented with and explore her relationships with different family members. We are all interested in how Paula might have foreseen her death and how she communicated with her mom what to do through a sealed envelope. We were also curious to find out what made her fall in love with the men mentioned in the book, particularly with Willie in the end.

We don't get to know so much about Paula, even though she's the book title. But we thought it was intentional as the book was originally meant to be a letter to Paula so she can catch up with her life at the end of her coma.

It's a beautiful read and one that inspires you to read her other books!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Personal Story of Isabel Allende

After reading a novel based in Latin America going back to 16th Century times of the Spanish conquistadores, let's learn about the author behind the story.Chilean author Isabel Allende has written three memoirs, her first one is called Paula, a memoir she writes dedicated to her daughter.

Here's a book summary:

Writing nonfiction for the first time, she interweaves the story of her own life with the slow dying of her 28-year-old daughter, Paula. A magician with words, Allende makes this grim scenario into a wondrous encounter with the innermost sorrows and joys of another human being.In 1991, while living in Madrid with her husband, Paula was felled by porphyria, a rare blood disease, and, despite endless care by her mother and husband, lapsed into an irreversible coma. Her mother, as she watched by Paula's bedside, began to write this book, driven by a desperation to communicate with her unconscious daughter. She writes of her own Chilean childhood, the violent death of her uncle, Salvador Allende, and the family's flight to Venezuela from the oppressive Pinochet regime. Allende explores her relationship with her own mother, documented in the hundreds of letters they exchanged since she left home. Allende later married-and divorced-an undemanding and loyal man and became a fierce feminist, rebelling against the constraints of traditional Latin American society.

Please join us for a great discussion on Sunday December 6 at 2pm - Location TBD - hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A fearless woman ahead of her times

It was a wonderful discussion about Ines Suarez and her journey to South America at a time when no one knew much about this "New" World. Ines follows her first husband, not for love, but to find her freedom, as she couldn't make anything of herself in Spain. She took up the challenge and crossed the ocean on a ship full of men and her niece to find herself stalked by a man who tries to rape her any chance he gets.

She manages to survive and goes on to Peru to find her husband. Once she finds out he's died, her life seems to begin as she's free to make her own choices and follows her lover Pedro de Valdivia to Chile. Here is when the book starts filling itself with so many battle scenes between the indigenous and the Spaniards.

It was fascinating to learn more about the different historical figures from the Spanish conquest times. Isabel Allende truly has a great writing style, but the memoir-esque style of the character Ines Sastre, makes herself sound snobby at times, focusing on her strength and not her flaws.

It just so happened that Ines found the perfect man in Rodrigo de Quiroga, who did anything for Ines. But Ines chose to end her story with Pedro de Valdivia, giving quite an abrupt ending to a woman's memoir.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Now learn about South American History!

From Africa, let's travel to Latin America and read a historical fiction novel by popular Chilean author Isabel Allende called Ines of my Soul.

Here's a book summary:

Only months after the inauguration of Chile's first female president, Isabel Allende recounts in her usual sweeping style the grand tale of Doña Inés Suárez (1507– 1580), arguably the country's founding mother. Writing in the year of her death, Inés tells of her modest girlhood in Spain and traveling to the New World as a young wife to find her missing husband, Juan. Upon learning of Juan's humiliating death in battle, Inés determines to stay in the fledgling colony of Peru, where she falls fervently in love with Don Pedro de Valdivia, loyal field marshal of Francisco Pizarro.

Basing the tale on documented events of her heroine's life, Allende crafts a swift, thrilling epic, packed with fierce battles and passionate romance.

Please join us for a great discussion on Sunday November 1 at 2pm - We're meeting at the Old Jerusalem Cafe, on 1340 Irving Street (between 14th Ave & 15th Ave) - hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Learning some American History

This book highlighted a part of history that is not widely familiar - the foundation of Liberia by freed African slaves traveling back to their home continent after being educated and raised in the United States.

Helene Cooper does a wonderful job of writing her childhood memories parallel to the history of Liberia involving her ancestors, coincidentally having both sides of her parents come from historical founding father figures of the country. What we all appreciated was her honesty of telling us her story without judgement, but to lay it as it is. This provoked more discussion including how her mother defended her childhood, her relationship with Eunice, her "sister," and her relationship with her father. It was fascinating to see how they all exiled from Liberia and yet the parents would go back quite frequently in spite of the dangers, to make money to support their children's education.

It was quite the page turner! I think we would have liked to know more of her life, as we were left with that feeling of wanting more and not missing out in any details.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Discovering a childhood in Liberia

Let's go from China to Liberia! Our next book discussion will focus on the memoir called The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper.

Here's a book summary:

Journalist Cooper has a compelling story to tell: born into a wealthy, powerful, dynastic Liberian family descended from freed American slaves, she came of age in the 1980s when her homeland slipped into civil war. On Cooper's 14th birthday, her mother gives her a diamond pendant and sends her to school. Cooper is convinced that somehow our world would right itself. That afternoon her uncle Cecil, the minister of foreign affairs, is executed.

Cooper combines deeply personal and wide-ranging political strands in her memoir. There's the halcyon early childhood in Africa, a history of the early settlement of Liberia, an account of the violent, troubled years as several regimes are overthrown, and the story of the family's exile to America. A journalist-as-a-young-woman narrative unfolds as Cooper reports the career path that led her from local to national papers in the U.S. The stories themselves are fascinating, but a flatness prevails—perhaps one that mirror's the author's experience.

We'll be meeting in the Outer Richmond neighborhood on October 11.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The story of a friendship in historical China

This was an insightful glimpse of what women in China went through to earn a higher status as women in their society. The foot binding chapter was the most torturous part of the book making us all question how much do women need to suffer in order to earn a value.

Essentially the whole story focused on the friendship between Lily and Snow Flower and how their lives went in different directions in spite of being matched to become the best of friends. The story highlights the practice of nu shu (women's writing) - a language that is only learned by women to increase their status. The mother-daughter relationship in Lily's life brought a lot of comments about how different it is to what we see now and that daughters were really raised to become wives, which explains not being attached to them.

The writing style was brought up to see if it was intentional to have short sentences instead of elaborated prose and whether the perspective described to us was intentional in showing how disempowered women were in the time of 19th century China.

A highly recommended book that will spark many discussions on the role of women in historical China and how it compares to women today.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Going back in time in China

Let's travel to 19th century China, where we'll read Lisa See's popular book "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." We'll be meeting on Sunday September 13 at 2pm.

Here's a summary of Snow Flower and The Secret Fan:

See's engrossing novel set in remote 19th-century China details the deeply affecting story of lifelong, intimate friends Lily and Snow Flower, their imprisonment by rigid codes of conduct for women and their betrayal by pride and love.

While granting immediacy to Lily's voice, See adroitly transmits historical background in graceful prose. Her in-depth research into women's ceremonies and duties in China's rural interior brings fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women's inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that informed daily life.

Beginning with a detailed and heartbreaking description of Lily and her sisters' foot binding, the story widens to a vivid portrait of family and village life. Most impressive is See's incorporation of nu shu, a secret written phonetic code among women that dates back 1,000 years in the southwestern Hunan province. As both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle, this novel has bestseller potential and should become a reading group favorite as well.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A story of identity struggle

We had a lively discussion on the memoir of Ghada Karmi as well as insightful as none of us really knew much about the Israel/Palestine conflict. Reading it through the eyes of a young girl in Palestine who exiles to England facilitated a better understanding of how complex this conflict is.

Ghada starts the novel in her childhood with glimpses of the symbolic things she remembered the most such as Fatimah, her maid and Rex, her dog. Leaving them behind was easy when the thought was that her family would eventually come back to their house, but circumstances forced them to exile to England for their own safety and opportunity. This section was filled with details and historical facts that made it hard to get through, but once we got to the England section, we felt a more personal connection with Ghada.

We can feel Ghada's struggle to become very British, even though, ironically her family thinks the British as their enemy and how she grows up trying to define that identity and ultimately discovering that she cannot ignore her Arab heritage and how she became displaced from her own country. We also found it fascinating in her relationship with her family, especially her mother who refuses to speak English in the 40 years she lives in England.

It was a great story to find insight on a Palestinian perspective we rarely get to hear in the Western countries.

Monday, June 29, 2009

In Search of Fatima

Thank you all for a wonderful book club discussion in June! Because of my travels again, we will be doing our next book club meeting on Sunday August 9 - and we'll be reading the book "In Search of Fatima" by Ghada Karmi.

Here's a summary of her book:

Karmi, a doctor and founding member of the British political group Palestine Action, relates her quest for cultural identity after her "fragile... and misfit Arab family" leaves Jerusalem for England during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Ironically, they resettle in a Jewish neighborhood in London; Karmi, aged nine, quickly begins to assimilate-becoming an avid reader of English literature and befriending Jewish neighbors-despite her mother's insistence on traditional Palestinian culinary customs, dating mores and family codes.

Over the next two decades, events in the Middle East make their non-Arab neighbors increasingly hostile and her Jewish friends' pro-Israel fervor grows; after the Palestinian terrorist hijackings of the 1970s, some acquaintances refuse to speak to her. Karmi becomes an impassioned pro-Palestinian activist, and in 1977 she begins practicing medicine in a Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon and finds that her Western upbringing and habits make her even less welcome there than she was in England. Karmi writes engagingly, weaving Palestinian political and social history through her personal recollections and giving the age-old emigr‚ dilemmas a timely twist.

Location TBD

Remember you can get a 15% discount on this book if you purchase it at the BookSmith in the Haight neighborhood when you say you're a WOW Book Club member

See you on Sunday August 9 at 2pm!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Pleasant Surprise in Mississippi

We had a wonderful lively discussion on Mudbound's flowing narrative of multiple stories culminating into a powerful ending that leaves you reflecting on the injustice of what life was in Mississippi in the 1940s.

Reading the voice of each character helped us to compare the strong ones from the weak ones. We all agreed that Florence outshone herself by being a powerful woman who set her own terms in her personal life as well as for work. Jamie rose as one of the weakest, as he seem to lead a path of destruction, destroying all of those who came across his way under the guise of his charm. He never seem to grasp the consequences of any of his actions and was too absorbed in his own demons.

Pappy was the most despicable character and it was good to know from the start that he wouldn't be living on in the book. Laura was the kind of character we could feel sorry for as she was a victim of her times and had no say in the destination of her life. But she disappointed us in certain parts of the book, especially when it came to her racist ways. Henry was an interesting character, as he showed some good qualities and yet, he seemed to follow the norm of having blacks separated from whites.

The discussion got interesting when we discussed human nature and how people obey what society dictates, as in the case of Mudbound where blacks were slaves, and how relevant that still seems to be the case today in other countries. The ending seem to be a favorite part in the book because the author kept it real and didn't glamourize the story. It was a great page-turner and we all appreciate getting to know each character through their own voice.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Learning about Mississippi times

In June we're going to be meeting up to read the book Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Here's a summary of her book:

It is 1946 in the Mississippi Delta, where Memphis-bred Laura McAllan is struggling to adjust to farm life, rear her daughters with a modicum of manners and gentility, and be the wife her land-loving husband, Henry, wants her to be. It is an uphill battle every day. Things started badly when Henry's trusting nature resulted in the family being done out of a nice house in town, thus relegating them to a shack on their property. In addition, Henry's father, Pappy, a sour, mean-spirited devil of a man, moves in with them.

The real heart of the story, however, is the friendship between Jamie, Henry's too-charming brother, and Ronsel Jackson, son of sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm. They have both returned from the war changed men: Jamie has developed a deep love for alcohol and has recurring nightmares; Ronsel, after fighting valiantly for his country and being seen as a man by the world outside the South, is now back to being just another black "boy."

We'll be meeting on Sunday June 28 at 2pm in the Lower Haight neighborhood.

Meeting Emma Goldman

This month I forgot to put the post for our book club meeting, where we read the book "Living my Life" by Emma Goldman.

Here's a summary of the book:

In Living My Life, Emma Goldman, called "Red Emma" or "The Anarchist Queen" by the United States government and other detractors, describes her philosophical and political journey through her life. We witness the politicization of this young Russian immigrant as she arrives in the United States in 1886, begins her first job in a sweat-shop, and becomes inflamed by the Haymarket labor riots of 1887. Over the next forty years of her life as an anarchist, she wends her way through the labyrinth of American, Russian, and European radical politics.

Living My Life is a graphic description of the labor movement in the United States; of the bitterly-fought battles and ensuing jail terms over free speech, free love, the right to birth control; and of day-by-day political and personal life in Russia immediately following the 1917 revolution. Emma Goldman applies the same unrelenting scrutiny to her political actions and the actions and philosophies of governments as she does to her love affairs and friendships. The power of this book lies in the personal nature of her narrative - in the daily accounts of the friendships, love affairs, doubts, and joys of Emma and her revolutionary colleagues - overlaid on the canvas of major world events.

It was a great discussion getting to know this incredible fearless woman who shared with us her personal feelings of each experience she had since getting involved in activism and anarchism in the late 1890s.

South Africa - where systemic racism is a recent history

It was a great opportunity to read this book right before my big trip to South Africa, especially because I was going to spend a week in Johannesburg visiting one of IDEX (International Development Exchange) partners in this city called Positive Women's Network (PWN). PWN works with HIV/AIDS women in several townships around Johannesburg that were mentioned in this book.

I love how this story really provides a typical example of how screwed up apartheid was in South Africa and how it deeply impacted people there in ways that have confused their identity for the rest of their lives.

Once in South Africa, I realized how privilege it is right now to still meet people who have first-hand experience in what apartheid was like, as they activism against apartheid remains strong and vibrant. The book does do a good job of introducing what apartheid experience was for a family and the complexities of the insensitive system.

I hope everyone gets a chance to experience South Africa, as it reminds us what humanity has been capable to do and the need to learn these lessons for the next generation.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The story of an apartheid child

Now for our next book for March we'll be reading When She was White: The True Story of a Family divided by Race by Judith Stone.

Here's a summary of the book:

The Sandra Laing case made international news as an example of South Africa's apartheid at its nuttiest, when, in 1966, the nine-year-old Laing, who was significantly darker than her white-skinned parents, was reclassified as Coloured and expelled from the white school she was attending. At 11, she was classified white again, and at 26, through her own efforts, became Coloured again. Laing had a hard life, especially after she ran away from home at 14 with the first of a succession of married black men.

Although an anti-apartheid poster child outside of South Africa, Laing's memory so often fails her that Stone's book becomes an exercise in recovered memory, coupled with a reliance upon the remote expertise of various "lawyers, historians, geneticists, sociologists, psychologists, and some of the South-African journalists who'd covered her story over the years." Stone is at her most successful in eliciting recollections of misery and family strife. She fills in the blanks with "official documents, government records, newspaper archives, and interviews" with Laing's friends, family and other community members. But Laing is, unfortunately, too frail a vessel upon which to hang all this, along with digressive minilectures on genetics, history, anthropology and economics.

We'll be meeting near the Bernal Heights area on Sunday March 22, 2009. After this book club event, there will be a break for the month of April and we'll return to our next event in May.

*Get your book with a 15% discount at BookSmith in the Haight district when you say you're a WOW book club member*

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Knowing a Woman's Perspective in the Darfur Conflict

We had an incredible although quite ironic time meeting up at our local teahouse to discuss Halima's story of survival from her childhood in Darfur to her exile in England.

Halima gave us a more insightful look into what Darfur's lifestyle was like before the infamous conflict that we hear about today in the news. Being a member of Zaghawa tribe, we learn about her daily life with her family and the rare encouragement of her father to support her education, recognizing her potential. We can feel the ethnic tensions more predominantly when she goes to school and when she starts getting trained to become a doctor.

Although Halima has us accompany her in the most excruciatingly painful experiences (ie female circumsicion and gang rape), it brings us closer to what has been the experiences of many women from Darfur.

One would have thought that leaving Darfur would have made her life easier and again, Halima gives us another aspect to her story, her immigration story of adjusting to a new country and becoming a new type of minority.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Memoir of Survival in Sudan

Our next WOW book for our February discussion is Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir with the support of Damien Lewis, a journalist.

Here's a summary of the book:

Writing with BBC correspondent Damien Lewis, Halima Bashir, a physician and refugee living in London, offers a vivid personal portrait of life in the Darfur region of Sudan before the catastrophe. Doted on by her father, who bucked tradition to give his daughter an education, and feisty grandmother, who bequeathed a fierce independence, Bashir grew up in the vibrant culture of a close-knit Darfur village.

She anticipated a bright future after medical school, but tensions between Sudan's Arab-dominated Islamist dictatorship and black African communities like her Zaghawa tribe finally exploded into conflict.

Please join us for a great discussion on Sunday February 22 at 2pm at The Secret Garden Tea House (Inner Sunset neighborhood).

Please let me know by Monday February 9, if you'll be able to attend this book club discussion to make reservations at the Tea House.

Note: If you're interested in watching a Darfur-related movie after the book club, Katherine and Justine will be hosting a movie night around 4pm (specific time will be determined) at Katherine's house, near the Tea House.

*Remember: you get a 15% discount at BookSmith, when you purchase your book and say you're a WOW Book Club member* - Support your local bookstore!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Double Meaning of Athena's Life

It was a great reunion to talk about Athena and how we learned about her life through different people's perspective.

We saw Athena as a person like anyone else, with flaws and insecurities, and looking for what her life's mission is. Through the stories of others who knew her, we see that she has made a difference already, without being aware of it.

We are all curious about certain parts of her life that we never get to learn about, such as her love life and the mystery of this boyfriend from Scotland Yards. If anything, what Athena has taught us is whether we do have the courage to be who we are, no matter how against this might be to the status quo. Are we brave enough to follow our own destiny.