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.