Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Courage of Strangers by Jeri Laber

We are now returning to another memoir focused on the founder of Human Rights Watch, Jeri Laber who wrote the book "The Courage of Strangers; Coming of Age with the Human Rights Movement". We'll be meeting in the SOMA neighborhood at Cafe Terzetto this upcoming Sunday October 3 at 2pm.

Here's a book summary:
A homemaker with an academic background in Russians Studies, Jeri Laber gradually became involved with a developing human rights movement in America during the 1970s and 1980s, going on to become the director of Helsinki Watch, an organization that monitored human rights abuses, espcially in the Soviet bloc. Under her guidance, Helsinki Watch broadened its focus to the whole world, eventually merging into one composite organization called Human Rights Watch. 

Laber's book is first and foremost an autobiographical account of her lifelong devotion to exposing human rights abuses and preventing future abuses, interspersed with references to her personal and family life. This account details her often dangerous trips to Brezhnev's Soviet Union and Eastern European nations and chronicles the events leading to the development of Helsinki Watch and Human Rights Watch. 

This book offers inspirational testimony to the value of a human rights organization that investigates and publicizes human rights violations with fairness and without regard to political ideology or U.S. foreign policy.

Next book to read:
Sunday October 31 - I, Rigoberta Menchu, An Indian Women in Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchu (translated and edited by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray)

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

After reading a couple of fiction books, we returned to the non-fiction genre and traveling to the Middle East to read the book "Nine Parts of Desire" by Geraldine Brooks. 

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women is the story of Brooks’ intrepid journey toward an understanding of the women behind the veils, and of the often contradictory political, religious, and cultural forces that shape their lives. 

Geraldine Brooks spent two years as a Middle East news correspondent, covering the death of Khomeini and the like. She also learned a lot about what it's like for Islamic women today. Brooks' book is exceedingly well-done--she knows her Islamic lore and traces the origins of today's practices back to Mohammed's time. Personable and very readable, Brooks takes us through the women's back door entrance of the Middle East for an unusual and provocative view. 

Through her book, we discussed how still relevant her book was, featuring Islamic women and showing us a more personalized story about women from different countries. That really gave the book a broader perspective and gave us reference to compare women practicing Islam in different countries.

Brooks also described detailed excerpts from the Koran that gives us more to the story of Mohammed, the prophet and the important role women played in his life. It was interesting to see how a Jewish Middle East Correspondent from Australia lived in this period and was able to collect intimate stories of women on the ground.