Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

To celebrate the holidays, I've decided to choose a more light-oriented read that is fictional and has garnered a lot of popularity among women. Our last book for 2010 is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows.
Location TBD - stay tuned!

Here's a summary of the book:
The letters comprising this small charming novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet's name in a used book and invites articulate—and not-so-articulate—neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book's epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories.

The occasionally contrived letters jump from incident to incident—including the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while Guernsey was under German occupation—and person to person in a manner that feels disjointed. But Juliet's quips are so clever, the Guernsey inhabitants so enchanting and the small acts of heroism so vivid and moving. Juliet finds in the letters not just inspiration for her next work, but also for her life—as will readers.

Happy Holidays!

Is it her story or the story of her indigenous community?

The beginning of the story was choppy and dry, focused more on describing details of her indigenous culture. Interesting but not an easy flow to read. However, once she gets into the story-telling of her family and eventually her participation in the struggle, it became much more interesting to read. 

We did find that there were quite a number of contradictions and it was hard to really know whether the story was really her own, as she would describe more about other people than herself. But I still felt the importance of her stories, even though it's not sure whose story they really belong to. The significance of sharing their struggles as a discriminated and marginalized population is high. Figuring out the importance of indigenous identity coupled with Christian faith also emphasized the contradictions in her narrative.

We also questioned the transcriber herself, playing up her role more than it should have been.

In any case, we all agreed that it was worth a read and a great book to discuss about.

I, Rigoberta Menchu, an Indian Woma in Guatemala

Our next book is a memoir orally communicated by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchu who wrote the book "I, Rigoberta Menchu; An Indian Woman in Guatemala" (translated and edited by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray). We'll be meeting in the Van Ness neighborhood at It's a Grind Coffee House. 

Here's a book summary:
This book recounts the remarkable life of Rigoberta Menchu, a young Guatemalan peasant woman. Her story reflects the experiences common to many Indian communities in Latin America today. Rigoberta suffered gross injustice and hardship in her early life: her brother, father and mother were murdered by the Guatemalan military. She learned Spanish and turned to catechist work as an expression of political revolt as well as religious commitment. 

The anthropologist Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, herself a Latin American woman, conducted a series of interviews with Rigoberta Menchu. The result is a book unique in contemporary literature which records the detail of everyday Indian life. Rigoberta's gift for striking expression vividly conveys both the religious and superstitious beliefs of her community and her personal response to feminist and socialist ideas. Above all, these pages are illuminated by the enduring courage and passionate sense of justice of an extraordinary woman.

How one woman can start a human rights movement

The book was inspirational and insightful on the beginnings of this incredible organization that helped mainstream the word "Human Rights" - imagine a time when that wasn't even recognized!

It definitely describes the time of Cold War and her challenges to meet regularly with human rights activists. Members of the book club had mixed reviews of her writing style and some had challenges getting into it, but her story was still important to be shared. So many names and different countries - it was hard to keep track of it all, and showcases how great it was for her to remember these people so well and keep in touch in a time when there was no Internet, no email at all. Means of communication are so different now - it makes you see how that can facilitate tracking of human rights violations.

There were definitely inspiring stories that came out such as the activist she met in then Czechoslovakia, who became the first President of that country once it was out of USSR's realm.

It is quite dense but important work to recognize!