Sunday, October 30, 2011

Like mother like daughter?

This story revolves around the famous poet Salomé Ureña and her daughter Camila Salomé. It is a book written from two perspectives and each chapter exchanges between both point of views. There was a consensus that the story was a little confusing at the beginning, but once you understand what's happening in terms of who's who in the story and the direction and layout of the book, it really becomes more of a page-turner.

The book lend itself to a great discussion about this historical figure who led such a tragic love story in spite of being influential in providing education for women in the Dominican Republic and for inspiring a whole group of revolutionaries in the nation. Her daughter Camila, who never really gets to know her mother, has a different upbringing, with no permanent maternal figure and ultimately caregiving her father. She seems to be looking for her own identity and can't seem to really find it until her last years of life. 

It's interesting to hear how Julia Alvarez got interested in writing this book from her website:

From the moment I heard the story of Salomé Ureña, I was intrigued. Born in 1850 to a humble family, this young woman of mixed race managed to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to become la musa de la patria. But her fame came with a high personal price: a tragic love story, an early death. One thing leads to another when you're writing: in the process of researching Salomé's life, I discovered that her only daughter, Camila, taught Spanish for years at Vassar College and during the summers at Middlebury College, where I am now a writer-in-residence. In 1960, Camila, then 63, gave up tenure and headed for Cuba to join a literacy brigade—an inexplicable and extraordinary choice for a woman who seemed very settled in her quiet, academic life. You wouldn't know it from reading the official stories, but Latin America has had its share of amazing women.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In the Name of Salome by Julia Alvarez

Leaving Asia and heading over to Latin America, we will be discussing the book In the name of Salome by Julia Alvarez.

Here's a summary of the book:
The Dominican Republic's most famous poet and her daughter, a professor in the United States, are the remarkable protagonists of this lyrical work, one of the most moving political novels of the past half century. Born in 1850, Salom called a revolution into being with her fearless poetry. Even as an adolescent, she saw her pseudonymous poems inspire bloodshed in the streets. Camila, born in 1894, followed the fortunes of her famous family into exile, first in Cuba, then on her own in the U.S., where she became an academic's academic.
The novel's protagonists are based on real characters, yet by offering history through the lenses of both the poet and the scholar, as well as by portraying male-dominated events from the perspective of female activists, Alvarez conveys purely Latin American revolutionary idealism with an intellectual sensuality that eschews magical realism. 

We're meeting on Sunday October 30th at 2pm at Cumaica Cafe in the SOMA/Van Ness neighborhood.

Next Book (November):
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

History of Korea... indeed

An amazing immigrant story, tracking her lineage from Korea, Anna decides to leave her unsettled shaky life in New York City to go find her connection to her family to her mother's country of birth. 

Even though there were mixed reviews with whether the story was compelling and different people seem to either get or not get into it, the one consensus was the effective and informative story telling of the history of Korea. It was here that we discovered the Japanese imperialism reigning in Korea leading to WWII where Korea eventually gets split by the 38th parallel line dividing Communism and Capitalism, as well as families. 

Anna's mother and grandfather lend their lens in their survival in a chaotic Korean landscape where everything they knew was taken away from them. Going through high and lows throughout their lives in terms of political standing and economic opportunities, the story ends up with the eldest daughter winning a chance to go to the USA and ultimately settles there. 

Connection to one self's identity and discovering where you feel belonged is at the core of this book.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

One Thousand Chestnut Treets; A novel of Korea by Mira Stout

Our next book will trasport us to Korea, we'll be discussing "One Thousand Chestnut Trees; A novel of Korea" by Mira Stout.

Here's a book summary:
Mira Stout's protagonist is Anna (based loosely on Stout herself), a young artist who lives in New York and feels lost. Knowing little about her Boston Irish father and her Korean mother, and less still about Korea, she decides to journey to Korea, as Mira Stout herself did, to try to make sense of the random jigsaw pieces of her background--tidbits like the story of her great-grandfather, once the ruler of Kangwon Province, who was stripped of land and title by the invading Japanese and ordered a temple be built atop the highest mountain amidst 1,000 chestnut trees.
In the novel, Anna's Korean curiosity begins as a teenager, when Uncle Hong-do arrives from Korea to visit Anna's mother, the sister he never met. Years later, Anna turns to Korea as an answer to her feelings of existential angst, retracing her mother's steps in an effort "to see my family undie." Told in her voice as well as her mother's and grandfather's, what you get is a stirring novel that combines Korea's epic history with a family legacy and a personal exploration.

Hope to see you on Sept 18 at the Bean Bag Coffee House on Divisadero!

Next book to read:
October - In the name of Salome by Julia Alvarez

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Watch The Whistleblower at you local movie theater!

Just watched this amazing movie "The Whistleblower" about human trafficking happening after the Bosnian war, involving US and UN employees based on a true story!

Inspired by actual events, Kathy (Academy Award® winner Rachel Weisz) is an American police officer who takes a job working as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Her expectations of helping to rebuild a devastated country are dashed when she uncovers a dangerous reality of corruption, cover-up and intrigue amid a world of private contractors and multinational diplomatic doubletalk. Directed by first time filmmaker Larysa Kondracki, the film also stars Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci and Academy Award nominee David Strathairn.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Let's take a ride towarsd Nigeria in our next book selection: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Here's a book summary:
With astonishing empathy and the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade. Thirteen-year-old Ugwu is employed as a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal. Olanna is the professor's beautiful mistress, who has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos for a dusty university town and the charisma of her new lover. And Richard is a shy young Englishman in thrall to Olanna's twin sister, an enigmatic figure who refuses to belong to anyone. As Nigerian troops advance and they must run for their lives, their ideals are severely tested, as are their loyalties to one another.

Epic, ambitious, and triumphantly realized, Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race—and the ways in which love can complicate them all.

We will be meeting at Simple Pleasures Cafe in the Richmond neighborhood on Sunday August 21 at 2pm.

Life in prison sounds like a low budget retreat!

This book did not receive positive feedback from book club members - much of it had to do with a lack of being able to engage with the main protagonist Piper Kerman, whose memoir resembled more of a diary than providing insightful stories and descriptions of hardship prison life. She reminded us of her privilege, as she was able to have a job waiting for her at the end of her sentence as well as having a devoted boyfriend who visited her every week. 

There was frustration in figuring out her relationships with the different characters in the book, whom all seem to share a far more interesting story as Piper. Why didn't she talk about them in full details? Weren't there any hardships in even being able to bond within the prison? Everything seemed to have always worked out, but in reality, relationships are always complicated and one would assume that this is enhanced within prison. Yet, we just get a more surface telling of Piper's experiences in jail. 

Some commented that the story seem to get quite interesting towards the end of the book when she started to describe the conditions of Oklahoma City and Chicago. Danbury just seem too rosy in comparison. It is safe to say that Piper hasn't shared her whole story and maybe that's why we all felt robbed. The unsung hero of the story is actually Larry, her devoted boyfriend, which made Piper sound quite a whiner when she would complaint and miss him. It didn't seem to she really ever took responsibility of her actions, and literally thought she was going to get away with her drug-smuggling activities. The book was troublesome, but it was her story to share.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Thanks to all who came out on Gay Pride weekend to discuss our book set in Iraq. Now we're coming back to the US and read Orange is the New Black, My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman.

Here's a book summary:

When federal agents knocked on her door with an indictment in hand, Piper Kerman barely resembled the reckless young woman she was shortly after graduating Smith College. Happily ensconced in a New York City apartment, with a promising career and an attentive boyfriend, Piper was forced to reckon with the consequences of her very brief, very careless dalliance in the world of drug trafficking.

Following a plea deal for her 10-year-old crime, Piper spent a year in the infamous women’s correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, which she found to be no “Club Fed.” In Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison , Piper takes readers into B-Dorm, a community of colorful, eccentric, vividly drawn women. Their stories raise issues of friendship and family, mental illness, the odd cliques and codes of behavior, the role of religion, the uneasy relationship between prisoner and jailor, and the almost complete lack of guidance for life after prison.

We'll be meeting at Rose Tea at 549 Irving Street in the Inner Sunset neighborhood on Sunday July 24.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Late for Tea at the Deer Palace

Going on to the Middle East in June 2011 - our next book to discuss is set in Iraq - Late for Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi

Here's a book summary:

Tamara Chalabi traces her family history back four generations, through a hundred years of turbulent Iraqi history. Chalabi’s great-grandfather, Abdul Hussein, a Shia Muslim, became the minister of education in an administration largely dominated by Sunnis in the 1920s. His son, Hadi, the author’s grandfather, becomes a successful businessman only to have his life put in jeopardy when he is arrested for treason. Hadi is eventually released, but the family’s close association with the monarchy drives them out of the country in the wake of the 1958 military coup. Hadi’s youngest son, Chalabi’s father, Ahmed, dares to raise a unified opposition to Saddam Hussein in Kurdistan in the 1990s, paving the way for the family’s eventual return home.

A rich, sprawling family saga that reads like a novel, Chalabi’s memoir is essential for anyone seeking a better understanding of Iraq and the turmoil of the last century.

We're meeting at the Ma'velous Cafe near Civic Center on Sunday June 26!

Next Book: Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prision by Piper Kerman

Commit to the end!

This was a wonderful intense story of María de las Nieves, an unconventional woman from the late 19th century whose life weaves in and out with Jose Martí, Man of Poetry and Freedom and a famous Latin American historical figure. Francisco Goldman's writing style is intense, non-linear and descriptive in the most detailed way. 

It was hard to say in which direction the story was heading, but with patience and commitment, everything comes together in the second part of the book. And when you finally read all the way to the end, you start savoring the whole story as a whole and find the common themes and coincidences that happens throughout the book. 

This is the perfect book to discuss with somebody else. It's definitely the literature college type of book, where you can easily make an essay out of. Definitely recommend it, but please commit to it - the best part is reading it completely.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Divine Husband by Francisco Goldman

Focusing now on Latin America, our next book will be "The Divine Husband" written by Francisco Goldman.

Here's a book summary:
The Divine Husband tells the story of María de las Nieves Moran, daughter of an Irish-American father and a Central American mother, whose brief career as a nun is terminated when a rapacious general closes the convents — in part to reach her beautiful, aristocratic best friend Paquita, hidden away from him in the cloister. María de las Nieves makes her own way in the secular world, surrounded by an unforgettable cast of characters striving for love or success in late-nineteenth-century Central America and New York: José Martí, the poet and hero of nineteenth-century Cuban independence and the first man María de las Nieves loves; Mack Chinchilla, the Yankee-Indio entrepreneur intent on winning her hand; a stuffy British diplomat setting up a political impostor plot; and Mathilde, the daughter whose birth — perhaps fathered by one of these men — ruins María de las Nieves's reputation and launches her on a journey to a new future in New York.

Our next meeting with be on Sunday May 29, 2011 at 2pm at Bello Coffee and Tea in the Glen Park neighborhood.

Next book: Late for Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi (June 2011)

Following the story of HIV/AIDS in Africa

A great discussion on following the stories of 28 individuals from different countries of Africa to share the history of HIV/AIDS and all the complexities and the reasons for why the situation has been deteriorating. It wasn't a pretty picture and it's hard to be hopeful, but there are inspiring stories from the grassroots that motivate us to see incredible human victories.

Stories range from young children being orphaned by parents who died of HIV/AIDS and are either taken care of themselves, or been taken in by their grandparents, to the African scientist who determines to find the cure after endless research, to individuals taking extra caution, yet still acquired HIV/AIDS - all show the critical issue of how HIV/AIDS has influenced this continent.

It's a political sad story that stars the pharmaceutical industries who do not want to facilitate access to medicine for HIV/AIDS treatment... governments who carry their own agenda around the illness and patriarchy being as predominant as ever.

This is a wonderful book that lays out comprehensively the different actors played in the HIV/AIDS story.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

28 - Stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolen

Let's return to the continent of Africa and read stories from 28 - Stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolen.

Here's a book summary:
According to UNAIDS, the number of HIV-infected people in Africa is 28 million. But Nolen, veteran Toronto Globe & Mail Africa bureau chief, doesn't believe it: after nine years of reporting on the epidemic, she thinks that number is conservative. Here she offers 28 searing portraits of Africans affected by the deadly virus. 

Scattered across the continent from the slums of Lagos, Nigeria, to the bush in southern Zambia, these Africans present a mosaic of a continent in crisis and a collective cry for help. With a seasoned journalist's finesse, Nolen effortlessly weaves technical information—health statistics, disease data, NGO reports—into these deeply intimate glimpses of people often overlooked in the flood of contemporary media.

We'll be discussing this book in the Lower Haight neighborhood at Oakside Cafe on Sun April 17, 2011 at 2pm.

May - The Divine Husband by Francisco Goldman - this is quite a long book, so when you have a chance to start reading this book after April's read, I recommend an early head start.
Happy Reading!

Complexities surrounding a generation of a Palestine family

This story beautifully written by Susan Abulhawa brought us the insights of an emotional journey of Amal Abulheja. Starting from the ancestral history of her grandfather and the origins of the family's land to contemporary USA where Amal manages to settle in exile, after growing up in a refugee camp in Jenin. 

The richness of Amal's childhood as she befriends Huda, plays the messenger role for her brother Yousef as he delivers love letters to his girlfriend Fatima, questions her mother Dalia's love and lives a daily morning ritual with her father Baba as they read books together, fostering the importance of education that will be prevalent for the rest of her life. Living in an unpredictable environment where life can be taken so quickly, every moment Amal lives is deepened and seized. Her internal conflicts rises as she starts losing one by one her family and it's hard to stop reading what will come next in her life. 

This generational story is a page turner where Abulhawa weaves effectively historical facts and story-telling culminating into a wonderful precious read, reminding us that some of us on the planet are still living in high-risk conflict zones.

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

Our next book club is going to be focusing on the Israel-Palestine conflict through the book "Mornings in Jenin" by Susan Abulhawa. 
Here's a book summary:
Abulhawa’s debut novel is a powerful portrayal of what might be labeled the “other side” of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the viewpoint of Palestinian refugees uprooted in 1948, when Israel became a state. Such as the Abulheja family, who were forced from the village of Ein Hod to a refugee camp in Jenin.
We meet twin brothers Ismael, who is kidnapped by an Israeli soldier and raised Jewish, and Yousef, who becomes filled with hatred and joins the PLO. Through the eyes of Amal, their sister born in Jenin in 1955, we travel through three decades of conflict, starting in June 1967 and the Six Days’ War, during which Jenin is bombed. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The power of having an outlet through a radio program!

Xinran's story-telling of her experience as the sole radio host for a women program during the Cultural Revolution in China is fascinating and heartbreaking. 

Xinran splits the book into telling different stories of women who either called in or wrote to her radio program. Each story told was unique and quite heart-wrenching, and brought the reader into that woman's specific story. It's fascinating that Xinran was able to have such a radio program in those times. Xinran channeled the stories of these extreme hardships by the different women living through this period, ranging from surviving an earthquake, following the red guards commands even if it means being separated by the person you love for over 40 years to domestic violence. No cheerful stories here.

Still an incredible read to get a glimpse of what women went through in this specific period.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Good Women of China by Xinran

Thank you for your wonderful discussion on Pride and Prejudice - now it's back to contemporary real issues of women, starting in China.
We will be reading The Good Women of China - Hidden Voices by Xinran.

Here's a book summary:
In 1989, Xinran, a Beijing journalist, began broadcasting a nightly program on state radio that was devoted entirely to personal affairs—a radical concept in Communist China. In response, she received thousands of letters from women, many with questions about sexuality; one woman wondered "why her heart beat faster when she accidentally bumped into a man on the bus."

Eventually, Xinran persuaded her superiors to let her share some of these letters on the air, and in this groundbreaking book, written after she moved to London, in 1997, she has also included stories that didn't make it past government censors. This intimate record reads like an act of defiance, and the unvarnished prose allows each story to stand as testimony.

We will be meeting at the Grove Fillmore in Pacific Heights neighborhood! Looking forward to seeing you there.

Next books to read:
March - Mornings in Jenin - Susan Abulhawa

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Happy Start to 2011!

Also - great time to read comfort books in this season, so before we dive back into our books of realities of women's lives globally - we started festively with Jane Austen! We decided to read her most popular novel Pride and Prejudice.

The carefully controlled and chess-like movements of polite society often conceal passionate hearts, keen minds, and rebellious wills. High-spirited Elizabeth Bennet attempts to stay true to her ideals while her meddlesome mother schemes to get all five Bennet sisters married and to secure their family's fate at all costs. Can a girl who refuses to abandon her independent and scrutinizing ways find true love and a faithful heart? More than one unexpected twist and shocking revelation await our heroine as she must choose between the dashing Mr. Wickham and proud, aloof Mr. Darcy.

How different are we now from the times of 18th century when women wasn't valued until they were married? Do we live a better life now where women have a choice in the matter? Is love overrated? Some of these questions we grappled during our discussion. But we ultimately decided that we loved this book because of the love/hate tension of one of the most romantic couples in literary history.

PS: Some members like the idea of watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice series as a follow up!