Monday, May 19, 2014

More Transoceanic Zen

Bottle from Kirsten Lepore on Vimeo.

While we are still enjoying the warm afterglow of our discussion of Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, I thought I'd share the wonderful animated video above, about a transoceanic conversation with a very Zen ending!

And on the subject of strange tales of lost and found objects and impossible journeys, I'd like to recommend Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author,Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn. It's a story that meanders along exploring children's books, toy factories, container ships and ocean science among other topics. I got bogged down occasionally in the author's personal story, but overall, I learned a lot and enjoyed the trip.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Our May Author: Ruth Ozeki

This month we are reading, Ruth Ozeki's multiple award-winning novel, A Tale for the Time Being. The book concerns a Japanese girl named Nao and a struggling North American novelist, Ruth, and the accidental connection that is made between the two by the teen's diary. The narrative spins out to explore themes such as suicide and bullying, the Fukushima tsunami, Alzheimer's and Zen practice, to name just a few. Most of all I liked the empathetic connection over space and time formed by Ruth's reading of Nao's journal and Ruth's desire to act on her concerns. It felt very much like what we try to experience with every book we read and discuss here at Rights Readers-- trying to establish greater empathy with distant cultures and better ground our activist impulses.

To help you learn more about the author and the book, Ozeki has a great website to browse called Ozekiland. The video above from her publisher gives a concise summary of some of the sources and themes of this very layered narrative.

Here's a good print interview to check out: The Shores of My Imagination: A Conversation with Ruth Ozeki » Public Libraries Online Sample:
PL: As a reader you get so caught up in the Ruth version of the story and the fates of characters that might not exist. 
RO: And I was doing that on purpose. I was very much playing with what’s real and what’s not real. And how do we experience reality, how do we experience the gradations of what’s real and what’s not real? And also how do we experience uncertainty? Having planted the seed of uncertainty, it’s always going to be there vibrating in the background. 
And the book is about not knowing, too. Once again, I go back to the tsunami and the thousands of people who were washed out to sea. And we don’t know. There’s so much that we don’t know. 
I look at the Ruth section of the book as being my failed memoir. Because in reality I was thinking about writing a memoir, in fact I was working on a memoir—
In a Granta Podcast, Ozeki talks about Tale and an essay she wrote for the publication about her grandfather and a mysterious photograph she has of him and about the ways she feels linked to him across time-- themes that are obviously similar to the novel. She also wrote a short piece for Shambala Sun, Nothing is Wasted, about her grandmother's death that is worth a look as well.
The Missouri Review (for literary insight) and Oregon Public Radio (where she talks about caring for her aging mother and her Zen practice) podcasts are both worth a listen. Both interviews are also downloadable via iTunes.  On the Ozekiland blog, be sure to checkout the post On Zen Nuns & Novelists about Jakucho Setouchi, the inspiration for the character of Old Jiko. Here's a video of the activist nun talking about empowering the elderly and Japan Times reports on her anti-nuclear hunger strike.

Finally, Nineteen Questions puts some interesting queries to the author and our resident language buffs will appreciate this one:
With your bicultural background, please explain something in Japanese that is hard to translate into English.

I think kotodama (literally word- spirit/ soul) is one of those beautiful concepts and ideas that we just don’t have a word for in English. It is a uniquely Japanese notion, and it is very beautiful. Anyone who loves language has a sense that there is a spirit in language. Words have a spirit in them, but we don’t identify it as such in English.
Ozeki's sensitive and playful use of multiple languages is certainly one of the joys of reading this novel. Visit nineteenquestions for her full explanation of this Japanese term.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Fans Put Their Spin on Ozeki Novel

This month's novel, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, a book about the connection between a North American novelist and a Japanese teen, has sparked some creativity from it's many fans, such as the little animation above about the passage from the book describing the Pacific gyres. It's a great example of how this book makes globe-spanning concepts feel intimate.

In the video below you will find another gyre-like spin, a song inspired by the book, written and performed by a group of young British book enthusiasts. Fun!

Finally, to help you get a little more grounded, you might want to have Ruth Ozeki herself lead you in a Zen meditation.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Our January Author: Vaddey Ratner

This month we are reading Vaddey Ratner's novel of hope and survival during the Cambodian genocide, In the Shadow of the Banyan. Visit Ratner's website to learn more about her, especially the media page, where you can listen to a short speech she gave to the United Nations Association and another she gave at the PEN/Faulkner award ceremony in which she articulates her commitment to human rights and free expression. Bonus points for her reference to Indonesian writer Pramoedya Anata Toer who we enjoyed reading some time ago! Ratner answers questions from a university class studying human rights in ▶this video, but unfortunately, the audio is poor quality. A few other interviews worth a look:

Her voice breaking, she says she, like Raami, feels responsible for the death of her father at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. "So I wrote this book to make him live again, and to make him live forever."
Publisher's Weekly explores her influences, Elie Wiesel's Night and Rights Readers favorite Michael Ondaatje,
I felt a part of the spirit of those who died. I know some people see only death in that experience, but as a child I saw the desire to live. I wanted to capture that. Wiesel’s Night gave me a language for a story that lived in me that I hadn't yet learned to articulate.”
Many interesting insights on the creative process from The Writer,
To make it personal, to take it beyond the place I loved as a child and make it also a place my reader would love and care about, I needed to articulate it in the minutiae of a child’s daily connection to the place, a connection cultivated with little preconceived notion or judgment of the surroundings.
To bring the human rights discussion around to present-day Cambodia, please visit Amnesty International's Cambodia page where you can learn more about the crackdown by security forces on protesters resulting in at least four deaths earlier this month. Witness has citizen video of this serious incident. Be on the lookout for actions to follow!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Our December Author: Eyal Press

This month we are reading Eyal Press' Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times, a great little book that is both inspiring and thought-provoking. Watch the video above for a brief taste of this author's insight into how everyday moral dilemmas converge with huge global concerns.  This book asks what kind of person breaks from the crow and to defy orders or become a whistleblower. This is sure to be a great discussion starter! For an overview of the book, you can check out the Talk of the Nation NPR interview that got me interested in this title, or this interview from Penn State.

To learn more about the author, stop by his web page.  You can browse links to articles Press has written there, but here are a few that I thought extended the discussion from the book particularly well:

From NYRB Whistleblower, Leaker, Traitor, Spy: How does Edward Snowden fit the whistleblower model? And similarly an NYT op-ed leading with the Bradley Manning case: Silencing the Whistle-Blowers.

From Tom Dispatch Why No One Would Listen: Corporate Whistleblowers Get the Silent Treatment From Washington: Why do we ignore those who call out corporate malfeasance and bring the hammer down on national security whistleblowers?

One of the cases recounted in the book involves a WWII era Swiss border guard, Paul Grüninger, who disobeyed orders allowing thousands of Jewish refugees to escape Nazi Germany. If your German is up to speed, a documentary about Grüninger is viewable here, but if not, you may be in luck, as a feature film version of this story, "Akte Grüninger" is set to debut next month. I have no idea whether it will make it to the U.S. market, but it looks promising and you can view the trailer - released just this week - below.

Finally, I know I'm now curious about Eyal Press' previous book about the abortion debate, Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City, and the Conflict that Divided America. If you are too, you can get a preview of the subject of that book from this NPR Fresh Air interview.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rights Reel: Young Lakota on Independent Lens

I've just started reading Louise Erdrich's The Round House (a Cleveland Rights Readers selection). This fictional narrative draws on realities like those described in the Amnesty International report, Maze of Injustice, about sexual violence against indigenous women, and institutional barriers to redress. Now I'm really looking forward to another look at gender issues and Native Americans in the up-coming PBS Independent Lens presentation of Young Lakota
South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation is no stranger to strife and heartbreak, stark realities, and inspired idealism. In Young Lakota, we are brought directly into the emotional and often uncertain journey of Sunny Clifford, her twin sister Serena, and their politically ambitious friend Brandon Ferguson, who all share the desire to make a difference for themselves and their community. 
Their political awakening begins when Cecelia Fire Thunder — the first female president of the Oglala Lakota — defies a South Dakota law that makes abortion a crime, even in cases of rape or incest. Fire Thunder takes a stand by proposing a women's health clinic providing abortions on the reservation but open to all local women. While Serena is unwed and with a toddler, and Brandon is raising two little boys, Sunny is just back on the reservation after two years in college. All three find themselves immersed in this political battle as they struggle between opportunity and principle.
The film comes from the team that made the excellent documentary, The Education of Shelby Knox.  Young Lakota premieres on November 25th.

While I'm at it, another Frontline/Independent Lens offering on these themes is last spring's Kind Hearted Woman, the film follows Robin Charboneau, a 32-year-old divorced single mother and Oglala Sioux woman living on North Dakota’s Spirit Lake Reservation.

Robin’s battles in tribal court with her ex-husband for custody of the children, even after he is convicted of abusive sexual contact with his daughter, illuminate how serious this problem is on the reservation. Her quest to heal her family, find a man worthy of her love, build a career, and fulfill her goal of returning to her reservation to help prevent the abuse of women and children, takes her on an intimate and inspiring journey full of heartbreak, discovery, and redemption.

The film is available to watch online at the PBS site, or you can download the audio on iTunes (a good way to work through it's full five hours). Both films are great companions to Erdrich's award-winning novel.
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