Sunday, March 16, 2014

Our March Author: Marisa Silver

kMary Coin: A Novel 

Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits

Marisa Silver: Interviews
Marisa Silver

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.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Read for Rights on International Children's Day

Need a break from the Gettysburg Address and JFK assassination anniversaries? How about a celebrating International Children's Day by learning about some great children's books?

The panel discussion above is from last year's PEN World Voices Festival and takes its inspiration from Janusz Korczak, the Polish educator and orphanage director who chose to stay with his charges upon transfer to the Warsaw Ghetto and Treblinka, where he was killed. Author Patricia McCormick further explores the theme of genocide in her book Never Fall Down, along with the subject of the book, Cambodian genocide survivor, musician and activist Arn Chorn-Pond (also the subject of the film, The Flute Player). Debby Dahl Edwardson's novel, My Name Is Not Easy, was a National Book Award finalist and concerns the impact of boarding school on the language and culture of Inupiaq children  in the 1960s. Polish journalist Wojciech Jagielski, the author of a book (for adults) about child soldiers, The Night Wanderers: Uganda's Children and the Lord's Resistance Armyrounds out the panel.  I was inspired to read both McCormick and Edwardson's books after listening to this panel and recommend them for young readers interested in learning more about human rights through stories about their peers. Arn Chorn-Pond's story of survival and healing, in particular, is an inspiring one for people of all ages.

To learn more about children's rights, please visit Amnesty International's FAQ on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and while you're at the site, take action on behalf of Syrian children.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

For January: In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

This January, join Pasadena Rights Readers in reading and discussing PEN/Hemingway Award finalist, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner,
For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus. 
Over the next four years, as she endures the deaths of family members, starvation, and brutal forced labor, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood—the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival. Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is testament to the transcendent power of narrative and a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Eyes on Nigeria: Human Rights Supplement to Transwonderland

This month we are travelling to Nigeria via Noo Saro-Wiwa's Looking for Transwonderland. While we are on tour, one stop definitely needs to be Amnesty International's Eyes on Nigeria website, particularly the interactive map which documents the location of oil spills, forced evictions, police brutality incidents and more. Also worth checking out are Amnesty's 2011 report The True 'Tragedy': Delays and Failures in Tackling Oil Spills in the Niger Delta and a press release from this month: Shell’s false claims on Niger Delta oil spills exposed,
A new report published today uncovers specific cases in which Shell has wrongly reported the cause of oil spills, the volume of oil spilled, or the extent and adequacy of clean up measures.

"Shell is being disingenuous about the devastation caused by its Niger Delta operations. This new evidence shows that Shell's claims about the oil spills cannot be trusted," said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.

New analysis from an independent expert found that so-called official investigation reports into the cause of oil spills in the Niger Delta can be "very subjective, misleading and downright false."

The report highlights systemic weaknesses in the way the cause of a spill and the volume are determined - with some significant errors in the volumes that are recorded as spilled.

The consequences for the affected communities are devastating and can result in them receiving little or no compensation.
Another important report regarding forced evictions was released this past August: If You Love You Life, Move Out! NIGERIA: Forced Eviction in Badia East, Lagos State,
By the end of the demolition, the Oke Ilu-Eri community, which forms part of Badia East, was razed to the ground and a part of the nearby Ajeromi community was also destroyed. At least 266 structures that served as homes and businesses were completely wiped out, affecting an estimated 2,237 households. Ataminimum, close to 9,000 people were affected. No alternative housing was provided by the Lagos state government and people were left homeless after the demolitions.
Finally, here is a short documentary about the oil spill issue. It contains a brief appearance by Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr., Noo's brother.

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