Monday, May 22, 2006

For August: Summer of the Big Bachi

For August, our mystery month, we have selected Summer of the Big Bachi by local author Namoi Hirahara.
In the foothills of Pasadena, Mas Arai is just another Japanese-American gardener, his lawnmower blades clean and sharp, his truck carefully tuned. But while Mas keeps lawns neatly trimmed, his own life has gone to seed. His wife is dead. And his livelihood is falling into the hands of the men he once hired by the day. For Mas, a life of sin is catching up to him. And now bachi, the spirit of retribution, is knocking on his door.

It begins when a stranger comes around, asking questions about a nurseryman who once lived in Hiroshima, a man known as Joji Haneda. By the end of the summer, Joji will be dead and Mas’s own life will be in danger. For while Mas was building a life on the edge of the American dream, he has kept powerful secrets: about three friends long ago, about two lives entwined, and about what really happened when the bomb fell on Hiroshima in August 1945.

A spellbinding mystery played out from war-torn Japan to the rich tidewaters of L.A.’s multicultural landscape, this stunning debut novel weaves a powerful tale of family, loyalty, and the price of both survival and forgiveness.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Building a Levee of Books

Here's a project with a natural appeal to any Rights Reader: Princeton students are building a Levee for Life to benefit the New Orleans Public Library.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

“Art is a Wonderful Way to Open the Heart”

Friend (and drama coach!) of Amnesty International Group 22, torture-survivor Hector Aristizabal has scored himself a cover story in the Pasadena Weekly for his one-man play Nightwind.
“Art is a wonderful way to open the heart,” he said. “When the heart is open we are able to have the difficult conversations on issues that most people prefer to deny or not to look at.”


“Many times I have felt like a terrorist, like I could be vengeful, and I can find all the rationalizations in the world to justify becoming a killer. But that would make me one more person who has become so dehumanized as to have to dehumanize others, which I feel we, as a society, are becoming now under the cloud of fear and fundamentalism that allows us to go across the ocean to kill civilians in other countries,” he said.

Monday, May 08, 2006

For July: Voices from Chernobyl

For July we have selected Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, recent winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.
On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occurred in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl is the first book to present personal accounts of the tragedy. Journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown---from innocent citizens to firefighters to those called in to clean up the disaster---and their stories reveal the fear, anger, and uncertainty with which they still live. Comprised of interviews in monologue form, Voices from Chernobyl is a crucially important work, unforgettable in its emotional power and honesty.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


A final post relating to Sebald's Austerlitz, this time focusing on Terezin/Theresienstadt (thanks to Loyal Readers who suggested links). 

Visit the official website of the Terezin Memorial for photos and the site for the film, Terezin: Resistance and Revival, has a companion newspaper series including some multimedia features of survivors, artists and musicians (with music samples).  For more on the music of Terezin visit the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation (which offers an educational curriculum through its online store) or the Viktor Ullmann Foundation.  The composer referenced more or less at the climax of the novel (p. 250), Pavel Haas, has his own foundation with underdeveloped website.  A snippet of his Study for String Orchestra can be found here,  For fun and in keeping with the child focus of the novel, here's a Minnesota Public Radio feature on Hans Krasa, composer of the children's opera, Brundibar, which Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner recently transformed into a children's book.  Finally, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has an eclectic online feature on Music of the Holocaust  I plan to spend some time with in the future.

Darfur is Dying

Speaking of human rights-related computer games,  here's another one created by a USC grad student: Darfur is Dying.  For background check out this NPR interview.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Deepa Mehta's Water

Amnesty International USA is supporting the film Water, directed by Deepa Mehta, a story about India's "widow houses," where women of all ages are taken to live apart from society following the deaths of their husbands. Read more about the film at the Amnesty website where there is also an appropriate opportunity to take action against gender violence. Mehta encountered threats of violence in making the film, detailed in this Talk of the Nation Interview. And here's the New York Times Review
"Water" is an exquisite film about the institutionalized oppression of an entire class of women and the way patriarchal imperatives inform religious belief. Serene on the surface yet roiling underneath, the film neatly parallels the plight of widows under Hindu fundamentalism to that of India under British colonialism. Though Gandhi and his followers are an insistent background presence, the movie is never didactic, trusting the simple rhythms of the women's lives to tell their story.
The film opens in Pasadena this weekend and a Rights Readers delegation is planning to check it out (with appropriate Indian feast afterwards!). 

Caltech Event: A Force More Powerful

Amnesty International Group 22 members are looking forward to the Social Activism Speaker Series coming up on Thursday, May 11 at 8:00 pm, Beckman Institute Auditorium, Caltech. (The event is free and open to the public). The speaker will be Jack DuVall, founding Director of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. He was the Executive Producer of the two-part Emmy-nominated PBS television series, A Force More Powerful, and co-author of the companion book of the same name. The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict's latest project is a computer game which I have blogged about previously, that teaches nonviolent tactics in overcoming oppression. Here's an NPR report on the game [Link].

I'm looking forward to learning more! PS: Look for Amnesty members at the table outside!
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