Sunday, September 30, 2007

For January: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

We have selected Lisa See's Snow Flower and Secret Fan for our January meeting,
In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Eritrea: A Sad Anniversary

Today is the sad anniversary of the detention of hundreds of government officials, journalists and other community leaders six years ago in Eritrea. Amnesty International has a press release detailing the lack of progress in the human rights climate to date. An action is available here.

Meanwhile, instead of releasing prisoners of conscience and permitting freedom of speech and association, the Eritrean government is hosting conferences for the Somalian opposition and encouraging further destabilization of the region. The US government has taken note,

[US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi] Frazer said that this was about more than just simply considering Eritrea as a rogue state in the region.

It was quite specifically Eritrea's relationship with recognised terrorists which could lead to its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

This, in turn, she said would bring a change in the nature of its relationship with the US and in the ability of the US and other countries to provide assistance to Eritrea's government.

Hmm. Maybe if the US government had put more pressure on the Eritrean government five or six years ago there would still be a viable opposition to work with?

For December: From Newbury with Love

For December, we have chosen a little piece of Amnesty International history, From Newbury with Love,

In 1971 a retired English bookseller joined an Amnesty International campaign to write letters to children of political prisoners. He chose seven-year-old Marina Aidova because her birthday was one day before his, and he had always loved Russia and its literature. His postcard was signed, "With love from Newbury, Berks, England." Marina, whose father was in one of the harshest Soviet prison camps, wrote back: "I am a first class schoolgirl. I learn ballet and study English. And what are you?"

So began a correspondence that changed their lives. For the next fifteen years they exchanged letters, telegrams, magazines, and books . . . while a profound affection grew. Marina and her mother drew great strength from the exchange-it was a lifeline to another, more hopeful world. Through Harold's encouragement, Marina was inspired to study English at university, and eventually went on to work as an English translator.

Published in association with Amnesty International, the families' correspondence-along with over thirty photos they exchanged-is collected here, making for a moving look at the powerful influence one family can have on another in need, halfway around the world.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Our September Author: Sonia Nazario

This month we are reading Los Angeles Times reporter Sonia Nazario's account of Central American children immigrating to the US to find their mothers, Enrique's Journey. The book has its own website, worth visiting if for no other reason than it includes some bonus photos to give you a fuller picture of the journey. NPR's Fresh Air has a lengthy interview with Nazario and KPBS in San Diego has a multimedia package that includes commentary from Don Bartiletti, the photographer whose striking pictures gave the original newspaper story such immediate impact. Finally, for a little inside scoop, there's a talk on the journalistic ethics of writing this type of piece given to the L.A. chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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