Tuesday, December 23, 2008

For April: Yellowcake by Ann Cummins

For April, we have chosen Yellowcake by Ann Cummins,
This absorbing novel of the American Southwest introduces us to two unforgettable families -- the Irish-Catholic Mahoneys and the Navajo Attcitys -- who despite their differences are joined through shared history and tragedy. Two decades ago, Ryland Mahoney and Woody Attcity had both worked processing the radioactive concentrate yellowcake in a New Mexican uranium mill. Now both men are facing terminal illness. Woody's daughter is convinced that the mine is to blame and is determined to help her father fight for compensation. But Ryland wants no part of dredging up their past -- or acknowledging his future -- choosing instead to focus on his own daughter's upcoming wedding.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peace on Earth

... and goodwill to all. This picture of our backyard, offered especially for my Southern California Readers, was taken as the the snow came down yesterday (hence a snowflake or two reflecting on the lens) while it was still looking like the most peaceful place on earth and before the winds came and chased me indoors. Enjoy the holidays, wherever you may be!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Our December Author: Ismail Kadare

Not the most complete Wikipedia biography for Ismail Kadare (The Successor) but it's a start, with a bit more from the BBC here. His English translator weighs in on his translation of a (French) translation. For a taste of the controversy surrounding the author, try this essay. I suspect there may be more interviews available in French, but here's one from the Times Online.

Bonus New Yorker short story here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy 60th

Today is the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To kick our celebration off here's a special animated video for the occasion:

If you're feeling nostalgic, here's the old Amnesty International 'running man' animation.

Not in a cartoon mood? This ACLU vid gives a nice capsule history of the UDHR beginning with footage of Eleanor Rooseve lt and presents its present day relevance to the civil rights movement.

Of course, we recommend Rights Readers selection, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Mary Ann Glendon, for the full story. Facing History brings us a Glendon video too.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Action! Action! Action!

We've added a new sidebar feature: feeds from Amnesty International - USA of the latest actions and news releases. Never be at a loss for something you can do!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Travel with Rights Readers!

At long last, the maps of settings of our Rights Readers books have been completed. You can zoom in on Tiananmen Square (Mandate Of Heaven) or Old Anarkarli (The Reluctant Fundamentalist). Asia & Australia can be found here and Africa & the Middle East here. See the sidebar for links to the previous maps of North and South America and Europe.

Bonus peak at cafe life in Old Anarkali here and here! Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

For March: Brother, I'm Dying

For March we have chosen Brother, I'm Dying
by Edwidge Danticat,
From the age of four, award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph as her “second father,” when she was placed in his care after her parents left Haiti for America. And so she was both elated and saddened when, at twelve, she joined her parents and youngest brothers in New York City. As Edwidge made a life in a new country, adjusting to being far away from so many who she loved, she and her family continued to fear for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorated.

In 2004, they entered into a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Brother I'm Dying is an astonishing true-life epic, told on an intimate scale by one of our finest writers.

For February: This Human Season

For February, we have selected, This Human Season
by Louise Dean,
November 1979, the height of Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Kathleen Moran’s son Sean has just been transferred to the hypersecure H-block in Belfast’s notorious Maze prison, where he soon emerges as a young but important force in the extreme protest that political prisoners are staging there. John Dunn is also newly arrived at the prison, having taken on the job of guard—a brutal but effective way to support a house and a girlfriend. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, no one’s dreams go untroubled. As rumors of a hunger strike begin to circulate, Louise Dean’s pitch-perfect novel places two parents, two sons, and two enemies on a collision course that ends in a surprising and deeply resonant climax.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Our November Author: Francisco Goldman

For a little biographical information on our November author, Francisco Goldman, (The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?) there's this Wikipedia entry. This CUNY lecture by the author recaps his journey and this Pen World Voices panel event includes Goldman with the bonus of other prospective Rights Readers authors.

The Nation, 'The Novelist and the Murderers', covers the effect of the book's publication on Guatemala and WNYC follows up with an interview on the same topic:

Global Voices Online records the thoughts of Guatemalans ten years after the murder: Remembering Bishop Gerardi and His Report “Never Again!” Finally, for current human rights concerns and actions: AIUSA's Guatemala page.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Amnesty-USA Blog

Amnesty International - USA has combined its blogs into one comprehensive blog called Human Rights Now. Apropos of our Rights Readers selection this month, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop, they have a post on Guatemala referencing the Holiday Card Action for the Guatemalan Foundation of Forensic Anthropology. The blog should be a great way to keep up with the latest news from AI. Check it out!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Our October Author: Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist has his own website which handily compiles links to interviews. (You can't go wrong with NPR's Terry Gross. Random tidbits from a few others I explored follow below.) There is also a list of articles he has written, many about Pakistani politics, and a link to an "interactive" short story if you are feeling adventurous, on his site.

The author suggests future titles for Rights Readers:

I am sure he scores points with our Esteemed but Busy Readers for picking short books!

Man Booker Prize interview (wherein we also learn that Mira Nair has the film rights for the book),

There has been speculation about the meaning behind the name of your protagonist ‘Changez’. Can you clarify any meaning behind his name?

Changez is the Urdu name for Genghis, as in Genghis Khan. It is the name of a warrior, and the novel plays with the notion of a parallel between war and international finance, which is Changez’s occupation. But at the same time, the name cautions against a particular reading of the novel. Genghis attacked the Arab Muslim civilization of his time, so Changez would be an odd choice of name for a Muslim fundamentalist. In fact, Changez is something of a secular nationalist, and not particularly religious.

Q: Personal and public mourning run side by side in this story of raw emotions. Changez loses his footing when he is unable to separate the two. Was it difficult to find balance as you simultaneously probed the intimate pains and passions of one man’s loss and explored an entire nation’s tragedy?

A: I believe that the personal and the political are deeply intertwined; in my own life I certainly experience them as such. I don’t set out to find a balance between the two in my novels. Instead, I try to explore the places where they intersect most powerfully. People and countries tend to blur in my fiction; both serve as symbols of the other. Which is not to say that my characters are chess pieces: I see my characters as fully human, not as mere motifs. The countries in my fiction are far from monolithic and are capable of envy, passion, and nostalgia; they are, in other words, quite like people, and I try to explore them with that sensibility.

Critical Mass, One and Two

Q: When I finished it, I felt like I had read a much longer book than I had –

A: Well it is longer; there are many ghosts in the novel in the sense that there's upwards of 1,000 pages of different manuscript lying around. There are things that Erica did and these characters did and stuff they have done and been which aren't in the book. But having written them once you can dispense with them, and then you can touch things which imply that they happened. It gives a book that iceberg quality.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For January: Finding Freedom by Jarvis Jay Masters

For January, we have chosen Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row by California death row inmate Jarvis Jay Masters:
Finding Freedom is a collection of prison stories - sometimes shocking, sometimes sad, often funny, always immediate-told against a background of extreme violence and aggression, written by a prisoner on death row who has become a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Eritrea: Yet Another Sad Anniversary

Today is the seventh anniversary of the arrest of Estifanos Seyoum, the Eritrean prisoner of conscience adopted by AI Group 22. He was detained in 2001 along with 10 other senior officials and 11 journalists in a general crackdown by the Eritrea government. None of these prisoners has ever been charged or tried. Some are reported to have died in prison but Eritrea refuses to reveal anything about them. Amnesty International issued the following statement to mark this sad occasion:
AI Index: AFR 64/007/2008 (Public)
Date: 18 September 2008

Eritrea: Prisoners of conscience remembered on 7th anniversary of mass detentions

Seven years ago, on 18 September 2001, the Government of Eritrea detained hundreds of former government leaders, private-media journalists and civil servants. Today, as we mark the seventh anniversary of this detention, most are still believed to be held in incommunicado detention.

Amnesty International considers these detainees to be prisoners of conscience, detained for the peaceful expression of their political views. The Eritrean government has never disclosed the location of those detained, and has repeatedly failed to provide a verifiable response to allegations that a number of those detained have died in detention, in spite of persistent appeals from Amnesty International members worldwide.

The Government of Eritrea is doing all that they can to ensure that these prisoners are forgotten. They are still denied family visits. No-one has been charged or brought to court. They are also believed to be denied medical treatment and are in many cases are likely to be detained in harsh conditions and subjected to torture, or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Our September Author: Louisa Waugh

I wasn't able to find any interviews with our September author, Louisa Waugh (Selling Olga: Stories of Human Trafficking, Hearing Birds Fly), however, to round out her resume, there are a couple of articles from the Guardian about new Bosnian fiction and women travel writers, plus and and blog entries from Gaza for the New Internationalist.

For a little more on the issue of trafficking, the NYT has a good "issues page" to help you get started and I recommend this NPR Talk of the Nation discussion and related New Yorker article on countertrafficking.

Of course, don't forget to check out Amnesty's abundant resources on the topic including FAQ , background info , other organizations and last but not least actions!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

For December: The Successor by Ismail Kadare

For December, we have selected The Successor by Ismail Kadare:
A powerful political novel based on the sudden, mysterious death of the man who had been handpicked to succeed the hated Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. Did he commit suicide or was he murdered? That is the burning question. The man who died by his own hand, or another's, was Mehmet Shehu, the presumed heir to the ailing dictator, Enver Hoxha. So sure was the world that he was next in line, he was known as The Successor. And then, shortly before he was to assume power, he was found dead. THE SUCCESSOR is simultaneously a mystery novel, an historical novel-based on actual events and buttressed by the author's private conversations with the son of the real-life Mehmet Shehu-and a psychological novel (How do you live when nothing is sure?). Vintage Kadare, THE SUCCESSOR seamlessly blends dream and reality, legendary past, and contemporary history.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

For November: The Art of Political Murder

For November, we have selected Francisco Goldman's The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop

Bishop Juan Gerardi, Guatemala’s leading human rights activist, was bludgeoned to death in his garage on a Sunday night in 1998, two days after the presentation of a groundbreaking church-sponsored report implicating the military in the murders and disappearances of some two hundred thousand civilians. Realizing that it could not rely on police investigators or the legal system to solve the murder, the church formed its own investigative team, a group of secular young men in their twenties who called themselves Los Intocables (the Untouchables). Known in Guatemala as “The Crime of the Century,” the Bishop Gerardi murder case, with its unexpectedly outlandish scenarios and sensational developments, confounded observers and generated extraordinary controversy. In his first nonfiction book, acclaimed novelist Francisco Goldman has spoken to witnesses no other reporter has reached, and observed firsthand some of the most crucial developments in the case. Now he has produced The Art of Political Murder, a tense and astonishing true detective story that opens a window on the new Latin American reality of mara youth gangs and organized crime, and tells the story of a remarkable group of engaging, courageous young people, and of their remarkable fight for justice.

Our August Author

A few links for our August author, Jo Nesbø, and our August selection, The Redbreast.

Random House has a reader's guide with a short interview,
What could get you arrested?

You mean; what got me arrested? Well, dropping my pants and mooning for a passing police car when I was eighteen. A bit drunk and nothing I'm very proud of, but it gave me the chance to do some research. I know what the inside of a cell looks like.
And here's a Washington Post profile with some insight into the author's literary influences and the novel's Norwegian roots,
For instance, this sentence is making a sort of class judgment about a character: "Meirik was from Tromso and spoke a strangely haphazard mixture of Tromso dialect and standard Norwegian."

But unless you know Norwegian geography, and know that Nynorsk and Bokmal are the two official languages of the country — and whatever one you speak says something about where you grew up — the detail would zip right past most readers.
Finally, this BBC item suggests the reality behind one of the novel's themes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

For October: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

For October we have selected The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid,

At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter . . .

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite valuation firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of september 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

Monday, June 16, 2008

For September: Selling Olga by Louisa Waugh

For September, we have selected Selling Olga: Stories of Human Trafficking by Louisa Waugh,
It’s seems inconceivable in the 21st century, but human trafficking is now the world’s fastest-growing illegal industry: according to U.S. government estimates, between 700,000 and two million people have become victims. Following three years of in-depth research, award-winning author and journalist Louisa Waugh has produced a vivid, unflinching account of how this immoral commerce operates and why it thrives. Throughout Eastern Europe, a combination of war and poverty has led to women being sold in bars, confined, and coerced into sex work. And while Waugh focuses especially on one woman, Olga, who tells her own story in angry, heartbreaking detail, she also introduces us to many others across Europe including Nigerian women in Italy and migrants trapped in other forms of forced labor. She helps us understand why, in spite of global awareness, relentless anti-trafficking campaigns, and increasing numbers of imprisonments, this type of crime hasn’t disappeared…and why, in spite of everything, there is hope for change.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Our June Author: Daniel Alarcon

Our June author, Daniel Alarcon, has made my job easy this month with his own website. Check out the links page for interviews, readings and short stories.

From The Elegant Variation, we learn about the imagined setting for Lost City Radio,
When I was on tour last, for War by Candlelight, I always found myself saying, “If Peru was an invented country, and Lima an invented city, many people would still recognize it,” and I guess I sort of followed my own advice. I invented a country, a city, drew upon my experiences in Lima, upon my travels in West Africa, upon texts I read about Chechnya (the incomparable Anna Politkovskaya, RIP), or Beirut, or Mumbai.
Also, be sure to check out that interview for the author's experiences in Peru with a family looking for the disappeared.

From the LA Weekly, we learn more about the real life inspiration for the book,
Alarcón began collecting material during a trip to Lima in 1999 to research the life of his uncle Javier, a leftist professor who was “disappeared” 10 years earlier during the violent Shining Path guerrilla war that over two decades claimed 69,000 lives. His uncle’s life is the basis for the character Rey, a university botanist who ventures into the jungle and gradually becomes involved in a guerrilla movement. During his time in Lima, Alarcón was an avid fan of a radio show called Buscapersonas, or “People Finder.”
The weekly also has much about the Alarcon's complex identity, as do these essays in Washington Post and Salon.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Our May Author: Muhammad Yunus

I did some of my homework on the author of this month's selection, Banker to the Poor, Muhammad Yunus, some time ago in this post with video introduction to Grameen Bank. Mr. Yunus has his own website with plenty of links to press clips. There are so many Grameen related enterprises its a bit overwhelming. Grameen-info looks like a good place to sort it all out. If you are curious about Grameen America here is their site. They have a new branch in New York City which you can learn about in this WNYC interview.

There are also many YouTube interviews available. Perhaps this one with Charlie Rose (mostly Grameen 101) or this lecture (perhaps a little more wide-ranging) at Google would be good places to start. NPR takes a look at his most recent book, Creating a World without Poverty and Democracy Now has an interview focusing on the same topic,

AMY GOODMAN: Explain your idea of social business.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Yes, and I am saying that the conceptual framework of capitalism itself is at fault. That’s what created all the problems. So we have to address that also. And the concept of business, for example, only way the concept of business is defined in a capitalist theory is a business to make money. Profit maximization is the sole mission of business.

And I’m saying this is a misinterpretation of a human being. Human being is not a machine. Human being is not a robot. It’s not a money-making machine. A human being is much bigger than making money. Money-making is an important part of a human being, but certainly it’s not the totality of human being. Human being is much bigger than that. It’s also caring being. It’s a sharing being, wants to make a difference in the world. That part is not included in the business world, in the economic world.

As a bonus, here's a recent NYT article on cell phones and poverty and some comment from The New Yorker, "What Microloans Miss."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

For August: The Redbreast

In keeping with our tradition of reading a mystery in August, we have selected Jo Nesbo's The Redbreast,
Police Detective Harry Hole has made a terrible mistake. An embarrassment in the line of duty has pulled him off his usual beat. Reassigned to mundane surveillance tasks, he reluctantly agrees to monitor neo-Nazi activities in Oslo. But as Hole is drawn into an underground world of illegal gun trafficking, brutal beatings, and sexual extortions, he soon learns that he must act fast to prevent an international conspiracy from unfolding.

Trapped in the crosshairs of the man with all the answers, Harry Hole plunges headlong into a mystery with roots deep in the past. His investigation takes him back to Norway's darkest hour—when members of the young nation's government collaborated with leaders of Nazi Germany. Dredging up a painful history of denial, Hole turns his attention to the Norwegian troops who fought for Adolf Hitler on the Eastern front. Branded by their countrymen as traitors, the soldiers who survived the brutal Russian winter—the hunger, fear, cold, grenades, and snipers—returned home as scapegoats of a nation's atonement. Sixty years later, old grudges and betrayals appear to have been laid to rest, until Hole realizes that someone has begun to pick off the surviving soldiers one by one.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Persepolis Revisted

Welcome UW-RF Lion's Paw book group! Rights Readers read Persepolis a couple of years back and collected some nice supplementary links on these old blogposts, plus a couple of bonus posts on Iranian art. Unfortunately, many of the links have expired, but there are still a few nuggets buried here. For readers old and new, here are a couple of links I couldn't access before the NYT took down its subscription firewall: Iranian in Paris and an opinion page piece. Enjoy!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Panchen Lama, wherever you are

April 25 is the 19th birth anniversary of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the six-year-old boy who disappeared in 1995 shortly after the Dalai Lama named him as the 11th Panchen Lama. He and his parents are believed to have been kidnapped by the Chinese authorities, who immediately put forward another young boy as their selection for the Panchen Lama. See news coverage from Reuters India or visit Campaign for Tibet or Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. There are online petitions here and here.

For the latest news and actions concerning human rights in China and the Olympics, visit Amnesty International USA's China page.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Our April Author: Dinaw Mengestu

Some links for our reading of Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears:

For context NPR has a story on Ethiopian ex-pat artists here. You can watch video of Dinaw Mengestu give a reading (note the menu lets you can skip to the Q & A).

Tavis Smiley gets going with the author on the racial politics of the novel in this interview.
...My idea in writing the book was that, you know, I wanted to touch on as many different parts of America, I mean, gentrification, race relations, class relations, definitely relations obviously with immigrants, and also to push the idea of what it means to be an immigrant inside of America further than the stereotype of, you know, you come to America, you pull yourself up, you progress, you strive, everything is eventually going to be all right.

But characters who actually come realizing that everything's not going to be all right, they're not going to make it into the world and also to look at America very critically. I think the book spends a lot of time, you know, looking at American history, looking at American politics, race in America, and really try to see what is happening especially inside of American cities.

The book is set entirely in Washington, D.C. and inside of that little community that's rapidly gentrifying, where this historically Black neighborhood is being rapidly displaced by the new white upper-class community that's moving in. I think that's a dialog that still needs to be happening, especially right now where you can see cities transforming and changing so rapidly and, in my opinion, irresponsibly.
Meanwhile, this interview unpacks the literary references and the Guardian fleshes out his biography and explains why he received the Guardian First Book Award.

Finally, here's an article Mengestu wrote for Rolling Stone on the crisis in Darfur.

By the way, I updated our map of North America (see sidebar) so you can zoom in on Logan's Circle. The photographer responsible for the book cover shot has more pics of the neighborhood here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Action for Tibetan Monks

Many news reports about the recent demonstrations in Tibet refer to the past large-scale protests in Lhasa in 1987-1988. Long-time members of AI Group 22 will recall that our former adopted prisoner of conscience, Tibetan monk Ngawang Pekar, was arrested at that time. Rights Readers started in 1999, and our third selection was the book Sky Burial, an account of the Lhasa events by a young American tourist. The author's companion was John Ackerly, who was so marked by his experience that he went on to become the president of International Campaign for Tibet. Today he wrote:
In the past 20 years, I have never had such an exhausting, heartbreaking, and exciting week. Exciting because the Tibet issue is exactly where it should be -- on the front pages of our newspapers and high on the agendas of politicians and human rights organizations everywhere. Heartbreaking because Tibetans have taken huge risks to make their voices heard and are experiencing the worst repression and crackdown since the earliest days of the Chinese occupation.
Amnesty International has posted an urgent action for the 15 Tibetan monks arrested March 10 in a peaceful demonstration. They are considered at high risk of torture. You can see their photos here. Please take action to support them!

Some non-AI actions are located here and here. A local organization is Los Angeles Friends of Tibet.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

For July: China Road by Rob Gifford

For July, we have selected Rob Gifford's China Road,
Route 312 is the Chinese Route 66. It flows three thousand miles from east to west, passing through the factory towns of the coastal areas, through the rural heart of China, then up into the Gobi Desert, where it merges with the Old Silk Road. The highway witnesses every part of the social and economic revolution that is turning China upside down.

In this utterly surprising and deeply personal book, acclaimed National Public Radio reporter Rob Gifford, a fluent Mandarin speaker, takes the dramatic journey along Route 312 from its start in the boomtown of Shanghai to its end on the border with Kazakhstan. Gifford reveals the rich mosaic of modern Chinese life in all its contradictions, as he poses the crucial questions that all of us are asking about China: Will it really be the next global superpower? Is it as solid and as powerful as it looks from the outside? And who are the ordinary Chinese people, to whom the twenty-first century is supposed to belong?

Gifford is not alone on his journey. The largest migration in human history is taking place along highways such as Route 312, as tens of millions of people leave their homes in search of work. He sees signs of the booming urban economy everywhere, but he also uncovers many of the country’s frailties, and some of the deep-seated problems that could derail China’s rise.

The whole compelling adventure is told through the cast of colorful characters Gifford meets: garrulous talk-show hosts and ambitious yuppies, impoverished peasants and tragic prostitutes, cell-phone salesmen, AIDS patients, and Tibetan monks. He rides with members of a Shanghai jeep club, hitchhikes across the Gobi desert, and sings karaoke with migrant workers at truck stops along the way.

As he recounts his travels along Route 312, Rob Gifford gives a face to what has historically, for Westerners, been a faceless country and breathes life into a nation that is so often reduced to economic statistics. Finally, he sounds a warning that all is not well in the Chinese heartlands, that serious problems lie ahead, and that the future of the West has become inextricably linked with the fate of 1.3 billion Chinese people.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Our March Author: Wangari Maathai

Before you go any further, visit the Amnesty International USA site to take action on behalf of Wangari Maathai, author of our March selection, Unbowed.

Kenyan human rights defender and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Professor Wangari Maathai received three death threats on her cellular telephone on February 19, 2008, as did two people working for her.

These threats read, ‘‘Because of your opposing the government at all times, Prof Wangari Maathai, we have decided to look for your head very soon, you are number three after Were, take care of your life.” The threats were signed ‘‘Mungiki.” The “number three” refers to the two Members of Parliament who were killed at the end of January.

The website for the Greenbelt Movement does provide some reassurance that Wangari Maathai's security detail was reinstated on March 5. Of course the site is worth exploring to learn more about the movement (pictures!).

There are many Wangari Maathai interviews available on line. This interview is the one that brought Unbowed to my attention, and here's another recent one from Democracy Now. Asked about Iraq,

And in Africa, in particular, I know we have many wars. We have a war in Darfur. We have wars in many other countries like the Congo, in West Africa, in Somalia right now. We are still having these wars. And these wars, when you look at all of them, you realize that they are all about resources. It’s the question of who is going to control the resources in this country, who is going to be included, who is going to be excluded, who is going to be in charge of these resources.

I think that if we would get the message that the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave us in the year 2004, we would sit back and rethink again: Isn’t there another way of managing these resources, of sharing these resources, of being more inclusive, of allowing everybody to play a part to benefit, so that we do not have to fight and kill each other, so that we can have the supreme control of these resources?

Speaking of Faith has an interview and slideshow of Kenyan women (accompanied by Wangari Maathai singing!)

In addition to the Greenbelt Movement's activities, learn more about the United Nations Environmental Programme's "Plant for the Planet" project to plant one billion trees in 2008 here. NPR has a report on how this program is working in Indonesia.

For a taste of Wangari Maathai's inspiration: Mount Kenya is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a photo gallery and video can be found here. PBS Nature has a feature on the fig tree, The Queen of Trees. When I first saw the title, I thought this was a reference to Wangari Maathai herself! Watch a trailer here.

The latest Amnesty reports and actions on Kenya can be found here. Also of interest, another Rights Readers author, Michela Wrong, offers some insight into recent events in Kenya in the New Statesman.

Finally, while there are many Wangari Maathai videos available on YouTube, try this for a taste of her storytelling skills,

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wangari Maathai's Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

Our group's Kenya expert, Paula Tavrow, who spends large parts of the year doing health-planning work in East Africa, has told us that the Nobel Prize acceptance speech by this month's author, Wangari Maathai, is well worth reading. Here's a link to read this online.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

For June: Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon

For June we have selected Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon,
For ten years, Norma has been the on-air voice of consolation and hope for the Indians in the mountains and the poor from the barrios—a people broken by war's violence. As the host of Lost City Radio, she reads the names of those who have disappeared—those whom the furiously expanding city has swallowed. Through her efforts lovers are reunited and the lost are found. But in the aftermath of the decadelong bloody civil conflict, her own life is about to forever change—thanks to the arrival of a young boy from the jungle who provides a cryptic clue to the fate of Norma's vanished husband.

Daniel Alarcon's debut story collection, War by Candlelight, was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award. He has received a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and has been named by Granta magazine one of the Best American Novelists under thirty-five. He is the associate editor of Etiqueta Negra, an award-winning monthly magazine published in his native Lima, Peru. He lives in Oakland, California.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

More on Egypt

Breaking! They NYT has obliged with perfect timing for our discussion of the The Yacoubian Building: "Dreams Stifled, Egypt’s Young Turn to Islamic Fervor" --complete with maps and video.

Our February Author: Alaa Al Aswany

Some links for Alaa al Aswany author of our February selection, The Yacoubian Building:

The controversy surrounding the book and movie are nearly as interesting as the book itself and in any case the author is very forthcoming with his political views. This National Geographic interview is an excellent place to start. NPR has a good profile about the book and film as does the Guardian,
I work less but I would never give [dentistry] up because my clinic is my window. I open the window to see people and talk to them and I believe this is very important from the human aspect and the professional aspect as a writer. Patients tell me about their lives, I give them my time, so it's not just about the dental issues. I do care about people and it's very dangerous for a writer to shut himself away.'
I don't know, the dentist's chair isn't usually a place for idle chitchat for me, even if it were physically possible! But maybe a bit of friendly gossip before the drill makes the visit a bit more pleasant.

There's a little more on the controversy surrounding the book at Daily News Egypt and also in this YouTube. PEN American Center also has audio from some events the author participated in (this is how I learned of the book).

Amnesty country-specialist Geoffrey Mock keeps a blog, Human Rights in Egypt, and although it hasn't been updated in a few months its a good place to go for a little insight and useful links including some to Egyptian human rights bloggers.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Rights Reel

Recently I've stumbled on some films that seem like good backgrounders for a few of the books we've read. I recently rented the HBO film, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a nice historical companion piece for the Louise Erdrich novel, Tracks, we read not long ago. For something completely different, there is Ten Canoes, an Australian fable told partially in an aboriginal tongue which brought me back to Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages. Unrelated to any reading we've done but providing a backdrop to our work on China and globalization there is the oddly beautiful and meditative documentary about the photographer Edward Burtynsky, Manufactured Landscapes. Last but not least, I am looking forward (next up in my queue) to viewing the film version of our February book The Yacoubian Building. Trailer (with the cheesiest voiceover ever) below:

Greetings from Wisconsin!

Most Loyal Readers know already that their Leader Reader has departed California for Wisconsin. Here's a little update on my reading exploits since moving here:

Apart from venturing into a community book discussion group, I arrived just in time for River Falls Reads 2008 and attended the kick-off event featuring Jerene Mortenson, the mother of Greg Mortenson, author of Rights Readers selection Three Cups of Tea. As noted before, River Falls is the birthplace of "Pennies for Peace", a program that educates American children about the world beyond their experience and raises funds for schools in Central Asia. A few things I learned from the talk: that there are over 400 U.S. schools now in the program, and that pennies were chosen to make sure children of all incomes could participate. I was also intrigued to learn that storytelling is part of the curriculum for students in Pakistan, thus incorporating the elders of the village and the oral tradition into the schools. I would love to hear some of those stories! My California readers will also be heartened to learn that steps are being taken to build new schools that are designed to better withstand earthquakes. The rest of the River Falls Reads event line-up looks interesting as well. Small towns have a lot to offer! I am sure I will have more reading adventures to share in the future...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Blogging Human Rights in Egypt

I've just finished reading our February book selection, The Yacoubian Building. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times about Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas addressed many of the human rights issues that this novel deals with.
In Egypt, high-risk blogging
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 8, 2008
CAIRO -- It was not the most comforting of e-mails: "May God honor my sword by slaying Wael Abbas." Cyberspace can be a messy, dangerous place, especially if you're Abbas, who with keyboard, digital camera and a bit of cunning has become one of Egypt's most popular bloggers. His posts, often with scratchy video, catalog police torture, political oppression, labor strikes, sexual harassment and radical Islam. He's been vilified and threatened, but has managed to stay out of jail, operating in an uncensored realm beyond the independent and state-controlled media. ... Abbas' most dramatic blog posts are videos, some shot with cellphone cameras, depicting police brutality, which has long been a concern in this country of 80 million people. In 2007, Abbas gained international attention when he posted images of police officers sodomizing a bus driver with a stick. The driver had committed no crime, and the courts, forced to react to irrefutable evidence and public anger, sentenced two police officers each to three years in prison.
You can read the entire LA Times article here. Here is a YouTube video of Wael Abbas accepting an award from the International Center For Journalists. Once you're at YouTube, you can search for and view other Wael Abbas videos.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Photos from Doodah Parade

Here are links to photo albums from Group 22's entry in the Pasadena Doodah Parade. Click on an image to view album or video.

Team Doodah. Photos from Stevi.

Video from Katerina. Action! Sound!

Katerina's Doodah Album. More photos and videos.

Dan's Album. Dramatic waterboarding shots, as seen from the driver's seat.

Paul's Album. Some nice closeups of participants.

Joyce's Album.

Marie-Helene and Robert's Album.

For May: Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus

For May we have selected Banker to the Poor:Microlending and the battle against world poverty by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus:
Muhammad Yunus is that rare thing: a bona fide visionary. His dream is the total eradication of poverty from the world. In 1983, against the advice of banking and government officials, Yunus established Grameen, a bank devoted to providing the poorest of Bangladesh with minuscule loans. Grameen Bank, based on the belief that credit is a basic human right, not the privilege of a fortunate few, now provides over 2.5 billion dollars of micro-loans to more than two million families in rural Bangladesh. Ninety-four percent of Yunus's clients are women, and repayment rates are near 100 percent. Around the world, micro-lending programs inspired by Grameen are blossoming, with more than three hundred programs established in the United States alone.

Banker to the Poor is Muhammad Yunus's memoir of how he decided to change his life in order to help the world's poor. In it he traces the intellectual and spiritual journey that led him to fundamentally rethink the economic relationship between rich and poor, and the challenges he and his colleagues faced in founding Grameen. He also provides wise, hopeful guidance for anyone who would like to join him in "putting homelessness and destitution in a museum so that one day our children will visit it and ask how we could have allowed such a terrible thing to go on for so long." The definitive history of micro-credit direct from the man that conceived of it, Banker to the Poor is necessary and inspirational reading for anyone interested in economics, public policy, philanthropy, social history, and business.

Muhammad Yunus was born in Bangladesh and earned his Ph.D. in economics in the United States at Vanderbilt University, where he was deeply influenced by the civil rights movement. He still lives in Bangladesh, and travels widely around the world on behalf of Grameen Bank and the concept of micro-credit.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Doo Dah Parade

Doo Dah Parade!

Our local group of Amnesty International joined with some friends, mostly from the Caltech community, to participate in the 31st Occasional Pasadena Doo Dah parade, which was held on Sunday, January 20th, in Old Town Pasadena. Taking advantage of the availability of a truck (and a bathtub) that we could transform into a float, we decided to address the serious issue of waterboarding. We came up with a little scenario in which we welcomed the crowd to “Waterboard City, USA”… While some of us danced gaily to the Beach Boys music in Hawaiian garb, prisoners were “waterboarded” in the back of the truck which had been transformed into a jail/torture cell. Planted “suspects” among the crowd were extraordinarily rendered to the moving prison by two men wearing black suits and shades. It was a great success! The crowd was cheering and laughing as the float passed by, and some people even volunteered to try-out the free lessons of waterboarding that were advertised on the float.

We are very grateful to all the participants for all the hard work that went into the preparation of the float and its decoration. A special thanks to Dan, the owner of the truck, who eagerly put it to the use of a good cause!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Our January Author: Lisa See

Lisa See, the author of this month's book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, has her own website, LisaSee.com (be sure to check out the Events section for an up-coming San Marino event!). Bloomsbury.com offers an article by See about her interest in nushu and an audio interview with the author is available here. Another interview with odd bits can be found at WaterBridge,

Bob Dylan has been a huge influence on my writing. He knows how to tell a whole story in just a few minutes and he has a wonderful way with words. Of course, the guy can’t sing, but you can’t have everything.
OK, not really seeing the Dylan connection in Snow Flower, heh, but not knocking the insight-- and looking ahead to her next book check out this interview at the The Elegant Variation,
The new novel’s tentatively called Shanghai Girls. It starts in 1937 with two sisters in Shanghai. They come to Los Angeles in arranged marriages. (We often read about arranged marriages in other countries, but a lot of people don’t know that we had and still have them here in the U.S.) They live in a place called China City, which was built from the leftover sets from the filming of “The Good Earth.” So in some ways Shanghai Girls will be an exploration of what it means to be Chinese or American, and what is real and what is just façade. I’ll also be looking at the Confession Program, which took place in the 1950s, when the U.S. government targeted Chinese to try to get them to confess that they were here illegally and at the same time rat out their friends, family members, and neighbors as being Communists.
I wasn't much interested in the discussion of footbinding in the book, but NPR and the BBC both have good backgrounders. I was more obsessed with the discussion of nushu. World of Nushu has a wealth of information, including pictures from Jian Yong Prefecture. Omniglot and Ancient Scripts have some nice side by side comparisons with Chinese and this article may be a bit academic for some, but it answered some of my questions about how nushu functioned in women's society.
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