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.
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