Friday, December 18, 2009

Our December Author: Roberto Bolaño

AmuletThis month's author, Roberto Bolaño (Amulet), comes with a whole 'man vs. myth' controversy detailed by the NYT here and by his friend, Horacio Castellanos Moya in this article, Bolaño Inc. in Guernica. Excerpts from the late author's last interviews can be found at the NYT,
Monica Maristain: If you hadn’t been a writer, what would you have been?
Roberto Bolaño: I would like to have been a homicide detective, much more than being a writer. I am absolutely sure of that. A string of homicides. I’d have been someone who could come back to the scene of the crime alone, by night and not be afraid of ghosts. Perhaps then I might really have become crazy. But being a detective that could easily be resolved with a bullet to the mouth.
Bonus interview with the translator of Amulet, Chris Andrews.

John Banville's review in the Guardian offers some good backstory,
It seems the book is based on a real incident, when a person was trapped in UNAM during violent disturbances in Mexico in the autumn of 1968. In September that year, after months of agitation on campus and in the streets, the Mexican government sent troops into the university to quell student political protests; there were killings, and many staff members and students were arrested. The troubles culminated in the army massacre of hundreds – thousands, some claim – of students and protestors in the main square of the Tlatelolco district of the city on 2 October. This atrocity is Bolaño's true subject here, even though Auxilio talks of anything and everything else, circling the central tragedy to which she is a peculiarly well-placed witness.
The Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa describes the literary scene referenced in Amulet, Bolaño in Mexico and her conversation with the author can be found at BOMB.

Excellent background on the Tlatelolco massacre from NPR including a archival video and photo gallery.

For a primer on how Amulet relates to the rest of Bolaño's work check out this post at The Millions.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The trashy Sunday supplement Parade occasionally has an interesting tidbit, and today is a case in point: an article on Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling Three Cups of tea, which we read a year or so ago. Here's the link. It seems that Greg is still active in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and doing some good, which (if true) is a change from the usual dismal news from that area. This article is no doubt related to his forthcoming book, which Martha mentioned in her blog last month.

PS: Also in today's LATimes is a review of the latest by Ha Jin, of whom we read The Crazed in 2004. I found this review particularly interesting because it discusses his life since he fled China after Tienanmen and switched to writing in English, which he now teaches at Boston U. (Couldn't find the review online, but it's by Julia Klein.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

For March: Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

We have selected Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang for March,
An eye-opening and previously untold story, Factory Girls is the first look into the everyday lives of the migrant factory population in China.

China has 130 million migrant workers—the largest migration in human history. In Factory Girls, Leslie T. Chang, a former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Beijing, tells the story of these workers primarily through the lives of two young women, whom she follows over the course of three years as they attempt to rise from the assembly lines of Dongguan, an industrial city in China’s Pearl River Delta.

As she tracks their lives, Chang paints a never-before-seen picture of migrant life—a world where nearly everyone is under thirty; where you can lose your boyfriend and your friends with the loss of a mobile phone; where a few computer or English lessons can catapult you into a completely different social class. Chang takes us inside a sneaker factory so large that it has its own hospital, movie theater, and fire department; to posh karaoke bars that are fronts for prostitution; to makeshift English classes where students shave their heads in monklike devotion and sit day after day in front of machines watching English words flash by; and back to a farming village for the Chinese New Year, revealing the poverty and idleness of rural life that drive young girls to leave home in the first place. Throughout this riveting portrait, Chang also interweaves the story of her own family’s migrations, within China and to the West, providing historical and personal frames of reference for her investigation.

A book of global significance that provides new insight into China, Factory Girls demonstrates how the mass movement from rural villages to cities is remaking individual lives and transforming Chinese society, much as immigration to America’s shores remade our own country a century ago.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Our November Author: Helene Cooper

Helene Cooper introduces herself and our November book, The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood:

I listened to this book in audiobook format, read by Helene Cooper, which gave me the opportunity to hear her Liberian English. In this NPR interview, the author reads briefly from the book including a passage in Liberian English. Here's a little more on the subject: Dictionary for Liberian English. Another interview with Tavis Smiley is available here and the Q&A section of this ForaTV presentation contains some interesting responses to questions about the book including the response to the book from Liberians and Liberian-Americans.

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African ChildhoodYou can read Helene Cooper nearly every day in the New York Times, but of course, little of that writing reflects on her biography. This piece from last summer about the new African-Americans elite is of a more personal nature. She shares a recipe for Liberian Peanut Soup with the NYT's food blog.

The NYT showcases a new collection of photographs from the civil war and its aftermath.

The Library of Congress has a collection of American Colonization Society documents. Highlights here. Handy timeline here. More multimedia history and background on the civil war available from PBS here and here.

For more on Liberia I'm looking forward to the release of Pray the Devil Back to Hell on PBS next year as part of a series on women and war. Bill Moyers interview about the film here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rights Readers Round-up

Brother, I'm Dying (Vintage Contemporaries)Prize winners corner:
  • Greg Mortenson has a new book coming out for your holiday gift list.
  • Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International (and Nicolas Kristof) talk about the current state of the human rights movement at NPR's On Point. A very interesting discussion, though we don't learn much about Khan's new book, (The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights).

On the issues:
  • Bill Moyers interviews Dr. Jim Yong Kim (see Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains) about the connections between our current national healthcare debate and global health issues.
  • Ted Conover (Newjack)is interviewed by On the Media about the ethics of his undercover reporting at Sing Sing prison.

For February: The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller

For February we have selected The Land of Green Plums by 2009 Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller.
Like the narrator of her novel The Land of Green Plums, Herta Muller grew up a German minority in Ceausescu's Romania, which she eventually left to settle in Germany. Her own experience lends credibility to the voice of her young narrator, who inhabits a deprived police state in which minorities such as the ethnic Germans suffer persecution beyond the quotidian oppressions of Ceausescu's regime. The title refers to the young woman's observations of the swaggering policemen who wolf down plums from the city trees, even while they're still green; the act serves as a symbol of greed, arbitrary power, and stupidity. Although an element of the story is survival, achieved by clinging to the German culture and language, the novel also confronts the older characters' sympathy with the Nazis. Nevertheless, Muller's fictional heroine finds salvation, as she herself did, in modern Germany.
For additional information about this book and author see this post.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Our October Author: Junot Diaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoOur October author, Junot Diaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) is not media shy. Here are just a few interviews to consider.

This Poets & Writers profile includes details of his friendship with another Rights Readers author, Francisco Goldman (The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?).


Slate: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao isn't just about Oscar Wao's life; it spans the course of many decades and tells the stories of several people related to Oscar. The effect is of fragmentation rather than linear progression. Why did you choose to structure the story like this?
Díaz: I'm a product of a fragmented world. Take a brief look at Dominican or Caribbean history and you'll see that the structure of the book is more in keeping with the reality of this history than with its most popular myth: that of unity and continuity. In my mind the book was supposed to take the shape of an archipelago; it was supposed to be a textual Caribbean. Shattered and yet somehow holding together, somehow incredibly vibrant and compelling.
Guernica (I can never pass up a good rabbit reference).

Guernica: [What is your] favorite character from a book.

Junot Diaz: Fiver from Watership Down

Guernica: Why?

Junot Diaz: He’s kind of like a little nerd rabbit. But even though he’s very tiny he’s very brave.
Of course one cannot go wrong with NPR's Fresh Air. NPR also catches him sharing Thanksgiving memories, reflecting on the immigrant experience, and the 2008 election.


In a sort of summit of nerdishness, Junot Diaz meets Stephen Colbert:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Junot Diaz
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

The book has been made into a play and a film is in development.

Finally, last month Amnesty International issued press releases regarding proposed changes to the Dominican constitution which will affect access to safe abortion. See also current actions concerning the Dominican Republic here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy Tenth Anniversary!

We can't let this month pass without noting that it is Rights Readers tenth anniversary. Thanks to everyone who has joined us over the years, especially our charter members, Joyce, Lucas, Paul, Larry and Robert. I still remember when we finished our first discussion, I was thinking it went well and just maybe we could do this on a quarterly, maybe even bimonthly basis, and you all turned to me and asked what we would read next month! Luckily I had a few suggestions ready... and so we were off! We've been around the world a few times over, covered human rights landmarks stretching back over a century, and solved a few mysteries, even if we haven't delivered world peace, (though we take credit for one happy marriage!) in the process. Here's to ten more years of good friends and good reads!

At left are just a few of the 120 books we have read. Check here for the full list plus our upcoming selections.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

For January: My Guantanamo Diary

For January, we have chosen My Guantanamo Diary: The Detainees and the Stories They Told Me by Mahvish Khan:
Mahvish Khan is the only Afghan-American to walk into Guantanamo of her own accord. This unique book is her story, and the story of the men she grew to know uniquely well inside the cages of Guantanamo. Mahvish Khan is an American lawyer, born to immigrant Afghan parents. She was outraged that her country, the USA, seemed to have suspended its tradition of equality for all under the law with regard to those imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and so she volunteered to translate for the lawyers - including British lawyer and founder of Reprieve Clive Stafford Smith - acting pro bono for the prisoners. Because she spoke their language, understood their customs and brought them Starbucks chai, the closest available drink to the kind of tea they would drink at home, they quickly befriended her, offering fatherly advice as well as a uniquely personal insight into their plight, and that of their families thousands of miles away at home. Some at Guantanamo are terrorists who deserve to be convicted and sentenced as such. Some are paediatricians and school teachers. We cannot tell the difference until we see them as individuals with their own unique stories. They deserve that much. No other writer has had access to the detainees. This book is a testament to their captivity. It documents the voices of men who have been tortured and held in a black hole of indefinite detention without legal recourse for years. It shows who they are and also allows readers to see that these men are more similar to us than they are different.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Meditation

The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember StalinWhile we are still feeling the wind off the steppe from our exploration of Stalinism (The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin) it's natural that some of us have turned to the great Russian poets. Intrepid Reader Stevi suggests the very appropriate "The Heirs of Stalin" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko as companion to this book. I'll add that some of the references to Anna Akhmatova sent me off to browse poetry sites. I recommend "The Sentence" available at the Favorite Poem Project site. More Akhmatova here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Our September Author: Adam Hochschild

The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember StalinTen years ago, Rights Readers got its start with Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost. This month, we are reading another of Hochschild's books, The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin.

Most available interviews with the author focus on Ghost or his subsequent book on the history of the movement to abolish slavery, Bury the Chains, however the internet still serves up this 1994 piece from the Progressive and in this interview from 2005 he answers some general questions on what he reads and how he writes. For the latest from Hochschild, check out this very recent New York Review of Books piece: Rape of the Congo (with accompanying podcast).

There are several online exhibitions on the Soviet gulags and you can spend much time just browsing photographs:
George Mason University Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives and Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom).
Open Society Gulag: Forced Labor Camps
The New York Public Library NYPL Digital Gallery
A website for a film GULAG 113 that has some multimedia extras
Finally, this site from a survivor: KOLYMA: The Land of Gold and Death
For a glimpse at how Russians are still processing the Stalin era be sure to check out this NYT article: Re-Stalinization of a Moscow Subway Station.

Memorial and Natalya Estemirova

The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember StalinContinuing our exploration of Adam Hochschild's The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin, you can learn more about the human rights organization Memorial at their website and virtual museum which notably includes artwork made by imprisoned artists.

Bringing Memorial's story up to the present day, we must call attention to Memorial activist Natalya Estemirova who was assasinated this summer while working to document human rights abuses in Chechnya. Amnesty USA covers the case here. David Remnick has a last interview on the New Yorker site. The Voices of Genocide series from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers a podcast interview with one of Estemirova's Memorial colleagues. Most important of all, you can take action here.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has released a new report just this week Anatomy of Injustice: The Unsolved Killings of Journalists in Russia featuring Natalya Estemirova's friend Anna Politkovskaya (Putin's Russia) among others. Here's a teaser for the report:

Anatomy of Injustice from Dana Chivvis on Vimeo.

The New York Times takes a look at the report here. Note that there has been some good news on the Politkovskaya case earlier this month (AIUSA press release, NYT).

Friday, August 21, 2009

For December: Amulet by Roberto Bolano

For December, we have chosen Roberto Bolano's Amulet:
Amulet embodies in one woman's breathtaking voice the melancholy and violent recent history of Latin America. It begins: "This is going to be a horror story."

The speaker is Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan woman in Mexico City in the 1960s, who becomes the "Mother of Mexican Poetry." Tall, thin, and blonde, she is famous as the sole person who resists the army's invasion of the university campus: she hides in a ladies' room for twelve days. As she waits out the occupiers, with nothing to eat, Auxilio recalls her adventures in exile, and talks about two elderly exiled lions of Spanish poetry, three remarkable women, and her favorite young poet, Arturo Belano (Bolaño's fictional stand-in throughout his books). Her stories refract light and Auxilio is soon in strange landscapes: in "the dark night of the soul of Mexico City," in ice-bound mountainsides, in a bathroom where moonlight shines, moving slowly from tile to tile, and in a terrifying chasm. Amulet keenly demonstrates, as The Los Angeles Times noted, that "Bolaño is by far the most exciting writer to have come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rights Readers Round-up

The Complete PersepolisRights Readers authors have been busy this summer:

Iran continues to be a major topic of commentary: check out Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) in the NYT: I Must Go Home to Iran Again. Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) calls for freeing filmmaker Maziar Bahari (more from AIUSA and action) Message to Tehran: Let our truth-teller go. Stephen Kinzer (Crescent and Star) is optimistic Iran and U.S. 'not fated to be enemies forever' and offers some advice to Obama on a shared birthday.

On the home front, Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) has three NYT editorials with audio supplement on the how the recession has hit the "already poor," here, here and here, while Hector Tobar (The Tattooed Soldier) has another insightful column on immigration. Walter Mosley (Little Scarlet) offers 10 Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets, and has an opinion piece in Newseek: America's Obsession with Crime which he also discusses on NPR.

Tracy Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains) pays tribute to a local hero he met while writing his latest book (Strength in What Remains) in the NYT: A Death in Burundi. Edwidge Danticat (Brother, I'm Dying) writes an appreciation of Nobelist Wole Soyinka for the Progressive.

Mark Hertsgaard
(Earth Odyssey) reports from Burkina Faso on climate change and appears on a panel on food security and climate change. Hertsgaard is preparing a book on the subject, certainly a good candidate for a Rights Read. Kevin Bales (Disposable People) is interviewed about his latest book, The Slave Next Door.

As follow up to our discussion of Caroline Elkins, (Imperial Reckoning), check out the Times (London) coverage of efforts by Mau Mau veterans to investigate torture claims, here and here with analysis here and here. Speaking of Kenya, Michela Wrong (I Didn't Do It for You) can be found promoting her new book, It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower at openDemocracy (see also interviews with NPR and NYT.) Her pr strategy has some interesting twists.

Muhammad Yunus (Banker To The Poor) was one of the luminaries who received a presidential medal of freedom. Paul Farmer (Mountains Beyond Mountains) will not be heading USAID, but Samantha Power (A Problem from Hell) has been appointed by President Obama to assist refugees of Iraq war. And did you know that in a nod to the late Russian journalists Anna Politkovskaya (Putin's Russia) and her brave colleagues, President Obama gave an interview in Novaya Gazeta on his recent Moscow visit? More from CPJ. Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking) has some post-papal audience questions for Obama (and the activist community). Meanwhile Jarvis Jay Masters' (Finding Freedom) latest, That Bird Has My Wings is available for amazon pre-order.

Okay, so I should probably post a little more often so as not to make this such a huge link dump... but at least I'm caught up!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Our August Author: Zoe Ferraris

Finding NoufZoe Ferraris, author of Finding Nouf, a mystery set in Saudi Arabia, has her own website where you should be sure to check out the Q&A. She also has a blog, Pilgrimage, that will probably get more interesting when she has more than one post (although that first one is pretty good). Matt Beynon Rees (a possible future Rights Readers author) has an interview focusing mostly on the writing and publishing process while KUCI has a good audio interview.

For a little of the Saudi atmosphere, check out this National Geograhic photo gallery .

For human rights background, here is Amnesty International's Saudi Arabia page with additional commentary on the Human Rights Now blog. Even more on topic, check out this Human Rights Watch report: Saudi Arabia: Male Guardianship Policies Harm Women.

Friday, July 24, 2009

For November: The House at Sugar Beach

For November, we have selected The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper:
Helene Cooper is "Congo," a descendant of two Liberian dynasties -- traced back to the first ship of freemen that set sail from New York in 1820 to found Monrovia. Helene grew up at Sugar Beach, a twenty-two-room mansion by the sea. Her childhood was filled with servants, flashy cars, a villa in Spain, and a farmhouse up-country. It was also an African childhood, filled with knock foot games and hot pepper soup, heartmen and neegee. When Helene was eight, the Coopers took in a foster child -- a common custom among the Liberian elite. Eunice, a Bassa girl, suddenly became known as "Mrs. Cooper's daughter."

For years the Cooper daughters -- Helene, her sister Marlene, and Eunice -- blissfully enjoyed the trappings of wealth and advantage. But Liberia was like an unwatched pot of water left boiling on the stove. And on April 12, 1980, a group of soldiers staged a coup d'état, assassinating President William Tolbert and executing his cabinet. The Coopers and the entire Congo class were now the hunted, being imprisoned, shot, tortured, and raped. After a brutal daylight attack by a ragtag crew of soldiers, Helene, Marlene, and their mother fled Sugar Beach, and then Liberia, for America. They left Eunice behind.

A world away, Helene tried to assimilate as an American teenager. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill she found her passion in journalism, eventually becoming a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She reported from every part of the globe -- except Africa -- as Liberia descended into war-torn, third-world hell.

In 2003, a near-death experience in Iraq convinced Helene that Liberia -- and Eunice -- could wait no longer. At once a deeply personal memoir and an examination of a violent and stratified country, The House at Sugar Beach tells of tragedy, forgiveness, and transcendence with unflinching honesty and a survivor's gentle humor. And at its heart, it is a story of Helene Cooper's long voyage home.

For more on Helene Cooper and The House at Sugar Beach please visit this post.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Our July Author: Teresa Rodriguez

The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the BorderThis month we read The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border by Univision correspondent Teresa Rodriguez. Here is her website and here is an audio interview about her reporting on the Juarez cases with NPR and another with WNYC. If you prefer a print there is this Q&A from LatinoBlogs,
That evening, as I lay down to sleep, I received a couple of phone calls on the hotel phone, but no one spoke, all I heard was heavy breathing. When I called the front desk to complain and to ask that they not transfer any more calls to my room, they explained they had not done so, in other words, the calls had originated from inside the hotel...
Here is a recent report from NPR on drug killings in Juarez.

For a visual take on Juarez, check out this photo essay by Tim Fadek and don't miss this previous post on the topic.

See Amnesty International's Mexico and Stop Violence Against Women pages for appropriate actions.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Juarez: Poetry, Art and Song

Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juarez (Spanish Edition)As a little warm-up to this month's discussion of Teresa Rodriguez' The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border, take some time out for a poetic treatment of the tragedy of the women of Juarez through the work of Marjorie Agosin. Her poetry collection, Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juarez,

How many times do I talk with my dead?
And the night was a precipice
More of her poems here.

You might also want to check out musical tributes by Lila Downs and Los Tigres del Norte (more on the Los Tigres song from NPR here). I know there has been more than a few artists who have commemorated these young women, but so far I've found only one link. Suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Rights Readers Round-up: Climate Change Edition

Another in our periodic updates on Rights Readers authors, this time with an environmental twist:

Orville Schell
(Mandate Of Heaven) previews the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen highlighting the U.S.-China divide on climate change solutions. Nation subscribers might want to check out Mark Hertsgaard's (Earth Odyssey) article on the same subject, 'Shades of Green'. I also highly recommend exploring the Asia Society's excellent multimedia web resources on China and climate change which feature interviews with Schell. Check out the air quality in Beijing and watch time lapse view of the melting of the Tibetan plateau and learn how drought is affecting nomadic herding cultures of the area.

Edward Humes (No Matter How Loud I Shout), now on the environmental beat, profiles the Center for Biological Diversity and their fight against development at Tejon Ranch,
The organization’s goal is to augment its usual battle over specific endangered species issues—in Tejon’s case, the California condor—with a broader campaign to show that projects such as Tejon are precisely the sort of development, built far from existing cities and requiring residents to “leapfrog” through the outlying area to get to work, that must stop if we are to get serious about slowing climate change. It argues that state and federal laws should force developers at Tejon—and elsewhere—to quantify their contribution to global warming and then do everything feasible to eliminate that impact, from installing solar roofs to mandating zero-emission vehicles for residents.
A little follow-up on Wiwa v Shell: Transcript of Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr. (In the Shadow of a Saint)interview at CNN and here's a Reuters report on the impact of the case on Big Oil. Meanwhile Zina Saro-Wiwa, taking on a cultural ambassador role for African positivity premiers a film, This is My Africa.

More than one of our Esteemed Readers have praised the film, The Linguists (view online here). I'm going to recommend this fascinating article about the nexus between climate change and language diversity from Seed, 'In Defense of Difference,'
Epicenters of global biodiversity, it turns out, tend to be situated in exactly the same places as the epicenters of high cultural, linguistic, and food-crop diversity.
Homogeneous landscapes — whether linguistic, cultural, biological, or genetic — are brittle and prone to failure. The evidence peppers human history, as Jared Diamond so meticulously catalogued in his aptly named book, Collapse. Whether it was due to a shifting climate that devastated a too-narrow agricultural base, a lack of cultural imagination in how to deal with the problem, or a devastating combination of the two, societies insufficiently resilient enough to cope with the demands of a changing environment invariably crumbled.
Hey! Poets and scientists unite! You should also Check out this UN Tribute to Poetry in Endangered Languages with handy world poetry map!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Rights Readers Round-up

Our periodic round-up of what's been happening with our favorite authors:

Martha Minow (Between Vengeance and Forgiveness) has been appointed Dean of Harvard Law School.

A retrial has been ordered for some of the alleged conspirators in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya (Putin's Russia).

Amira Hass (Drinking the Sea at Gaza) speaks with Amy Goodman about editing her mother's Holocaust memoir (Diary of Bergen-Belsen: 1944-1945--Hanna Levy-Hass).

In the wake of the sentencing of two American journalists to hard labor in North Korea, the NYT discusses sources of information regarding life in North Korea which of course includes Kang Chol-hwan's (The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag). Also noted is this video of the camp where Kang lived. Take action for Laura Ling and Euna Lee here.

Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) received the Jefferson Award for public service and more recognition from the National Education Association. National Geographic notes a Pakistani honor and investigates his project's Taliban problem.

Toni Morrison has been promoting a volume she edited on censorship (Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word) which includes essays by Rights Readers favorites Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk and Nadine Gordimer, The NYT reports,
Morrison, looking regal and speaking in a warm, languid voice, talked about how she had proudly framed and hung in a bathroom a letter that said that “Song of Solomon” could not be distributed among Texas inmates because “it might stir inmates to riot.” She let that sink in for a few seconds. “I thought, ‘what a powerful book.’ ”
Speaking of censorship... Jose Saramago (Blindness) has found himself at the center of the struggle for press freedom in Italy. The BBC has a good profile on the Nobel Laureate in anticipation of his forthcoming book, Death with Interruptions.

Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) has sanctioned a reworking of some of her material to promote Iranian democracy. The Guardian quotes the creators of the mash-up,

"Her cartoon are about her life but to my generation of Iranians (at least in the West) they have become more than that, they have become iconic. The fact that images from 30 years ago can tell a story about what is happening now makes them all the more powerful.

"Unlike her original work, Persepolis 2.0 is filled with flaws and inaccuracies, but the bottom line is that it has helped spark hundreds of conversations and that's more than we could have expected."

Californians! Read Sister Helen Prejean's (Dead Man Walking) no-holds-barred letter to the Department of Corrections regarding revisions to California's lethal injection protoccol.

Were you aware of Amnesty International's contributions to the history of comedy? Fun interview with Monty Python vets from WNYC here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

For October: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

For October, we have selected The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz,
Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister— dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

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