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'├ętat, 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.
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