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).
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