Wednesday, March 31, 2010

For July: Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

Strength in What RemainsFor July, we have selected Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder,
In Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder gives us the story of one man’s inspiring American journey and of the ordinary people who helped him, providing brilliant testament to the power of second chances. Deo arrives in the United States from Burundi in search of a new life. Having survived a civil war and genocide, he lands at JFK airport with two hundred dollars, no English, and no contacts. He ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores. Then Deo begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing. Kidder breaks new ground in telling this unforgettable story as he travels with Deo back over a turbulent life and shows us what it means to be fully human.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Our March Author: Leslie T. Chang

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
This month we read Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
by Leslie T. Chang.  Here are a few links to supplement discussion:

One Loop Press explores the author's dual role as journalist and friend to her subjects, a tricky area for such an intimate piece of reporting and, among other topics, Chang explains how she tried to tell a different story about the factory girls,
I felt like people had taken a very American perspective, by which I mean they went in thinking, “Where are the abuses? How can we write articles to try to improve the system?” Even, “How can we as consumers do things to make things better for these workers?” What I wanted to do was look at it from the inside China point-of-view. To ask, “What is it like for these young people?” They’re not sitting here thinking, “I need an eight hour workday, and minimum wage, and this much, this much,” all these things that Western people would think about right away. They’re just thinking, “I want to get to the city, I want to make some money, and I want to improve myself.” So from their perspective life looks very different than it does to us. That’s what I wanted to capture in trying to get as much as possible inside their lives and inside their heads, to see how they saw their experience rather than how we would judge it and in many ways criticize it and find problems with it.

The China Beat has an interview that gets at the links between the two distinct narratives of the book, following the factory girls and Chang's exploration of her family's history,
I think the story of leaving home, going to a strange place and making a new life is universal. And I did think while writing it that while I know China is very distant for most Americans, I hope Americans reading this will feel like this is the story of their ancestors as well. And obviously without downplaying all of the differences in China’s history and China’ situation, this is kind of a universal story. That was also one of the motivating factors for my reporting on migrants in the first place. When we talk about the American migration story, whether from Europe or from somewhere else, it isn’t a story of pure privation and desperation and horrible conditions although all those things existed in some form. It’s really a story about opportunity and adventure and a new life. And I felt like the story of the migrants leaving their villages for the city might have some similarities with that story.

In an audio interview from Connecticut Public Radio, Chang explains the anthropological approach she used in writing this book, changing relationships between migrant children and parents, her subjects' reaction to her writing, industrial pollution, and more.

Here is a talk Chang gave for Authors@Google (the first part is mostly a reading, questions start at about the 20 minutes in):

In a Why I Write interview,  Chang answers questions about her favorite authors (a couple Rights Readers favorites get a mention-- Ha Jin and Tracy Kidder).

As a bonus on the subject of exploring family history, check out the recent PBS series Faces of America  for the portions exploring Yo-Yo Ma's genealogy.

And don't forget to check out our previous post regarding films related to the migrant experience in China!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Factory Girls Film Festival

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing ChinaIn preparation for this month's discussion of Leslie Chang's Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, here are a few suggestions for films you may also enjoy as a supplement to the book:

First, Manufactured Landscapes is a documentary on the work of  photographer Edward Burtynsky. Burtynsky traces the path of rampant consumerism from manufacture to landfill starting on the floor of a Chinese factory.  For more on Burtynsky visit his website and browse the stills.  The film is essential for understanding the monumental scale of the Chinese manufacturing (and disassembling) enterprise.

The documentary Up the Yangtze follows a young girl as she leaves her family to find work aboard a cruise ship in the Three Gorges Dam area.  Although this is not factory work, the challenges and transformation for this child and her family are similar to those described by Chang.

Finally, the films of Chinese director Jia Zhang Ke feature a recurring theme of dislocation in the midst of societal transformation on a massive scale.  The pacing can at times be tedious, but I found Still Life, also set in the Three Gorges area, to be one of his most accessible and is worth seeing for the cinematography alone.

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