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July 2016

Iran and The Complete Persepolis

 

I just realized that I have yet to talk about ANY of the books I’ve read from the Middle East!

/crying I’m so sorry Middle East, I love your books just as much as the rest of the world, I swear!

I’ll begin with one of my all-time favorite books period, The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Marjane, if you’re reading this, please know that your book came into my life at a time when I was searching for answers to a lot of different things. And while Persepolis didn’t exactly answer my questions, I felt like it was at least asking some of the same questions I was, which was comforting in and of itself. Thank you.

The Complete Persepolis is a graphic novel, and is the biography of the author, who grew up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Although Satrapi was a young child at the time of the initial revolution, as she grew older and began to rebel against some of the restrictions in Iran – such as women not being allowed to wear makeup in public – her parents began to fear for her safety, and eventually sent her to a boarding school in Austria. Eventually, Satrapi returns to Iran, but finds that she still cannot cope with the restrictions placed on her. Eventually, she leaves Iran again, this time for good.

This was originally two books: Persepolis book 1 and Persepolis book 2. The first book deals with Satrapi’s life in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution, until her parents send her to Austria. The second book deals with her life in Austria, and her eventual return to Iran.

This is often a tough book to read, guys. Satrapi unflinchingly looks at some of the many gruesome, horrifying, and sometimes despairing details that she experienced growing up in Iran at this time. She talks about how a popular movie theater was set on fire, , purposely trapping 400 people inside. She talks about how her uncle was arrested, executed, and buried in a mass grave. And she talks about the obvious fear that her parents had for her safety, when she first started to rebel against her social restrictions as a teenager.

But there are a lot of good moments, too. I personally connected with Satrapi a LOT when she talked about her bond with her grandmother. It’s obvious that the two were very close. And I love her feisty attitude about everything! It makes me think we could be good friends, if we ever met 🙂

FYI, if you know literally nothing about Iran or the Islamic Revolution, this book is an EXCELLENT place to start. I knew nothing about Iran when I picked up this book, but Satrapi explains everything nice and slow, so you don’t feel like you’re being left behind by your lack of knowledge. And if you were like me, and you grew up with people telling you that all Muslims were bad guys, this is also a very good book to start unlearning all that horrible shit. All Muslims are definitely NOT bad guys – that’s just ridiculous, and fear-mongering.

But don’t take my word for it – read this book instead! 🙂

Uganda and Groundnut Soup

I have a confession to make.

I didn’t actually like this recipe! 😦 😦 😦

I feel terrible! The picture LOOKS delicious! In my book for Uganda, The Abyssinian Chronicles, it sound amazing!

But I just didn’t like it 😦

So, the recipe is called Ugandan Groundnut Soup, and is apparently a staple of this African region. The REASON I didn’t like it, I think, is because the ingredient list calls for both “stewing beef” and “smooth peanut butter.” Plus veggies.

Now. I love peanut butter. And I love beef. And I also happen to love veggies. But a combination of all three?! Not for me!!!

(If you have eaten this soup and love it I am so sorry. I am so glad you like it. Unfortunately, I did not).

After making a couple different African recipes, my husband and I have discovered that apparently a lot of African dishes are quite thick. And it kind of throws us a bit. It’s definitely not something we were expecting.

I will say I thought this was better fresh than as leftovers. If that helps.

But please, don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself!!!

 

Sri Lanka and Island of a Thousand Mirrors

WARNING: I may gush about this book.

Sri Lanka! That really big island off the coast of India (no, it’s not part of India). It is to India what Madagascar is to Africa. At least geographically. I don’t know about any other similarities. Or lack thereof. I am literally just talking about how it looks on the map.

Anyway.

I got really excited to read my book from Sri Lanka, because I REALLY LOVE M.I.A. (who is Sri Lankan, in case you didn’t already know).

The book: Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. It is beautiful, and terrifying, and haunting.

The book takes place during the Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted 3 decades, from the 1970s until 2009. Basically, there were two ethnic groups: the majority Sinhalese in the south, who were mostly Hindu, and the minority Tamils in the north, who were mostly Muslim. They really hated each other, with the Tamils claiming they were being repressed by the Sinhalese (not a completely unfounded statement), and eventually they just started killing and raping each other.

I wish I was being sarcastic.

The Tamils eventually resorted to terrorist tactics, and would use suicide bombers in crowded areas, taking out soldiers and civilians alike. The Sinhalese soldiers, for their part, were known to kidnap and rape young, unprotected Tamil girls – among other atrocities.

The book follows two teenage girls who grow up during the war – one a Sinhalese whose family flees the violence to live in the United States, and the other a Tamil, who is cannot escape the country, and thus grows up knowing the violence and danger of the civil war all her life.

I thought Munaweera, who is Sinhalese herself, did a really good job of staying impartial throughout the book. It would have been very easy to just Blame the Terrorists for the violence that happened – but it wouldn’t have told the whole story. How do people become terrorists, anyway? Or for that matter, how does someone decide to become a suicide bomber? Munaweera asks that very question in her book:

“…I dream of that head every night… I know it must have been the suicide bomber. Only an extremely close detonation would pop a head off a body like that. It makes me ponder this woman, girl really. What could have led her to this singularly terrible end? What secret wound bled until she chose this most public disassembly of herself?”

With all the recent terrorist violence in the world, I find myself wondering why more people aren’t asking that question. It has to take a really messed up person to become a suicide bomber – a person who has been messed up because of…what? Religious fanaticism? Loneliness? Lack of a homeland? Poverty? What messes up a person so bad that they decide that killing themselves, and killing as many people as they can in the process, is a good idea?

There are parts of this book that will probably haunt me forever. But this question that Munaweera asks – “What secret wound bled until she chose this most public disassembly of herself?” – I think is the most important question. Certainly it is central to the book itself. I find myself thinking of this scene whenever I hear of another terrorist attack somewhere in the world. I don’t have an answer yet – probably never will. But I think it’s important to keep asking.

What books have left you with questions that you find yourself still searching for answers for?

Australia and Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

For this post, I promise with my whole heart NOT to fake an Australian accent.

Promise.

Today’s post will feature Doris Pilkington and her famous book, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. Pilkington, also known by her native Aboriginal name Nugi Garimara, based this book on the real-life story of her mother and two aunts who walked 1000 miles as young children across remote Western Australia to be reunited with their family.

For realz, they walked 1000 miles. 1600 kilometers. The oldest kid was 14.

In case you’re not aware of the European settlers’ treatment of the Aboriginal Australians, this book would be a decent place to start. During the 1930s in Australia, it was a common practice to forcibly remove Aboriginal children from their families and send them to boarding schools, which doubled as brainwashing institutions where these children were taught to reject their indigenous culture and embrace white culture. This meant they were given new names, forbidden to speak their native languages, and were often told that their parents were dead or had abandoned them. These children have come to be known as ‘the Stolen Generation‘.

In addition, these “schools” offered very little real education, as these children were expected to grow up to perform manual and domestic labor. And there was very little food, and what food there was was often crappy (think Oliver Twist). Oh, and they were often abused.

So, OBVIOUSLY kids wanted to escape these places. If you were caught, you were severely punished – the book describes one boy’s failed attempt earning him a beating and solitary confinement with only bread and water. But even if you did manage to escape, it was literally a 1000 mile journey back home for most of these kids. That’s a only slightly less than the distance from New York City to Kansas City. In the Australian Outback. But these three sisters were determined to journey back home to their family, so they planned a bold escape, avoiding towns and following the “rabbit-proof fence” towards home.

The rabbit-proof fence, by the way, was this super long fence that the Australian government had put up in an attempt to keep rabbits and other “pests” out of fields and towns. It had become a sort of symbol of civilization. Beyond the rabbit-proof fence was the harshest of the Australian desert – as well as most of the free Aboriginal population. The girls’ home was also beyond this fence.

Once again, NO SPOILERS, so I’ll have to stop there. Guys, this book is totally worth your time. It’s super thin – 136 pages with the references in the back. It has also been made into a movie, Rabbit-Proof Fence, which I haven’t seen but would like to.

Have you ever read anything from Australia? I’d love to hear from you!

Liberia and Mighty be our Powers

How sisterhood, prayer, and sex changed a nation at war: a memoir.

Now who wouldn’t read a book with that subtitle?! Introducing, for the proud country of Liberia, Mighty be our Powers by Leymah Gbowee.

Side note: wondering why the Liberian flag looks eerily similar to the US flag? That’s because Liberia was founded in part by the American Colonization Society, who didn’t like having so many freed American slaves running around. So they sent them back to Africa. I wish I was joking. The Liberian constitution is modeled on the US’s constitution, and the two countries have had very strong diplomatic ties through the 1990’s, when the country experienced two civil wars nearly back-to-back.

Which brings us to Leymah! Leymah is a truly inspiring woman. Trapped in an abusive relationship, she fights to free herself and her children from a controlling and violent husband. She graduates college with a degree in social work, and then, in the midst of a civil war, starts a grassroots movement with her fellow Liberian women to end the war and usher in peace.

Guys, it worked.

This amazing group of women got together, got organized, and stopped a ruthless dictator (one Charles Taylor) from completely running their country into the ground. They literally sent him packing. It doesn’t get more heroic than that!

What I love most about these women (besides their amazing success) is that they were both Christian and Muslim. One of my favorite parts of the book is when they are sitting in a market protesting, and they would start off the day with both Muslim and Christian prayers:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds…”

I wish more people could pray together like this.

Have you ever read anything from Liberia? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @ProjLibrarian !

St Kitts & Nevis and Only God Can Make a Tree

I’ve mentioned this book several times already, so I figured I might as well go ahead and tell you all about it 🙂

Welcome to St Kitts and Nevis, two beautiful, teeny-tiny islands in the Caribbean! For this country we have: Only God Can Make a Tree by Bertram Roach.

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This is a very short book – only 134 pages – but it is jam-packed with action. It follows three generations of white, black, and mixed race men and women, focusing on whom they chose to marry – and whom they chose to love.

A lot of this novel is very sad. You can really see how race and the desire to improve one’s situation in life are pitted against each other time and time again. It’s a story that’s not unlike that of some African American families in the United States who attempted to “pass” as white, due to their light skin.

There is also a lot of alcoholism in this family. That, coupled with the racial and marital tensions throughout the novel, mean one REALLY messed up family about three-quarters of the way through the book. I won’t spoil anything, but MAN. Talk about messed up and sad 😦

I’ve been describing this book to my friends as a non-erotic romance. There is sex, but it is “off-screen,” so to speak. The ending is absolutely stunning, though. It’s one of those scenes that leaves a very clear image stamped into your mind’s eye. Again, I won’t spoil anything, but I will tell you that the title is taken from a poem by Joyce Kilmer, whom I had never heard of until I read this book, but maybe some of you have. He was an American poet killed during World War I. The poem we are specifically talking about here is called simply “Trees”:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

And this, to me, is what makes a fantastic book: when it leads you to more books. It wasn’t until I got to the end of this book that I finally realized what the whole point of the book had been. I thought I knew – I thought it was a story about race and racism and the social barriers we put in place because of those things. And it is about these things, but not in its entirety. They’re not the main point. The main point is something much, much bigger that I can’t share here because it would ruin it and I want you guys to read this book!!!!!

What books have you guys read that have led you to other books? Did these other books have an impact on how you read the original book?

Spokane and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Since I mentioned this book in my last post, and I just finished reading it so it’s fresh in my mind, I thought I’d talk next about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

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What a great book! There were so many times where I just couldn’t stop laughing. Take this passage, for example: “Yep, that’s right. I admit that I masturbate. I’m proud of it. I’m good at it. I’m ambidextrous.” I think my husband thought I was going insane because I wouldn’t stop laughing when I read this.

Based on this same passage, of course, you can easily see why it was banned or challenged in schools across the country. Check out the American Library Association’s Top Ten Challenged Books list to see how often Part-Time Indian has been listed!

Now, I’m a librarian, and I think banning books is wrong and often pointless. I can clearly recall my parents telling me I couldn’t read certain titles – so I did it anyway, behind their backs. BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY IT’S A GOOD BOOK IF THEY DON’T WANT ME TO READ IT! Right?!

This kind of hearkens back to how I view books and reading anyway. To me, reading is a way to learn about new people/places/situations/cultures/etc. that I’d otherwise never get the chance to discover. When I was a kid, it often felt like most of the books that adults gave me were basically the same – white kids somewhere in America doing white kid things, often in rural settings. (Case in point, I was forced to read the atrocious novel Bert Breen’s Barn in middle school. If you have no idea what this book is, count yourself blessed. SO BORING).  And while there’s nothing WRONG with any of these books (besides the fact the Bert Breen’s Barn almost did permanent brain damage through boredom), after a while, they all started sounding the same. And my curious little brain wanted MORE. And often, those books that offer “more” aren’t available because A) they haven’t been written yet or B) adult don’t want kids to read them.

Also, you’re totally kidding yourself if you think your teen son is not masturbating. Come on. Be real. It’s not like he’s really going into detail here.

If you follow me on Snapchat (and you should be, it’s pretty awesome – username erin.lenae), you’ll know that I snapped a LOT of passages from this book.  And some of them weren’t always funny. Some of them were actually really, really sad – especially when he describes reservation life. There’s a lot of that juxtaposition in the book that really is at the core of the book’s brilliance. For example, the main character’s father is an alcoholic, but he’s still a very loving, committed family man. At one point, the father is driving his son to school (hungover), and he looks awful and probably feels awful, but he tells his son that he is a “warrior” for wanting to go to a school off of the reservation. And to the main character, that simple statement meant the world. It was actually a really touching moment between father and son.

I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend this book. I can’t believe it took me so long to read it myself. Everyone should read it – and then go read more of Sherman Alexie’s writing. I know I will be!

Muscogee/Creek and How we Became Human

Did you know there are “562 federally recognized Indian tribes, bands, nations, pueblos, rancherias, communities and Native villages in the United States”? I didn’t. I had no idea there were so many. I also had no idea they had their own flags – but they sure do! So, basically, that’s 562 individual nations.

And I thought my North American reading was just going to be the US, Canada, and Mexico 0.o

So, I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll mention it again in case you’re new here: I’m basing this entire project off of Ann Morgan, a fellow blogger who came up with the idea to read a book from every country in the world, in order to make herself better read. I thought this was a REALLY COOL idea, and wanted to follow suit with my own list. And here I am!

But, I noticed something about Ann’s list. As cool (and important) as this idea is, she didn’t have a single Native nation on her reading list. I mean, they’re countries too, right? They have their own land, laws, and sovereignty. So don’t they deserve to be on a world reading list? It’s like…OK, this is going to sound a bit dramatic, BUT – it’s like their absence from a world reading list meant their total absence from the world. In a very real way, actually. Like they weren’t a part of the world anymore. Like they didn’t exist.

And that made me sad, because Native people DO still exist! It’s not like they disappeared with the wagon trains and dysentery and saloons and randomly roaming buffalo.

And I get that her list was chosen from the 196 independent, UN-recognized countries in the world. I suppose that’s way to help narrow it down so this reading project doesn’t take you the rest of your life.

BUT.

It just didn’t sit right with me. It feels…I don’t know, it often feels like American society today acts like there are not more Native people left. Like they did disappear with the wagon trains and dysentery and saloons and randomly roaming buffalo. Maybe I’m saying that because I live in a state where there are no reservations or Native populations to speak of. But…if you look at some of our literature today – what’s currently being published, what’s available at our libraries and bookstores, etc. – there’s…not a lot from Native people. And I know everyone reading this is thinking “But what about Sherman Alexie! I read his book! Part-time Indian or something!” AND YES! That is a FANTASTIC book that I just finished reading and will be talking about in a separate post! Buuuuuuuuut I bet that’s the only piece of Native literature that you can name. Unless you’re a Native person. Then you can probably name more.

So that’s why I wanted to add at least SOME of the 562 nations to my reading list. The titles I’ve chosen can be on my North America Reading List. If you have any suggestions, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! I’m relying solely on heavy Googling right now!

And so, in my longest blog post ever, I would like to talk about How we Became Human, a collection of poems by Joy Harjo.

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I read this during April, which is National Poetry Month, completely by (happy) accident, and it turned out to be awesome. There were so many poems that I had to stop and re-read, and re-read, and re-read. One of them really stuck with me. It is called For a Hopi Silversmith:

he has gathered the windstrength
from third mesa
into his hands
and cast it into silver

i have wanted to see
the motion of wind
for a long time

thank you
for showing me

So elegant and simple all at once. No capitalization needed. When I close my eyes after reading this, I see wind being magically swept up and captured in silver. Beautiful. And powerful.

Some of Harjo’s other poems are more energized, such as the poem She Had Some Horses – possibly her most well-known poem. She also writes music and has a couple prose out, too, the most recent being her memoir, Crazy Brave.

Joy Harjo is from the Muscogee, or Creek, Nation.

***Update: Sorry guys – when I posted this yesterday, I forgot to add the book cover and map! My bad! The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is located in Oklahoma, near Tulsa.

Nicaragua and Infinity in the Palm of her Hand

Spoiler: I didn’t really like this book. Like at all.

The book in question is Infinity in the palm of her hand by Gioconda Belli, who was part of the rebel group that toppled the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in the 1970’s.  I’d like to read something else by her someday, because she sounds like a badass, and I don’t really think one book is enough to judge an author’s entire writing career. Unless that’s all they have published, I suppose. Then that really IS their entire writing career.

Anyway.

The title for this book was so intriguing, I couldn’t pass it up. And would you look at that cover? The flowing hair! The beautiful woman! I HAD to read this book.

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The story follows Adam and Eve in an imagined what-it-must-have-been-like-to-be-thrown-out-of-Eden sequence. It focuses entirely on Eve’s view of everything, rather than Adam’s, so that was cool. But it also gets really weird.

The story kind of focuses on Adam and Eve’s relationship, which makes sense as they’re LITERALLY the only people on earth, but it was also kind of weird. Like, Adam was being all macho and authoritative, and I’m all over here like “Where the fuck did he pick that up?” And at certain points it does seem like he is learning these things from God, who talks to Adam and Eve throughout the book, but that just leaves me wondering where Eve was supposed to learn to be a woman if Adam was busy learning to be a man from God. Also, I was always taught that God is actually neither man nor woman, because gender is too human of a trait and God is above human…I digress.

So, OK, Adam and Even get kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and they ‘re trying to figure out how to live, which is interesting and awkward (for instance, they didn’t know they were going to poop). Then Eve has kids, and it gets MORE weird. I won’t spoil the ending for you, in case anyone is interested in reading this for themselves, but I was weirded out by everything with their children. It’s also not Biblical – which is fine, this is fiction – but I also wasn’t quite sure where Belli was going with this.

I think maybe this was just a bad choice for this project, because I wanted books that made me learn at least a little bit about the culture of the country that they’re from. A book about Adam and Even is definitely not going to help me out with that. So maybe that’s just on me for picking the wrong book for this project. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll be recommending this title to anyone anytime soon.

Have any of you ever read this book? What did you guys think of it?

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