Rights Readers

Human Rights Book Discussion Group
AIUSA Group 22 (Pasadena/Caltech)

RightsReaders.blogspot.com

Rights Readers is an education and outreach project of Amnesty International Group 22. We meet every third Sunday of the month at 6:30 PM at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena (695 E.Colorado Blvd.). We encourage you to read the book, but if you are just curious, please don't hesitate to stop by, listen in and ask questions!

To find out what we are reading now, please visit Martha's Rights Readers blog.  You'll find items of interest about our current and past book selections, news about Group 22, and thoughtful reflections on human rights issues.

Below is a list of titles we have already read, followed by a list of fuller descriptions of the same books. If you would like to recommend your own favorite human rights-related titles please contact us . Many of these books are now available for loans on the bookshelves in the Caltech Y (the building next door to where Group 22 holds its monthly meetings, at San Pasqual between Hill and Holliston -- see the main page). Just stop by their office on weekdays between 9am and 5pm and ask to see the Amnesty shelves.

For more information contact Martha (rightsreaders@gmail.com) or Group 22 (aigp22@caltech.edu).

 
Scroll down for list of books that we read from 1999 through 2008; click on titles for fuller descriptions.
Martha also maintains a booklist alphabetized by author.

December 2008  The Successor  by  Ismail Kadare
November 2008  The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?  by  Francisco Goldman
October 2008  The Reluctant Fundamentalist  by  Mohsin Hamid
September 2008  Selling Olga: Stories of Human Trafficking  by  Louisa Waugh
August 2008  The Redbreast  by  Jo Nesbo
July 2008  China Road  by  Rob Gifford
June 2008  Lost City Radio  by  Daniel Alarcon
May 2008  Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the battle against world poverty  by  Muhammad Yunus
April 2008  The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears  by  Dinaw Mengestu
March 2008  Unbowed: A Memoir  by  Wangari Maathai
February 2008  The Yacoubian Building  by  Alaa Al AswanyR
January 2008  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan  by  Lisa See

December 2007  From Newbury with Love: Letters of Friendship across the Iron Curtain  by  Marina Aidova and Anna Horsbrugh-Porter
November 2007  Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran  by  Jason Elliot
October 2007  The Attack  by  Yasmina Khadra
September 2007  Enrique's Journey  by  Sonia Nazario
August 2007  The Coroner's Lunch  by  Colin Cotterill
July 2007  Three Cups of Tea  by  Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
June 2007  The Line of Beauty  by  Alan Hollinghurst
May 2007  Imperial Reckoning  by  Caroline Elkins
April 2007  Tracks  by  Louise Erdrich
March 2007  Putin's Russia  by  Anna Politkovskaya
February 2007  The Inheritance of Loss  by  Kiran Desai
January 2007  Bitter Grounds  by  Sandra Benitez

December 2006  My Father's Rifle  by  Hiner Saleem
November 2006  Spoken Here: Travels among Threatened Languages  by  Mark Abley
October 2006  Beasts of No Nation  by  Uzodinma Iweala
September 2006  I Didn't Do it For You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation  by  Michela Wrong
August 2006  Summer of the Big Bachi  by  Naomi Hirahara
July 2006  Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster  by  Svetlana Alexievich
June 2006  The Noodle Maker  by  Ma Jian
May 2006  Finding George Orwell in Burma  by  Emma Larkin
April 2006  Austerlitz  by  W.G. Sebald
March 2006  A Death in Brazil  by  Peter Robb
February 2006  Harbor  by  Lorraine Adams
January 2006  The Known World  by  Edward P. Jones

December 2005  Persepolis  by  Marjane Satrapi
November 2005  In the Shadow of a Saint  by  Ken Wiwa
October 2005  Snow  by  Orhan Pamuk
September 2005  Catfish and Mandala  by  Andrew X. Pham
August 2005  Little Scarlet  by  Walter Mosley
July 2005  Hearing Birds Fly  by  Louisa Waugh
June 2005  Graceland  by  Chris Abani
May 2005  Dancing with Cuba  by  Alma Guillermoprieto
April 2005  A Breath of Fresh Air  by  Amulya Malladi
March 2005  The Bone Woman  by  Clea Koff
February 2005  Midnight's Children  by  Salman Rushdie
January 2005  Picasso's War: The Destruction of Guernica and the Masterpiece that Changed the World  by  Russell Martin

December 2004  The Day the Leader was Killed  by  Naguib Mahfouz
November 2004  Triangle: The Fire that Changed America  by  David Von Drehle
October 2004  The Dark Bride  by  Laura Restrepo
September 2004  Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World  by  Tracy Kidder
August 2004  Bangkok 8  by  John Burdett
July 2004  Blood Diamonds  by  Greg Campbell
June 2004  The Crazed   by  Ha Jin
May 2004  A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide  by  Samantha Power
April 2004  White Sky, Black Ice  by  Stan Jones
March 2004  Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books  by  Azar Nafisi
February 2004  Bel Canto  by  Ann Patchett
January 2004 Tainted Legacy: 9-11 and the Ruin of Human Rights  by  William Schulz

December 2003  Ella Minnow Pea  by  Mark Dunn
November 2003  The River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong  by  Edward Gargan
October 2003  A Gesture Life  by  Chang-rae Lee
September 2003  Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds  by  Stephen Kinzer
August 2003  Outcast  by  Jose Latour
July 2003  The Dressing Station: A Surgeon's Chronicle of War and Medicine  by  Jonathan Kaplan
June 2003  The Pickup  by  Nadine Gordimer
May 2003  The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag  by  Kang Chol Hwan
April 2003  A Sky So Close  by  Betool Khedairi
March 2003  A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  by  Mary Ann Glendon
February 2003  Our Lady of the Assassins (La Virgen de los Sicarios)  by  Fernando Vallejo
January 2003  The Atlantic Sound  by  Caryl Phillips

December 2002  Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress  by  Dai Sijie
November 2002  Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America  by  Barbara Ehrenreich
October 2002  Abyssinian Chronicles  by  Moses Isegawa
September 2002  In Our Own Best Interest: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All  by  William F. Schulz
August 2002  Moghul Buffet  by  Cheryl Benard
July 2002  Coyotes: A Journey through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens  by  Ted Conover
June 2002  Martyr's Crossing  by  Amy Wilentz
May 2002  Calamities of Exile  by  Lawrence Weschler
April 2002  Three Apples Fell from Heaven  by  Micheline Ahoranian Marcom
March 2002  Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture  by  John Conroy
February 2002  Blindness  by  Jose Saramago
January 2002  Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan  by  Jason Elliot

December 2001  Omon Ra  by  Victor Pelevin
November 2001  Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk  by  Palden Gyatso
October 2001  Moth Smoke  by  Moshin Hamid
September 2001  Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond  by  Michael Ignatieff
August 2001  The Tattooed Soldier  by  Hector Tobar
July 2001  Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing  by  Ted Conover
June 2001  Anil's Ghost  by  Michael Ondaatje
May 2001  Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future  by  Mark Hertsgaard
April 2001  House of Splendid Isolation  by  Edna O'Brien
March 2001  A Miracle, a Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers  by  Lawrence Weschler
February 2001  Ocean of Words: Stories  by  Ha Jin
January 2001  Enduring the Darkness: A Story of Conscience, Hope and Triumph  by  Kim Song-man

December 2000  Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence  by  Martha Minow
November 2000  Secrets  by  Nuruddin Farah
October 2000  Dead Man Walking  by  Sr. Helen Prejean
September 2000  This Earth of Mankind  by  Pramodeya Ananta Toer
August 2000  Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege  by  Amira Hass
July 2000  Before Night Falls  by  Reinaldo Arenas
June 2000  Mandate of Heaven: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square and the Next Generation of China's Leaders  by  Orville Schell
May 2000  The Cost of Living  by  Arundhati Roy
April 2000  Disposable People : New Slavery in the Global Economy  by  Kevin Bales
March 2000  Death in the Andes  by  Mario Vargas Llosa
February 2000  No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court  by  Edward Humes
January 2000 (no book this month)

December 1999  Amazon Journal: Dispatches from a Vanishing Frontier  by  Geoffrey O'Connor
November 1999  Sky Burial: An Eyewitness Account of China's Brutal Crackdown in Tibet  by  Blake Kerr
October 1999  We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda  by  Philip Gourevitch
September 1999  King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa  by  Adam Hochschild

December
2008
The Successor
   by  Ismail Kadare

A powerful political novel based on the sudden, mysterious death of the man who had been handpicked to succeed the hated Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. Did he commit suicide or was he murdered? That is the burning question. The man who died by his own hand, or another's, was Mehmet Shehu, the presumed heir to the ailing dictator, Enver Hoxha. So sure was the world that he was next in line, he was known as The Successor. And then, shortly before he was to assume power, he was found dead.

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November
2008
The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?
   by  Francisco Goldman

Bishop Juan Gerardi, Guatemala's leading human rights activist, was bludgeoned to death in his garage on a Sunday night in 1998, two days after the presentation of a groundbreaking church-sponsored report implicating the military in the murders and disappearances of some two hundred thousand civilians. Realizing that it could not rely on police investigators or the legal system to solve the murder, the church formed its own investigative team, a group of secular young men in their twenties who called themselves Los Intocables (the Untouchables). Known in Guatemala as "The Crime of the Century," the Bishop Gerardi murder case, with its unexpectedly outlandish scenarios and sensational developments, confounded observers and generated extraordinary controversy.

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October
2008
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
   by  Mohsin Hamid

At a cafe table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter . . . Changez is living an immigrant's dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite valuation firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez's own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

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September
2008
Selling Olga: Stories of Human Trafficking
   by  Louisa Waugh

It seems inconceivable in the 21st century, but human trafficking is now the world's fastest-growing illegal industry: according to U.S. government estimates, between 700,000 and two million people have become victims. Following three years of in-depth research, award-winning author and journalist Louisa Waugh has produced a vivid, unflinching account of how this immoral commerce operates and why it thrives. Throughout Eastern Europe, a combination of war and poverty has led to women being sold in bars, confined, and coerced into sex work. And while Waugh focuses especially on one woman, Olga, who tells her own story in angry, heartbreaking detail, she also introduces us to many others across Europe including Nigerian women in Italy and migrants trapped in other forms of forced labor.

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August
2008
The Redbreast
   by  Jo Nesbo

Police Detective Harry Hole has made a terrible mistake. An embarrassment in the line of duty has pulled him off his usual beat. Reassigned to mundane surveillance tasks, he reluctantly agrees to monitor neo-Nazi activities in Oslo. But as Hole is drawn into an underground world of illegal gun trafficking, brutal beatings, and sexual extortions, he soon learns that he must act fast to prevent an international conspiracy from unfolding. Trapped in the crosshairs of the man with all the answers, Harry Hole plunges headlong into a mystery with roots deep in the past. His investigation takes him back to Norway's darkest hour--when members of the young nation's government collaborated with leaders of Nazi Germany.

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July
2008
China Road
   by  Rob Gifford

In this utterly surprising and deeply personal book, acclaimed National Public Radio reporter Rob Gifford, a fluent Mandarin speaker, takes the dramatic journey along Route 312 from its start in the boomtown of Shanghai to its end on the border with Kazakhstan. Gifford reveals the rich mosaic of modern Chinese life in all its contradictions, as he poses the crucial questions that all of us are asking about China: Will it really be the next global superpower? Is it as solid and as powerful as it looks from the outside? And who are the ordinary Chinese people, to whom the twenty-first century is supposed to belong?

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June
2008
Lost City Radio
   by  Daniel Alarcon

For ten years, Norma has been the on-air voice of consolation and hope for the Indians in the mountains and the poor from the barrios--a people broken by war's violence. As the host of Lost City Radio, she reads the names of those who have disappeared--those whom the furiously expanding city has swallowed. Through her efforts lovers are reunited and the lost are found. But in the aftermath of the decadelong bloody civil conflict, her own life is about to forever change--thanks to the arrival of a young boy from the jungle who provides a cryptic clue to the fate of Norma's vanished husband.

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May
2008
Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the battle against world poverty
   by  Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus's memoir of how he decided to change his life in order to help the world's poor. In it he traces the intellectual and spiritual journey that led him to fundamentally rethink the economic relationship between rich and poor, and the challenges he and his colleagues faced in founding Grameen. He also provides wise, hopeful guidance for anyone who would like to join him in "putting homelessness and destitution in a museum so that one day our children will visit it and ask how we could have allowed such a terrible thing to go on for so long." The definitive history of micro-credit direct from the man that conceived of it, Banker to the Poor is necessary and inspirational reading for anyone interested in economics, public policy, philanthropy, social history, and business.

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April
2008
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
   by  Dinaw Mengestu

Seventeen years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution for a new start in the United States. Now he finds himself running a failing grocery store in a poor African-American section of Washington, D.C., his only companions two fellow African immigrants who share his bitter nostalgia and longing for his home continent. Years ago and worlds away Sepha could never have imagined a life of such isolation. As his environment begins to change, hope comes in the form of a friendship with new neighbors Judith and Naomi, a white woman and her biracial daughter. But when a series of racial incidents disturbs the community, Sepha may lose everything all over again.

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March
2008
Unbowed: A Memoir
   by  Wangari Maathai

Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people's environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya's forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country. Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai's remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.

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February
2008
The Yacoubian Building
   by  Alaa Al Aswany

This controversial bestselling novel in the Arab world reveals the political corruption, sexual repression, religious extremism, and modern hopes of Egypt today. All manner of flawed and fragile humanity reside in the Yacoubian Building, a once-elegant temple of Art Deco splendor now slowly decaying in the smog and bustle of downtown Cairo: a fading aristocrat and self-proclaimed "scientist of women"; a sultry, voluptuous siren; a devout young student, feeling the irresistible pull toward fundamentalism; a newspaper editor helplessly in love with a policeman; a corrupt and corpulent politician, twisting the Koran to justify his desires. These disparate lives careen toward an explosive conclusion in Alaa Al Aswany's remarkable international bestseller. Teeming with frank sexuality and heartfelt compassion, this book is an important window on to the experience of loss and love in the Arab world.

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January
2008
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
   by  Lisa See

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, "old same," in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she's painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

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December
2007
From Newbury with Love: Letters of Friendship across the Iron Curtain
   by  Marina Aidova and Anna Horsbrugh-Porter

In 1971 a retired English bookseller joined an Amnesty International campaign to write letters to children of political prisoners. He chose seven- year-old Marina Aidova because her birthday was one day before his, and he had always loved Russia and its literature. His postcard was signed, "With love from Newbury, Berks, England." Marina, whose father was in one of the harshest Soviet prison camps, wrote back: "I am a first class schoolgirl. I learn ballet and study English. And what are you?" So began a correspondence that changed their lives. For the next fifteen years they exchanged letters, telegrams, magazines, and books . . . while a profound affection grew. Marina and her mother drew great strength from the exchange-it was a lifeline to another, more hopeful world. Through Harold's encouragement, Marina was inspired to study English at university, and eventually went on to work as an English translator. Published in association with Amnesty International, the families' correspondence-along with over thirty photos they exchanged-is collected here, making for a moving look at the powerful influence one family can have on another in need, halfway around the world.

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November
2007
Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran
   by  Jason Elliot

Filling a long-neglected gap in the travel writing of the region, Mirrors of the Unseen is a rare and timely portrait of the nation descended from the world's earliest superpower: Iran. Animated by the same spirit of exploration as its acclaimed predecessor, An Unexpected Light, and drawing on several years of independent travel and research, this thought-provoking work weaves together observations of life in contemporary Iran with history, politics, and a penetrating enquiry into the secrets of Islamic art. Generously illustrated with the author's own sketches and photographs, Mirrors of the Unseen is a rich, sensitive, and vivid account of a country and its culture.

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October
2007
The Attack
   by  Yasmina Khadra

Dr. Amin Jaafari is an Arab-Israeli surgeon at a hospital in Tel Aviv. As an admired and respected member of his community, he has carved a space for himself and his wife, Sihem, at the crossroads of two troubled societies. Jaafari's world is abruptly shattered when Sihem is killed in a suicide bombing. As evidence mounts that Sihem could have been responsible for the catastrophic bombing, Jaafari begins a tortured search for answers. Faced with the ultimate betrayal, he must find a way to reconcile his cherished memories of his wife with the growing realization that she may have had another life, one that was entirely removed from the comfortable, modern existence that they shared.

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September
2007
Enrique's Journey
   by  Sonia Nazario

In this astonishing true story, award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the unforgettable odyssey of a Honduran boy who braves unimaginable hardship and peril to reach his mother in the United States. Enrique sets off alone from Tegucigalpa, with little more than a slip of paper bearing his mother's North Carolina telephone number. Without money, he will make the dangerous and illegal trek up the length of Mexico the only way he can - clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains. Enrique pushes forward using his wit, courage, and hope - and the kindness of strangers. It is an epic journey, one thousands of immigrant children make each year to find their mothers in the United States.

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August
2007
The Coroner's Lunch
   by  Colin Cotterill

Laos, 1975. The Communist Pathet Lao has taken over this former French colony. Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old Paris-trained doctor, is appointed national coroner. Although he has no training for the job, there is no one else; the rest of the educated class has fled. He is expected to come up with the answers the party wants. But crafty and charming Dr. Siri is immune to bureaucratic pressure. At his age, he reasons, what can they do to him? And he knows he cannot fail the dead who come into his care without risk of incurring their boundless displeasure. Eternity could be a long time to have the spirits mad at you.

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July
2007
Three Cups of Tea
   by  Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Anyone who despairs of the individual's power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan's treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools -- especially for girls -- that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson's quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Tea combines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.

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June
2007
The Line of Beauty
   by  Alan Hollinghurst

In the summer of 1983, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the home of a conservative Member of Parliament, his wealthy wife and their two children. As the boom years of the eighties unfold, Nick, an innocent in the world of politics and money, finds his life altered by the rising fortunes of this glamorous family. His two vividly contrasting love affairs, one with a young black clerk and one with a Lebanese millionaire, dramatize the dangers and rewards of his own private pursuit of beauty, a pursuit as compelling to Nick as the desire for power and riches among his friends. Richly textured, emotionally charged, disarmingly comic, this is a major work by one of our finest writers.

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May
2007
Imperial Reckoning
   by  Caroline Elkins

As part of the Allied forces, thousands of Kenyans fought alongside the British in World War II. But just a few years after the defeat of Hitler, the British colonial government detained nearly the entire population of Kenya's largest ethnic minority, the Kikuyu some one and a half million people. The compelling story of the system of prisons and work camps where thousands met their deaths was the victim of a determined effort by the British to destroy all official records of their attempts to stop the Mau Mau uprising. ... An unforgettable account of the unraveling of the British colonial empire in Kenya a pivotal moment in twentieth- century history with chilling parallels to Americas own imperial project.

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April
2007
Tracks
   by  Louise Erdrich

Set in North Dakota at a time in this century when Indian tribes were struggling to keep what little remained of their lands, Tracks is a tale of passion and deep unrest. Over the course of ten crucial years, as tribal land and trust between people erode ceaselessly, men and women are pushed to the brink of their endurance--yet their pride and humor prohibit surrender. The reader will experience shock and pleasure in encountering a group of characters that are compelling and rich in their vigor, clarity, and indomitable vitality.

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March
2007
Putin's Russia
   by  Anna Politkovskaya

Putin's Russia depicts a far-reaching state of decay. Politkovskaya describes an army in which soldiers die from malnutrition, parents must pay bribes to recover their dead sons' bodies, and conscripts are even hired out as slaves. She exposes rampant corruption in business, government, and the judiciary, where everything from store permits to bus routes to court appointments is for sale. And she offers a scathing condemnation of the ongoing war in Chechnya, where kidnappings, extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture are begetting terrorism rather than fighting it.

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February
2007
The Inheritance of Loss
   by  Kiran Desai

In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge's cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are claimed by his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another. When an Indian-Nepali insurgency in the mountains interrupts Sai's exploration of the many incarnations and facets of a romance with her Nepali tutor, and causes their lives to descend into chaos, they are forced to consider their colliding interests. In a generous vision, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, Desai presents the human quandaries facing a panoply of characters. This majestic novel of a busy, grasping time -- every moment holding out the possibility of hope or betrayal -- illuminates the consequences of colonialism and global conflicts of religion, race, and nationalism.

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January
2007
Bitter Grounds
   by  Sandra Benitez

Spanning the years between 1932 and 1977, this beautifully told epic is set in the heart of El Salvador, where coffee plantations are the center of life for rich and poor alike. Following three generations of the Prieto clan and the wealthy family they work for, this is the story of mothers and daughters who live, love, and die for their passions. Epic in scope, richly steeped in history, Bentez's poetic yet unsentimental novel takes you into another time, another place, and into the lives of characters so real they cannot be forgotten.

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December
2006
My Father's Rifle
   by  Hiner Saleem

This beautiful, spare, autobiographical narrative tells of the life of a Kurd named Azad as he grows to manhood in Iraq during the 1960s and 1970s. Azad is born into a vibrant village culture that hopes for a free Kurdish future. He loves his mother's orchard, his cousin's stunt pigeons, his father's old Czech rifle, his brother who is fighting in the mountains. But before he is even of school age, Azad has seen friends and neighbors assassinated, and his own family driven to starvation. After being forced into a refugee camp in Iran for years, his family realizes, on their return, that the Baathist regime is destroying the autonomy it had promised their people. My Father's Rifle ends with Azad's heartbreaking departure from his parents and flight across the Syrian border to freedom. Stunning in its unadorned intensity, My Father's Rifle is a moving portrait of a boy who embraces the land and culture he loves, even as he leaves them.

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November
2006
Spoken Here: Travels among Threatened Languages
   by  Mark Abley

Within the next couple of generations, most of the world's 6000 languages will vanish, due mainly to the unstoppable tide of English. With an open mind and a well-worn passport, award-winning journalist and poet Mark Abley tells entertaining and vital stories about why languages matter. From Oklahoma to Provence, aboriginal Australia to Baffin Island, the cultures are radically different, but the problems of shrinking linguistic and cultural richness are painfully similar. Abley's investigation provides a stunning glimpse of the beauty and intricacies of languages like Yiddish and Yuchi, Mohawk and Manx, Inuktitut and Provenšal. More importantly, it offers a sympathetic and memorable portrait of the people who still speak languages under threat.

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October
2006
Beasts of No Nation
   by  Uzodinma Iweala

This startling debut by a young American-Nigerian writer follows the fortunes of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country. Iweala's acute imagining of Agu's perspective allows him to depict the war as a mesh of bestial pleasures and pain. As seen through Agu's eyes, machetes sound like music, and bodies come apart on roads so cracked that you can see "the red mud bleeding from underneath." Agu has a child's primitive drive that enables him to survive his descent into hell, and, despite the brutality he witnesses and participates in, to keep hold of something resembling optimism. The contrast between his belief in the future and the horrific descriptions of the world around him makes Agu a haunting narrator. -- The New Yorker

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September
2006
I Didn't Do it For You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation
   by  Michela Wrong

Scarred by decades of conflict and occupation, the craggy African nation of Eritrea has weathered the world's longest-running guerrilla war. The dogged determination that secured victory against Ethiopia, its giant neighbor, is woven into the national psyche, the product of cynical foreign interventions. In I Didn't Do It for You, Michela Wrong reveals the breathtaking abuses this tiny nation has suffered and, with a sharp eye for detail and a taste for the incongruous, tells the story of colonialism itself and how international power politics can play havoc with a country's destiny.

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August
2006
Summer of the Big Bachi
   by  Naomi Hirahara

In the foothills of Pasadena, Mas Arai is just another Japanese-American gardener, his lawnmower blades clean and sharp, his truck carefully tuned. But while Mas keeps lawns neatly trimmed, his own life has gone to seed. His wife is dead. And his livelihood is falling into the hands of the men he once hired by the day. For Mas, a life of sin is catching up to him. And now bachi, the spirit of retribution, is knocking on his door. It begins when a stranger comes around, asking questions about a nurseryman who once lived in Hiroshima, a man known as Joji Haneda. By the end of the summer, Joji will be dead and Mas's own life will be in danger. For while Mas was building a life on the edge of the American dream, he has kept powerful secrets: about three friends long ago, about two lives entwined, and about what really happened when the bomb fell on Hiroshima in August 1945. A spellbinding mystery played out from war-torn Japan to the rich tidewaters of L.A.'s multicultural landscape, this stunning debut novel weaves a powerful tale of family, loyalty, and the price of both survival and forgiveness.

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July
2006
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
   by  Svetlana Alexievich
On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occurred in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl is the first book to present personal accounts of the tragedy. Journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown---from innocent citizens to firefighters to those called in to clean up the disaster---and their stories reveal the fear, anger, and uncertainty with which they still live. Comprised of interviews in monologue form, Voices from Chernobyl is a crucially important work, unforgettable in its emotional power and honesty. (return to list)
June
2006
The Noodle Maker
   by  Ma Jian

From the highly acclaimed Ma Jian comes a satirical and powerfully written novel--excerpted in The New Yorker--about the absurdities and cruelties of life in post-Tianamen China. Two men, a writer of political propaganda and a professional blood donor, meet for dinner every week. During the course of one drunken evening, the writer recounts the stories he would write, had he the courage: a young man buys an old kiln from an art school and opens a private crematorium, delighting in his ability to harass the corpses of police officers and Party secretaries while swooning to banned Western music; a heartbroken actress performs a public suicide by stepping into the jaws of a wild tiger, watched nonchalantly by her ex-lover. He is inspired by extraordinary characters, their lives pulled and pummeled by fate and politics, as if they were balls of dough in the hands of an all-powerful noodle maker. Ma Jian's masterpiece allows us a humorous yet profound glimpse of those struggling to survive under a system that dictates their every move.

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May
2006
Finding George Orwell in Burma
   by  Emma Larkin

In one of the most intrepid travelogues in recent memory, Emma Larkin tells of the year she spent traveling through Burma, using as a compass the life and work of George Orwell, whom many of Burma's underground teahouse intellectuals call simply "the Prophet." In stirring prose, she provides a powerful reckoning with one of the world's least free countries. Finding George Orwell in Burma is a brave and revelatory reconnaissance of modern Burma, one of the world's grimmest and most shuttered police states, where the term "Orwellian" aptly describes the life endured by the country's people.

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April
2006
Austerlitz
   by  W.G. Sebald

Austerlitz, the internationally acclaimed masterpiece by "one of the most gripping writers imaginable" (The New York Review of Books), is the story of a man's search for the answer to his life's central riddle. A small child when he comes to England on a Kindertransport in the summer of 1939, one Jacques Austerlitz is told nothing of his real family by the Welsh Methodist minister and his wife who raise him. When he is a much older man, fleeting memories return to him, and obeying an instinct he only dimly understands, he follows their trail back to the world he left behind a half century before. There, faced with the void at the heart of twentieth-century Europe, he struggles to rescue his heritage from oblivion.

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March
2006
A Death in Brazil
   by  Peter Robb

Deliciously sensuous and fascinating, Robb renders in vivid detail the intoxicating pleasures of Brazil's food, music, literature, and landscape as he travels not only cross country but also back in time - from the days of slavery to modern day political intrigue and murder. Spellbinding and revelatory, Peter Robb paints a multi-layered portrait of Brazil as a country of intoxicating and passionate extremes.

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February
2006
Harbor
   by  Lorraine Adams

A powerful first novel that engages the tumultuous events of today: at once an intimate portrait of a group of young Arab Muslims living in the United States, and the story of one man's journey into--and out of--violence. We first meet Aziz Arkoun as a 24-year-old stowaway--frozen, hungry, his perceptions jammed by a language he can't understand or speak. After 52 days in the hold of a tanker from Algeria, he jumps into the icy waters of Boston harbor and swims to shore. Seemingly rescued from isolation by Algerians he knew as a child, he instead finds himself in a world of disillusionment, duplicity, and stolen identities, living a raw comedy of daily survival not unlike what he fled back home. As the story of Aziz and his friends unfolds--moving from the hardscrabble neighborhoods of East Boston and Brooklyn to a North African army camp--Harbor makes vivid the ambiguities of these men's past and present lives: burying a murdered girl in the Sahara; reading medieval Persian poetry on a bus, passing for Mexican. But when Aziz begins to suspect that he and his friends are under surveillance, all assumptions--his and ours--dissolve in an urgent, mesmerizing complexity. And as Harbor races to its explosive conclusion, it compels us to question the questions it raises: Who are the terrorists? Can we recognize them?

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January
2006
The Known World
   by  Edward P. Jones

In one of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, Edward P. Jones, two-time National Book Award finalist, tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order and chaos ensues. In a daring and ambitious novel, Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all of its moral complexities.

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December
2005
Persepolis
   by  Marjane Satrapi

Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane's child's-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

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November
2005
In the Shadow of a Saint
   by  Ken Wiwa

In 1995, the little-known Ogoni region in Nigeria became a fable for our times. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a renowned writer and environmentalist, was campaigning to protect his Ogoni people against the encroachments of Shell Oil and a brutal dictatorship. He was imprisoned, tortured, brought to trial on trumped-up charges, and executed. At the heart of the public campaign to save Ken Saro-Wiwa was Ken Wiwa - the author's son - who lobbied world leaders and moblilized public opinion, so that his father was recognized as a hero and a symbol of the struggle for environmental justice. Ken Wiwa tells the story - from a human, anecdotal perspective - of what it means to grow up as a child in the shadow of such extraordinary men and women. In the end, it's about Ken's attempts to make peace with himself and his father - following his journey as he reaches toward a final rendezvous with the father who was executed.

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October
2005
Snow
   by  Orhan Pamuk

Dread, yearning, identity, intrigue, the lethal chemistry between secular doubt and Islamic fanaticism- these are the elements that Orhan Pamuk anneals in this masterful, disquieting novel. An exiled poet named Ka returns to Turkey and travels to the forlorn city of Kars. His ostensible purpose is to report on a wave of suicides among religious girls forbidden to wear their head-scarves. But Ka is also drawn by his memories of the radiant Ipek, now recently divorced. Amid blanketing snowfall and universal suspicion, Ka finds himself pursued by figures ranging from Ipek's ex-husband to a charismatic terrorist. A lost gift returns with ecstatic suddenness. A theatrical evening climaxes in a massacre. And finding god may be the prelude to losing everything else. Touching, slyly comic, and humming with cerebral suspense, Snow is of immense relevance to our present moment.

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September
2005
Catfish and Mandala
   by  Andrew X. Pham

A brilliantly written memoir in which a young Vietnamese-American uses a bicycle journey in his homeland as a vehicle to tell his eventful life story. The most riveting sections are Pham's exceptional evocations of his father's time in a postwar communist reeducation (read: concentration) camp and the family's near miraculous escape by sea from their homeland. The heart of the narrative is Pham's depiction of his five-month adventure in Vietnam, often not a pretty picture. Because of his unique status as a budget-minded Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese), he runs into significant harassment from the police and many unfriendly civilians. For every moment of self-discovery and enchantment there seem to be ten of disappointment and dispiritedness plus nearly constant physical pain from his journey and a bout of dysentery. But Pham perseveres. He returns to his home, America, with a smile on his face. An insightful, creatively written report on Vietnam today and on the fate of a Vietnamese family in America. - Kirkus Reviews
--Winner of the Kiriyama Prize

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August
2005
Little Scarlet
   by  Walter Mosley

Set during the Watts riots of 1965, this eighth entry in Mosley's acclaimed Easy Rawlins series demonstrates the reach and power of the genre, combining a deeply involving mystery with vigorous characterizations and probing commentary about race relations in America. Easy Rawlins, 45, is - like the rest of black L.A. - angry: "the angry voice in my heart that urged me to go out and fight after all the hangings I had seen, after all of the times I had been called nigger and all of the doors that had been slammed in my face." But Easy stays out of the fiery streets until a white cop and his bosses recruit him to identify the murderer of a young black woman, Nola Payne. This is Mosley's best novel to date: the plot is streamlined and the language simple yet strong, allowing the serpentine story line to support Easy's amazingly complex character and hypnotic narration as Mosley plunges us into his world and, by extension, the world of all blacks in white-run America. Fierce, provocative, expertly entertaining, this is genre writing at its finest.

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July
2005
Hearing Birds Fly
   by  Louisa Waugh

After two years of working in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, journalist Louisa Waugh moved to the remote village of Tsengel, in the extreme west of the country. This is the story of the year she spent there, living and working with the people who have made a home in the stark but beautiful landscape. With unflinching honesty, Waugh recounts how she slowly learned to fend for herself in a world where life is dominated by the seasons. The villagers and their culture vividly emerge as she shares her happiness, frustrations, and occasional extreme loneliness and fear. Hearing Birds Fly transports the reader from the end of a long, hard Mongolian winter, through a drought--stricken spring, into a lush summer spent in the mountains with a family of nomads. A warm, totally unsentimental account of life in a world where the act of survival is, in itself, a triumph of the human spirit.

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June
2005
Graceland
   by  Chris Abani

In this dazzling debut by a singular new talent, the sprawling, swampy, cacophonous city of Lagos, Nigeria, provides the backdrop to the story of Elvis, a teenage Elvis impersonator hoping to make his way out of the ghetto. Broke, beset by floods, and beatings by his alcoholic father, and with no job opportunities in sight, Elvis is tempted by a life of crime. Thus begins his odyssey into the dangerous underworld of Lagos, guided by his friend Redemption and accompanied by a restless hybrid of voices including The King of Beggars, Sunday, Innocent and Comfort. Ultimately, young Elvis, drenched in reggae and jazz, and besotted with American film heroes and images, must find his way to a GraceLand of his own. Nuanced, lyrical, and pitch perfect, Abani has created a remarkable story of a son and his father, and an examination of postcolonial Nigeria where the trappings of American culture reign supreme.

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May
2005
Dancing with Cuba
   by  Alma Guillermoprieto

In 1970 a young dancer named Alma Guillermoprieto left New York to take a job teaching at Cuba's National School of Dance. For six months, she worked in mirrorless studios (it was considered more revolutionary); her poorly trained but ardent students worked without them but dreamt of greatness. Yet in the midst of chronic shortages and revolutionary upheaval, Guillermoprieto found in Cuba a people whose sense of purpose touched her forever. In this electrifying memoir, Guillermoprieto -- now an award-winning journalist and arguably one of our finest writers on Latin America -- resurrects a time when dancers and revolutionaries seemed to occupy the same historical stage and even a floor exercise could be a profoundly political act. Exuberant and elegiac, tender and unsparing, Dancing is a triumph of memory and feeling.

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April
2005
A Breath of Fresh Air
   by  Amulya Malladi

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can always have serious repercuss-ions, but for Anjuli, none are quite so lethal as being abandoned in Bhopal, India, the night a toxic gas explosion rocks the city. Forgotten at the train station by her philandering, army officer husband, Anjuli survives the accident, although her marriage to Prakash does not. Years later, happily remarried, Anjuli still contends with the devastating effects of that fateful night, as she and her new husband helplessly watch their dying son struggle with the birth defects that resulted from Anjuli's exposure to the deadly poison. When Prakash unexpectedly reenters her life, Anjuli must confront her unresolved feelings surrounding her prior marriage and scandalous divorce. Unwillingly, Prakash is forced to acknowledge not only his role in their marriage's failure, but also his culpability in the death sentence his thoughtless act rendered upon an innocent child. In this accomplished debut novel, Malladi depicts believable and well-defined characters facing tumultuous circumstances with grace and sensitivity, passion and pride.-- Booklist

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March
2005
The Bone Woman
   by  Clea Koff

In the spring of 1994, Rwanda was the scene of the first acts since World War II to be legally defined as genocide. Clea Koff was one of sixteen forensic anthropologist chosen by the UN International Criminal Tribunal to go to Rwanda to unearth the physical evidence of genocide and crimes against humanity. The Bone Woman is Koff's riveting, deeply personal account of that mission and the six subsequent missions she undertook~Wto Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. Koff's unflinching account of her years with the UN~Wwhat she saw, how it affected her, who was prosecuted based on evidence she found, what she learned about the world~Wis alternately gripping, frightening, and miraculously hopeful. Readers join Koff as she comes face-to-face with the realities of genocide: nearly five hundred bodies exhumed from a single grave in Kibuye, Rwanda; the wire-bound wrists of Srebrenica massacre victims uncovered in Bosnia; the disinterment of the body of a young man in southwestern Kosovo as his grandfather looks on. Yet even as she recounts the hellish working conditions, the tangled bureaucracy of the UN, and the heartbreak of survivors, Koff imbues her story with purpose, humanity, and an unfailing sense of justice.

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February
2005
Midnight's Children
   by  Salman Rushdie

Winner of the 1981 Booker Prize and the "Booker of Bookers" (awarded to the best Booker Prize winner of the award's first 25 years)

Saleem Sinai was born at midnight, the midnight of India's independence, and finds himself mysteriously "handcuffed to history" by the coincidence. He is one of 1,001 children born at the midnight hour, each of them endowed with an extraordinary talent -- and whose privilege and curse it is to be both master and victims of their times. Through Saleem's gifts -- inner voices and a wildly sensitive sense of smell -- we are drawn into a fascinating family saga set against the vast, colourful background of the India of this century.

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January
2005
Picasso's War: The Destruction of Guernica and the Masterpiece that Changed the World
   by  Russell Martin

In Picasso's War, Russell Martin weaves politics, history, art, and science into a stirring narrative of the monumental canvas that was to become the most important artwork of the 20th century. Pablo Picasso, enraged by Hitler's bombing of Guernica in Northern Spain on April 26, 1937, responded to the devastation in his homeland by beginning work on Guernica. In Picasso's War, Martin follows Guernica, the renowned masterwork, across decades and continents, crafting an engrossing story of a its impassioned creation and the struggle to find hope in the face of unspeakable acts of terror.

"A lyrical survey that elicit[s] and illuminat[es] the patterns and prejudices of race." --The New York Times Book Review

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December
2004
The Day the Leader was Killed
   by  Naguib Mahfouz

The time is 1981, Anwar al-Sadat is president, and Egypt is lurching into the modern world. Set against this backdrop, The Day the Leader Was Killed relates the tale of a middle-class Cairene family. Rich with irony and infused with political undertones, the story is narrated alternately by the pious and mischievous family patriarch Muhtashimi Zayed, his hapless grandson Elwan, and Elwan's headstrong and beautiful fiancee Randa. The novel reaches its climax with the assassination of Sadat on October 6, 1981, an event around which the fictional plot is skillfully woven.

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November
2004
Triangle: The Fire that Changed America
   by  David Von Drehle

On a beautiful spring day, March 25, 1911, workers were preparing to leave the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York's Greenwich Village when a fire started. Within minutes it consumed the building's upper three stories. Firemen who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those trapped inside. The final toll was 146 -- 123 of them women. It was the worst disaster in New York City history until September 11, 2001. Harrowing yet compulsively readable, Triangle is both a chronicle of the fire and a vibrant portrait of an entire age. Waves of Jewish and Italian immigrants inundated New York in the early years of the century, filling its slums and supplying its garment factories with cheap, mostly female labor. Protesting their Dickensian work conditions, forty thousand women bravely participated in a massive shirtwaist workers' strike that brought together an unlikely coalition of socialists, socialites, and suffragettes. Von Drehle orchestrates these events into a drama rich in suspense and filled with memorable characters. Most powerfully, he puts a human face on the men and women who died, and shows how the fire dramatically transformed politics and gave rise to urban liberalism.

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October
2004
The Dark Bride
   by  Laura Restrepo

Once a month, the refinery workers of the Tropical Oil Company descend upon Tora, a city in the Colombian forest. They journey down from the mountains searching for earthly bliss and hoping to encounter Sayonara, the legendary Indian prostitute who rules their squalid paradise like a queen. Beautiful, exotic, and mysterious, Sayonara, the undisputed barrio angel, captivates whoever crosses her path. Then, one day, she violates the unwritten rules of her profession and falls in love with a man she can never have. Sayonara's unrequited passion has tragic consequences not only for her, but for all those whose lives ultimately depend on the Tropical Oil Company. Laura Restrepo is a bestselling author and political activist. In 1984 she was a member of the peace commission that brought the Colombian government and guerrillas to the negotiating table. As she does with all of her novels, Restrepo did thorough research for The Dark Bride, transforming her investigations as a journalist into the foundation for a fictional creation.

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September
2004
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World
   by  Tracy Kidder

At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur 'genius' grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life's calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer, brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti, blasts through convention to get results.

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August
2004
Bangkok 8
   by  John Burdett

Under a Bangkok bridge, inside a bolted-shut Mercedes: a murder by snake, a charismatic African American Marine sergeant killed by a methamphetamine-stoked python and a swarm of stoned cobras. Two cops, the only two in the city not on the take, arrive too late. Minutes later, only one is alive: Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a devout Buddhist, equally versed in the sacred and the profane, son of a long-gone Vietnam War G.I. and a Thai bar girl whose subsequent international clientele contributed richly to Sonchai's sophistication. Now, his partner dead, Sonchai is doubly compelled to find the murderer, to maneuver through the world he knows all too well, illicit drugs, prostitution, infinite corruption, and into a realm he has never before encountered: the moneyed underbelly of the city. Thick with the authentic, and hallucinogenic, atmosphere of Bangkok, crowded with astonishing characters, uniquely smart and skeptical, literary and wildly readable, Bangkok 8 is one of a kind. "Bangkok 8 is one of the most startling and provocative mysteries that I've read in years. The characters are marvelously unique, the setting is intoxicating and the plot unwinds in dark illusory strands, reminiscent of Gorky Park. Once I started, I didn't want to put it down." --Carl Hiaasen

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July
2004
Blood Diamonds
   by  Greg Campbell

First discovered in 1930, the diamonds of Sierra Leone have funded one of the most savage rebel campaigns in modern history. These "blood diamonds" are smuggled out of West Africa and sold to legitimate diamond merchants in London, Antwerp, and New York, often with the complicity of the
international diamond industry. Eventually, these very diamonds find their way into the rings and necklaces of brides and spouses the world over.
Blood Diamonds is the gripping tale of how the diamond smuggling works, how the rebel war has effectively destroyed Sierra Leone and its people, and how the policies of the diamond industry have allowed it to happen. Award-winning journalist Greg Campbell traces the deadly trail of these
diamonds, many of which are brought to the world market by fanatical enemies. These repercussions of diamond smuggling are felt far beyond the borders of the poor and war-ridden country of Sierra Leone, and the consequences of overlooking this African tragedy are both shockingly deadly and unquestionably global.

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June
2004
The Crazed
   by  Ha Jin

In his luminous new novel, the author of Waiting deepens his portrait of contemporary Chinese society while exploring the perennial conflicts between convention and individualism, integrity and pragmatism, loyalty and betrayal. Professor Yang, a respected teacher of literature at a provincial university, has had a stroke, and his student Jian Wan -- who is also engaged to Yang's daughter -- has been assigned to care for him. What at first seems a simple if burdensome duty becomes treacherous when the professor begins to rave: pleading with invisible tormentors, denouncing his family, his colleagues, and a system in which a scholar is "just a piece of meat on a cutting board."

Are these just manifestations of illness, or is Yang spewing up the truth? And can the dutiful Jian avoid being irretrievably compromised? For in a China convulsed by the Tiananmen uprising, those who hear the truth are as much at risk as those who speak it. At once nuanced and fierce, earthy and humane, The Crazed is further evidence of Ha Jin's prodigious narrative gifts.

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May
2004
A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
   by  Samantha Power

2003 Pulitzer Prize Winner

National Book Critics Circle Award Winner

In her award-winning interrogation of the last century of American history, Samantha Power -- a former Balkan war correspondent and founding executive director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy -- asks the haunting question: Why do American leaders who vow "never again" repeatedly fail to stop genocide? Drawing upon exclusive interviews with Washington's top policy makers, access to newly declassified documents, and her own reporting from the modern killing fields, Power provides the answer in "A Problem from Hell" -- a groundbreaking work that tells the stories of the courageous Americans who risked their careers and lives in an effort to get the United States to act.

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April
2004
White Sky, Black Ice
   by  Stan Jones

White sky and black ice are two aspects of the physical life in the remote Alaskan village of Chukchi, where young and ambitious state trooper Nathan Active is starting his police career. Nathan has decidedly mixed feelings about Chukchi, despite its often stunning beauty. He was born here to a 15-year-old Eskimo girl, who quickly fostered him off to a white family in Anchorage. Also, within its boundaries it contains all the problems facing native Alaskans. Entrapped by poverty and alcohol, too many of them end their lives with suicide. Even an enterprising local leader, Tom Werner, who has fought to ban alcohol and to keep a nearby copper mine open to provide jobs, can't stop two more men from killing themselves in the book's first few pages.

But to Nathan, with his outsider's sensibilities, these last two suicides look suspicious. Even though his politically disgraced superior and the local police warn him off, he stubbornly digs into the circumstances of the deaths and finds connections to the international consortium that owns the Gray Wolf copper mine.

Stan Jones, an environmentalist, journalist, and bush pilot, obviously knows and loves the people and territory he writes so well about in this, his first mystery. --Amazon.com

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March
2004
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
   by  Azar Nafisi

For two years before she left Iran in 1997, Nafisi gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; several had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they began to open up and to speak more freely, not only about the novels they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments. Their stories intertwined with those they were reading - Pride and Prejudice, Washington Square, Daisy Miller and Lolita - their Lolita, as they imagined her in Tehran.

Nafisi's account flashes back to the early days of the revolution, when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran amid the swirl of protests and demonstrations. In those frenetic days, the students took control of the university, expelled faculty members and purged the curriculum.

Azar Nafisi's luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from Tehran and gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women's lives in revolutionary Iran. It is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, written with a startlingly original voice.

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February
2004
Bel Canto
   by  Ann Patchett

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.

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January
2004
Tainted Legacy: 9-11 and the Ruin of Human Rights
   by  William Schulz

Abusive interrogations, suspension of habeas corpus, secret tribunals: these are the kinds of human rights violations we associate with totalitarian governments abroad. But, according to Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, these violations have become common in the U.S. since it began its war on terror. Schulz is supremely well placed to argue for the importance of respecting human rights while we fight terror-indeed, he asserts, respecting human rights "both at home and abroad, actually makes terrorism less likely to succeed." European countries, for instance, have refused to extradite terror suspects to the U.S. because they might face the death penalty here. And what's seen as the violation of the rights of foreign nationals living here creates rage in their home countries, whom the U.S. might later wish to recruit as allies in the war against terror. Offering careful argument based on moral principles, international law and actual case studies, Schulz makes a strong argument for idea that the balance between security and rights ought to be very carefully calibrated.

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December
2003
Ella Minnow Pea
   by  Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island's Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl's fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

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November
2003
The River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong
   by  Edward Gargan

From Tibet to Vietnam, from windswept plateaus to the South China Sea, the Mekong flows for three thousand miles, snaking its way through Southeast Asia. Long fascinated with this part of the world, former New York Times correspondent Edward Gargan recounts his ambitious exploration of the Mekong and those living within its watershed.

Gargan invested over a year traveling the length of the river, and he gives us an unforgettable account of his immersions into the unique and varying cultures lining its banks. He vividly portrays regions shaped by colonial occupation, brutal wars, and unspeakably corrupt governments. But he also documents communities courageously moving forward while wrestling with the past. On dirt streets Internet cafes stand next to thatched huts without electricity. A thriving tourist industry lays adjacent to Pol Pot's killing fields. New highrise office buildings tower over the disenfranchised children of American soldiers. The River's Tale is a seminal examination of the Mekong and its people, a testament to the their struggles, their defeats and their victories.

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October
2003
A Gesture Life
   by  Chang-rae Lee

Korean-American author Chang-rae Lee adds to the growing, but limited, body of fiction on the exploitation of thousands of women by the Japanese military during World War II. Fictional retelling of the plight of comfort women guarantees that their stories will not be forgotten, as much as the Japanese government may want them to be. Stifled memories about one woman in particular haunt the septuagenarian narrator of Lee's wondrous second novel, A Gesture Life.

Lee's spare, careful and strangely poetic style suits the guarded speech of his genteel narrator, whether he is imparting rationalizations or elevations about his life. Lee achieves a measure skill in conveying the horror of wartime flashback scene, which reverberate throughout the rest of this finely crafted novel. --The Nation

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September
2003
Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds
   by  Stephen Kinzer

Kinzer vividly describes Turkey's captivating delights as he smokes a water pipe, searches for the ruins of lost civilizations, watches a camel fight, and discovers its greatest poet. But he is also attuned to the political landscape, taking us from Istanbul's elegant cafes to wild mountain outposts on Turkey's eastern borders, while along the way he talks to dissidents and patriots, villagers and cabinet ministers. He reports on political trials and on his own arrest by Turkish soldiers when he was trying to uncover secrets about the army's campaigns against Kurdish guerillas. He explores the nation's hope to join the European Union, the human-rights abuses that have kept it out, and its difficult relations with Kurds, Armenians, and Greeks.

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August
2003
Outcast
   by  Jose Latour

Elliot Steil, the son of a Cuban mother and an American-born laborer living on the island before the revolution, is a down-on-his-luck schoolteacher in Havana. Like so many of his fellow Havanans, he has come to accept his rather dull life and for the most part has given up hoping for a better future. But unexpectedly he is offered the opportunity to escape when a man appears on the island, claiming to be an old friend of Elliot's deceased father. The man offers to take Elliot to the United States, but it isn't long before he reveals his ulterior motives and Elliot is left to die in the dangerous waters of the Florida Straits. It is there that Elliot begins to relive the events of his life that have haunted him since his childhood. He is miraculously rescued by a family onboard a makeshift raft and soon after arriving in Miami begins his search for the man who betrayed him. He slowly unravels the mystery of his bicultural past.

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July
2003
The Dressing Station: A Surgeon's Chronicle of War and Medicine
   by  Jonathan Kaplan

The Dressing Station is a searing portrait of devastation on the battlefield. From treating the casualties of apartheid in Cape Town to operating on Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq at the end of the Gulf War, Jonathan Kaplan has saved (and lost) lives in the remotest corners of the world in the most extreme conditions. The Dressing Station is a haunting and elucidating look into the nature of human violence, the shattering contradictions of war, and the complicated role of medicine in this modern world.

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June
2003
The Pickup
   by  Nadine Gordimer

When Julie Summers's car breaks down on a sleazy street in a South African city, a young Arab mechanic named Abdu comes to her aid. Their attraction to one another is fueled by different motives. Julie is in rebellion against her wealthy background and her father; Abdu, an illegal immigrant, is desperate to avoid deportation to his impoverished country. In the course of their relationship, there are unpredictable consequences, and overwhelming emotions will overturn each one's notion of the other. Set in the new South Africa and in an Arab village in the desert, The Pickup is "a gripping tale of contemporary anguish and unexpected desire -- opens the Arab world to unusually nuanced perception" -Edward Said.

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May
2003
The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag
   by  Kang Chol Hwan

North Korea is among the most opaque nations on earth, its regime noted for repression and for the personality cult of its father and son leaders, the late Kim Il Sung and his successor, Kim Jong Il. Kang Chol-hwan draws from firsthand experience in explaining the repression. After the division of North and South Korea, Kang's family returned to North Korea from Japan, where his grandparents had emigrated in the 1930s and where his grandfather had amassed a fortune and his grandmother became a committed Communist. They were fired with idealism and committed to building an edenic nation. Instead, the family was removed without trial to a remote concentration camp, apparently because the grandfather was suspected of counter- revolutionary tendencies. Kang Chol-hwan was nine years old when imprisoned at the Yodok camp in 1977. Over the next ten years, he endured inhumane conditions and deprivations, including an inadequate diet (supplemented by frogs and rats), regular beatings, humiliations and hard labor. Inexplicably released in 1987, the author states that the only lesson his imprisonment had "pounded into me was about man's limitless capacity to be vicious." --Publisher's Weekly

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April
2003
A Sky So Close
   by  Betool Khedairi

In this elegant, incisive debut, a young girl comes of age while aching for a sense of belonging. Daughter of an Iraqi father and an English mother, the unnamed narrator struggles with isolation both in the traditional Iraqi countryside where she's raised and at the Western school of music and ballet that her mother insists she attend. Though she finds some semblance of solace in dance, her trials increase when her family moves to Baghdad. Then comes the outbreak of war, which compels her to move with her mother to England, where her most pointed heartaches await. Gently poetic but emotionally unflinching, "A Sky So Close" is a daringly fresh look into the clash between East and West and into the soul of a woman formed by two cultures yet fully accepted by neither.

"This novel is not just about Iraq; it is about childhood, racism, despair, the abyss between East and West, and, above all, how to succeed in surpassing these, using a crucial survival kit: love, the pursuit of freedom, art, resilience. All of this comes to us in a modern, captivating style from a fresh, new voice in Arab literature." --Hanan Al-Shaykh, author of "Women of Sand and Myrrh" and "I Sweep the Sun Off Rooftops"

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March
2003
A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
   by  Mary Ann Glendon

Unafraid to speak her mind and famously tenacious in her convictions, Eleanor Roosevelt was still mourning the death of FDR when she was asked by President Truman to lead a controversial commission, under the auspices of the newly formed United Nations, to forge the world's first international bill of rights.

A World Made New is the dramatic and inspiring story of the remarkable group of men and women from around the world who participated in this historic achievement and gave us the founding document of the modern human rights movement. Spurred on by the horrors of the Second World War and working against the clock in the brief window of hope between the armistice and the Cold War, they grappled together to articulate a new vision of the rights that every man and woman in every country around the world should share, regardless of their culture or religion.

Finalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award

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February
2003
Our Lady of the Assassins (La Virgen de los Sicarios)
   by  Fernando Vallejo

Fernando returns after several decades to his birthplace, Medellin, to find it transformed into Colombia's "capital of hate." A town tottering on the edge of the abyss where taxi drivers are shot dead for refusing to turn down their radio. As he lovingly insults the country's president, its drug barons, priests, communits, sociologists, television and soccer addicts, Fernando cultivates a passion for Alexis, a young hitman from the shanty-towns. The brutal and the tender fuse in this first translation of an outstanding voice of Latin American literature.

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January
2003
The Atlantic Sound
   by  Caryl Phillips

In this fascinating inquiry into the African Diaspora, Caryl Phillips embarks on a soul-wrenching journey to the three major ports of the transatlantic slave trade.

Juxtaposing stories of the past with his own present-day experiences, Phillips combines his remarkable skills as a travel essayist with an astute understanding of history. From an West African businessman's interactions with white Methodists in nineteenth-century Liverpool to an eighteenth-century African minister's complicity in the selling of slaves to a fearless white judge's crusade for racial justice in 1940s Charleston, South Carolina, Phillips reveals the global the impact of being uprooted from one's home through resonant, powerful narratives.

"Phillips's travels retrace the 'triangle' of the slave trade, and courageously -- one cannot underestimate the discomfort for anyone of African descent who engages with this material -- he takes the measure of those he encounters at each stop ... He refuses to be deflected. Not once does he avoid the difficulties of a person or situation -- to his great credit and our considerable benefit." --Anthony Walton, Times Literary Supplement (London)

"A lyrical survey that elicit[s] and illuminat[es] the patterns and prejudices of race." --The New York Times Book Review

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December
2002
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
   by  Dai Sijie

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is an enchanting tale that captures the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening. An immediate international bestseller, it tells the story of two hapless city boys exiled to a remote mountain village for re-education during China's infamous Cultural Revolution. There the two friends meet the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation. As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, the two friends find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined.

"A funny, touching, sly and altogether delightful novel... about the power of art to enlarge our imaginations." -The Washington Post Book World

"Gives the rest of the world a glimpse into that dark place where the human spirit continues, against all odds, to shine its light." -The Boston Glob

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November
2002
Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America
   by  Barbara Ehrenreich

Millions of Americans work for poverty-level wages, and one day Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them.

She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the "lowliest" occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.

"Nickel and Dimed" reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate strategies for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor.

"Barbara Ehrenreich... is our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism." --Dorothy Gallagher, The New York Times Book Review

"No one since H.L. Mencken has assailed the smug rhetoric of prosperity with such scalpel-like precision and ferocious wit." --Mike Davis

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October
2002
Abyssinian Chronicles
   by  Moses Isegawa

At the center of this unforgettable tale is Mugezi, a young man who manages to make it through the hellish reign of Idi Amin and experiences firsthand the most crushing aspects of Ugandan society: he withstands his distant father's oppression and his mother's cruelty in the name of Catholic zeal, endures the ravages of war, rape, poverty, and AIDS, and yet he is able to keep a hopeful and even occasionally amusing outlook on life. Mugezi's hard-won observations form a cri de coeur for a people shaped by untold losses.

"As Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children was for modern India, Abyssinian Chronicles will likely prove to be a breakthrough book for Uganda." --Time Out

"This briskly paced comic epic [is] an ironical bildungsroman that's also a full-scale portrayal of a traditional society in flux and in crisis . . . Overall, one of the most impressive works of fiction to have ever come out of Africa." --Kirkus Reviews

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September
2002
In Our Own Best Interest: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All
   by  William F. Schulz

If any foreign policy primer could be called a page-turner, it is this one by the executive director of Amnesty International USA. What the human rights community needs to do, argues Schulz in this well-written clarion call, is find "the compelling reasons why respect for human rights is in the best interests of the United States." For Schulz, this means convincing "realists" that a moral foreign policy serves a practical end. His case is strongest when arguing for human rights intervention into the cases of whistle-blowers around the world who have been jailed or killed. If these people's warnings about environmental degradation or inefficient control of weapons are not heard, he notes, the entire world, including the United States, could suffer disastrous consequences. -Publisher's Weekly

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August
2002
Moghul Buffet
   by  Cheryl Benard

An American businessman visiting Peshawar, Pakistan, vanishes from his hotel room. The only clue is an enigmatic message in blood scrawled on the Coke machine. A series of murders follows. But in a country where half the population is hidden beneath chadors, tracking a murderer can be difficult. Benard debuts with a surprisingly successful black comedy/mystery reminiscent in its droll narrative style of the works of Australian author Peter Carey ... Clever, witty, and politically and culturally on the mark, this book is recommended for all collections. -Library Journal

With finely honed, double-edged humor, Benard both ridicules the tunnel vision of righteous multiculturalists, while at the same time expressing great compassion for the victims of a society caught in the throes of change. A memorable first novel. --Booklist

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July
2002
Coyotes: A Journey through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens
   by  Ted Conover

"This is the most objective account of illegal immigration from Mexico I've read, and one reason is that the writer is so subjective. Interviews with 'experts,' ranging from an American labor organizer to a Mexican priest, are there for those who want sociological analysis. But they're interjected naturally and gracefully into Mr. Conover's first-person account of his travels with the migrant workers who start out as the subjects of his book and wind up friends he respects, admires and, in probable violation of United States immigration law, sometimes helps to reach their destinations. Another reason this book is so good is that Mr. Conover has such a true eye for human and topographical detail... There is grace in this book, even more wisdom. What makes it really glow on every page is Mr. Conover's realization that he is dealing neither with a crime nor a tragedy, but with another of those human adventures that make America a country that is constantly renewing itself." --T.D. Allman, New York Times Book Review

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June
2002
Martyr's Crossing
   by  Amy Wilentz

Martyrs' Crossing tells a stunning story of love, fear, divided loyalties, ruined friendships, and personal sacrifice -- against a backdrop of raging war in the Holy Land.

One rainy night at a Jerusalem checkpoint, Israeli Lieutenant Ari Doron is ordered to refuse passage to a young Palestinian mother and her sick boy. The incident leads to a series of riots, and Doron finds himself pulled into the bitter political aftermath as battles and bus bombs explode around him. He is drawn to Marina, the boy's American-born mother. And though she is on the other side of the bloody struggle, she finds herself thinking of Doron as "her soldier." In another place, at another time, they might have been lovers, but here their story moves toward a tragic conclusion with the kind of inevitability that war imposes.

-A New York Times Notable Book for 2001.

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May
2002
Calamities of Exile
   by  Lawrence Weschler

The three essays in this volume, each long enough to be referred to as a nonfiction novella, originally appeared in the New Yorker, where Weschler is a staff writer. They engage directly with the theme of political exile by delving into the lives of three exiles: South African author Breyten Breytenbach, who would attempt to reenter the country to participate more actively in the struggle against apartheid, only to be captured and imprisoned; Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi whose "Republic of Fear" offered many Westerners their first in-depth knowledge of Saddam Hussein's regime; and Jan Karan, a participant in the 1968 revolution in Prague who, after years of running a smuggling operation in and out of Czechoslovakia, would return to his liberated homeland only to be denounced for alleged collaboration with its Communist oppressors.

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April
2002
Three Apples Fell from Heaven
   by  Micheline Ahoranian Marcom

Set in 1915-1917 -- the years of the Ottoman Turkish government's brutal campaign that resulted in the deaths of more than a million Armenians -- Three Apples Fell from Heaven is a breathtaking look at a time marked by unspeakable horror and remarkable courage.

"The fierce beauty of her prose both confronts readers with many breathtaking cruelties and carries us past them...But the novel is much more than a catalog of horrors, however brilliantly described. It is also about love and tenderness, the pleasures of custom and ritual, the moments of unexpected generosity and courage and, above all, the necessity of remembering -- oneself, one's family, one's language, one's history." --Margot Livesey, The New York Times Book Review

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March
2002
Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture
   by  John Conroy

Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People is a riveting book that exposes the potential in each of us for acting unspeakably. John Conroy sits down with torturers from several nations and comes to understand their motivations. His compelling narrative has the tension of a novel. He takes us into a Chicago police station, two villages in the West Bank, and a secret British interrogation center in Northern Ireland, and in the process we are exposed to the experience of the victim, the rationalizations of the torturer, and the seeming indifference of the bystander. The torture occurs in democracies that ostensibly value justice, due process, and human rights, and yet the perpetrators and their superiors escape without punishment, revealing much about the dynamics of torture.

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February
2002
Blindness
   by  Jose Saramago

A city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" which spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and raping women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers -- among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears -- through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. A magnificent parable of loss and disorientation and a vivid evocation of the horrors of the twentieth century, Blindness has swept the reading public with its powerful portrayal of man's worst appetites and weaknesses-and man's ultimately exhilarating spirit.

Jose Saramago was born in Portugal in 1922. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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January
2002
Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan
   by  Jason Elliot

This extraordinary debut is an account of Elliot's two visits to Afghanistan. The first occurred when he joined the mujaheddin circa 1979 and was smuggled into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan; the second happened nearly ten years later, when he returned to the still war-torn land. The skirmishes that Elliot painstakingly describes here took place between the Taliban and the government of Gen. Ahmad Shah Massoud in Kabul. Although he thought long and hard before abandoning his plan to travel to Hazara territory, where "not a chicken could cross that pass without being fired on," Elliot traveled widely in the hinterland, visiting =46aizabad in the north and Herat in the west. The result is some of the finest travel writing in recent years. With its luminous descriptions of the people, the landscape (even when pockmarked by landmines), and Sufism, this book has all the hallmarks of a classic, and it puts Elliot in the same league as Bruce Chatwin.

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December
2001
Omon Ra
   by  Victor Pelevin

A vigorous satire on the Soviet space program is combined with a thoughtful dramatization of the mixed human impulses to explore, conquer, and transcend in this memorable short novel. This haunting tragicomedy was nominated for the 1993 Russian Booker Prize (which Pelevin won for a collection of short stories). It's the work of an exciting new talent, and one hopes his other fiction will soon be in English translation as well. --Kirkus Reviews

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November
2001
Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk
   by  Palden Gyatso

If you've ever wondered what it's like to walk in the shoes of a Tibetan monk, you're in for a shocker. Palden Gyatso followed his heart into the monastery at the age of 10 to study under his uncle, also a monk. By his mid-20s, when he should have been preparing for a higher degree, he instead found himself behind the bars of a Chinese communist prison. For the next 30 years, he would endure interrogations, deprivation, starvation, beatings, and psychological torture. When he was finally released in 1992, he fled the country, managing to smuggle out not only the names of his fellow prisoners but Chinese instruments of torture to show the world.

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October
2001
Moth Smoke
   by  Moshin Hamid

When Daru loses his job as a banker in Lahore, he begins a long fall from grace that cascades the length of this lively and inventive tale. Too clever for his own good, he descends into drug dealing, then heroin addiction. Unable to pay the electricity bill, he rapidly loses power, literally and metaphorically, in a society increasingly polarized between decadent haves and discontented have-nots. Desperate to reverse his fortunes, Daru takes a partner in crime, the rickshaw driver Murad, but when a heist goes awry, Daru finds himself on trial for a murder he may or may not have committed. The uncertainty of his future mirrors that of his country, which is locked in a jittery nuclear test-for-test with India, as the rich get richer and fundamentalist fervor intensifies. With its assured voice-in equal measure funny, ironic, and impassioned-highly original cast of characters, and sly satire, this debut novel is never less than riveting.

"Thoroughly enjoyable and tautly constructed ... a subtly audacious work and prodigious descendant of hard-boiled lit and film noir ... Moth Smoke is a steamy ... and often darkly amusing book about sex, drugs, and class warfare in postcolonial Asia." --The Village Voice

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September
2001
Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond
   by  Michael Ignatieff

Virtual War describes the latest phase in modern combat: war fought by remote control. Kosovo was such a virtual war, a war in which US and NATO forces did the fighting but only Kosovars and Serbs did the dying. As unrest continues in the Balkans, East Timor, and other places around the world, Ignatieff raises the troubling possibility that virtual wars, so much easier to fight, could become the way superpowers impose their will in the century ahead.

A talented and versatile writer, Ignatieff takes up the central moral issues raised by the intervention. The shadows across his path give his book poignancy and engagement. --Fouad Ajami, New York Review of Books

Ignatieff has produced a work that is both intellectually unflinching and genuinely open-minded. Ostensibly a consideration of the moral and political implications of the West's military intervention in Kosovo, the book is in fact the best exploration of both the operational and moral dilemmas of humanitarian was that has yet been written. A considerable achievement. --David Rieff, Los Angeles Times Book Review

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August
2001
The Tattooed Soldier
   by  Hector Tobar

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Hector Tobar's debut novel is a tragic tale of destiny and consequence set in downtown Los Angeles on the eve of the 1992 riots. Antonio Bernal is a Guatemalan refugee haunted by memories of his wife and child murdered at the hands of a man marked with a yellow tattoo. Not far from Antonio's apartment, Guillermo Longoria extends his arm and reveals a tattoo -- yellow pelt, black spots, red mouth. It is the mark of the death squad, the Jaguar Battalion of the Guatemalan army. A chance encounter ignites a psychological showdown between these two men who discover that the war in Central America has followed them to the quemazones, the "great burning" of the Los Angeles riots.

Finalist for a 1999 PEN Center USA West Award

In his fiction debut, Hector Tobar writes with a journalist's eye and a novelist's heart. He brings the urban landscape to gritty life on the page, and reveals the inner landscape of his characters with stunning immediacy and precision.

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July
2001
Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing
   by  Ted Conover

When Conover's request to shadow a recruit at the New York State Corrections Officer Academy was denied, he decided to apply for a job as a prison officer. So begins his odyssey at Sing Sing, once a model prison but now the state's most troubled maximum-security facility. The result of his year there is this remarkable look at one of America's most dangerous prisons, where drugs, gang wars, and sex are rampant, and where the line between violator and violated is often unclear. As sobering as it is suspenseful, Newjack is an indispensable contribution to the urgent debate about our country's criminal justice system, and a consistently fascinating read.

"[Conover] has made us fully part of his experience. It is hard to imagine any journalist doing this more daringly or effectively." --The New York Times

"Newjack is a graphic and troubling window into society's scrapheap. Conover is to be commended for having the chops to venture where few others would dare go.... An important cautionary tale." --Los Angeles Times Book Review

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June
2001
Anil's Ghost
   by  Michael Ondaatje

Anil's Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war. Into this maelstrom steps Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to her homeland as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity, about the unknown enemy, about the quest to unlock the hidden past -- a story propelled by a riveting mystery. Unfolding against the deeply evocative background of Sri Lanka's landscape and ancient civilization, Anil's Ghost is a literary spellbinder? Michael Ondaatje's most powerful novel yet.

"The layers of human history, the depth of the human body, the heartache of love and fratricide have rarely been conveyed with such dignity and translucence. I was enthralled as I have not been since The English Patient." -- Ariel Dorfman

"Ondaatje's willingness to look human suffering in the face is one of his compelling virtues, and gives his dreamlike montages their stern depth." -- John Updike, The New Yorker

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May
2001
Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future
   by  Mark Hertsgaard

Earth Odyssey is a vivid, passionate narrative about one man's journey around the world in search of the answer to the most important question of our time: is the future of the human species at risk? Combining first-rate reportage with irresistible storytelling, Mark Hertsgaard has written an essential -- and ultimately hopeful -- book about the uncertain fate of humankind.

"For readers who want to know what it is really like on the ground and around the world to suffer the silent violence of environmental devastation, Mark Hertsgaard's earth odyssey is a gripping tour guide. For readers who are taken in by corporatist screeds that nature is cleansing itself, earth odyssey stands like a sequoia of empirical rebuke. A book for all classes and masses." --Ralph Nader

"One of America's finest reporters, asks one of the few questions really worth asking: will our species survive the environmental depredations committed by global capitalism and heavy industrial socialism -- and, if so, how? Earth odyssey provides a sober, compassionate assessment of our chances." --Barbara Ehrenreich

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April
2001
House of Splendid Isolation
   by  Edna O'Brien

In this novel, Edna O'Brien's signature theme of womanly love is worked out once more in her signature style--beautiful writing that cascades and pirouettes like the rollicking, invigorating rush of rush of a mountain stream a strong role here, in the form of an IRA terrorist loose in the Irish Republic, searched for by the forces of law and scurrying under and around like an evasive rat. With a dual sympathy that gives this narrative its heart, O'Brien follows him as he locates a refuge in the house of an old woman whom he takes hostage; O'Brien backtracks and tells us the woman's story, and it's one of aloneness and heartbreak. Through their brief and tragic intersection, the reader sees both sides of the historical conflict. A splendid novel by a superb writer.

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March
2001
A Miracle, a Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers
   by  Lawrence Weschler

During the past fifteen years, one of the most vexing issues facing fledgling transitional democracies around the world -- from South Africa to Eastern Europe, from Cambodia to Bosnia -- has been what to do about the still-toxic security apparatuses left over from the previous regime. In this now-classic and profoundly influential study, the New Yorker's Lawrence Weschler probes these dilemmas across two gripping narratives (set in Brazil and Uruguay, among the first places to face such concerns), true-life thrillers in which torture victims, faced with the paralysis of the new regime, themselves band together to settle accounts with their former tormentors.

"Disturbing and often enthralling." --New York Times Book Review

"Implausible, intricate and dazzling."-Times Literary Supplement

"As Weschler's interviewees told their tales, I paced agitatedly, choked back tears... Weschler narrates these two episodes with skill and tact... An inspiring book." --George Scialabba, Los Angeles Weekly

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February
2001
Ocean of Words: Stories
   by  Ha Jin

The place is the chilly border between Russia and China. The time is the early 1970s when the two giants were poised on the brink of war. And the characters in this thrilling collection of stories are Chinese soldiers who must constantly scrutinize the enemy even as they themselves are watched for signs of the fatal disease of bourgeois liberalism. In Ocean of Words, the Chinese writer Ha Jin explores the predicament of these simple, barely literate men with breathtaking concision and humanity. From amorous telegraphers to a pugnacious militiaman, from an inscrutable Russian prisoner to an effeminate but enthusiastic recruit, Ha Jin's characters possess a depth and liveliness that suggest Isaac Babel's Cossacks and Tim O'Brien's GIs. Ocean of Words is a triumphant volume, poignant, hilarious, and harrowing.

"A compelling collection of stories, powerful in their unity of theme and rich in their diversity of styles." --New York Times Book Review

"Extraordinary...[These stories are} shot through with wit and offer glimpses of human motivation that defy retelling...Read them all." --Boston Globe

"An exceptional new talent, capable of wringing rich surprises out of austere materials."-Portland Oregonian

1997 Hemingway/PEN Award winner

Ha Jin won the 22nd annual Hemingway/PEN Award for first fiction for Ocean of Words, his extraordinary debut collection of short stories. Writing in The Boston Globe, National Book Award winner James Carroll said, "Ha Jin conjures the exotic particularities of life in China, yet we recognize his characters intimately. The 'otherness' of this most foreign nation falls away as one vividly drawn human after another takes flesh on the page. Ha Jin's compassion for his own people can spark American compassion. In this way, literature trumps stereotype every time, which is the only political function of art."

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January
2001
Enduring the Darkness: A Story of Conscience, Hope and Triumph
   by  Kim Song-man

Letters from Kim Song-man, South Korean Prisoner of Conscience Edited by Drake Zimmerman & AI Group 202 (Normal, Illinois)

This book is a collection of letters and materials exchanged between group members, Kim Song-man and officials on his behalf. It outlines group strategy and details the progress of the case. A great example of Amnesty's success and the commitment of its members! 142 pages.

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December
2000
Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence
   by  Martha Minow

Although mass atrocities are not unique to the 20th century, organized response to such violence has taken new forms, some of which offer hope of some small redress to the victims of war and genocide. In the ground-breaking and timely Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, Harvard Law School professor Martha Minow explores the benefits and drawbacks of a variety of forms of settlement.

For those who have recoiled in horror and outrage at collective violence in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and elsewhere, this book -- with chapters titled "Trials," "Truth Commissions," "Reparations," and "Facing History" -- is a primer on how the world, and individuals, might respond to such acts once the shock subsides. Minow resists the idea that compensatory measures such as war-crimes tribunals and financial payback can ever bring true closure for those who have suffered. "Legal responses," she writes, "are inevitably frail and insufficient." Nevertheless, Minow advocates addressing these atrocities in a formal way: "The victimized deserve the acknowledgment of their humanity," she asserts, "and the reaffirmation of the utter wrongness of its violation."

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November
2000
Secrets
   by  Nuruddin Farah

Set amid the further chaos of Somalia's civil war, Secrets is Farah's first published novel since his return from exile. Its varying voices, parables, proverbs and dreams depict a starving nation that sells its soul to superpowers to survive. Corpses, literal and figurative, lie by the roadside.... Brilliant, elliptical as ever, Farah shrouds Secrets in ambiguity. --Lisa Meyer, San Francisco Chronicle

"With Secrets, Nuruddin Farah solidifies his reputation as one of the world's great writers. He has the painter's perspective, and a knowledge of the natural world which he uses effectively in this novel about the beauty and the woes of modern Africa." --Ishmael Reed

"Nuruddin Farah is one of the real interpreters of experience on our troubled continent. His insight goes deep, beyond events, into the sorrows and joys, the frustrations and achievements of our lives. His prose finds the poetry that is there." --Nadine Gordimer

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October
2000
Dead Man Walking
   by  Sr. Helen Prejean

"This unblinking book about the deliberate killing of human beings refuses to turn a blind eye to the sins of the murderers -- be they prisoners or prison officials. The author, Sister Helen Prejean, is a Roman Catholic nun who has lived and worked with poor black families in New Orleans. Walking explores her personal and spiritual evolution into both a death penalty opponent and victims advocate, an evolution that begins when she serves as the spiritual advisor to two condemned men. --Washington Post Book World

"This arresting account should do for the debate over capital punishment what the film footage from Selma and Birmingham accomplished for the civil rights movement: turn abstractions into flesh and blood. Tough, fair, bravely alive -- you will not come away from this book unshaken." --Bill McKibben

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September
2000
This Earth of Mankind
   by  Pramodeya Ananta Toer

Minke is a young Javanese student of great intelligence, sensitivity, and ambition. Living equally among the colonists and colonized of late nineteenth-century Java, he battles against the confines of colonial strictures. The son of a noble Javanese, he moves easily among the Dutch and their ideas and language but is prevented from enjoying their rights. He also fails desperately in love with the beautiful Indo European Annelies, and it is through her and her extraordinary family that Minke finds the strength to embrace his world-- the world of Indonesia-- and all its beauty and possibility, brutality and anger.

This remarkable tale, the first in the Buru Quartet, was originally recited orally by Indonesian political prisoner Pramodeya Ananta Toer to his fellow cellmates in daily installments.

Pramodeya is a master, and a brilliant one, at setting out an intricate web of motivation, character, and emotion: -- New York Times Book Review.

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August
2000
Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege
   by  Amira Hass

In 1993, Amira Hass, a young Israeli reporter, drove to Gaza to cover a story -- and stayed, the first journalist to live in the grim Palestinian enclave so feared and despised by most Israelis that, in the local idiom, "Go to Gaza" is another way to say "Go to hell." Now, in a work of calm power and painful clarity, Hass reflects on what she has seen in Gaza's gutted streets and destitute refugee camps. "Drinking the Sea at Gaza" maps the zones of ordinary Palestinian life. From her friends, Hass learns the secrets of slipping across sealed borders and stealing through night streets emptied by curfews. She shares Gaza's early euphoria over the peace process and its subsequent despair as hope gives way to unrelenting hardship. But even as Hass charts the griefs and humiliations of the Palestinians, she offers a remarkable portrait of a people not brutalized but eloquent, spiritually resilient, bleakly funny, and morally courageous. Full of testimonies and stories, facts and impressions, Drinking the Sea at Gaza makes an urgent claim on our humanity. Beautiful, haunting, and profound, it will stand with the great works of wartime reportage, from Michael Herr's "Dispatches" to Rian Malan's "My Traitor's Heart."

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July
2000
Before Night Falls
   by  Reinaldo Arenas

This shocking personal and political memoir from one of the most visionary writers to emerge from Castro's Cuba recounts Arenas' stunning odyssey -- from his poverty-stricken childhood and his adolescence as a rebel fighting for Castro, through his suppression as a writer and imprisonment as a homosexual to his flight from Cuba via the Mariel boatlift and subsequent life and death in New York. Arenas breaks through the code of secrecy and silence that protects the privileged in a state where homosexuality is a political crime. Recorded in simple, straightforward prose, this is the true story of a Kafkaesque life and world re-created in the author's acclaimed novels.

A New York Times Best Book of 1993.

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June
2000
Mandate of Heaven: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square and the Next Generation of China's Leaders
   by  Orville Schell

In June we commemorate the eleventh anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre with this insightful work of reportage on the demonstrations and their aftermath.

In "Mandate of Heaven" Orville Schell, one of America's foremost China specialists, brilliantly documents the new power structures, economic initiatives, and cultural changes that have transformed China since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989. Schell takes readers on a series of journeys inside this latter-day People's Republic and introduces us to a broad spectrum of people, from students and workers to entrepreneurs, pop stars, and party officials, who, although they acted out the drama of the Square, are now playing the prominent roles in China's high-speed economic rush into the future.

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May
2000
The Cost of Living
   by  Arundhati Roy

In her Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy turned a compassionate but unrelenting eye on one family in India. Now she lavishes the same acrobatic language and fierce humanity on the future of her beloved country. In this spirited polemic, Roy dares to take on two of the great illusions of India's progress: the massive dam projects that were supposed to haul this sprawling subcontinent into the modern age -- but which instead have displaced untold millions -- and the detonation of India's first nuclear bomb, with all its attendant Faustian bargains.

Merging her inimitable voice with a great moral outrage and imaginative sweep, Roy peels away the mask of democracy and prosperity to show the true costs hidden beneath. For those who have been mesmerized by her vision of India, here is a sketch, traced in fire, of its topsy-turvy society, where the lives of the many are sacrificed for the comforts of the few.

See also: www.narmada.org

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April
2000
Disposable People : New Slavery in the Global Economy
   by  Kevin Bales

Convincing, emotionally wrenching, and freighted with appropriate moral indignation, Kevin Bales' startling presentation shows us that while the general public is convinced slavery is a historical phenomenon of the ancient past... it is in actuality a widespread tragedy found worldwide and on a large scale. This book innovatively and usefully describes the permutations of an ancient tradition as it exists in this modern day and age. -- Richard Pierre Claude, editor of Human Rights Quarterly

"We can do something about it!" "This book is a well researched, scholarly and deeply disturbing expose of modern slavery with well thought out strategies for what to do to combat this scourge. None of us is allowed the luxury of imagined impotence. We can do something about it." -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Kevin Bales is a Principal Lecturer at the Roehampton Institute, University of Surrey, England, and the world's leading expert on contemporary slavery.

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March
2000
Death in the Andes
   by  Mario Vargas Llosa

Alternating points of view give meaningful structure to a disturbing new novel by Vargas Llosa, the great Peruvian writer. Guerrillas, army officers, environmentalists, a bizarre witch and her equally strange husband, and even a couple of French tourists all have their roles to play as the author fashions a plot centering on the mysterious killing of three men in a remote village. Finding the killer is the framework upon which the author develops a pageant of contemporary Peruvian society, a violent environment where even baby vicunas are not exempt from needless slaughter. For North American readers, Vargas Llosa's novel puts faces on, supplies reasons and motives behind, and imparts a history of the terrorism that has plagued Peru in recent years'a situation most of us see only as an inconvenience to traveling there. This pungent work of fiction imparts the real picture, a moving depiction of the strengths and weaknesses in the fabric of Andean culture. --Booklist

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February
2000
No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court
   by  Edward Humes

A convincingly reported, profoundly disturbing discussion of the Los Angeles juvenile court's multifarious failings, providing terrifying evidence of the underbudgeted system's inability to make even a reasonable stab at rehabilitating troubled young offenders. Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Humes spent a year attending hearings and trials and talking with the most dedicated lawyers, judges, and probation officers in L.A.'s juvenile justice system. --Kirkus Reviews

"There are many admirable things about Mr. Humes's book, which, despite its grim subject matter, has a narrative power that keeps you reading right to the end. One of them is that Mr. Humes is a shrewd and perceptive observer of his young subjects ... [and he] allows himself to feel sympathy for the young people whose lives and crimes he describes.... At the same time, Mr. Humes never exonerates bad children for their badness." -- Richard Bernstein, New York Times

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January
2000
(no book this month)
 
December
1999
Amazon Journal: Dispatches from a Vanishing Frontier
   by  Geoffrey O'Connor

Blending reportage, history, anthropology, and personal memoir, "Amazon Journal" is a unique and critical look at how cultural differences in the Amazon have resulted in incidents ranging from comic misunderstandings to blatant exploitation, environmental disaster, and even genocide. Beginning by revisiting the period in the late 80's when the "save the rainforest" campaign, the indigenous rights movement, and the assassination of Chico Mendes became the focus of a media storm, O'Connor stuck with his story long enough to tell us what happened when the world turned its attention elsewhere. Peopled by a colorful cast of real-life characters, O'Connor's startling narrative is a journey into a contemporary heart of darkness, a compelling and compassionate look at a vanishing people, and a blistering account of the forces of destruction, both human and environmental, at work within the greatest forest on earth.

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November
1999
Sky Burial: An Eyewitness Account of China's Brutal Crackdown in Tibet
   by  Blake Kerr

In this true story of a young American's encounter with Chinese oppression, Blake Kerr was fulfilling a lifelong dream by visiting Tibet. In Lhasa, Kerr witnessed a series of demonstrations by Tibetan monks that triggered an explosion of pro-independence protests, immediately quashed by Chinese forces. Kerr's account furnished unprecedented first-hand testimony of the tragic threat of cultural genocide facing Tibet.

This discussion commemorates the tenth anniversary of the imprisonment of Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk arrested for his participation in the demonstrations described in "Sky Burial." Ngawang Pekar is considered by Amnesty International to be a prisoner of conscience, arrested for the non-violent expression of his political beliefs. Campaigning for the release of Ngawang Pekar is an on-going project of the Pasadena chapter of Amnesty International.

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October
1999
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda
   by  Philip Gourevitch

In April 1994, the government of Rwanda called on everyone in the Hutu majority to kill everyone in the Tutsi minority. Over the next three months 800,000 Tutsis were murdered in the most unambiguous case of genocide since Hitler's war against the Jews. Philip Gourevitch's haunting work is an anatomy of the killings in Rwanda, a vivid history of the genocide's background, and an unforgettable account of what it means to survive in its aftermath.

"[It is the] sobering voice of witness that Gourevitch has vividly captured in his work." --Wole Soyinka, The New York Times Book Review

"The most important book I have read in many years...Gourevitch's book poses the preeminent question of our time: What--if anything--does it mean to be a human being at the end of the 20th century?...He examines [this question] with humility, anger, grief and a remarkable level of both political and moral intelligence." --Susie Linfield, Los Angeles Times

A New York Times Editor's Choice
The National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-Fiction
The Los Angeles Times Book Prize
The George K. Polk Award for Foreign Reporting
Overseas Press Club Cornelius Ryan Best Book Award
The PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Non-Fiction

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September
1999
King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
   by  Adam Hochschild

Hochschild's superb, engrossing chronicle focuses on one of the great, horrifying and nearly forgotten crimes of the century: greedy Belgian King Leopold II's rape of the Congo, the vast colony he seized as his private fiefdom in 1885. Until 1909, he used his mercenary army to force slaves into mines and rubber plantations, burn villages, mete out sadistic punishments, including dismemberment, and committ mass murder. The hero of Hochschild's highly personal, even gossipy narrative is Liverpool shipping agent Edmund Morel, who, having stumbled on evidence of Leopold's atrocities, became an investigative journalist and launched an international Congo reform movement with support from Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington and Arthur Conan Doyle. Other pivotal figures include Joseph Conrad, whose disgust with Leopold's "civilizing mission" led to Heart of Darkness; and black American journalist George Washington Williams, who wrote the first systematic indictment of Leopold's colonial regime in 1890. Hochschild (The Unquiet Ghost) documents the machinations of Leopold, who won over President Chester A. Arthur and bribed a U.S. senator to derail Congo protest resolutions. He also draws provocative parallels between Leopold's predatory one-man rule and the strongarm tactics of Mobuto Sese Seko, who ruled the successor state of Zaire. But most of all it is a story of the bestiality of one challenged by the heroism of many in an increasingly democratic world. --Publishers Weekly

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