Book Group

The North Carolina Peace Corps Association Book Group is an informal group of RPCVS who love to read international books and eat international food. The book group discusses books about the world or by international authors. Add to that a potluck dinner from the selected country, and you’ve got a great evening! (Too busy to cook? feel free to bring a purchased item for the potluck.)

Meetings are on the third Sunday (usually) of odd-numbered months, beginning at 5:30pm and finishing up around 8:30pm.

For more information about the Book Group, to RSVP for a meeting, and for directions for each meeting please contact Peggy Schaeffer or Ruth Heuer.  Or go to our Google Group page and request to join to our group, so you’ll get announcements of all upcoming meetings.

summer 2016 meeting

a fabulous potluck spread

NEW! Lists of all the books we’ve read (about 140 titles, since 1994) are now available:

  • click here for an online version,
  • here for a printable PDF in title order, and
  • here for a printable PDF in country order (from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe!)

dates, books and hosts for 2017 

January 15 

hosted by Peggy S (Durham)


Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, by Geraldine Brooks (1995)

Middle East, non-fiction

During her six years covering the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal, Brooks sought to find out how Muslim women feel about their societies’ attitudes toward women. What she discovered is sometimes astonishing, sometimes shocking, but always fascinating. Taking on the hijab (the Muslim woman’s black veil) herself, Brooks talked with women throughout the Islamic world, reexamined the Koran, spent time with fundamentalist and feminist alike, and emerged with a deeper understanding of the religion as one that once empowered but now cripples women. She found, for instance, that Iran is one of the better Islamic countries for women, Saudi Arabia the worst; that the hijab can be strangely liberating; that enjoyment of their sexuality is an inherent right for Muslim women; and that to be a feminist under Islam calls for a daily form of courage almost incomprehensible to the Western mind. Brooks is a wonderful writer and thinker; the observations she makes and the conclusions she reaches open both our eyes and our minds to understanding Muslim women anew.

Note: this book isn’t available from the Wake County libraries, but used copies are widely available

Libraries: Durham, Wake, Chapel Hill
Book vendors: AbeBooks, Amazon

March 19

hosted by Joyce P in Chapel Hill


Even Silence Has an End : My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle, by Ingrid Betancourt (2010)

Colombia, non-fiction

Ingrid Betancourt tells the story of her captivity in the Colombian jungle, sharing powerful teachings of resilience, resistance, and faith.

Born in Bogotá, raised in France, Ingrid Betancourt at the age of thirty-two gave up a life of comfort and safety to return to Colombia to become a political leader in a country that was being slowly destroyed by terrorism, violence, fear, and a pervasive sense of hopelessness. In 2002, while campaigning as a candidate in the Colombian presidential elections, she was abducted by the FARC.

Nothing could have prepared her for what came next. She would spend the next six and a half years in the depths of the jungle as a prisoner of the FARC. Even Silence Has an End is her deeply personal and moving account of that time. Chained day and night for much of her captivity, she never stopped dreaming of escape and, in fact, succeeded in getting away several times, always to be recaptured. In her most successful effort she and a fellow captive survived a week away, but were caught when her companion became desperately ill; she learned later that they had been mere miles from freedom.

The facts of her story are astounding, but it is Betancourt’s indomitable spirit that drives this very special account, bringing life, nuance, and profundity to the narrative. Attending as intimately to the landscape of her mind as she does to the events of her capture and captivity, Even Silence Has an End is a meditation on the very stuff of life-fear and freedom, hope and what inspires it. Betancourt tracks her metamorphosis, sharing how in the routines she established for herself-listening to her mother and two children broadcast to her over the radio, daily prayer-she was able to do the unthinkable: to move through the pain of the moment and find a place of serenity.

Libraries: Durham, Wake, Chapel Hill
Book vendors: AbeBooks, Amazon

May 21

hosted by Barbara K (Raleigh)

thisThis Child Will be Great : Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President, by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, (2010)

Liberia, non-fiction

Africa’s first elected female president, Sirleaf chronicles her rise from an abused young wife and mother to a woman with a career in government finance and international banking to the president of Liberia since 2006. Sirleaf confronted corruption and incompetence through several Liberian governments and suffered imprisonment and exile for her controversial positions before ultimately returning and challenging the long and troubled history of her nation. Liberia was created by the U.S. to repatriate former slaves, creating a tension between Americo-Liberians and indigenous peoples that continues. She recounts her struggles at home and abroad; she watched dictator Samuel Doe and later Charles Taylor destroy Liberia while she continued to criticize U.S. involvement with corrupt regimes. Having no colonial power to overcome, Sirleaf contends that Liberia has often struggled to develop and maintain a sense of true national integration, something she has sought to achieve as she has worked to bring economic and social stability to her civil-war-torn nation. An inspiring inside look at a nation struggling to rebuild itself and the woman now behind those efforts.

Libraries: Durham, Wake, Chapel Hill
Book vendors: AbeBooks, Amazon

July 16

hosted by Jill G (Chapel Hill)


The Geography of Bliss : One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World, by Eric Weiner (2008)

Worldwide, non-fiction

A self-proclaimed grump, Weiner has spent a decade as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, giving him ample opportunity to view the human condition around the world. Intrigued by the ingredients for bliss, he consulted with a Dutch professor of happiness studies, who set him off on a journey to visit places known to have happiness indexes. Iceland ranks because of its high tolerance for failure and Qatar for its extreme wealth. Weiner explores tranquility in Bhutan, the closest thing to Shangri-La, which has a government policy on Gross National Happiness. In Moldova, the former Soviet Republic in the miserable throes of recovery, he defines happiness as being elsewhere. In Britain, he finds a people put off by the American enthusiasm for happiness, and at home, he finds an endless pursuit of joy that evades us even as we are alone in status as a superpower. Grouchy or not, Weiner displays an openness to other cultures and a huge sense of humor in this absorbing, funny, and thoughtful look at notions of bliss.

Libraries: Durham, Wake, Chapel Hill
Book vendors: AbeBooks, Amazon

September 17

hosted by Eileen H (Raleigh)

cityCity of Thorns : Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, by Ben Rawlence (2016)

Kenya, non-fiction

The saga of Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, the City of Thorns of the title, reveals the sort of intersection between humanity’s greatest nightmares and triumphs that seems to belong more to fiction than to the real world. That Rawlence has managed to capture so much of this unlikely city’s chaos and confusion in a narrative that is very nearly impossible to put down is an achievement in reportage that few have matched. Dadaab’s half a million residents could not have asked for a better champion than this researcher for Human Rights Watch, and while the facts and figures he shares are stunning, it is the nine individuals whose stories he focuses on who give the book its heart. Their nearly insurmountable struggle for the most basic of human dignities, the right to work and love and live in peace, will make readers yearn to know more about the politics of international aid and the rights of refugees. Comparisons to Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012) are spot-on. Rawlence has written a book that just might change the world or, at the very least, awaken readers to one criminally forgotten corner of it.

Libraries: Durham, Wake, Chapel Hill
Book vendors: AbeBooks, Amazon

November 19

hosted by Jane B (Raleigh) 

girlThe Girl Who Escaped ISIS: This Is My Story,  by Farida Khalaf and Andrea C. Hoffmann (2016)

Iraq, non-fiction

A young Yazidi woman was living a normal, sheltered life in northern Iraq during the summer of 2014 when her entire world was upended: her village was attacked by ISIS. All of the men in her town were killed and the women were taken into slavery. This is Farida Khalaf’s story.

In unprecedented detail, Farida describes her world as it was–at nineteen, she was living at home with her brothers and parents, finishing her schooling and looking forward to becoming a math teacher–and the hell it became. Held in a slave market in Syria and sold into the homes of several ISIS soldiers, she stubbornly attempts resistance at every turn. Farida is ultimately brought to an ISIS training camp in the middle of the desert, where she plots an against-all-odds escape for herself and five other girls.

A riveting firsthand account of life in captivity and a courageous flight to freedom, this astonishing memoir is also Farida’s way of bearing witness, and of ensuring that ISIS does not succeed in crushing her spirit. Her bravery, resilience, and hope in the face of unimaginable violence will fascinate and inspire.

Libraries: Durham, Wake, Chapel Hill
Book vendors: AbeBooks, Amazon