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

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 2018 

January 21

hosted by Peggy S (Durham)

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See
China, fiction

Li-Yan is the youngest daughter of an Ahka family near Nannuo Mountain in China in 1949. She tries to follow Ahka law, the rules set forth by the beliefs of this ethnic minority, but at every turn she seems to find herself doing the opposite: An Ahka girl must obey and learn from her mother, but Li-Yan studies hard at a modern school. Although an Ahka girl should not speak to men, when foreigners arrive from Hong Kong in search of a renowned, aged tea called Pu’er, Li-Yan is the only one who can translate. If an Ahka girl gets pregnant, she must marry the boy, but when Li-Yan gives birth, the father is gone. And, according to Ahka law, a child born outside of marriage must be killed. But Li-Yan cannot bring herself to do it. Instead, she leaves her daughter at the doorstep of an orphanage. While Li-Yan matures into a successful tea master, the daughter, Haley, is adopted into a white American family in Los Angeles, and her existence is revealed in sporadic letters, school reports, and, later, emails. These sections capture both Haley’s desire to fully integrate into her adopted family and her curiosity and heartache about her mother and the only clue she left behind: a tea cake. With vivid and precise details about tea and life in rural China, Li-Yan’s gripping journey to find her daughter comes alive.

Links to get this book
Libraries: Durham, Wake, Chapel Hill
Book vendors: AbeBooks, Amazon

March 18

hosted by Barbara K (Raleigh)

Notes on a Foreign Country: an American abroad in a post-American world, Suzy Hansen
Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, etc.., non-fiction

After moving to Turkey in 2007, American journalist Hansen, who writes for the New York Times Magazine, came to the startling realization that America seen from abroad is a wholly different entity from the America she knew. Hansen explores her own loss of innocence, as her belief in American grandiosity, exceptionalism, and humanitarianism is deeply shaken by the destruction wrought by the U.S. in the Middle East. The first chapters describe Hansen’s encounters with Turkish nationalism and her painful acquaintance with a new view of her country’s history. Subsequent chapters explore the ways American interventions have spread wars, propped up dictators, destroyed landscapes in the name of modernization, and spurred the rise of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Middle and Near East. Lucid, reflective, probing, and poetic, Hansen’s book is also a searing critique of the ugly depths of American ignorance, made more dangerous because the declining U.S. imperial system coincides with decay at home.

Links to get this book
Libraries: Durham, Wake, Chapel Hill
Book vendors: AbeBooks, Amazon

May 20

hosted by Diane B (Durham)

The Book of Joy: lasting happiness in a changing world, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams
World, non-fiction

Cultivating joy was the subject of a five-day conversation between the Dalai Lama and Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of South Africa, held in 2015 at the former’s residence in exile in Dharamsala, India. The two Nobel Peace Prize recipients argued for a “true joy that was not dependent on the vicissitudes of circumstance,” writes Abrams, who moderated the rare meeting between the two friends on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. Highlighting the men’s playful joking and delight in each other’s company, Abrams carefully balances their strong voices during intense discussions on the many obstacles to joy (including fear, anger, and adversity) and ways to cultivate greater well-being, using as a framework the “eight pillars of joy” (perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity). Throughout, Abrams skillfully incorporates information about each leader’s life and work, basic Buddhist principles undergirding the Dalai Lama’s perspectives, and current scientific research.

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

July 15

hosted by Jill G (Chapel Hill)

The Way to the Spring: Live and Death in Palestine, Ben Ehrenreich
Palestine, non-fiction

The title’s spring in question, used by Palestinian farmers for longer than anyone could remember, bubbled from a low stone cliff below the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. In 2008, Israeli settlers constructed a pool to collect the water, then stocked it with fish and added a bench, a swing, and more pools. The Palestinian villagers marched in opposition, not just to the spring’s transformation, but also to larger issues they associated with Israel: the checkpoints, travel restrictions, land appropriations, walls and fences, home demolitions, and so on. Ehrenreich obviously sides with the Palestinians, particularly the young protesters, as he shares the exacting daily life he observed during the three years he lived, off and on, in the West Bank. Ehrenreich’s journal conveys how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict truly plays out at ground level, where normal might include the sounds of screaming, being arrested and questioned for hours, or simply being shot at.

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

September 16

hosted by Sarah M (Wake Forest)

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
Ghana, fiction

Fiction can do what straightforward historical narrative cannot: compress 300 years of African American experience into a story that is at once cohesive and compelling. The saga begins in West Africa in the 18th century, when Effia, a beautiful girl in the Asante tribe, is married off to a British officer who oversees slave trafficking at a fortress on the Gold Coast. Thus starts an African family line that bears the curse of complicity in slavery. At the same time, Effia’s half sister Esi is captured, endures the Middle Passage, and lands in America as a slave on a Southern plantation. Individual chapters take readers chronologically through pivotal historical moments and up to the present: living in Baltimore after the 1857 Dred Scott decision, Harlem during the Great Migration, a ghetto in the 1960s, and postcolonial Africa. Gyasi’s characters are vividly drawn, sympathetic yet not simplistically heroic. It’s wrenching to leave them behind, but readers will be quickly enthralled by the next generation’s story.

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

November 18

hosted by Sally P (Raleigh) 

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah
South Africa, non-fiction

Many people know Noah as the current host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show; however, one doesn’t need to be familiar with his comedy and commentary to enjoy this fascinating and funny memoir. Born during apartheid to a Swiss-German father and black Xhosa mother, Noah shares stories from his formative years when he often felt more like an outsider than the shining star he is today. His stories give insight into not only his personal history but the culture and history of South Africa. The subject matter is difficult, with violence, racism, and poverty all being part of his complex narrative. Despite his circumstances, Noah is able to find humor and love even in the worst of times, mostly owing to his strong-willed, independent, and devoutly Christian mother. Note: the audiobook version of this is read by the author so you get to hear all the different accents and languages he uses.

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