On November 10, 2020 Helen shared her experience of the poetry, fiction and non-fiction of Julia Alvarez, a Dominican American author. Ms. Alvarez’s work highlights the 20th century immigrant experience from a woman’s point of view. Helen illustrated, through readings from “The Woman I Kept to Myself” – a book of poetry; discussion of Alvarez’s works of auto-fiction; and a video clip from 2020, that Julia Alvarez is not silent in spite of family and societal expectations for women like her.
Ms. Alvarez’s hero as a young girl was Scheherazade, a woman who used storytelling to defeat a autocrat. Through her own work, she seeks to bring out truths that expose the ways that society can oppress. Her best known work, “In the Time of the Butterflies” is a fictional account of real sisters who were assassinated for their opposition to the Dominican Trujillo regime. Much of her other work is very personal, discussing her experience as an immigrant and bringing out stories that were not discussed within her family.
Janet Samber presented South African Afrikaaner author Laurens van der Post whose many works of fiction and non-fiction alike reflect his real-life experiences as a farmer, journalist, soldier, prisoner of war, and student of Carl Jung. Using photographs from her own travels to southern Africa, Janet introduced members to the fascinating world of the Kalahari Bushmen, the indigenous people of that part of the continent. The Bushmen were of passionate interest and concern to van der Post who, in writing The Lost World of the Kalahari, sought to raise awareness about these original hunter-gatherers and the genocide threatening their existence. In so doing, he reminds us all of our common humanity.
On October 27 2020, member Elaine Buckman gave a presentation on the works of modern Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini.
For Elaine, Mr. Hosseini makes the refugee immigrant experience personal in his two novels. The ancient and recent history of Afghanistan is one of resistance to foreign conquest. Culturally, Afghanistan has conservative tribal and class distinctions that are a contrast with the values of Western society.
Mr. Hosseini’s father was a diplomat, who emigrated to the United States after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. His family settled into an immigrant community and Mr. Hosseini became a doctor and married a law student who was also in the Afghan immigrant community.
While working as a doctor, Mr. Hosseini wrote his first novel “The Kite Runner”. It is a tale of both Afghanistan and immigrants who have left Afghanistan. The characters struggle to meet traditional family expectations while respecting individual rights in a modern social setting. The novel was met with widespread commercial success and has been made into a movie and a play.
A second novel “A Thousand Splendid Suns”; a book of short stories “ And Now the Mountains Echo; and a poem “ Sea Prayer” have followed “The Kite Runner”. These works continue the themes of the immigrant experience, grief, class & poverty, and the status of women in Afghan society.
Denise Doz chose this South African author for his masterful and influential use of literature to plea for compassionate love, or agapé, for those suffering under South Africa’s apartheid system. She noted that institutionalized apartheid has regrettably been replaced with something new in South Africa, and racism isn’t restricted to that country. Shamefully, Apartheid was informed by Canada’s Indian Act. His books remain relevant today with the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and across the world in our current news cycle.
“(Agapé) embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance.” (Wikipedia)
Alan Paton wrote from the soul, and with faith that his own society could change through non-violence. He wanted to motivate readers to compassion and change. Cry, the Beloved Country, his first novel, dug deep to expose the implications of apartheid on individuals, family and society. It was groundbreaking, bringing the faces of apartheid to readers worldwide. Paton became a prolific author thereafter.
Denise’s first reading was of his description of his birthplace, Durban, demonstrating his exquisite “wordscapes” that incorporate all senses. She ended her presentation with a video clip: We saw a rugby stadium and the singing of the new South African anthem in Zulu, Afrikaans and English in the post-apartheid “Rainbow Nation.” Transformation is happening.
Ritta used the word mensch, a particularly good person,to describe author Chaim Potok. Ritta discovered his novels through her curiosity about religions.
Chaim Potok was raised in the Bronx in a conservative Jewish family, received a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature, then became a rabbi. It was his three years as a chaplain in Japan and Korea after the Korean war that transformed his beliefs. He obtained a master’s and doctorate degree, led an active life as a Jewish academic and teacher, as a magazine editor and writer, in addition to being a novelist.
Not unlike Potok himself, his characters struggle to manage the tensions inherent in wanting to live for themselves against the backdrop of their families’ expectations and their traditional religious beliefs.
Not so long ago, I discovered immigrant literature through a novel which completely changed the way I perceived current news about illegal Mexican immigrants. Not only had I gained more insight into their plight, I saw our own North American culture from their point of view — and it was unflattering.
With this season’s theme of cultural awareness in literature, I sought to present to the Club five fictional books which address ongoing immigrant issues in North America, written in different styles and dealing with different cultures. I had a wealth of choice, and when I had run out of time to read more, I selected these:
Environmental: The Tortilla Curtain (above-mentioned) about illegal Mexican immigrants (Author T.C. Boyle, 1995)
Suspense: The House of Sand and Fog about Iranian-Americans (Author André Dubus III, 1999)
Legal drama: The Boat People about Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Canada (Sharon Bala, 2018)
The two books below are in many categories, or perhaps defy categorizing. You will laugh and you will cry while reading their narrators’ highly quirky, often funny, recounting of tragedies.
Coming of age (the best I can do…unlike any other book I have read:)The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao about Dominican Republicans in New Jersey (Junot Díaz, 2007)
War/spy novel/mystery/comedy/tragedy… : The Sympathizer about Vietnamese refugees to the United States (Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015)
Why search out immigrant literature? Fiction will humanize immigrants in a way news reports cannot. Novels make us more aware of the enormous challenges immigrants face and can deepen our understanding, empathy and compassion for those who hope to find a better life here.
Moorea revealed how foreign our own Canadian culture can be by sharing her study of Susanna Moodie, a 19th Century British settler, whose book about the realities of Roughing it in the Bush; or, Life in Canada (1852) was not the encouraging guide to promote emigration its publishers had envisaged!
Susanna Moodie is important historically, providing a window into what was then Upper Canada (Ontario.) For a genteel British family — who had expected to rise to the top of colonial society, the reality was not what they expected. Mrs. Moodie, who was already a published author in Britain, became a pioneer of Canadian literature, and has influenced writers such as Carol Shields, L.M. Montgomery, Timothy Findley and Margaret Atwood.
This courageous immigrant shared her experiences through the art of writing, while she adapted, not always easily or willingly, to a culture more foreign than she had expected — and which would be largely foreign to Canadians today. Link to Moorea’s insightful summary by CLICKING HERE.
[Webmaster’s addition: Enjoy stumbling upon what is almost certainlyTHE MOODIE HOMESTEAD, THROUGH THIS LINK.It is an artist’s watercolour images, someone who would have gone to enormous effort to reach the Moodie homestead shortly after the family had moved from the bush.]
It’s no wonder that the “father of geology” James Hutton was Scottish, as is the Loch Ness monster and Scottish bagpipes: What a country and culture! Cecilia opened her presentation with Wings’ Mull of Kintyre. The “earworm” hasn’t left me since (in a good way!) The opening music for the TV series, “The Skye Boat Song,” is equally haunting, with traditional lyrics telling of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape to the Isle of Skye.
Cecilia felt as entirely immersed in the world Gabaldon paints in the Outlander novels, as her son had been many years ago escaping into J.K. Rowling’s world of Harry Potter.
In 1988, a scientist, university professor and contributor to professional publications, decided to try her hand at writing a novel, for practice only. Diana Gabaldon by chance caught a Dr. Who episode with a compelling 18th century, kilted Scottish character. That was the catalyst for what has become The Outlander series. By using time travel, the author was able to provide modern perspectives. As a counterpoint to the fantasy, Ms. Gabaldon weaves in reality using her meticulous research of history, medical practices and medicinal plants.
In reviewing my notes from Shawna’s presentation on October 29, 2019 of prolific Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, what jumps out at me now, in this one month of physical distancing, is the book Balkon. Over a five-month period (2012-13) Mr. Pamuk took over 8,000 photos of Istanbul from his balcony (Wikipedia) resulting in this photo journal, as well as an art exhibition in 2019. Let’s hope we don’t have four months to go, but what an inspiration!
Shawna began her presentation with a quote, which I caught in my handwritten notes. In other words, this may not be word-for-word.
I ran away but I returned and will continue to tell its story. This is the best place I know. (Orhan Pamuk)
This author, who had early aspirations to be a painter, then architect, eventually painted word pictures — so well that his Turkish books are translated worldwide, and have received many prestigious awards, including the 2006 Nobel Prize.
CLICK HERE to find out why Shawna enjoys Orhan Pamuk so much and why you might too.
(A note on the image: The Turkish plate is one I received from my worldly Uncle George, who was born in Victorian times. Viewed from the back, you would see that the plate was badly broken and considerably mended, showing how much the art was treasured by my Uncle. Still is! Janet Halls)
Doloris shared with us “an author who understood the fundamental role that storytelling can play in building bridges of cultural understanding.” It wasn’t until age twenty-three that Mr. Wagamese reconnected with his own Ojibway (Anishinaabe) people. Fortunately, he gives us all an opportunity to understand them so much more, through his writings.
Richard Wagamese was part of Canada’s 60’s SCOOP when it was common practice to ‘scoop’ newborns from mothers on reserves, placing them with mostly middle-class Canadians of European descent. His parents, victims themselves of a residential school system that “tried to scrape the Indian out of their insides,” (Richard Wagamese) had abandoned their children. At three, he was separated from his siblings and sent to various foster homes before being adopted at nine. At sixteen, he was living on the streets, escaping an abusive home life.