Severina

"'Right from the start I picked her for a thief, although that day she didn’t take anything. . . . I knew she’d be back,' the narrator/bookseller of Severina recalls in this novel’s opening pages. Imagine a dark-haired book thief as alluring as she is dangerous. Imagine the mesmerized bookseller secretly tracking the volumes she steals, hoping for insight into her character, her motives, her love life. In Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s hands, this tale of obsessive love is told with almost breathless precision and economy. The bookstore owner is soon entangled in Severina’s mystery: seductive and peripatetic, of uncertain nationality, she steals books to actually read them and to share with her purported grandfather, Señor Blanco.
 
In this unsettling exploration of the alienating and simultaneously liberating power of love, the bookseller’s monotonous existence is rocked by the enigmatic Severina. As in a dream, the disoriented man finds that the thin border between rational and irrational is no longer reliable. Severina confirms Rey Rosa’s privileged place in contemporary world literature."

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Clearvigil in Spring

This slim volume of "Nobel laureate Miguel Angel Asturias’ Clarivigilia Primaveral or Clearvigil in Spring is Asturias' creative reworking of Mayan mythology in his native Guatemala. The Nobel Committee called this mythic poetic cycle an 'impressive' work that 'deals with the very genesis of the arts and of poetic creation, in a language which seems to have assumed the bright splendor of the magical queztal's feathers and the glimmering of phosphorescent insects.'"

Professor Gerald M. Martin of the University of Pittsburgh, one of the world's top Asturias scholars, has called this translation 'truly excellent.'"

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Escaping the Fire

"During the height of the Guatemalan civil war, Tomás Guzaro, a Mayan evangelical pastor, led more than two hundred fellow Mayas out of guerrilla-controlled Ixil territory and into the relative safety of the government army's hands. This exodus was one of the factors that caused the guerrillas to lose their grip on the Ixil, thus hastening the return of peace to the area.In Escaping the Fire, Guzaro relates the hardships common to most Mayas and the resulting unrest that opened the door to civil war. He details the Guatemalan army's atrocities while also describing the Guerrilla Army of the Poor's rise to power in Ixil country, which resulted in limited religious freedom, murdered church leaders, and threatened congregations. His story climaxes with the harrowing vision that induced him to guide his people out of their war-torn homeland. Guzaro also provides an intimate look at his spiritual pilgrimage through all three of Guatemala's main religions. The son of a Mayan priest, formerly a leader in the Catholic Church, and finally a convert to Protestantism, Guzaro, in detailing his religious life, offers insight into the widespread shift toward Protestantism in Latin America over the past four decades. Riveting and highly personal, Escaping the Fire ultimately provides a counterpoint to the usual interpretation of indigenous agency during the Guatemalan civil war by documenting the little-studied experiences of Protestants living in guerrilla-held territory."

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I, Rigoberta Menchu

A unique genre, this testimonio (or testimonial literature) re-scripts the history of Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan peasant woman who dictated her story to anthropologist Elisabeth Burgos-Debrayi. Testimonios can range from the most factually based to the most fictional. In this critically-acclaimed testimonio, the anthropologist may have altered/edited some of Menchú’s words to create a more coherent story and Menchú may not have been physically present for some events. However, this Nobel Peace Prize winning text vividly describes an indigenous woman activist, and this book is both her, and her community’s testimony.

"Now a global bestseller, the remarkable life of Rigoberta Menchú, a Guatemalan peasant woman, reflects on the experiences common to many Indian communities in Latin America. Menchú suffered gross injustice and hardship in her early life: her brother, father and mother were murdered by the Guatemalan military. She learned Spanish and turned to catechistic work as an expression of political revolt as well as religious commitment. Menchú vividly conveys the traditional beliefs of her community and her personal response to feminist and socialist ideas. Above all, these pages are illuminated by the enduring courage and passionate sense of justice of an extraordinary woman."

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Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya

"The Popol Vuh is the most important example of Maya literature to have survived the Spanish conquest. It is also one of the world’s great creation accounts, comparable to the beauty and power of Genesis.

Most previous translations have relied on Spanish versions rather than the original K’iche’-Maya text. Based on ten years of research by a leading scholar of Maya literature, this translation with extensive notes is uniquely faithful to the original language. Retaining the poetic style of the original text, the translation is also remarkably accessible to English readers.

Illustrated with more than 80 drawings, photographs, and maps, Allen J. Christenson’s authoritative version brings out the richness and elegance of this sublime work of literature, comparable to such epic masterpieces as the Ramayana and Mahabharata of India or the Iliad and Odyssey of Greece."

Note: Based upon reviews, we recommend you read the paperback version as opposed to the Kindle version which badly handles the footnotes making the book difficult to digest.

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The President

"Guatemalan diplomat and writer Miguel Angel Asturias (1899–1974) began this award-winning work while still a law student. It is a story of a ruthless dictator and his schemes to dispose of a political adversary in an unnamed Latin American country usually identified as Guatemala. The book has been acclaimed for portraying both a totalitarian government and its damaging psychological effects. Drawing from his experiences as a journalist writing under repressive conditions, Asturias employs such literary devices as satire to convey the government’s transgressions and surrealistic dream sequences to demonstrate the police state’s impact on the individual psyche. Asturias’s stance against all forms of injustice in Guatemala caused critics to view the author as a compassionate spokesperson for the oppressed. 'My work,' Asturias promised when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature, 'will continue to reflect the voice of the people, gathering their myths and popular beliefs and at the same time seeking to give birth to a universal consciousness of Latin American problems.'"

(A special thank you to book club member, Aisha Esbhani for the suggestion.)

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The Blood of Angels

"Another haunting novel of eco-speculation from Johanna Sinisalo, the award-winning author of Troll and a powerhouse of the Finnish science fiction and fantasy scene.

It is claimed Albert Einstein said that if bees disappear from the earth, mankind has four years left. When bee-vanishings of unprecedented scale hit the United States, Orvo, a Finnish beekeeper, knows all too well where it will lead. And when he sees the queen dead in his hives one day, it's clear the epidemic has spread to Europe, and the world is coming to an end. Orvo's special knowledge of bees just may enable him to glimpse a solution to catastrophe: he takes a desperate step onto a path where only he and the bees know the way but it propels him into conflict with his estranged, but much-loved son, a committed animal activist. A magical plunge into the myth of death and immortality, this is a tale of human blindness in the face of devastation—and the inevitable."

(A special thank you to book club member, Caity Greig for the suggestion.)

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Finnish Short Stories

A 238-page volume of 32 stories written by Finnish authors, "presenting a wide range of writing styles. 

These short stories cover the period from 1859 through modern times and include some of Finland's classic writers: Aleksis Kivi, Minna Canth, Juhani Aho, Frans Eemil Sillanpaa. More modern writers are Mika Waltari, Veijo Meri Veikko Huovinen, Marja-Leena Mikkola and Timo Mukka."

This translation by an American from Minnesota, began as a project while taking a translation course University of Minnesota to reaffirm her Finnish roots. Becoming popular, the collection was then edited by Borje Vahamaki, Professor of Finnish Studies at the University of Toronto in Ontario.

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Invisible Planets

"Mindblowingly inventive and beautifully written short stories from the most exciting new name in SF.

Hannu Rajaniemi exploded onto the SF scene in 2010 with the publication of his first novel The Quantum Thief. Acclaimed by fellow authors and brilliantly reviewed everywhere, he swiftly established a reputation as an author who could combine extraordinary cutting edge science with beautiful prose and deliver it all with wit, warmth and a delight in the fun of storytelling.

It is exactly these qualities that are showcased in this his first collection of short stories. Drawn from anthologies, magazines and online publications and brought together in book form for the first time in this collection here is a collection of seventeen short stories that range from the lyrical to the bizarre, from the elegiac to the impish. It is a collection that shows one of the great new imaginations in SF having immense fun."

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The Summer Book

"In The Summer Book, Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. “On an island,” thinks the grandmother, “everything is complete.” In The Summer Book, Jansson creates her own complete world, full of the varied joys and sorrows of life."

(A special thank you to book club member, Ivor Watkins for the suggestion.)

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Tainaron

"The classic novel by an iconic Finnish author, a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Tainaron: a city like no other, populated by talking insects, as observed by the nameless narrator, who is far from home...

'Leena Krohn has given us a lens of words through which to consider reality, a microscope to reveal yearning and wonder, a telescope to look for what it means to be human, a window and a mirror and an eye other than our own.' - Matthew Cheney (from his afterword)"

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The Year of the Hare

"Suddenly realizing what's important in life (with the help of a bunny), a man quits his job and heads to the countryside in this internationally bestselling comic novel. 

'Which of us has not had that wonderfully seditious idea: to play hooky for a while from life as we know it?' With these words from his foreword, Pico Iyer puts his finger on the exhilaratingly anarchic appeal of The Year of the Hare

While out on assignment, a journalist hits a hare with his car. This small incident becomes life-changing: he decides to quit his job, leave his wife, sell his possessions, and spend a year wandering the wilds of Finland-with the bunny as his boon companion."

(A special thank you to book club member, Stéphanie Gourcilleau for the suggestion.)

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The Last Resort

"Thrilling, heartbreaking, and, at times, absurdly funny, The Last Resort is a remarkable true story about one family in a country under siege and a testament to the love, perseverance, and resilience of the human spirit. 

Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Douglas Rogers is the son of white farmers living through that country’s long and tense transition from postcolonial rule. He escaped the dull future mapped out for him by his parents for one of adventure and excitement in Europe and the United States. But when Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe launched his violent program to reclaim white-owned land and Rogers’s parents were caught in the cross fire, everything changed. Lyn and Ros, the owners of Drifters–a famous game farm and backpacker lodge in the eastern mountains that was one of the most popular budget resorts in the country–found their home and resort under siege, their friends and neighbors expelled, and their lives in danger. But instead of leaving, as their son pleads with them to do, they haul out a shotgun and decide to stay. 

On returning to the country of his birth, Rogers finds his once orderly and progressive home transformed into something resembling a Marx Brothers romp crossed with Heart of Darkness: pot has supplanted maize in the fields; hookers have replaced college kids as guests; and soldiers, spies, and teenage diamond dealers guzzle beer at the bar. 

And yet, in spite of it all, Rogers’s parents–with the help of friends, farmworkers, lodge guests, and residents–among them black political dissidents and white refugee farmers–continue to hold on. But can they survive to the end? 

In the midst of a nation stuck between its stubborn past and an impatient future, Rogers soon begins to see his parents in a new light: unbowed, with passions and purpose renewed, even heroic. And, in the process, he learns that the "big story" he had relentlessly pursued his entire adult life as a roving journalist and travel writer was actually happening in his own backyard. 

Evoking elements of The Tender Bar and Absurdistan, The Last Resort is an inspiring, coming-of-age tale about home, love, hope, responsibility, and redemption. An edgy, roller-coaster adventure, it is also a deeply moving story about how to survive a corrupt Third World dictatorship with a little innovation, humor, bribery, and brothel management."

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Behind Enemy Lines

"Behind Enemy Lines is a collection of stories about ordinary people and anti-heroes dragged into a search for meaning in their lives – whether it is a simple search for identity and love, or a bigger struggle for Africa's political freedom. The canvas of their actions, motivations and circumstances is a Zimbabwe of the past, present and future. Humorous, acerbic, funny and tragic, the stories cover the whole gamut of emotions. A soldier navigates his way across hostile territory to a distant safe house; a freedom fighter searches the debris of a ruined city for evidence of a horrific crime; an ordinary boy is caught up in a bank robbery; and an activist journeys home for her ex-boyfriend's funeral. Ruzvidzo interweaves the past, present and future with a confidence often missing in a debutante, offering a uniquely compelling angle to the Zimbabwean experience."

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Butterfly Burning

"Butterfly Burning brings the brilliantly poetic voice of Zimbabwean writer Yvonne Vera to American readers for the first time. Set in Makokoba, a black township, in the late l940s, the novel is an intensely bittersweet love story. When Fumbatha, a construction worker, meets the much younger Phephelaphi, he 'wants her like the land beneath his feet from which birth had severed him.' He in turn fills her 'with hope larger than memory.' But Phephelaphi is not satisfied with their 'one-room' love alone. The qualities that drew Fumbatha to her, her sense of independence and freedom, end up separating them. And the closely woven fabric of township life, where everyone knows everyone else, has a mesh too tight and too intricate to allow her to escape her circumstances on her own.

Vera exploits language to peel away the skin of public and private lives. In Butterfly Burning she captures the ebullience and the bitterness of township life, as well as the strength and courage of her unforgettable heroine."

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The Cry of the Go-Away Bird

"Elise loves the farm that is her home. There is always tea in the silver teapot, gin and tonics are served on the veranda and her days are spent listening to stories of spirits and charms told by her nanny, Beauty. As a young white girl growing up in Zimbabwe, her life is idyllic. 

However, this dream-world of her childhood cannot last. As Elise gets older, her eyes are opened to the complexities of adult life, both through the arrival of her step-father, and through her growing understanding of the tensions in Zimbabwean society. As the privileged existence of the white farmers begins to crumble into anarchy and farm invasions begin, Elise is forced to confront difficult choices and the ancient unforgiving ghosts of the past."

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Mud Between Your Toes

"Glimpse a life filled with contradictions, discoveries, and passion in Peter Wood's fascinating new memoir, Mud Between Your Toes.

This is a powerful story about a teenage boy growing up during the Rhodesian Bush War.

Peter Wood is an African. He is white, but he also holds a Chinese passport. And he is also gay.

Growing up during the 1970s on his family's farm in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Peter was swiftly introduced to a harsh world in which friends and relatives were murdered in ambushes—and the line between blacks and whites was drawn in blood.

As travel bans and UN sanctions caused a deepening chasm between his country and the rest of the world, Peter struggled with his identity as a white Rhodesian and later in life, when living in London, he nurtured his skills as a photographer—and finally found the courage to come out as gay.

Now a twenty-year resident of Hong Kong and an official Chinese national, Peter is arguably the only white, gay, African man in China. But his wildly entertaining anecdotes delve much deeper than that superficial—yet admittedly fascinating—label. These stories, based largely on Peter's childhood diary entries, offer insight into the universal human experience: from tragedies and triumphs to catastrophes and, perhaps most importantly, joy."

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Rainbow's End

"This is a story about a paradise lost. . . . 

In 1978, in the final, bloodiest phase of the Rhodesian civil war, eleven-year-old Lauren St John moves with her family to Rainbow's End, a wild, beautiful farm and game reserve set on the banks of a slowflowing river. The house has been the scene of a horrific attack by guerrillas, and when Lauren's family settles there, a chain of events is set in motion that will change her life irrevocably. 

Rainbow's End captures the overwhelming beauty and extraordinary danger of life in the African bush. Lauren's childhood reads like a girl's own adventure story. At the height of the war, Lauren rides through the wilderness on her horse, Morning Star, encountering lions, crocodiles, snakes, vicious ostriches, and mad cows. Many of the animals are pets, including Miss Piggy and Bacon and an elegant giraffe named Jenny. The constant threat of ruthless guerrillas prowling the land underscores everything, making each day more dangerous, vivid, and prized than the last. 

After Independence, Lauren comes to the bitter realization that she'd been on the wrong side of the civil war. While she and her family believed that they were fighting for democracy over Communism, others saw the war as black against white. And when Robert Mugabe comes into power, he oversees the torture and persecution of thousands of members of an opposing tribe and goes on to become one of Africa's legendary dictators. The ending of this beautiful memoir is a fist to the stomach as Lauren realizes that she can be British or American, but she cannot be African. She can love it -- be willing to die for it -- but she cannot claim Africa because she is white."

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Canada note: No Kindle version is available on amazon.ca; only a paperback. However, you can buy the Kindle version on the US or Canada sites. Also, the included link is just 1 of a variety of paperback versions available. 

Shebeen Tales

"'Beautifully written — a glimpse into a rarely seen African reality.' -Weekly Journal

Throughout southern Africa, shebeens are where jokes are born, news is embellished and exchanged. They are unique vantage points where men go after a day's work, both to escape from the troubled world around them and to observe and comment on it. In Shebeen Tales, Zimbabwe's leading author offers a view of his country not from the privileged and insulated perspective of a well-heeled visitor, but that of the ordinary person who, with the help of dry wit and illegal beer, pokes fun at the rich and mighty. Struggling against madcap motorists, pompous bureaucrats and the other woes of life in the city, the man in the shebeen sees modern Africa as it really is, not as press releases or tourist brochures would have us believe. Hove looks straight in the eye of a society suffering from AIDS, drought and economic hardship, but does not succumb to despair. With a wry sense of humor, he celebrates a people who live life to the full, laugh and sing, tell tall tales – whatever is thrown at them. In new pieces written for this edition, he discusses the vexed issue of homosexuality in Zimbabwe and also casts an amused eye at President Mugabe's wedding."

(A special thank you to book club member, Ivor Watkins for the suggestion.)

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I Am a Cat

I am a cat book cover

"'A nonchalant string of anecdotes and wisecracks, told by a fellow who doesn't have a name, and has never caught a mouse, and isn't much good for anything except watching human beings in action...' —The New Yorker

Written over the course of 1904-1906, Soseki Natsume's comic masterpiece, I Am a Cat, satirizes the foolishness of upper-middle-class Japanese society during the Meiji era. With acerbic wit and sardonic perspective, it follows the whimsical adventures of a world-weary stray kitten who comments on the follies and foibles of the people around him.

A classic of Japanese literature, I Am a Cat is one of Soseki's best-known novels. Considered by many as the greatest writer in modern Japanese history, Soseki's I Am a Cat is a classic novel sure to be enjoyed for years to come."

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