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June 2020 Book, The Island of Sea Women

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This is a work of historical fiction. Set on the Korean island of Jeju, The Island of Sea Women follows Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls from very different backgrounds, as they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective. Though Mi-ja and Young-sook are fictional characters. the diving women are real and have existed for generations.

Over many decades—through the Japanese colonialism of the 1930s and 1940s, World War II, the Korean War, and the era of cellphones and wet suits for the women divers—Mi-ja and Young-sook develop the closest of bonds. Nevertheless, their differences are impossible to ignore: Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, forever marking her, and Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers. After hundreds of dives and years of friendship, forces outside their control will push their relationship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel ill…

May 2020 Book, The Secret River

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On his first night in New South Wales, in 1806, William Thornhill—Thames boatman, thief, banished convict—gazes despairingly into the forest outside his flimsy hut. A spear-wielding Aborigine appears before him, and his dejection turns to rage. All he has is his family—“those soft parcels of flesh,” sleeping behind him—and “the dirt under his bare feet, his small grip on this unknown place,” and he is not about to give them up to a naked black stranger. The Aborigine responds with equal vehemence: “Be off, be off!”

The episode shows, in miniature, the project of Grenville’s magnificent novel—an unflinching exploration of modern Australia’s origins. Like the settlers, we instinctively turn away from the ugly truths behind every cleared riverbank and every posted fence. But Grenville’s psychological acuity, and the sheer gorgeousness of her descriptions of the territory being fought over, pulls us ever deeper into a time when one community’s opportunity spelled another’s…

While we are separated . . .

Our regular monthly get-togethers have been suspended until further notice.  Meanwhile, we are thinking about other ways to enjoy books together which do not require interlibrary loans for multiple copies or gathering under one roof. *If we want to continue discussing a particular book we can try using rbDigital to get free electronic copies compliments of the VT Dept. of Libraries. Once you set up an account using your patron number, you can download to your device (laptop, computer, phone, KindleFire) from a choice of thousands of electronic and audio books. To set up your account, go to www.guilfordfreelibraryvt.org. Select Library Services and Resources, then scroll down to the rbDigitallink. Contact Leah or Cathi if you need your patron number, for help or to give feedback. This is a great resource for you, even after the library re-opens for gatherings. *Another possibility is to get together at a virtual meeting where, by video or phone, participants review a current read that th…

March 2020 Book, The Line Becomes a River

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For Francisco Cantu, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrub lands of the Southwest. Driven to understand the hard realities of the landscape he loves, Cantu joins the Border Patrol.

He and his partners learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive.

Plagued by a growing awareness of his complicity in a dehumanizing enterprise, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and cannot not return, Cantu discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the full extent of the violence it wreaks on both sides of the line.

February 2020 Book, The Guest Book

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There’s a stunning scene toward the beginning of Sarah Blake’s new novel, “The Guest Book,” that follows a wealthy young mother gliding around New York and then to her elegant mansion in a charmingly choreographed dance of delight that ends with her 5-year-old son falling from a window to his death.
Such a tragedy might shatter other families, but the Miltons are not other families. Ogden and Kitty Milton are the union of America’s bluest bloodlines, aristocrats who have provided a model of decorum to a grateful nation since they arrived on the Mayflower. Ogden guides the family’s Wall Street firm with wisdom and discretion, just as Kitty manages their home. As soon as they bury their son, everyone agrees that it’s “best not to mention it. Best not to dwell on it. . . . Some things were better off left unsaid.” These are people who imagine their boutique blend of gold and goodness can protect them from the vicissitudes of life, even as their dynasty dissipates with ea…

January 2020 Book, Washington Black

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When the novel “Washington Black” opens, it is 1830 and the young George Washington Black, who narrates his own story, is a slave on a Barbados sugar plantation called Faith, protected, or at least watched over, by an older woman, Big Kit. As a new master takes charge, the fear is palpable. The accounts of murders and punishments and random cruelties are chilling and unsparing. Big Kit can see no way out except death: “Death was a door. I think that is what she wished me to understand. She did not fear it. She was of an ancient faith rooted in the high river lands of Africa, and in that faith the dead were reborn, whole, back in their homelands, to walk again free.”
The reader can almost see what is coming. Since Barbados was under British rule, slavery was abolished there in 1834. This, then, could be a novel about the last days of the cruelty, about what happens to a slave-owning family and to the slaves during the waning of the old dispensation.
 The Canadian novelis…

December 2019 Book, Saving Fish from Drowning

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Saving Fish from Drowning describes the adventures of a group of 12 American tourists, ranging from a neurotic hypochondriac to a British-born dogshow host, who are on an art tour of China and Burma.

The narrative intensifies when 11 of them are kidnapped at Lake Inlay in Burma's Shan State - they are held in jungle-covered mountains by a group of desperate Karen refugee tribesmen, who believe that one of the tourists is the reincarnation of their god Younger White Brother, come to free them from the yoke of the brutal and murderous military government. The novel has all the ingredients for a pulse-racing read: Westerners in exotic surroundings, murder, myth, mystery, conspiracy, kidnapping, bad guys, good guys, stupid guys and even a ghost.

 The descriptions of the tourists are highly entertaining, and their interactions dynamic and spontaneous.