In My Hands Today…

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag – Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Rigoulot

Amid escalating nuclear tensions, Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s other leaders have kept a tight grasp on their one-party state, quashing any nascent opposition movements and sending all suspected dissidents to its brutal concentration camps for “re-education.”

Kang Chol-Hwan is the first survivor of one of these camps to escape and tell his story to the world, documenting the extreme conditions in these gulags and providing a personal insight into life in North Korea. Sent to the notorious labor camp Yodok when he was nine years old, Kang observed frequent public executions and endured forced labor and near-starvation rations for ten years. In 1992, he escaped to South Korea, where he found God and now advocates for human rights in North Korea.

Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, this book brings together unassailable firsthand experience, setting one young man’s personal suffering in the wider context of modern history, giving eyewitness proof to the abuses perpetrated by the North Korean regime.

In My Hands Today…

Things I’ve Been Silent About – Azar Nafisi

I started making a list in my diary entitled Things I Have Been Silent About. Under it I wrote: “Falling in Love in Tehran. Going to Parties in Tehran. Watching the Marx Brothers in Tehran. Reading Lolita in Tehran. I wrote about repressive laws and executions, about public and political abominations. Eventually I drifted into writing about private betrayals, implicating myself and those close to me in ways I had never imagined.–From Things I Have Been Silent About

Azar Nafisi, author of the beloved international bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, now gives us a stunning personal story of growing up in Iran, memories of her life lived in thrall to a powerful and complex mother, against the background of a country’s political revolution. A girl’s pain over family secrets; a young woman’s discovery of the power of sensuality in literature; the price a family pays for freedom in a country beset by political upheaval–these and other threads are woven together in this beautiful memoir, as a gifted storyteller once again transforms the way we see the world and “reminds us of why we read in the first place” (Newsday).

Nafisi’s intelligent and complicated mother, disappointed in her dreams of leading an important and romantic life, created mesmerizing fictions about herself, her family, and her past. But her daughter soon learned that these narratives of triumph hid as much as they revealed. Nafisi’s father escaped into narratives of another kind, enchanting his children with the classic tales like the Shahnamah, the Persian Book of Kings. When her father started seeing other women, young Azar began to keep his secrets from her mother. Nafisi’s complicity in these childhood dramas ultimately led her to resist remaining silent about other personal, as well as political, cultural, and social, injustices.

Reaching back in time to reflect on other generations in the Nafisi family, Things I’ve Been Silent About is also a powerful historical portrait of a family that spans many periods of change leading up to the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, which turned Azar Nafisi’s beloved Iran into a religious dictatorship. Writing of her mother’s historic term in Parliament, even while her father, once mayor of Tehran, was in jail, Nafisi explores the remarkable “coffee hours” her mother presided over, where at first women came together to gossip, to tell fortunes, and to give silent acknowledgment of things never spoken about, and which then evolved into gatherings where men and women would meet to openly discuss the unfolding revolution.

Things I’ve Been Silent About is, finally, a deeply personal reflection on women’s choices, and on how Azar Nafisi found the inspiration for a different kind of life. This unforgettable portrait of a woman, a family, and a troubled homeland is a stunning book that readers will embrace, a new triumph from an author who is a modern master of the memoir.

In My Hands Today…

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner – Bich Minh Nguyen

As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bich Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity. In the pre-PC era Midwest, where the devoutly Christian blond-haired, blue-eyed Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme, Nguyen’s barely conscious desire to belong transmutes into a passion for American food.

More exotic seeming than her Buddhist grandmother’s traditional specialties like spring rolls, delicate pancakes stuffed with meats and fried shrimp cakes, the campy, preservative-filled delicacies of mainstream America capture her imagination. And in this remarkable book, the glossy branded allure of such American foods as Pringles, Kit Kats, and Toll House cookies become an ingenious metaphor for her struggle to fit in, to become a real American.

Beginning with Nguyen’s family’s harrowing migration from Saigon in 1975, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner is nostalgic and candid, deeply satisfying and minutely observed, and stands as a unique vision of the immigrant experience and a lyrical ode to how identity is often shaped by the things we long for.

In My Hands Today…

I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity – Izzeldin Abuelaish

By turns inspiring and heart-breaking, hopeful and horrifying, I Shall Not Hate is Izzeldin Abuelaish’s account of an extraordinary life.

A Harvard-trained Palestinian doctor who was born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and who has devoted his life to medicine and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, Abuelaish has been crossing the lines in the sand that divide Israelis and Palestinians for most of his life – as a physician who treats patients on both sides of the line, as a humanitarian who sees the need for improved health and education for women as the way forward in the Middle East. And, most recently, as the father whose daughters were killed by Israeli soldiers on January 16, 2009, during Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip.

His response to this tragedy made news and won him humanitarian awards around the world. Instead of seeking revenge or sinking into hatred, Abuelaish called for the people in the region to start talking to each other. His deepest hope is that his daughters will be the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

In My Hands Today…

If I Knew Then: Finding Wisdom in Failure and Power in Aging – Jann Arden

Jann Arden – bestselling author, recording artist and late-blooming TV star is back with this funny, heartfelt and fierce memoir on becoming a woman of a certain age. The power, gravity and freedom she’s found at fifty-seven are superpowers she believes all of us can unleash.

Digging deep into her strengths, her failures and her losses, Jann Arden brings us an inspiring account of how she has surprised herself, in her fifties, by at last becoming completely her own person. Like many women, it took Jann a long time to realize that trying to be pleasing and likeable and beautiful in the eyes of others was a loser’s game. Letting it rip, and damning the consequences, is not only liberating, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun: “Being the age I am–that so many women are–is just the best time of my life.”