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Yearly Archives: 2017
by Anne van Oorschot
Our book club met to discuss our latest book, Pulitzer prize winner The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. It is the story African American slave, Cora, and her flight from slavery on a plantation in Georgia. While most people are familiar with descriptions of slavery on cotton plantations in America in the early 1800s, the author gave a good picture of the horrible conditions and ruthless behavior inflicted on the slaves. Running away should have been an attractive option…but the horrible death you would suffer if you were caught and brought back served as an effective deterrent for most. Caesar, a recent and less battered down addition to her plantation’s slave population, talks Cora into fleeing to a contact of his with ties to the Underground Railroad. The two set off and are initially successful, the book following their escape route through states to the north.
The first surprise was that the Underground Railroad was an actual railroad – built in tunnels under the ground. Why had the author chosen to portray it so literally? If you hear aboutthe Underground Railroad as a child, you do imagine it to be a regular railroad; did Whitehead decide to remain true to his initial image of the secret network of individuals who helped slaves escape? Another aspect that I found surprising was the big difference in attitudes and laws in the different states Cora went through. While there were laws in place to “lift up” colored citizens in South Carolina (with somewhat dubious motives), North Carolina wanted to rid their state of ALL blacks and made entertainment out of hanging any they found + those residents who helped them. After several near misses, things seemed to end well when Cora arrived at the Valentine farm in Indiana, a community made up entirely of colored residents, and found her place in the group. As the small community grew, their white neighbors became increasingly hostile and decided to take matters into their own hands. It remains shocking, the things people feel justified in doing to others who are “different”.
The opinions of our group about the book were quite varied: some found it too slow paced with a confusing story line, others felt it moved along at a good pace and found the story line clear. I really liked the book and found the language used beautiful – such clear images and spot on descriptions. My favorite impression was from a section mid-book that was a bit random to the main story line. A young man is studying medicine at a small Boston college and supplements his income by going on raids to find cadavers that students can practice on. This involves going out in the dead of night and stealing the bodies from new graves. Since white graves were often guarded by family members to prevent removal of the body, that was generally not the case for black graves. Thus, more and more medical cadavers were blacks: “Yet when his classmates put their blades to a colored cadaver, they did more for the cause of colored advancement than the most high-minded abolitionist. In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man’s equal.”
(I was excited to hear that Colson Whitehead would be giving a talk about the book in Amsterdam at the John Adams Institute. Though the tickets were sold out, my daughter managed to find 2, so I’ll be going on December 6th . Come to the next book discussion to hear what I learned… ) We ended our evening with a book exchange and several members brought good books they had already read to share with the group. There were a few of our past reads among the books – good books, but not ones in line to be re-read. Especially nice for new members of our group, but I went away with a couple of books as well.
by Anne van Oorschot
TIC members braved the road construction around Tilburg north and found their way to book club…whew!! Inside, all was cozy with fresh tea and cookies and a nice book to discuss, The Man Called Ove, by . Ove, the main character of the book, seemed like the grumpiest man in the world. He is very unhappy with his life and tries different methods to kill himself, but he is unsuccessful in his attempts each time. “No great loss” the reader may initially think, but as the story progresses, more information about Ove’s life is shared: the loss of his parents at a young age, the lack of friends, his hard working-no nonsense nature, how he teaches himself one trade after another, the beautiful and effervescent woman he falls in love with and marries – only to have her crippled by a bus drivers careless actions and later lose her to illness. One realizes that all of Ove’s grumpiness hides a profound loneliness and a sense of responsibility for many of the unhandy people around him. Ove has a heart of gold, but swears that idea is absolute rubbish.
We all enjoyed the book tremendously! I think we will all look at the grumpy people we encounter in life a bit differently after meeting Ove. And, we will certainly NEVER take the choice of what brand of new car to get lightly. If it were up to Ove, it would, of course, be a Saab…”and that’s all I have to say about that!”
reviewed by Jessica Lipe
29 Aug 2017. While no one is happy to see the summer holidays come to end, one benefit of the end of summer is that the TIC book club meets again! Before the summer holidays, we had chosen a novel with more pages than our typical choices since we would have the whole summer to savor the book. However, this book turned out to be far more intriguing and suspenseful than expected, such that many of us couldn’t put it down.
by Anne van Oorschot
On the last day of May this year, loyal members of TIC’s Book Club met to discuss our latest book, The Japanese Lover, by Isabel Allende. We were fortunate to have nice weather, which allowed us to sit outside and enjoy the peaceful spring evening.
In keeping with the theme of the book, Sondra brought Asian treats: Sake – which we warmed and had out of beautiful, white porcelain cups – and mix of wasabi rice crackers and nuts. While our back garden, does not approach the beauty of the Japanese gardens described in the book, it still helped to complete our Japanese experience. A hot air balloon even floated silently high overhead during our discussion which added to the special atmosphere!
All of us had enjoyed the book – then the conversation paused… When we got past our initial assessment and talked further about the book, it was clear there were many small details and story lines that had been introduced…but never really went anywhere. We were actually left with a lot of questions: Could Irina really enter into a relationship with Seth without going through therapy to deal with the horrors of her past? There were many different stories of religion and spirituality – what message was the author trying to pass along? Why was Alma’s brother only ‘brought back from the dead’ in 2 brief instances and their relationship not developed further? Why did Alma choose to abandon her beautiful home and comforts when she lost her lover?
The information about the internment camps that Japanese Americans were forced into during WWII was disturbing. The injustice of locking up fellow citizens based on their ethnic background and the indelible effects that resulted were profound. All of us around the table were Americans, and we agreed that little had been said in our history lessons about this dark page in America’s past. (The comparison with the present treatment of American Muslims seems too close for comfort…)
As usual, the good book resulted in an interesting discussion – which led to conversations about chicken pox and walking toddlers, a Wedding with family visits, trips to Japan and Rome, months in Milan, and how distressing that every day seems to bring incredible new low points in the constant stream of embarrassments from the US President. In short – it was a fun evening. A good close to this club year for the group.
On March 8th , shortly before the Dutch were due to go to the polls, Hein van Oorschot, formerly the
Mayor of Delft, gave an excellent TIC Talk on the Dutch electoral process. Today, the day following
Theresa May’s comeuppance, here’s what I remember: The main law making body, the House of
Representatives, is the Tweede Kamer (Second Chamber). Representatives are not elected to it by
gerrymandered district like in GB and the US, but instead nationwide and at large. You choose a
candidate from a tiny-tiny- print list, although in fact, your vote will go to the political party of which the candidate is a member – except in the case of Wilders as he is the sole member of the Party for Freedom (pretty name, not so pretty party). All the votes for every qualifying candidate are tallied. This total is divided by 150, the number of seats in the chamber, with each party receiving its proportionate share. The parties send the representatives from their list in the order they appear on the Ballot. (There are
complex rules to determine who gets leftover votes — there being no partial seat.)
Unlike the British first-past- the-post system and the American Electoral College one, both of which are virtual road blocks to smaller political parties, the Dutch proportional system encourages a proliferation of parties. Last March there were 28 of them on the ballot, including ‘50 PLUS’ that looks after the interests of pensioners, and ‘D66’ founded by a group of young intellectuals. (Much to my chagrin there is no party for pensioned intellectuals.) With such an extensive menu of parties to choose from, it is almost impossible for any one party to get a majority sufficient for passing laws by itself, so the parties have to negotiate with one another to form a coalition. The bargaining typically proceeds at a leisurely pace—talks are still going on now, three months after the election. Winner-take- all systems lead to things like Brexit, but the need to form a coalition and to then to keep it intact by getting along with the other partners means that in the Netherlands extreme parties are usually frozen out. The chances of Nexit were probably about the same as in this age of global warming there ever being another Elf-Steden Tocht ice skating race, that is, when Hell freezes over.