Haiti: Learning Beyond the Tragedy

On January 12 Haiti was struck by a powerful and devastating earthquake. It is the latest blow to a country that has long struggled, and its aftershocks will continue reach far across space and time. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television news have been vigilant in keeping us updated on this tragedy. By now most of us know that basic story, but how much do you know about Haitian culture and society?

Did you know that Haiti's ancestors were the first slave society to emancipate themselves? As a result of their revolution, Haiti was established: the first republic in the New World ruled by people of African descent. If you're interested in brushing up on Haiti's harrowing but inspiring history, I would recommend checking out Avengers of the New World: the Story of the Haitian Revolution by Laurent Dubois and The Black Jacobins : Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C.L.R. James. In these excellent books, you will find the historical roots of Haitian society and politics of today.

Haitian Vodou, often misrepresented, is a well-known thread in our cultural fabric. Popular culture has teased out an arguably perverse caricature from the Afro-Caribbean tradition, convenient for children's cartoons and hundreds of zombie movies. (That's not to say Zombie movies aren't totally entertaining; check out the classic I Walked With a Zombie. If nothing else, it is a revealing peek at American culture, circa 1943.) But what is the true nature of Vodou, or Voodoo, as it is more commonly called? Zora Neale Hurston's good research in this field is enhanced by her beautiful writing; see "Tell My Horse," which is in Folklore, Memoirs and Other Writings by Hurston. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown is not owned by AADL, but it is warm, enlightening and one of my favorites. You can get it through MEL. If you're feeling a little less ambitious, you can take a look at a cool DVD that we do have, Divine Horsemen, a ground-breaking (at the time) documentary about Vodou ritual.

On the lighter side, I would recommend Putomayo Presents: French Caribbean, which features music from the French-speaking islands of Guadeloupe, Haiti and Martinique. Putomayo can be counted on to put out a good mix, and this album holds true.

I am amazed by the extent to which people are getting involved in the Crisis in Haiti. Americans have broken records by contributing over $500 million to the relief effort in Haiti. Incredible, right? This is a practical, tangible way to get involved. Another important way to honor Haiti is by learning more about its rich culture and history. You can find the tools to do so here at the AADL.

Something to think about...

Stories of Your Life is a collection of short stories by Ted Chiang. The eight stories cover a wide range of topics that make you think. The first is "Tower of Babylon". In it, people have again attempted to build a tower to reach Heaven. Only this time, they have succeeded. "Hell Is the Absence of God" tells the story where Christian theology is a very present part of every day existence. Angels appear on the streets and miracles are performed for all to see. Enjoy.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #175

In Zoë Klein's debut novel Drawing in the Dust*, 39 year-old American archeologist Page Brookstone is asked to risk her professional reputation and personal safety when a young Arab couple begs her to excavate beneath their home in Anatot, Israel, claiming that it is haunted by the spirits of two lovers.

When Page discovers the bones of the deeply troubled prophet Jeremiah entwined with that of a mysterious women name Anatiya, she must race against the clock to translate Antalya’s diary found nearby, before enraged religious and secular forces come into play.

Parallel the ancient love story is the contemporary one of Page and Mortichai - an engaged, half-Irish Orthodox Jew, that "raises a Jewish Da Vinci Code to an emotionally rich story of personal and historical discovery".

Zoe Klein, a rabbi, lives and works in Los Angeles. She has written for Harper's Bazaar and Glamour magazines, and appeared as a commentator on the History Channel program Digging for the Turth .

* = starred reviews

Jon Kabat-Zinn and the Science of Mindfulness

On Sunday mornings, my clock radio awakens me to the NPR show Speaking of Faith: a weekly exploration of some aspect of human spirituality. I usually lay in bed for a bit and listen to whatever topic or interview Krista Tippett has scheduled for the week.

This morning, I was pleasantly surprised by her discussion with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist and author who explores concepts of mindfulness and related practices. They spent some time talking about his book Coming to Our Senses. I was struck by his advice for how to live in the moment, unhindered by emotions and thoughts that distract us from being present.

We have a few of Kabat-Zinn's books including Wherever You Go, There You Are, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, and Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.

Dr. Itzchak Weismann Discusses The Naqshbandiyya

sufisufi

On Monday, March 30, 7 to 8:30pm at the Downtown Library, Dr. Itzchak Weismann, visiting Assistant Professor at Dickinson College, will present an overview of the Naqshbandiyya, one of the most widespread and influential Sufi orders in the Muslim world. This fascinating order is considered by some to be a "sober" order known for its silent dhikr rather than the vocalized forms of dhikr common in other orders.

A New Peace Book for Young Children

Peace and forgiveness are woven into this beautiful new picture book, God's Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. All five of our copies are currently checked out, but five more are on the way, so I'm placing my hold now. The author was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his lifelong struggle to bring peace and justice to South Africa. He also served as Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 until 1996. Currently Tutu works with The Elders, an international group dedicated to ending conflicts and solving global problems. In October Tutu visited Ann Arbor and received the University of Michigan Wallenberg Medal. The Ann Arbor News report on his speech is here.

Religion and Peacemaking in the Middle East

Among noted speakers Nov. 8-10 at the Morikawa Conference will be Msgr. Elias Chacour, whose autobiographical We Belong to the Land I am liking quite a bit. Other internationally known people scheduled to speak at the conference are Dr. Ingrid Mattson, author of The Story of the Qur‘an: Its History and Place in Muslim life, and Rabbi Marc Gopin, whose books include Healing the Heart of Conflict.

Bronze Bow shines with characters, rich language

The Bronze Bow, which won a 1962 Newbery Medal, is a highly literate, entertaining historical novel for upper elementary and middle-school-age readers (also for me, a parent read-along). Set in Israel at the time of Jesus, the narrative is laced with religion, intrigue, romance, politics, coming-of-age issues. Next on my list by Elizabeth George Speare is The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #119

In Finding Nouf*, young, privileged Nouf disappears just before her wedding. Her wealthy Saudi family first hires desert tracker Nayir al-Sharqi to find her and then to investigate her death discreetly.

Nayir, a conservative Palestinian Muslim finds it difficult to traverse the world of women, especially with Katya Hijazi - an intelligent, insightful female medical examiner, and his unexpected ally in the investigations.

Debut novelist Zoë Ferraris, who has lived in Saudi Arabia, "gets deep inside Nadir’s and Katya’s very different perspectives, giving a fascinating glimpse into the workings and assumptions of Saudi society." As a mystery, it's fairly well-turned, "but it's the characters and setting that sparkle". An utterly gripping read.

* = Starred Reviews

Life As A Polygamist's Wife

A friend of mine emailed me saying "You have to read this!" about Irene Spencer's autobiography Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife. Now that I've started the book, I too am hooked. Spencer's story of growing up in a Mormon fundamentalist family, and eventually becoming the wife of a man with nine other wives and 56 children, is a glimpse into a world that I can't seem to wrap my mind around. Her story traces her painful journey through life in a polygamous relationship and her choice to leave that situation, despite the teachings of the faith she had been raised in. Irene Spencer is currently in a monogamous relationship, which is also discussed in her book (obviously from an unique vantage point), and the honesty of her life story is intriguing, horrifying, hilarious, and ultimately a page-turner. I am near the end of the book now, and can't wait to see how she ends this novel.

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