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March CultureCat: Cultural Awareness and Diversity

2017 Category Challenge

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Edited: Feb 14, 11:10pm Top

March CultureCAT: Cultural Awareness and Diversity...

Even aside from taking into account the choice of reading either Fiction or Nonfiction, there’s another choice to be made here: Do you want to read about a work that celebrates cultural diversity and awareness, or explore a work that examines a culture other than your own and so broadens your own awareness?

If you want to look at a work that celebrates cultural awareness or diversity in some way, you might think about works that bring together divergent groups of people—this could mean anything from an apocalyptic piece like The Stand by Stephen King or Empty Bodies by Zach Bohannon on to classics like Things Fall Apart, The English Patient, The Interpreter of Maladies, The Poisonwood Bible, or Giovanni’s Room.

Just a few authors to look into who habitually bring together divergent cultures in their fiction include J.M. Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Ondaatje, Earnest J. Gaines, Alice Hoffman, or one of my lesser-known favorites, Amanda Eyre Ward.

Nonfiction choices could focus on any number of topics, from cultures coming together and being addressed in specific areas (politics, education, communities...) on to discussions of diversity and awareness in general. The Fire Next Time and Playing in the Dark are classics in this area if you’re interested in race relations in America, in particular.

Maybe more than any of the other CultureCats, though, this one might depend on who You are, if you want to explore other cultures or broaden your own awareness.

In recent years, I’ve done a lot of reading about Middle Eastern cultures, and I plan on getting around to reading Kabul Beauty School this month. Fiction by writers like Khaled Hosseini can be just as informative as nonfiction in some cases; I'm reading My New Romanian Life right now, which I admit seems more focused on telling me about Romanian history and culture than telling a story... but, maybe this is what you're looking for.

Some recent nonfiction that might draw your attention includes At Home in Exile (re. Jewish diaspora), Bringing Down Gaddafi (re. Lybian rebels), and A Kingdom in Crisis (re. politics and life in Thailand). And there are other less formally defined cultures, such as 'rape culture' and the fight against it; a recent work in this area is Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape. In this case, just searching for tags relating to the culture you’re curious about should bring up a lot of choices, both fiction and nonfiction.

All this said...

As your ‘host’ for the month, I want to be helpful :) And large as this topic is, there's only so much I can say in this so-called intro. without steering everyone in a single direction! So... If there’s a culture out there you’re curious about, but you're not sure what to read, mention it here—it may be that you get tons of recommendations right away, but if that’s not the case, I’ll do a bit of research on my end and try to offer some suggestions as quickly as I can!

Feb 14, 11:11pm Top

To start things off with reading choices, I'll share that I'm planning on reading the nonfiction Kabul Beauty School, and the play, Fires in the Mirror.

I can't wait to hear what you're all planning!

Feb 14, 11:34pm Top

I am going to explore contemporary Indian culture with The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi.

Feb 15, 10:19am Top

One option for me (and I'm sure I have others, this is just off the top of my head!) is:

Birdie / Tracey Lindberg

(First Nations in Canada; also a continuation of February's AwardsCAT/Canada Reads!)

Feb 15, 11:03am Top

What a well-chosen picture to top this thread!

Feb 15, 12:20pm Top

>5 RidgewayGirl:, thanks :)

Feb 15, 3:53pm Top

I will finish my reading of the essays in The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward.

I'm also thinking about reading Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and possibly Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, both of which are on my TBR shelves.

Feb 15, 4:34pm Top

I am planning on reading From My Sisters' Lips by Na'ima B. Robert. This would probably fit just as well into April's theme (Religious Diversity), as it is basically a book presenting Muslim women in their own voices, but I have another quite large book lined up for April which I think fits the Diversity theme better (it is a book of 3 women, from the 3 Abrahamic faiths, discussing and trying to reach understanding). My understanding is that Na'ima B. Robert is a Muslim convert, and so a fair bit of the book is from the convert's perspective. I also have in my head (I heard an interview with the author many years ago, when the book first came out, and this is based on my memory so I could be making this up!) that there is quite a lot of discussion on head coverings. I think given the political climate at the moment, with many countries at least contemplating, if not enacting, bans on religious head coverings, that this is a cultural (as well as religious) topic about which I for one need a heck of a lot more awareness.

Edited: Feb 15, 4:45pm Top

>7 EBT1002:, I've been thinking about picking that up! The Fire Next Time is such a powerful read, I've been wondering about it, so I'll be anxious to hear what you think.

>8 Jackie_K:, that sounds really interesting--I'm going to look forward to hearing your thoughts on it! It's funny--as much as I've read about Islam, I never gave much thought to head coverings unless they were being discussed in the news, until I read Reading Lolita in Tehran not long ago. The book didn't really meet my expectations, honestly, but some of the most striking passages revolved around what the women in the book wore in terms of coverings, and how they affected their lives, as well as how they managed to have their own style despite being so covered.

Feb 15, 6:24pm Top

I may borrow Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, by Guy Deutscher, for this challenge.

Feb 15, 6:55pm Top

I am thinking of The Cross in the Closet by Timothy Kurek -- someone from a conservative American Christian culture attempts to understand gay culture and his own culture's reaction to it by falsely coming out as gay for a year.

Edited: Feb 15, 7:02pm Top

I have another First Nations book I could read in March:
The Game of Silence / Louise Erdrich

Or, Eleanor & Park / Rainbow Rowell is tagged "diversity". Looking closer, I see "Korean American" as a large tag, as well, that would also seem to fit.

Feb 16, 5:28am Top

>11 Robertgreaves: ooh that sounds interesting - I'll look out for your thoughts on it, and maybe take a BB then!

Feb 16, 11:34am Top

>12 LibraryCin: I love Eleanor & Park! Park is half-Korean, which is what the tags are referring to.

Feb 16, 12:43pm Top

>11 Robertgreaves: That sounds fascinating.

Feb 22, 1:41am Top

I read The Return : fathers, sons, and the land in between by Hisham Matar this month about his return to Libya during the Arabian Spring and his search for traces of his father who disappeared into the dungeons of the Gaddafi regime. This would fit very nicely and is a great book to read.

Feb 24, 1:32pm Top

I'll probably read Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin or The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Both if I have time.

Edited: Feb 24, 2:49pm Top

I'll try Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

Feb 27, 9:36pm Top

I will be reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

Feb 28, 10:42am Top

I am reading the newly published Pachinko. It is about a culture (Korean) within a culture (Japanese) and the challenges of immigrants assimilating. This fits for me because I am of neither descent. This may work for the December Culture Cat as well for those who want to add it to their TBR.

Feb 28, 10:44am Top

I'll be reading The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King. I've heard good things about this book, so I'm looking forward to it.

Feb 28, 7:12pm Top

>21 streamsong: Great choice for this theme!

Mar 1, 5:57pm Top

I started off the month with a mystery set in Ghana, Africa. The mystery part was ok, but what I really enjoyed was learning about the culture of this country that is poised on the brink of development thanks to the discovery of oil off-shore.

Mar 4, 11:23am Top

I started the month with a great novel by a new-to-me author:

The Woman Next Door is set in Capetown, South Africa, and is the story of two elderly ladies, Hortensia and Marion, who have been neighbors and enemies for twenty years. Marion is white and Hortensia is black, and although this is well after apartheid, Omotoso shows that while laws can change material situation, it is more difficult to change minds and hearts.

After the deaths of their husbands and an accident, Marion and Hortensia are forced to interact on a new level. Omotoso uses flashbacks to reveal the history of the two women, who are both great characters. One of the strengths of the novel is that fact that Omotoso does not make either character all good or all evil. Instead, we get complex characters in a complex situation.

I really enjoyed the novel -- great characters. Perhaps the ending was a little contrived, but still, this is recommended.

Edited: Mar 4, 3:16pm Top

For this CAT I'm reading The Break by Katherena Vermette, which is centered a First Nations community in Winnipeg.

Mar 4, 6:01pm Top

Just finished Native Believer by Ali Eteraz, which tells the story of a man who is Muslim and is seemingly fired because of his belief system, although he really isn't practicing any faith. After being fired, though, his wife and the world around him push him toward re-defining himself as a Muslim and building a cynical living from this presentation.

All told, I really didn't enjoy it and couldn't recommend it, though it fits the theme of the month perfectly. Regardless, there's a full review written...

Mar 7, 8:25pm Top

I finished Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, I've read this twice now, the second time was the audio read by Joe Morton. Absolutely fantastic. This book is so rich, I am glad I read it for the second time and now I have to buy this book because there are so many great ideas especially in the last chapter that I need to copy down, highlight and just "own". This book is the foundation for all the other books that I've read this year that address similar issues. It is a testimony to the greatness of this book written in 1950's and sadness that not much has really changed. 5 stars!

Mar 11, 11:17am Top

>27 Kristelh:, That really is such a wonderful book. It's one of the few that I was exposed to in high school, and enjoyed even then, though I can appreciate it more now. I still haven't gotten around to reading his Juneteenth, but I will one of these days...

Meanwhile, I finished Fires in the Mirror, which is a documentary-type play based on interviews, examining the Crown Hill Riots that took place in the early 90s, in reaction to building tension that erupted when a rabbi's motorcade killed a seven-year-old African American boy, and a Jewish student was then killed in retaliation.

The play is striking, and there's a full review written for anyone interested. I hadn't read anything about the riots in the past, and was only in middle school when they occurred, so it was new territory for me, knowledge and reading-wise.

Mar 12, 12:16pm Top

Cultural Awareness: I just finished Finding Nouf (alternative title to The Night of the Mi'raj) by Zoe Ferraris. This is a 2009 Alex award winner, and is a murder mystery set in a repressive society where women have very few rights, and are always supposed to be subservient to men. Saudi society is very slowly transitioning away from traditional norms to a more modern culture where women have more rights. The author lived in Saudi for awhile with her then Muslim husband and his traditional family. She now lives in California with her daughter. She does a good job of portraying this not well known culture as it is in the midst of this painful transition. At the same time this was a good mystery with a surprising ending.

Mar 13, 9:22pm Top

I finished reading The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez. A great book for this CAT. This was a free audio book from the Audio Sync summer program and I enjoyed it very much. A story about a family that comes from Mexico after their daughter suffers a injury to get her special help in the U.S. They come to Delaware. There are several other families that all appear to be the same to the whites but there are families from Panama, Paraguay, Nicaragua and some are U.S. citizens and some are here on visas but if no one takes to time to get t0 know them, no one knows their stories. They are the unknown Americans. It is also a story of redemption/forgiveness, a story about family, marriage and coming of age. It covers a lot but it really is about how hard it is to come to America culturally.

Mar 15, 12:02pm Top

I read The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg for this CAT. It is a look at the tradition of bacha posh in Afghanistan. Male children are strongly preferred, to the extent where some families raise a young daughter as a boy if there are no sons. Once she hits puberty, she is expected to go back to being a young woman and give up her life of freedom as a boy. This was a very interesting read about a subject I knew nothing about.

Mar 19, 2:05am Top

Birdie / Tracey Lindberg
Funny, the touchstone was working for the first few times I posted this review, but then it stopped working.
2 stars

Bernice (aka Birdie) is a Cree woman and has recently come to Gibsons, British Columbia, where The Beachcombers was filmed. Bernice has had a crush on the only Indian character, Jesse, since she was younger. The story goes back and forth in time from Bernice in Gibsons to growing up in Alberta.

I just didn’t find this book very interesting, so my mind wandered. The most interesting parts were when she was growing up, but in general, I wasn’t interested and didn’t really care. Even less was I interested in the little bit of poetry(???) at the end of each chapter and the bit of dreaming(???) at the start of each chapter. Those parts, I barely skimmed, if I didn’t skip them altogether.

Mar 19, 6:02pm Top

I just finished my early reviewer's book The Color of Our Sky centered around the cult of temple prostitutes initiating girls as young as 10 years old into this disturbing ritual found among India's lower caste system.

Mar 20, 9:41am Top

I've just finished Na'ima B. Robert's From My Sisters' Lips which is an account of Muslim women converts (or, more accurately in the Islamic context, reverts). The first section looks at the author's (and other women's) journey to finding and accepting Islam, and then the second section under the overarching theme of 'Living Islam' looks at specific issues (covering, love and marriage, children, submission to Allah, Islamic sisterhood). I learnt absolutely loads, and found this very interesting. However ultimately I felt a bit unsatisfied - the author was clearly a committed and enthusiastic convert to Islam, so I found little room for doubt and difficulties and questions, which is what I find most interesting about people's faith journeys. There is one chapter in the first section on difficulties and hardships faced, which I hoped would be what I was looking for, but it mainly covers dealing with other people's difficulties when the woman converts, rather than their own doubts and questions. She does at some points mention finding some aspects of Islam more palatable and easier to accept than others, and having to work things through before accepting them, but this is not done in a huge amount of detail, and I found myself wondering about the people who don't manage to reach that point of absolute acceptance, or those who don't necessarily 'fit the mould' (for example, gay Muslims). I'd really like to read their stories, but this was not the book for that. It's definitely got me wanting to read more, but I think I want to find out more of the 'awkward squad' perspective! 3/5.

Mar 20, 3:36pm Top

I'm not sure these really fit, but a book I finished last week and one I'm working on now has me thinking a lot about a group of people in a different way - I guess you'd call them the landed gentry in England and Ireland. The two books are Castle Rackrent, a 1001 book I read for the RandomCAT and The Little Stranger, which I'm reading for the AwardCAT and CATWoman. They both describe how these folks lived and how things changed for them over time along with the frictions between them and the 'servant class' as times changed.

Mar 20, 10:09pm Top

>35 LisaMorr:, I certainly think that the books sound like they fit! (I mean, unless you're hiding from us that you're a time traveler who used to move among their circles...)

Mar 21, 2:21pm Top

>36 whitewavedarling: LOL. I hadn't really picked anything out yet for this month, but as I came back to this thread and read the other posts, it made me think about the other books I was reading. Anyway, happy to take credit! And glad it makes sense to this month's host!

Mar 21, 10:25pm Top

I just finished American Street, a story of a young Haitian immigrant. When she and her mother arrive in New York, her mother is detained, and fifteen-year-old Fabiola is sent on to her aunt and cousins in Detroit. Fabiola and her mother practice Vodou, which is one of the more interesting aspects of this young adult novel. Great story about the challenges of trying to fit in as well as a portrait of the limited choices Detroit offers the poor and black.

>30 Kristelh: I loved The Book of Unknown Americans.

Mar 22, 4:35am Top

COMPLETED The Cross in the Closet by Timothy Kurek

My review:

Coming from a conservative American Christian upbringing, Timothy Kurek feels dissatisfied about the way he handled a confrontation with gay protestors at his Christian university and his reaction when a friend is disowned by her family when she comes out as a lesbian. He decides to walk a mile in somebody else's shoes and falsely come out as gay for a year. This is the story of that year.

The first chapter (actually chapter 0) is a bit of a mess, hopping about between different points in the timeline and leaving me very confused despite having heard the basic story elsewhere. Although I persisted it was with much less eager anticipation than when I started.

However, once I got past that chapter, I found the book gripping and emotionally moving. I was stirred by the author's emotional honesty and thought-provoking comments about both communities while seeing the members of the two communities as individuals rather than examples of this or that group.

Mar 25, 1:22pm Top

I have completed The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi, this light, sometimes humorous book is set in modern-day India and tackles the subject of arranged marriages. An enjoyable read.

Mar 26, 9:55am Top

I finished The Inconvenient Indian and would highly recommend it.

Here's the first part of the cover blurb, since it sums it up well:

"The Inconvenient Indian offers a deeply knowing, darkly funny, unabashedly opinionated and utterly unconventional account of Indian - White relationships in North America since first contact. Ranging freely across the centuries and the Canadian-U.S. border, King debunks fabricated stories of Indian savagery and white heroism, takes an oblique new look at Indian and cowboys in film and popular culture, wrestles with the history of the Native American resistance and his own experience as a Native American activist."

This was written in 2012 and one of the interesting bits that was casually mentioned was that Donald Trump was one of the big adversaries against gambling on Indian Reservations, as he felt it would compete with his casinos. I've been a bit stunned over 45's handling of all things Indian in the last 60 days - now I wonder if he's holding a grudge against every tribe because he lost his fight against them on the gambling issue.

Mar 27, 1:14pm Top

Finished Kabul Beauty School--based on reviews, I'm not alone in having some mixed feelings about it. It certainly gave me a view into the culture, but... well, I'm still thinking about it. I have written a full review, which I may return to later.

Mar 28, 12:06pm Top

I finished The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters yesterday. It was a really well-written gothic novel which I think would also be considered historical fiction. The novel included a pretty deep examination of life among the landed gentry and what life was like for them after WWII, and how they interacted with the 'common' folk (and even a doctor is considered part of the 'common' folk!). The doctor is the narrator of this tale - he comes from fairly humble beginnings (his mother was a maid at the Hundreds estate which is at the center of the novel) and his parents scrimped and saved so that he could go to medical school. He sees some of his colleagues as rivals and feels he can't compete because some of them come from the upper class. When calling on the Hundreds estate in response to a medical issue, he's pretty uncomfortable with how the family talks about their servants and how it used to be.

I also finished Castle Rackrent recently, which also talked about class divisions, this time in Ireland. It also touched on anti-Semitism, as there was commentary on the reaction when one of the lords of the manor marries a Jewish woman.

I thought it was really interesting that two books I read this month expounded on the fall of the estate class in the British Isles.

Mar 29, 4:51am Top

>36 whitewavedarling: I'll avail myself of this broad reading and count Castle Rackrent and The absentee for this challenge. The descriptions of how the English exploited their Irish tenants in ways that they couldn't have in England itself was certainly eye-opening.

Mar 29, 2:10pm Top

>44 MissWatson:, Far as I'm concerned, this whole year's challenge is just about finding reads that are eye-opening, so it makes sense to me!

Apr 1, 10:11pm Top

I finished The Element of Fire by Brendan Graham, a historical novel about Irish immigrants in Boston in the mid -19th century. It was a fitting book for this theme, as it explored the cultural differences between the Irish and the other groups they lived among, as well as the cultural and religious differences between the Protestant and Catholic Irish.

Apr 16, 8:12pm Top

Super late, but I finally finished Children of God by Mary Doria Russell. Major themes of this book are about cultural differences (and misunderstandings) between humans and the two major cultures of an alien planet. Super good story, would definitely recommend it and its predecessor The Sparrow.

Apr 18, 4:52pm Top

>47 lavaturtle: Well, if we're posting late, I just finished Pachinko. The primary focus was the conflict between Korean and Japanese cultures in Japan. It was a worthy saga and I learned a great deal about a subject that was new to me. This should work for the December challenge about immigration as well.

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