Book Club

Exploring other cultures through literature


The International House Book Club reads novels by international authors with international settings and/or international themes. The Club meets the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at International House for about two hours (there are no meetings in July, August and December). Through facilitated discussion, we share a love of reading and learn about diverse cultures. Our only requirement is that you read the book beforehand. You do not need to register for the club or RSVP for a meeting. Parking is free. Come casually dressed. Please do not bring food or drink unless announced in advance.
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International House Book Club members receive a 20% discount at Park Road Books.

Note: The November Book Club will meet earlier at 630p for a meet & greet. Bring a small appetizer if you can (not required).

2018 International Book Club Selections

2018 International Book Club Selections

JANUARY 15 - A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin
Lilian Shang, a history professor in Maryland, knew that her father, Gary, had been the most important Chinese spy ever caught in the United States. When she discovers his diary after the death of her parents, its pages reveal the full pain that his double life entailed and point to a hidden second family that he’d left behind in China. As Lilian follows her father’s trail back into the Chinese provinces, she begins to grasp the extent of her father’s dilemma—torn between loyalty to his motherland and the love he came to feel for his adopted country. As she starts to understand that Gary, too, had been betrayed, she finds that it is up to her to prevent his tragedy from endangering yet another generation of the Shangs. A stunning portrait of a multinational family, an unflinching inquiry into the meaning of patriotism.
FEBRUARY 19 - Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais
South Africa
Set during her nation’s devastating apartheid regime. Expertly narrated through the perspectives of two characters from different worlds, the novel introduces us to nine-year old Robin Conrad living with her parents in 1970’s Johannesburg, then enters the world of Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggling to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. With heart-wrenching emotion, the novel juxtaposes a white child’s naïve experience of racial segregation with the wounded yet resilient perspective of a black mother affected by the atrocities of her time. Both lives have been built upon the division of race. Their meeting should never have occurred… until the Soweto Uprising shatters their worlds. Robin and Beauty forge an unusual and touching bond, and as their characters evolve, so does our understanding of apartheid. Sadness and tension are expertly offset by humor, which is interwoven throughout this complex tapestry, making it all the more readable and unforgettable.
MARCH 19 - The Cellist of Sarajevo by Stephen Galloway
Galloway interweaves four characters to bring the war in Bosnia to us. We get the assassin, Arrow, who only shoots military; Kenan, the father who walks across town each day amidst bullets and bodies to get the water his family needs to survive, the baker who bakes to feed them all, and the cellist who sits outside each day for 22 days playing Albinoni's Adagio in memory of the 22 people who died at that spot. He plays as the war rages around him. Galloway brings the war to us with all its nuances and insanities.
APRIL 16 - The Vegetarian by Han Kang
South Korea
What would happen if you changed just one thing and then go off the deep end? That’s the story of Yeong-hye, a seemingly ordinary South Korean housewife who wakes up from a nightmare, becomes a vegetarian and proceeds to self-destruct and destroy the people around her. A darkly allegorical, Kafkaesque tale of power, obsession, and one woman’s struggle to break free from the violence both outside and within her.
MAY 21 - An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie
Tété-Michel Kpomassie was a teenager in Togo when he discovered a book about Greenland—and knew that he must go there. Working his way north over nearly a decade, Kpomassie finally arrived in the country of his dreams. This brilliantly observed and superbly entertaining record of his adventures among the Inuit is a testament both to the wonderful strangeness of the human species and to the surprising sympathies that bind us all.
JUNE 18 - The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg
An award-winning investigative journalist explores women's lives in Afghanistan where culture is ruled almost entirely by men. Where women have almost no rights and little freedom Nordberg explores the custom of bacha posh, a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world giving safety to her family and often causing struggles for the girl herself as she approaches and goes through puberty. This book is a fascinating exploration of life in Afghanistan today.
SEPTEMBER 17 - The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf
Latin America/ Europe
Wulf reveals the forgotten life of Alexander von Humbold (1769–1859), the visionary German scientist whose ideas changed the way we see the natural world—and in the process created modern environmentalism. He was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. In North America, his name still graces four counties, thirteen towns, a river, parks, bays, lakes, and mountains. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, whether he was climbing the highest volcanoes in the world, racing through anthrax-infected Siberia or translating his research into bestselling publications that changed science and thinking. Wulf examines how Humboldt’s writings inspired other naturalists and poets such as Darwin, Wordsworth, Goethe, Muir and Thoreau. With this brilliantly researched and compellingly written book, Andrea Wulf shows the fundamental ways in which Humboldt created our understanding of the natural world.
OCTOBER 15 - Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.
NOVEMBER 19 - Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
North Korea
A remarkable view into North Korea, as seen through the lives of six ordinary citizens over fifteen years--a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population. Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today--an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. Demick takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting, we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them.

2017 International Book Club Selections

JANUARY 16 - The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
Compared to Nabokov, Conrad and Rushdie with only one novel and a short story collection to his credit, Aleksandar Hemon, descendant of Ukrainian emigrants to Yugoslavia and a native of Sarajevo, Bosnia, tells the brief life of Lazarus Averbuch, a Jew and recent East European transplant who escaped a pogrom in Moldova only to be mistaken for an anarchist and shot down at age 19 by Chicago Police in 1908. With striking parallels between the U.S. war against anarchism a century ago and its war against terrorism today, this novel invites us to question police shootings and how we, a nation of immigrants, treat struggling immigrants on our shores. Comparing Lazarus with the life of Vladimir Brik, a Bosnian writer in the U.S. who travels to the Ukraine and Sarajevo after the Bosnian War to research a book on Lazarus, “The Lazarus Project” combines Bosnia’s tragic history with a thoughtful study of displacement and solitude. The story is filled with humor and hope, enlivened by Bosnian and Jewish jokes, at the same time it is filled with missed connections and aching ironies.
FEBRUARY 20 - Elephant Company: Story of an Unlikely Hero by Vicki Croke
James Howard "Billy" Williams, whose uncanny rapport with the world's largest land animals transformed him from a carefree young man into the charismatic war hero. Williams came to colonial Burma in 1920, fresh from service in WWI work as a "forest man" for a British teak company. Mesmerized by the intelligence, character, and even humor of the great animals who hauled logs through the remote jungles, he became a gifted "elephant wallah." Part biography, part war epic, and part wildlife adventure, Elephant Company is an inspirational narrative that illuminates a little-known chapter in the annals of wartime heroism.
MARCH 20 - A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.
APRIL 17 - Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home. When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways. This is a book about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred, between the old gods and the new.
MAY 15 - White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen
1867: a year of devastating famine in Finland. Marja, a farmer’s wife from the north, sets off on foot through the snow with her two young children. Their goal: St Petersburg, where people say there is bread. Others are also heading south, just as desperate to survive. Ruuni, a boy she meets, seems trustworthy. But can anyone really help? This extraordinary Finnish novella questions what it takes to survive.
JUNE 19 - The Sympathizer: A Novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer brilliantly draws you in with the opening line: “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.” It’s thrilling, rhythmic, and astonishing, as is the rest of Nguyen’s enthralling portrayal of the Vietnam War. The narrator is an undercover communist agent posing as a captain in the Southern Vietnamese Army. Set during the fall of Saigon and the years after in America, the captain spies on the general and the men he escaped with, sharing his information with his communist blood brothers in coded letters. But when his allegiance is called into question, he must act in a way that will haunt him forever. Political, historical, romantic and comic, The Sympathizer is a rich and hugely gratifying story that captures the complexity of the war and what it means to be of two minds. Pulitzer Prize winner.
SEPTEMBER 18 - Midnight's Children by Salmon Rushdie
Both humorous and heartbreaking, this 1980 Rushdie masterpiece draws you into the rich fictional history of the Aziz family, as well as the equally rich history of India. “Midnight's Children” is about the one thousand and one children with magical powers, born in the first hour after the birth of India as a nation and their self-described leader Saleem Sinai. The novel traces him (and them) through childhood, the creation of Pakistan, and beyond. The novel reveals itself in layers, with recurring themes and motifs that grow in extremely deep and powerful meanings. The language is beautiful and lyrical, and the plot is highly detailed. Dreams and history are intertwined, creating a work both of this world and beyond.Rushdie, the ultimate architect in plot building, has the eye for detail of a miniaturist, but writes in epic sweeps, fitting in countless lives and actions. An allegory spiced with satirical commentary on the political course of modern India and the in-fighting of its various social and religious factions, this winner of the Booker Mann prize is an endlessly inventive book with a cheeky sense of humor, filled with wild, exotic imagery.
OCTOBER 16 - Ruins by Achy Obejas
Set in 1994, when Cuba allowed its citizens to leave the country for the United States on anything that would float, “Ruins” is a touching look at Havana and the failed revolution of 1959. Usnavy Martin Leyva, named for the ships near Guantanamo Bay, has always lived ninety tantalizing miles away from the United States. Unlike many of his neighbors, however, Usnavy truly believes in Castro’s Revolution. An honest man working at a bodega where the shelves are bare, he has to tell people with ration cards that there is no bread, eggs or milk. Offered a chance to escape to the US, he refuses. The brightest spot in Usnavy's life, apart from his daughter, is an enormous multi-colored dome lamp inherited from his mother. On the night that his best friend departs for the US, Usnavy discovers a small, broken but beautiful lamp at a collapsed construction site. His quest to fix the little lamp brings him into contact with glass artisans and the history of a missing Tiffany lamp designed for the entrance to the Presidential Palace. Could UsNavy’s lamp be the fabled missing Tiffany and will its sale fix his familiy’s ruined lives?
NOVEMBER 20 - The Door by Magda Szabo
A writer's intense relationship with her servant - an older woman who veers from aloof indifference to inexplicable generosity to fervent, implacable rage - teaches her more about people and the world than her long days spent alone, in front of her typewriter. With a mix of dark humor and an almost uncanny sense of the absurd, Szabo traces the treacherous course of a country's history, and the tragic course of a life.