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Book Cover for The Reluctant Communist Jenkins, Charles Robert with Jim Frederick
The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea

Nonfiction
This is the autobiography of an American soldier who defected to North Korea during the Korean War and was a prisoner of this bizarre land for 40 years. Jenkins gives a repentant account of his desertion and the description of his time there would convince anyone that he has paid his dues several times over. He lived a nightmarish existence of never being able to trust anyone and was forced to memorize propaganda, work for almost nothing, and live under the constant watch of fake "wives" and "leaders" who observed and reported every aspect of his life. Yet strangely, Jenkins' life is nowhere near as terrible as the citizens of North Korea who starve and work themselves to death in labor camps. Eventually Jenkins married Hitomi Soga, a Japanese citizen who was kidnapped from her home country by Kim Il Sung's communist regime, for the purpose of teaching Japanese to spies. After many years the U.S. discovered that Jenkins was still alive. The Japanese government confronted North Korea and Soga was returned to her home country.
Recommended by Bonnie, May 2008

 
Book Cover for God’s Middle Finger Grant, Richard
God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre

Nonfiction
This is the rollicking true adventure of a British writer with a death wish who ventures into Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountain range and mixes it up with mafiosos, Mormons, forgotten Indian tribes, and finally murderous coke-crazed Mexican hillbillies bent on hunting him for sport. Grant finds himself in a series of precarious situations and writes a well-documented, honest look at various facets of the sociology of the Sierra and his own inability to make sense of it. Grant’s account is fascinating, hilarious and thought-provoking. This rough-and-tumble read is for those seeking a great adventure who either don’t have the guts or the vacation time to enter this forbidding land themselves.
Recommended by Bonnie, May 2008

 
Book Cover for A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers Guo, Xiaolu
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

Fiction
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo, is the story of a young Chinese woman who discovers loneliness, love, and self-actualization for the first time in London. “Z,” as she calls herself, since she perceives her name as too difficult for Westerners to pronounce, is the protagonist and narrator who finds herself completely culture shocked and isolated in a country that makes no sense to her. She writes in disjointed, sometimes garbled English about her thoughts on her past in China, her feelings of being “other,” and her lover, whom she refers to as “You.” This is where Guo seems to bite off more than she can chew: her lover is not only of a different generation, culture, and language, but he is also a different sexuality. “You” is bisexual and is a sculptor of the erotic male form who seems to spend more time wallowing in depression and introspection to notice the blossoming Z in front of him. I found Z to be needy and even a tad unlikable in the beginning, but as the book progresses her English gets better, as does her understanding of her own strength, power, and identity.
Recommended by Bonnie, December 2007