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Diversity Reading and Film Groups 2009-2010

"Under Currents in Community"

There are three ways to participate in this year's Diversity Reading and Film Group

1. Be a sustaining member of the Non-Fiction/Fiction group
2. Be a sustaining member of the Cultural Narrative Group
3. Join in on any of the discussions from either the Non-Fiction/Fiction group or the Cultural Narrative Group

To register for this year's Diversity Reading and Film Group click here.


Fiction/Non-fiction Group

White Tiger by Aravind Adiga 

In this darkly comic début novel set in India, Balram, a chauffeur, murders his employer, justifying his crime as the act of a "social entrepreneur." In a series of letters to the Premier of China, in anticipation of the leader’s upcoming visit to Balram’s homeland, the chauffeur recounts his transformation from an honest, hardworking boy growing up in "the Darkness"—those areas of rural India where education and electricity are equally scarce, and where villagers banter about local elections "like eunuchs discussing the Kama Sutra"—to a determined killer. He places the blame for his rage squarely on the avarice of the Indian élite, among whom bribes are commonplace, and who perpetuate a system in which many are sacrificed to the whims of a few. Adiga’s message isn’t subtle or novel, but Balram’s appealingly sardonic voice and acute observations of the social order are both winning and unsettling.

Discussion Group Meeting Options:

  • 12/15/09- 12:00-1:30 in Blunt 324
  • 12/16/09-7:00-8:30 in Collis 221

White Tiger discussion questions

 Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

This book transcends categorization as memoir, literary criticism or social history, though it is superb as all three. Literature professor Nafisi returned to her native Iran after a long education abroad, remained there for some 18 years, and left in 1997 for the United States, where she now teaches at Johns Hopkins. Woven through her story are the books she has taught along the way, among them works by Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James and Austen. She casts each author in a new light, showing, for instance, how to interpret The Great Gatsby against the turbulence of the Iranian revolution and how her students see Daisy Miller as Iraqi bombs fall on Tehran Daisy is evil and deserves to die, one student blurts out. Lolita becomes a brilliant metaphor for life in the Islamic republic. The desperate truth of Lolita's story is... the confiscation of one individual's life by another, Nafisi writes. The parallel to women's lives is clear: we had become the figment of someone else's dreams. A stern ayatollah, a self-proclaimed philosopher-king, had come to rule our land.... And he now wanted to re-create us. Nafisi's Iran, with its omnipresent slogans, morality squads and one central character struggling to stay sane, recalls literary totalitarian worlds from George Orwell's 1984 to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Nafisi has produced an original work on the relationship between life and literature.

Discussion Group Meeting Options:

  • 1/26/10- 12:00-1:30 in Blunt 324
  • 1/27/10- 7:00-8:30 in Collis 221

Reading Lolitha in Tehran discussion questions

Dogs of March by Ernest Hebert, Dartmouth College English Professor

"Reviewers have noted that in Darby, Ernest Hebert has created New Hampshire's own version of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

Howard Elman, the main character in The Dogs of March, and a recurring character in the series is a working man, ignorant in many ways through his near illiteracy. He becomes unemployed, and without health insurance early in the story when the factory he's worked in all his life is sold and the jobs and machinery are moved south. He finds himself in a battle against change and in conflict with the new people moving into the area who have 'college degrees and big bank accounts.'

Zoe Cutter is the newcomer who's bought the property adjacent to Howard Elman's forty acres. Zoe has come from the city with plenty of money and ideas about turning the property into an idyllic New England landscape, and running a country boutique. The junk cars and abandoned machinery that are eyesores to Zoe are as much a part of the landscape to Howard as the trees and the stone walls.

Hebert was probably the first (and may remain the only) author to masterfully, elegantly and genuinely create Granite State natives, working class people, as complete characters not just as caricatures of the stereotypical New England Yankee, used to backdrop bigger stories."

Discussion Group Meeting Options:

  • 3/2/10- 12:00-1:30 in Blunt 324
  • 3/3/10- 7:00-8:30 in Collis 221

Dogs of March discussion questions

No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City by Katherine Newman

After writing two books on the American middle class (Falling from Grace and Declining Fortunes), Newman delivers an eye-opening look at the urban working poor. First of all, she makes clear that the vast majority want to work, even when their lives would be made easier by relying on public assistance. Newman, a cultural anthropologist and Harvard urban studies professor (formerly at Columbia, where she launched her research), conducted a two-year study of more than 200 African-American and Latino fast-food industry employees in Harlem. She found a strong commitment to the work ethic, even though these minimum-wage "McJobs" keep workers below the poverty line and offer little hope of advancement. Using case histories and interviews, Newman delves deeply into the aspirations and frustrations of her subjects, adult or teenage, native-born or immigrant, who try to make ends meet in a community hard hit by drugs, crime, a shrinking job base and underfunded schools. Among the policy initiatives Newman proposes are school-to-work transition programs, designed to forge close relationships between high school students and prospective employers, and employers' consortia to move inner-city workers into better jobs. She cites the promising results of private-public partnerships in Milwaukee and San Antonio, which combine job training and placement with provision of support services like day care, transportation and health care. Readers numbed by the familiar laments over poverty and by sermons on the bootstrap value of hard work will find Newman's book, clearly a product of sustained attention paid to the working poor, bracingly refreshing.

Discussion Group Meeting Options:

  • 4/29/10- 12:00-1:30 in Blunt 324

No Shame in My Game discussion questions

The Color of Water—by James McBride

Like Gregory Williams's Life on the Color Line (LJ 2/1/95), these two memoirs describe growing up interracial from the perspective of the sons of African American fathers and white mothers. McBride, an accomplished journalist and musician, has viewed the yawning chasm of racial division from both sides and, despite carving out a successful life, has been scarred. Unlike Williams and Minerbrook, though, he focuses on a single, singular parent, a rabbi's daughter who later helped her husband establish an all-black Baptist church in her home and saw 12 children through college. His mother's own story, juxtaposed with McBride's, helps make this book a standout. -? Jim Burns, Ottumwa P.L., Ia. Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Discussion Group Meeting Options:

  • 5/27/10- 12:00-1:30 in Blunt 324

The Color of Water discussion questions

Cultural Narratives—Andrew Garrod

Mi Voz, Mi Vida: Latino College Students Tell their Life Stories—May 2007

Amid the flurry of debates about immigration, poverty, and education in the US, the stories in Mi Voz, Mi Vida allow us to reflect on how young people who might be most affected by the results of these debates actually navigate through American society.

The fifteen Latino students who tell their stories in this book come from a variety of socioeconomic, regional, and family backgrounds—they are young men and women of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central American, and South American descent. Their insights are both balanced and frank, blending personal, anecdotal, political, and cultural viewpoints. Their engaging stories detail the students’ personal struggles with issues such as identity and biculturalism, family dynamics, religion, poverty, stereotypes, and the value of education.

Discussion Group Meeting:

  • 12/17/10- 12:00-1:30 in Blunt 324

Cultural Narrative discussion questions

Balancing Two Worlds: Asian American College Students Tell Their Life Stories—May 2007

Balancing two Worlds highlights themes surrounding the creation of Asian American identity. This book contains fourteen first person narratives by Asian American college students, most of who have graduated during the first five years of the twenty-first century. Their engaging accounts detail the students’ very personal struggles with issues of assimilation, gender, religion, sexuality, family conflicts, educational stereotypes, and being labeled the “model minority.” Some of the students relate stories drawn from their childhood and adolescent experiences, while others focus more on their college experiences at Dartmouth.

 Discussion Group Meeting:

  •   1/28/10- 12:00-1:30 in Blunt 324

Cultural Narrative discussion questions

 Souls Looking Back: Life Stories of Growing up Black—April 1999

 The editors recognized an absence of African American voices in adolescent psychology. So they set out to collect autobiographical essays on childhood memories of adolescents of African descent. They approached approximately 50 students and invited them to write about the experience of growing up as a person of color in the United States, Canada, or the West Indie. This five-year project resulted in sixteen personal narratives from black and biracial students who studied at Dartmouth College, Simmons and McGill University. Each chapter—on social class, and race, identity, and resiliencies and resistance—begins with an overview of the issue written by an African American scholar, followed by four to six personal narratives. The accounts are both thought-provoking and extremely intimate. This book is well done and sure to create a platform for discussion and reflection. Maybe through these voices we can all learn some compassion and understanding.

 Discussion Group Meeting:

  •  4/8/10- 12:00-1:30 in Blunt 324

 Cultural Narrative discussion questions

First Person, First Peoples: Native American College Graduates Tell Their Life Stories—May 1997

 Native American students entering college often experience a dramatic confrontation of cultures. As one of the writers in these remarkable collective memoir remarks, “When I was a child, I was taught certain things: don’t stand up to your elders; don’t question authority; life is precious; the earth is precious; take it slowly; enjoy it. And then you go to college and you learn all these other things that never fit.” Making things fit, finding that elusive balance between tribal values and the demands of campus life is a recurring theme in this landmark collection of personal essays. Navajo or Choctaw, Tlingit or Sioux, each of the essayists (all graduates of Dartmouth College) gives a heartfelt account of struggle and adjustment. The result is a compelling portrait of the anguish Native American students feel justifying the existence of their own cultures not only to other students but also throughout the predominantly white institutions they have joined.

 Discussion Group Meeting:

  •  6/17/10- 12:00-1:30 in Blunt 324
Cultural Narrative discussion questions


The Sons of Lwala

Milton and Fred Ochieng’ are two brothers from Kenya whose village sent them to America to become doctors. But after losing both parents to AIDS they are left with a heartbreaking task: to return home and finish the health clinic their father started before getting sick. Unable to raise enough money on their own, the brothers are joined by students, politicians, and a rock band that launch a fund raising drive among young people across the United States. Sons of Lwala follow Milton and Fred on their incredible journey as they find a way, despite all odds, to open their village’s first hospital. Milton Ochieng’ is a bleary-eyed medical student slogging through his third year at Vanderbilt University. He’s on rotation in the hospital before dawn and cramming at the library late into the night. What makes him different from all the other med students, though, is that he is also overseeing the construction of a hospital in a village in Kenya. It’s his village, actually - and it’s calling him home.

Milton grew up in a farming village called Lwala. His parents, Margaret and Erastus, were both teachers who invested their meager savings in their children’s education, sending Milton and his younger brother Fred to boarding school. It paid off more than anyone in Lwala could have imagined: after high school, Milton was offered a scholarship to Dartmouth College in the United States. But his parents were unable to afford the airfare to send him to America. So the village came together, in an astonishing display of generosity, and sold their chickens and cows in order to raise the $900 for his plane ticket. They bid him farewell with only one request: “Just don’t forget us.”

This is why, before he died, Erastus began making plans to build Lwala’s first clinic. After his funeral, Milton and Fred made a decision which would change their lives forever: they announced to the village that they would finish what their father started.

It is 2006 now, and the brothers have been struggling for a year to open the clinic. Fred has followed Milton to Vanderbilt, where he is also studying medicine. Both are frantically juggling the demands of school and the needs of their village, where people are dying of preventable diseases each month as the clinic sits unfinished. They still need money to finish construction, to drill a clean water well, to hire staff, and to purchase medicine. So in desperation, they appeal to friends for help raising $90,000.

What follows is an extraordinary outpouring of support as thousands of strangers rally around the beleaguered brothers. As word of Milton and Fred’s story spreads across the country, it is championed by children, college students, and a rock band who spark a nationwide movement to save Lwala. Sons of Lwala takes us along on this moving journey of two brothers who lose their parents in Africa, but discover a family in America.

  • Viewing: 1/13/10-12:00pm in Collis 101
  • Discussion: 1/20/10-12:00pm in Blunt 324


Traffic is a tapestry of three separate stories woven together by a common theme: the war on drugs. In Ohio, there's the newly appointed government drug czar (Michael Douglas) who realizes after he's accepted the job that he may have gotten into a no-win situation. Not only that, his teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) is herself quietly developing a nasty addiction problem. In San Diego, a drug kingpin (Steven Bauer) is arrested on information provided by an informant (Miguel Ferrer) who was nabbed by two undercover detectives (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzmán). The kingpin's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), heretofore ignorant of where her husband's wealth comes from, gets a crash course in the drug business and its nasty side effects. And south of the border, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro) finds himself caught between both his home country and the U.S., as corrupt government officials duke it out with the drug cartel for control of trafficking various drugs back and forth across the border. --Mark Englehart

  • Viewing: 3/11/10-12:00pm in Collis 101
  • Discussion: 3/18/10-12:00pm in Blunt 324

The Music Within

A movie about a man who fought for the civil rights of the disabled may sound unbearable and self-important, but Music Within will surprise you with its rough, irreverent, and very entertaining wit. Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston, Office Space) comes back from the Vietnam War with a severe ringing in his ears that leaves him virtually deaf. Pimentel finds a new path in life when he starts a career finding jobs for his fellow vets--and forms a deep friendship with Art Honeyman (Michael Sheen, The Queen), a brilliant man whose body is twisted by cerebral palsy. Pimentel never loses his sardonic sense of humor, but he does find a genuine purpose in life when the U.S. government hires him to create a program to help employers hire the disabled. Music Within proves to be a garrulous, enjoyable warts-and-all biography, one that admires Pimentel's accomplishments but never loses sight of his human failings. No one gets turned into the representative of a suffering group; every character is well-drawn individual. --Bret Fetzer

  • Viewing: 4/29/10-12:00pm in Collis 101
  • Discussion: 5/6/10-12:00pm in Blunt 324

Memoirs of a Geisha

The film, set in Japan during the Showa Era, tells the story of Chiyo Sakamoto, who is sold into a life of servitude by her parents when she is nine years old. Chiyo is taken in by the proprietress of a geisha house, Mother, where she works to pay off the debt of her purchase and the soiling of a silk kimono owned by a well-known geisha Mameha which Chiyo was blackmailed into defacing by another geisha, Hatsumomo.

One day while crying in the street, the young Chiyo is noticed by the Chairman, who buys her an iced sorbet and gives her his handkerchief. Inspired by his act of kindness, Chiyo resolves to become a geisha so that she may one day become a part of the Chairman’s life.

  • Viewing: 6/23/10-3:00pm in Blunt 324 (this movie is over 2 hours)
  • Discussion: 6/30/10-12:00pm in Blunt 324

Last Updated: 5/26/10