By February 21, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Wealthy Women, African Atrocities

What is the What? cover When I heard that a group of eight wealthy, married women in a prosperous North Seattle neighborhood were about to read for their book club Dave Eggers’ harrowing, gut-wrenching What is the What, I had misgivings. This wasn’t Anne Tyler or Amy Tan. This was a nearly 500-page saga about thousands of orphaned boys being eaten by lions, machine gunned, blown up by bombs, cut down by machetes, mines, disease, hunger, and sheer exhaustion. Not only is the story brutal and without romance, but such a huge economic chasm separated the readers from their subject matter that I feared their sympathies might be hard-pressed to make the leap.

In spite of my reservations, I accepted their invitation to host the evening’s conversation, since they were using my What Is the What study guide and I’d already hosted two other book groups discussing that title. The women gathered sipping wine in an elegant living room around platters of fine cheeses and a spectacular seven-layer dip. The tallest, loudest woman had what sounded like a yacht, and had just returned from her umpteenth trip to Bermuda.

They were all well-dressed. One was showing off an expensive new pair of shoes. We were just about to start our discussion when the loud woman’s cell phone burst into the Moonlight Sonata. It was her daughter. We were held up five minutes. At that point, I pretty much thought I had the group figured out, and that woman in particular.

Which goes to show how wrong you can be.

Her daughter was leaving the next week for Africa in a charity service program. The loud woman, who worked long hours every day with developmentally challenged children, was giving up her vacation to go join her daughter there, volunteering for a month at a Tanzania orphanage.

We had a fine discussion.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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