Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Tag

A Small Cuppa Joe   Leave a comment


Much to my husband and mother’s chagrin, I don’t drink coffee. I still enjoyed A Cafecito Story by Julia Alvarez. Although to be honest, I might have skipped past it on the shelf had it not been for her name.

This slim hardback contains a 37-page novella; several pages of beautiful, often haunting, woodcuts by artist Belkis Ramierez; a seven-page afterward by Bill Eichner, Alvarez’s husband; and 11 pages of information about resources for fair trade items, co-ops and good business models. A Cafecito Story is a call to arms; it’s a quiet protest against big businesses that have the potential to eliminate people’s livelihoods, ways of life and quality coffee.


Coffee is more than a metaphor, but it does take center stage in the story about Joe, a disenchanted teacher, who leaves the Midwest to travel to the Dominican Republic. He’s not interested in seeing the tourist sites. Instead he is enamored with the coffee farmers who struggle to make a living while producing the best possible coffee.

The little cups of coffee, cafecitos, Joe is offered everywhere he goes intrigue him. Soon, he is befriended by Miguel who, with his family, has a sustainable coffee farm. Miguel teaches Joe about the slow, methodical practices necessary being threatened, while Joe teaches Miguel and his family how to read.

Summarizing a short work without revealing too much is challenging. The woodcuts alone are mesmerising, and Alavarez’s writing is descriptively rich. I imagine it’d go great with a cup of java.

A Cafecito Story

Three-and-a-half Bookmarks

Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 2001

58 pages


Enjoying Margaret Atwood — For a Change   1 comment

Usually, I’m not  a Margaret Atwood fan. She makes it so difficult, through depressing stories and odd characterizations, to appreciate her wit, imagery and intellect. Reluctantly, I read The Year of the Flood. It was the choice for my book group, and the All Pikes Peak Reads 2012 selection. As part of the APPR festivities, Atwood spoke about sustainability and survival: two prevalent themes in her works.

Surprisingly, once I started reading I was anxious to continue. Although Atwood dismisses claims The Year of the Flood is a post-apocalyptic tale, nothing better describes it. The story takes place in a time when mutations, genetic engineering and an order of fear prevail. The flood refers to an unknown deluge caused by man’s errors and destructive predispositions. It is not a natural phenomenon; it’s a “waterless flood.”

God’s Gardeners is a small cult with a foundation in Christianity that celebrates the lives of such people as Rachel Carson and Euell Gibbons, among others, for the contributions they made to saving the environment. The Gardeners strive to protect nature and prepare for (and later survive) the flood. Within the cult, Toby and Ren, represent maturity and youth, respectively. Their narratives move the story forward. Atwood said she purposely incorporates multiple voices in her works because “I don’t like everyone to sound the same.” Toby is represented in third person, while Ren offers a first person perspective. The sermons of Adam One, the Gardeners’ leader,  begin each chapter using second person voice.

I’m glad I read this and even more pleased to have heard Atwood speak. It provided insight into her work, but mostly served to demonstrate her keen sense of humor, which fortunately surfaces in this novel. A novel, by the way, which has, as Atwood stated, “A ray of hope.”

The Year of the Flood
Four Bookmarks
Anchor Books, 2009
431 pages

Awkward and Awesome   Leave a comment

Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World is the cumbersome and complex title of Sabina Berman’s debut novel. Yet, it turns out to be just about perfect. The me refers to the first word narrator Karen Nieto learns. She is 10 years old when her mother dies and her aunt moves into the family home in Mazatlan. It’s her aunt who teaches her to speak, loves her and later defers to her in business matters. Her aunt also identifies Karen as an autistic savant.

The family operates a tuna fishery, which has a profound impact on Karen’s education and sensitivities. If this is beginning to sound vaguely similar to Temple Grandlin’s story, it should. It’s about overcoming perceptions and obstacles. It’s about the ability to be so focused, to the exclusion of everything else including social norms, that success can’t help but surface. Karen evolves from a gangly girl with matted hair to a gangly woman with a buzzcut; along the way she develops a humane fishery.

The story spans 32 years including Karen’s schooling, business developments and interactions with others. After being tested, and self-identifying as “Different Abilities,” Karen learns “… in 90% of standard measures of intelligence (she is) somewhere between imbecile and idiot, but in 10% (she is) on top of the world.”

The most poignant moments are those between Karen and her aunt. Although Karen goes on to do great things, the most moving and inspirational are the leaps she makes in this relationship.

Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World
Four Bookmarks
Henry Holt and Co., 2012
242 pages