By John Hobbins, co-founder, International Book Club.
For a wonderful article about the January 7th Skype meeting of the Oshkosh and Ibillin Book Clubs, read this article from the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, written by Bethany Lerch, and Oshkosh native who has volunteered in Palestine.
Ten- and 11-year-olds in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and 15- to 18-year-olds in Ibillin, Israel read the same book in English, “Chains” by Laurie Halse Anderson, a piece of historical fiction that pivots on the difference between inner and outer freedom, and then skyped about it.
Isabel and Curzon, the main characters of the book, are slaves of African descent caught in the Revolutionary War in 1776 in New York City (a fifth of whose population was slave at the time),
Isabel and Curzon are strong-willed kids, brave as lions, the only truly free people in the narrative. Yet they are slaves, owned by other human beings, mistreated and abused.
“We identify with Isabel and Curzon,” many said, both in Oshkosh and Ibillin.
As Martin Luther affirmed, a truly free person is subject to none and yet is still able to be the most dutiful servant of all. A life of rigor and purpose hangs precisely in that balance.
From “Chains,” by Laurie Halse Anderson:
” You must find your road through the valley of darkness that will lead you to the river Jordan …. Everything that stands between you and freedom is the river Jordan.”
“Look at me,” he said. I bent down a little, bringing my face level with his. He tilted my chin to the side so he could examine the brand on my cheek. I tried to pull away, but he held fast.
“A scar is a sign of strength,” he said quietly. “The sign of a survivor.”
He leaned forward and lightly kissed my cheek, right on the branding mark. His lips felt like a tired butterfly that landed once, then fluttered away. I stepped back and touched the cheek. The men were returning to the barricades. Other servants had formed a line for the pump. Grandfather winked and handed me the buckets.
“Look hard for your river Jordan, my child. You’ll find it.”
“River Jordan is chilly and cold, Hallelujah / Chills the body but not the soul. Hallelujah.”
– Negro Spiritual
The reading program across continents is supported by Pilgrims of Ibillin, the Rotary clubs of Oshkosh, and the OASD (Oshkosh Area School District).