Book News: November-December 2022

Learning America: One Woman’s Fight for Educational Justice for Refugee Children

by Luma Mufleh

Founding director of the nonprofit Fugees Family, an organization devoted to educational justice for refugee and immigrant children, Luma Mufleh chronicles her journey from being a Muslim young woman in Jordan, subject to probable execution for being gay, to becoming an influential educational leader in the U.S., soccer coach, and founder of the Fugees Academy. The Fugees Academy is the school she established for young immigrants and refugees in Atlanta, Georgia. After she discovered the soccer players on the team she organized couldn’t read despite attending U.S. public school for years, she was determined to rectify this unacceptable situation. It became such a success under her leadership that additional Fugees schools in other cities were created. Thirty languages are spoken at the schools.

Fugees accepts only the neediest applicants. Students recruit other students who are impoverished and who have experienced the trauma of war in their countries of origin. No student passes a grade without earning it. Aged between 11 to 12 years old, the students are required to study art, music, and play soccer.

An incredibly impressive and determined person, Mufleh’s book about both her and her students’ challenges and successes is absorbing and hopeful. She discovered badly-needed reform in the education system along with the plight of recent refugees and immigrants who receive little support in the community and has admirably attempted to solve these issues. An enlightening, perceptive story, I never realized how little support immigrants and refugees receive after arriving in the U.S., and I appreciated reading it.

The Evening Hero

by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Comedic, endearing, tragic, profound, and philosophical The Evening Hero is all of these. What does it mean to be an immigrant? What is the ultimate cost to an immigrant and their family when they leave their home country and embrace a new culture? These are some of the questions you’ll ask yourself after reading this beautifully-written novel.

Yungman Kwak M.D., whose name in Korean translates to Evening Hero, has achieved the American Dream. He proudly accomplished his goal (and his father’s wish) to become a physician. Working in a local hospital in rural Minnesota, he is looking forward to retiring in the next few years, and enjoying a quiet life with his family. However, a corporation suddenly purchases the hospital and since its focus is “for profit” retail medicine, Dr. Kwak is without a job. He accepts another job at a medical start-up company, “Depilation Nation,” at the Mall of America, where he performs laser hair removal which he finds “sordid and distasteful.” He is then offered another position at another mall-based retail center, “At Your Cervix,” which offers GYN care, located conveniently next to a Victoria’s Secret, which he refuses. He decries the vacuous and superficial work he is doing and begins to reflect on what is important to him in life.

Realizing he must address a monumental secret he has been harboring ever since he left Korea decades ago, he returns to Korea in an attempt to rectify his past behavior and alleviate his conscience. Full of heart, “The Evening Hero” also provides enlightening histories of Korea and the Korean War.

An Inconvenient Woman

by Dominick Dunne

This is a harrowing, masterfully written murder mystery about a wealthy man, his young mistress, and his demanding wife, which I guarantee will intrigue you. It’s loosely based on the scandalous and devastating story of the multi-millionaire financier Alfred Bloomingdale and his mistress Vicky Morgan, who was brutally murdered in 1983.

The novel’s characters come from two completely different worlds in Los Angeles: from a lavish hilltop estate, named Clouds, filled with priceless artwork to the “wrong side of the tracks.” Jules Mendelson, the wildly rich husband, Pauline Mendelson, Jules’s domineering, high society wife and hostess extraordinaire, and Flo March, the diner waitress/aspiring actress and Jules’s mistress, all combine to create a scintillating story.

For the rich and powerful, it’s a world of immoral people who do exactly what they find convenient while ignoring laws and decency, since to them, they are above the law—a world difficult to imagine to the ordinary person.

The novel was published 30 years ago and still retains its fascination. Since I hadn’t read all of Dunne’s books, I recently vowed to finally do so. I was not disappointed.

Dunne wrote articles for Vanity Fair magazine for many years, and published numerous novels such as “People Like Us” and “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles,” along with non-fiction books. Not only was he a part of the moneyed, elite class, but he was also personal friends with celebrities such as David Niven, Liz Taylor, Ronald Reagan, and a movie producer for films such as “The Boys in the Band.” He covered and wrote about the high-profile trials of O.J. Simpson, Claus Von Bulow, William Smith Kennedy, the Vicki Morgan murder, and the Menendez murders. After his 22-year-old daughter was murdered, he became an advocate for victims, stating “that the rights of the victims do not equate with the rights of the accused.”