State Magazine September 2013 : Page 24

Sponsored by the American Corners Program in Lisbon, NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski speaks to NOVA Universityí’s Faculty of Science and Technology. Photo courtesy of Vitor Santos Reading program broadens youths’ views By A. Sunshine Ison, former cultural affairs officer, U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo At first glance, Arnold Spirit, the protagonist of Sherman Alexie’s young-adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” may seem to have nothing in common with youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Arnold is a teenager on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington state, half a world away from Southeast Europe. Yet through the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo’s One Bosnia and Herzegovina One Book (1BiH1Book) project, Alexie’s novel has sparked literally thousands of deep conversations about such topics as poverty, friendship and especially tolerance, discussions desperately needed in a country still suffering the consequences of a war that introduced the world to the phrase “ethnic cleansing.” The embassy reading program is modeled on the Community Read projects, such as One City One Book and DC Reads, which have been carried out in more than 400 American cities. However, the 1BiH1Book project may be the first to apply the model to an entire country. The brainchild of renowned librarian and National Public 24 STATE MAGAZINE // SEPTEMBER 2013 A Novel Idea Radio commentator Nancy Pearl, the Community Read projects promote reading and community-wide discussions by urging citizens to talk about a particular book. Embassy Sarajevo’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) chose to base its 1BiH1Book project on Alexie’s book, with cartoon illustrations by artist Ellen Forney, because Arnold’s story allowed participants to talk about the challenges posed by a multicultural society without directly addressing tensions among Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims). As one teacher put it, “I think this book is really important, because by reading an American book, students won’t feel like they have to pick the side of the character that belongs to their ethnic group.” Yet the plot of “True Diary,” in which Arnold decides to leave the reservation to enroll in a school where he is the only Native American, has led students to draw parallels to their own situations. Some have been moved to talk about the painful choice between seeking better

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