Wednesday, July 28, 2010

LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave

Thanks to my friend Beth Spring for recommending Little Bee (or, in the U.K., The Other Hand). It's the best novel I've read so far this year.

First published in 2008 and now available in paperback, the story concerns a teen-aged Nigerian girl who calls herself Little Bee. Fearing imprisonment or death, she seeks asylum in the U.K., is intercepted at sea, and is thrown into an immigration detention center.

The story also concerns a British couple, Andrew and Sarah, both journalists. Having briefly crossed paths with Little Bee while on holiday in Nigeria, they meet up with her again in England two years later. Sarah befriends her - and finds her whole life being called into question.

If you want to know more than that, you'll just have to read the book yourself. Much of its charm is in the way the author gradually unpacks and enriches the story, and I would not be doing you a favor by telling you what happens.

As a best book must be, Little Bee is excellent in many categories:
  • Exquisite writing, right from the start: "Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming."
  • Rich characterization of the two first-person narrators, Little Bee and Sarah. An interesting supporting cast as well, especially Batman, age 4, who removes his bat suit only at bath time.
  • Conflict and suspense. Little Bee is in danger, and every character faces a moral dilemma. Batman neatly divides the world into "goodies" and "baddies," but things are less clear for the others.
  • Significance. Without ever preaching, the book looks at immigration policy, journalistic responsibility, and selfishness vs. self-sacrifice.
  • Comic relief. And yet the author manages to inject humor into the darkest situations - not inappropriately, but as a survival technique. "I don't get you," a man says to Little Bee. "If you understood how serious your situation is, I don't think you'd smile." Little Bee shrugs. "If I could not smile," she answers, "I think my situation would be even more serious."
Above all, the book is simply a joy to read. Take this paragraph, for example, where Sarah encourages Little Bee to go with the family to London. "It's a beautiful day, we'll laze about on the South Bank and just watch the world go by.... Come on, it'll be an adventure for you," she says. Little Bee thinks:
What is an adventure? That depends on where you are starting from. Little girls in your country, they hide in the gap between the washing machine and the refrigerator and they make believe they are in the jungle, with green snakes and monkeys all around them. Me and my sister, we used to hide in a gap in the jungle, with green snakes and monkeys all around us, and make believe that we had a washing machine and a refrigerator. You live in a world of machines and you dream of things with beating hearts. We dream of machines, because we see where beating hearts have left us.
To learn about the author, Chris Cleave, or to read the first chapter of Little Bee, check out the author's website here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

THIS GORGEOUS GAME by Donna Freitas

As soon as I read Jana Riess's beliefnet interview with Donna Freitas, I put a hold on both young-adult novels at the public library. The Possibilities of Sainthood looked like a sure bet. Riess notes that it "got starred reviews pretty much every place that fiction reviews can be starred: PW, SLJ, Booklist, and even snotty old Kirkus."

This Gorgeous Game, I thought, might not be as good. The topic is much darker - a teen-aged girl is stalked by a priest - and though reviewers were complimentary, they withheld their stars.

Now that I've read both books, I think the reviewers got it backwards.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

THINGS FALL APART by Chinua Achebe

What word first comes to mind when someone says Nigeria? If you have an e-mail account, the word may be scam (someone urgently needs your help to get money out of a bank account and promises great rewards if only you give them lots of personal information...). If you are Anglican, the word may be Akinola, the name of the primate archbishop who for several years has been in a doctrinal and power struggle with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

But if you are like most Americans, you may not know that Nigeria has the highest population of Africa's 60 countries and territories, that it exports more oil than Iran,  or that 40% of the population is Christian (see the CIA World Factbook for more data about Nigeria).

Maybe you'd like to learn more about this important African country, but history books make your eyes glaze over. Try a novel written by a Nigerian: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for recent or contemporary Nigeria; Chinua Achebe for the clash between traditional African society and the British colonizers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Published in the late 1950s and still in print, Things Fall Apart is probably the best-known classic of African literature in English. Alix Wilber, calling it a "relentlessly unsentimental rendering of Nigerian tribal life before and after the coming of colonialism," summarizes it well in an Amazon review:
Achebe sketches a world in which violence, war, and suffering exist, but are balanced by a strong sense of tradition, ritual, and social coherence. His Ibo protagonist, Okonkwo, is a self-made man. The son of a charming ne'er-do-well, he has worked all his life to overcome his father's weakness and has arrived, finally, at great prosperity and even greater reputation among his fellows in the village of Umuofia. Okonkwo is a champion wrestler, a prosperous farmer, husband to three wives and father to several children. He is also a man who exhibits flaws well-known in Greek tragedy.... 
And the story is certainly tragic. Time after time, Okonkwo's fear of weakness drives him to actions that hurt others, and yet he is basically a good man, hard-working and respected. Eventually, however, he comes in contact with British missionaries and colonial administrators, and his strength fails him. Nothing he does can hold his people together. The white man, says his friend Obierika, "has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."

As I listened to the first part of the book (masterfully read by  Peter Francis James), I found myself thinking about the popular view that all religions lead to the same place. The Ibo gods, though, did not seem to take very good care of women and children. Men were allowed - and sometimes even required - to beat or murder their wives and children. Maybe missionaries weren't such a bad idea, I thought. Or maybe the Ibo people just needed a good dose of the European Enlightenment.

And then the white missionaries came. One was a fool, one was likable, one was an intolerant bigot. The result was the same: the missionaries' strange teachings united with the colonial rulers' will to dominate, and Ibo society was doomed. Women and children ostensibly gained more protections, but their men were humiliated. Families broke apart. Democratic traditions were abandoned. European religion and government, aiming to help them (and, of course, to profit from them as well), ended up destroying an ancient civilization.

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold," wrote William Butler Yeats in "The Second Coming." "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned."

Achebe's Things Fall Apart describes a triple tragedy. Okonkwo - noble but flawed - is a tragic hero. His village - indeed, the entire Ibo kingdom - is also a tragic hero. Its strength and goodness and beauty are real but imperfect, and in the end it cannot stand against the foreign invaders. And even some of those invaders are tragic heroes. The missionary Mr. Brown, for example, who respected the Ibo customs and was liked by the Ibo people, went home to England a broken man.

In 1901, Nigeria (so named by the wife of a British colonial administrator) became a British protectorate. In 1914, it became a colony of Great Britain. In 1960, just a year after Things Fall Apart was published, it gained independence and became the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Its official language is English.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

THE BIRD IN THE TREE by Elizabeth Goudge

What I find most interesting about The Bird in the Tree (1940), Book One of The Eliot Chronicles, is the fact that it was set in 1938. England, still suffering the aftermath of war and financial chaos, was about to plunge into a second great war. Elizabeth Goudge's more serious contemporaries were examining sin (Greene) and loss (Waugh) and politics (Auden), while the general public were enjoying detective fiction's golden age.

By contrast, Elizabeth Goudge (1900 - 1984) harks back to Victorian conventions: Abundant descriptions of nature, lengthy and lyrical. Storms arising as needed for dramatic effect. A large country house with a history. Gardens where children play and faerie folk are imagined if not actually spotted. Doomed lovers who unite in soul but never in body. And above all, exhortations to faithfulness and duty.

Modernity, however, is also evident. The matriarch Lucilla reigns over her family but, short of funds, is down to two servants plus a couple of helpers from the village. Her daughter-in-law Nadine has divorced her son George. Some of the young adults believe it is more important to be true to oneself (a later generation would call this "authenticity") than to sacrifice for the needs of others. Grandson David roars around the countryside in a silver-grey Lincoln.

Fortunately, older and wiser folk are available to set the young ones straight. The 78-year-old grandmother speaks of her own thwarted romance. The 80-year-old housekeeper launches a frontal attack against one of the miscreants. Lucilla's stodgy son Hilary, a country parson with war wounds, states his position and prays.
What in the world, thought David, could Hilary be praying about or for? He hoped it wasn't for him. He disliked being prayed for. He didn't think it was fair. For all you knew, under the compulsion of it, you might find yourself doing something heroic that you didn't in the least want or intend to do.
It would be easy to dismiss Goudge's tale as sentimental (about the natural world) and moralistic (about people). But despite her romantic leanings, she is not saccharine. Her characters are well drawn.  I especially like the irrepressible 8-year-old Tommy and the dogs, Pooh Bah and the Bastard. Lucilla is a force of nature: Dame Joan Plowright would play her well. Her grandson David's pervasive cynicism allows the author to contrast contemporary wisdom with eternal verities.

Goudge's age was as politically tense as our own, and selfishness is endemic to every age. Why not escape into a story where individual desires give way to the common good, where people choose to do right even at the expense of personal happiness, and where God is worshiped and family is valued? That is, if you don't mind long descriptions of marshes and tides and flowers and cornfields and birds and trees ...
------------
The Bird in the Tree is out of print but available from sellers of used books.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Anything for money

Follow the money.

That could be the conclusion of an op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times, "Economics Behaving Badly." People make irrational decisions all the time, say authors George Loewenstein and Peter Ubel, and the field of behavioral economics helps to explain why. Unfortunately, policymakers are misusing behavioral economics "as a political expedient, allowing policymakers to avoid painful but more effective solutions rooted in traditional economics"


Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, and Ubel, a professor of business and public policy at Duke and the author of Free Market Madness: Why Human Nature Is at Odds With Economics, pile up examples of everyday irrationality.

For instance, New York City requires restaurant chains to post calorie counts on menus. This is supposed to encourage diners to lose weight. Good idea, but it won't make people slim. Studies indicate that people consistently choose whatever food is plentiful and cheap, and as long as we continue to subsidize corn and refuse to tax junk food, obesity rates will stay high.

Or consider the inflated prices of American pharmaceuticals. Studies have repeatedly shown that "pharmaceutical industry gifts distort decisions by doctors," and yet the health-care reform act does not ban them. Instead, it requires doctors and teaching institutions to "make information about these gifts available to the public." Does anyone seriously think that informed patients will rise up and refuse to accept prescriptions from doctors who are stuffed to the gills with bribes?

In every example in Loewenstein and Ubel's article, the bottom line is money. Consumers go for whatever is cheap, whether or not it is good for them. Suppliers go for whatever makes the most money, whether or not it is good for their clients.

The authors don't extend their discussion to Congress or state legislatures, but our elected representatives have a history of voting for whatever the most generous lobbyists and campaign contributors want them to vote for, even if most of their constituents don't want it, even if the nation or state can't afford it, and even if the effects will be generally harmful.

And then, knowing that their constituents, like themselves, want to have as much money as possible, state and federal legislators vote to reduce - or at least not to raise - taxes.

Such ill advised spending without adequate resources has led my home state, California, and my state of residence, Illinois, to the brink of financial collapse (see "Illinois Stops Paying Its Bills, But Can't Stop Digging Hole"). This is not rational behavior, but any other approach - raising revenues, for example, and trimming spending - seems just too painful to consider.

After all, the sky is not falling. Yet.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Memo to fans of Precious Ramotswe, Alexander McCall Smith's Motswana heroine of the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series: Mma Ramotswe is magnificent, no doubt about it. But she is, after all, the creation of a man from Scotland. It's time to meet a real African woman, this time from Nigeria: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Don't panic. You can pronounce her name, even if you've never set foot in her country. Take it one syllable at a time and you'll have it in no time. Read her books and you'll never forget it.

Adichie, 33, is the author of two novels and one book of short stories. Purple Hibiscus (2003) is a family drama, partly the coming-of-age story of a 15-year-old girl and partly the character study of her father, who is both a philanthropist and a vicious tyrant. Publishers Weekly called this debut novel "lush, cadenced and often disconcerting." For American readers, the setting may seem as exotic as Mma Ramotswe's, but the characters, especially the girl Kambili, are far more nuanced and intimately depicted than are the cheerful citizens of Gabarone.

Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) is also rooted in a family's experience, but set against the background of the Biafran War (1967 - 1970). Adichie's publicity website describes it well: "Epic, ambitious, and triumphantly realized, Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race—and the ways in which love can complicate them all."

Adichie's most recent book, The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), is a collection of twelve short stories, most of them previously published. I'm not usually a short-story fan, and I'm glad I read the novels first because they introduced me to contemporary Nigerian characters. With that preparation, however, I found these short stories fascinating. All the central characters are Nigerian, but several - like Adichie herself, part of the time - live in America. "The Arrangers of Marriage," for example, features a Nigerian woman brought to Flatbush (Brooklyn) after a hasty marriage to a Nigerian doctor who has not been entirely honest about his life in the U.S.

Last October Adichie gave a wonderful speech at TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) called "The danger of a single story" (thanks to my Kenyan friend Wambura Kimunyu for pointing this out). Listen to the whole thing: it's a great introduction to Adichie, and she is full of insights about literature and other cultures. One of her observations helps to explain her title:
I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called “American Psycho” — and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers.
I've learned a lot about Nigeria from Adichie's books, and I've enjoyed immersing myself in a culture that is so different from my own. More important, she has shown me people who are very much like me and like people I know. She has added her stories to my stories and other stories I already knew - and, if a single story is dangerous, then the more stories we listen to and tell, the richer and more compassionate we will be.

Say her name again: Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Review: "The Lincoln Lawyer" by Michael Connelly

I am a Michael Connelly fan. So far I have read or listened to 18 of his 21 novels, and I've loved 17 of them (I wasn't as thrilled with Chasing the Dime, a stand-alone thriller whose protagonist is just too foolish to be believed - but I still read the whole thing). The Lincoln Lawyer, published in 2005, is one of the best.

Connelly's usual protagonist, Detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, isn't in The Lincoln Lawyer, though if you paid attention while reading The Black Ice (1993), you'll quickly figure out that defense attorney Mickey Haller is Bosch's half-brother. While Bosch is an orphaned, street-smart, self-taught Vietnam vet whose work is almost a vocation, Haller is a well-educated, highly paid, very slick lawyer who plays the legal game for one reason - money.

The two men have a lot in common, though. Both are involved with criminals. Both are exceptionally clever at figuring out plots and launching counterplots. Both have a little trouble hanging on to female companions and wives, and both have small daughters. In a pinch - and pinches abound in these books - both men ignore the rules and fend for themselves, even if they have to bend the truth, professional standards, and the law to do so. And both are extremely skillful, or lucky, at avoiding death.

Character is extremely important in Connelly's novels, but Connelly is also a master plotter. In The Lincoln Lawyer, Haller faces an agonizing choice. Believing that a client is a serial murderer, should he try to persuade the jury he is not guilty? If he succeeds and the man is acquitted, will more lives be in danger? If he fails and the man is condemned, or if he refuses to continue with the case, will Haller himself be at risk? And if he tells anyone about his quandary, will he be disbarred for abusing the attorney-client privilege?

An Amazon customer reviewer notes that "in real life no matter how secret the client confidence, lawyers are ethically able to access the expertise necessary to know how to respond to any dilemma in an ethically sound way. The real Mickey Haller would have picked up the phone to the Bar's hotline for an ethics opinion. That simple act would have destroyed a helluva tale." OK, but Haller - like Bosch - prefers doing things his way. Anyway, no matter what opinion he might be given by a fellow member of the Bar, he would still be in a deadly relationship with a brilliant, murderous psychopath.

And that's why this story is so compelling. It looks like there's no way out, but you know Haller is up to something. If you've read other books by Connelly, you also know that the final chapters always contain a surprise, and you suspect that this book's surprise will go well beyond Haller's scheme, whatever it may be.

If you haven't read other books by Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer is a good place to start. It stands on its own without reference to the 15 preceding books. It is a page-turner that will shorten an airplane flight or keep you from snoring in your recliner after a long day at the office. It is also a perceptive character study of a genuine sleazeball who, in the midst of the biggest crisis of his career, begins to see himself as he really is.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Review: "Slow Love" by Dominique Browning

She had me at the subtitle. Dominique Browning lost her job as editor in chief of House and Garden when the magazine abruptly ceased publication; I quit my job as editorial director with a book publisher when I decided life is too short to spend three and a half hours every day commuting. She put on her pajamas and found happiness in less than three years; more than ten years later I - though grateful to be able to wear pajamas as late in the day as I please - am still working on contentment. I thought maybe Browning could lift my mood.

And indeed Slow Love was a cheering book, though not quite in the way I expected. Browning is very funny, even when she's writing about physical and emotional pain. Not many writers can make you smile or even laugh out loud when you're reading about, say, kidney stones, cancer, depression, eating disorders, and apparently unalterable codependency. Not that she gives her doomed love affair that name, but she doesn't need to.

Browning does not offer cheap cheer by telling how to overcome obstacles and achieve serenity in six easy steps (come to think of it, that kind of book isn't very cheering anyway). Serenity comes through toward the end of the book, after she has moved to her house by the ocean, in some wonderfully evocative nature writing; though I suspect Browning is better at writing about serenity than actually experiencing it.

She certainly does not give pointers that would help the average unemployed person, as a customer reviewer on Amazon seemed to think she should have done ("Except for recently unemployed New York media executives, who can really relate to her position?"). Yes, her financial concerns were minor compared to those of most people who lose their jobs, though the disgruntled reviewer should realize that a full-time writer is self-employed, not jobless. But this isn't a memoir about unemployment.

Instead, it's a memoir about values. Browning looks at our culture's image of the good life - a well-paid, high-status career, a beautiful home near New York City, designer clothes, meals in fine restaurants - and says : These things are less important than we think. Work is not the whole purpose of life. Financial security does not guarantee against depression. Status is fleeting and essentially meaningless. There are worse things than being alone.

I find these insights very helpful, though they have not yet lodged permanently in my brain. I need to hear them over and over.

As someone who has never made much money or achieved much status; who has always lived in small houses, bought clothes on sale, and cooked at home because it's cheaper; and who every now and then gets really tired of simple living and turns to her husband and says, "Let's get rich" - I appreciated reading about Browning's journey. It made me feel a lot more grateful for the good life I already have, and especially grateful for the good man I married over 42 years ago when we were both too young to have any idea what we were doing.

By contrast, Browning's pseudonymous lover, "Stroller," is a real jerk, and everyone but Browning knows this. Stroller is legally separated from his wife, but  he refuses to divorce her and is in frequent contact with her.
Every time he decided to let go of his ambivalence, he began throwing up new barricades against me. It is obvious to me, now, that our problems weren't coming from his inability to make a clean break from his marriage; they were symbolic of a larger inability to relax into a peaceful, loving relationship, one that didn't include shoving me away with stunning regularity. The mere proximity to a vital, unambiguous attachment triggered calamity in his heart.
"The situation with Stroller is not at all normal," her therapist tells her. "Why don't you think you are worth the effort?"

That's what I wondered over and over again as Browning keeps accepting, forgiving, or overlooking reprehensible behavior on the part of this clearly unstable and selfish man, who shows up (and disappears) so often that the book becomes as much about the author's doomed relationship as about her lost job. Finally, several months after Stroller leaves her alone in the hospital and goes off to London on a trip they had intended to take together, she seems to get it. "I was startled to realize that I had been using my fight with Stroller to avoid all the fights I should have been having with myself," she writes on page 219 (of 267). "I suddenly realized I didn't care any longer why he was wedded to ambivalence. Why was I so mired in it? ... Suddenly I realized that I couldn't change him. I could only change myself."

Whew. Now Browning can stop stuffing herself with giant cookies and piles of muffins. Now she can pay attention to her new house, her new garden, her new life. And indeed at this point her writing becomes more lyrical, and the book starts to match the summary of it on her blog: "SLOW LOVE means engaging with the world in a deeper, more meaningful way, learning to appreciate the beauty of everyday moments, and taking time to share them with one another - in the midst of our busy, productive lives."

Slow love is a great concept, even better than slow food. I hope she's practicing it. I hope she's gotten rid of Stroller, once and for all. But I wonder. Here's the third sentence in her Acknowledgments: "Many thanks to Stroller for reading this manuscript with care and concern, and for taking the time to comb through the pages, pointing out distortion and delight alike."

Earth to Dominique: It no longer matters what Stroller thinks. You don't have to check your memories or opinions with him. Stop already! You're worthwhile, all by yourself. And if you must hang your self-worth on personal accomplishment rather than simple existence, then take this : you're a brilliant writer. And as for happiness - well, you know what you need to do.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fixing immigration: President Obama's speech at American University

President Obama is getting no respite from contentious issues. Today, speaking at American University’s School of International Service, he tackled immigration reform, held hostage for decades, he said, by political posturing. “We will not just kick the can down the road,” he promised his audience of faculty, students, and select legislators, police chiefs, mayors, and evangelical religious leaders. Despite the fact that the topic of immigration reform arouses emotions and "lends itself to demagoguery," he said, "I believe we can put politics aside and finally have an immigration system that's accountable."

I hope he is right. I have friends who are undocumented immigrants, despite more than 20 years of trying desperately to become legal residents. At last count they had spent over $30,000 on lawyers. They have appeared before panels of judges who manifested complete ignorance of their home country and the reason they need political asylum before turning down their petitions. Their amnesty applications were improperly handled by bureaucrats, who then said the deadline had passed and nothing could be done. They have been ordered to take time off work, only to wait for hours in immigration offices while the office staff rudely ignored them.

I'm not telling you their name or their country of origin, because I suspect they have simply given up and are now flying beneath the radar. There are networks of fellow refugees who will help them, but this is not the way they want to live. They are law-abiding people who work and pay taxes. They have raised their children in America (in fact, one child was born here so is a U.S. citizen) and now have American grandchildren. In fact, many in their extended family are Americans. And yet, due to a series of departmental snafus, they continue to wait for permission to stay in their adopted country. Apparently it would take an Act of Congress to legally admit this fine family to the United States - and indeed, two Senate bills have been introduced in their favor. Both bills died in committee.

As I watched President Obama's speech, I was thinking about my friends. They are part of the "steady stream of hard-working and talented people" that have allowed our country to thrive. If the president is right that "being American is not a matter of blood and birth, but of faith," then my friends are more American than I am. They still hold on to the hope that someday the system will be fixed and they will be fully welcome in the land they love. I hope so too, but unless something drastically changes the political climate, my faith is weak.

As the president pointed out, people are afraid of immigrants - especially during economic downturns. This was true in 1798, just 11 years after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, when the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed. It was true in the 19th century when waves of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Poland swarmed our shores. It was true at the turn of the 20th century when Jewish immigrants fled persecutors in Eastern Europe, and from 1882 to 1943 when Chinese immigrants were routinely detained and deported. It is certainly true now.

As the president also pointed out, "without bipartisan support, we cannot solve this problem. Reform cannot pass without Republican votes."

Bipartisan action is possible. Some Republicans, "including my predecessor, President Bush," Mr. Obama said, "have shown courageous leadership." For example, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and the late Ted Kennedy (D-MA) worked together on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, though it failed to get through Congress. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have collaborated on a proposal to mend our "badly broken" immigration system that sounds a great deal like President Obama's suggestions in this morning's speech. And yet, as the president said, "the natural impulse among those who run for office is to turn away and defer decisions for another day, another year, another administration."

Perhaps that is why the White House invited evangelical leaders to join the audience this morning, and why megachurch pastor Bill Hybels was asked to introduce the president. Evangelicals, though far from a solid bloc, tend to vote Republican. However, as Hybels pointed out, many evangelicals know that "a recurring theme in Scripture is a mandate from God to care for widows, strangers, and orphans." Believing that religious salvation depends on faith, not on blood or birth, they may be receptive to the president's suggestion that faith (presumably in American ideals) is also the basis of citizenship. If Hybels is correct, "today an earnest bipartisan conversation begins that those of us in the faith community have been praying about for years."

I hope that good people of both parties will unite to fix our immigration system. I hope that we can find a just approach that is both hospitable and responsible. I hope that businesses who exploit undocumented immigrants will be forced to straighten up or shut down, and that people who wish to move here and work hard will be given the means to do so legally. I hope that my friends will someday be able to say the Pledge of Allegiance along with other new American citizens.

As the president said, "Fixing our broken immigration system is a moral imperative."