Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

•October 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

​This has got to be one of the strangest novels about slavery that I have ever read. This, despite the nature of the Underground Railroad created by the author. It is strange because the overall tone of the book is dispassionate and as such makes it hard to connect to the characters. Still, I read on until I finished it and I have to say it left me hollow; which is not an emotion I normally end a book with.

I sat on this review for awhile because I was not sure of my response but whenever I thought of the book, I couldn’t come up with any other take on it. Regretfully.

The Boston Girl – A Review

•August 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I read books like The Boston Girl (TBG) (Anita Diamant) as a form of escapism. I know I will not find myself (or my people’s history) in them. TBG is no exception to that rule; even though my people’s history does show up…as a manifestation of Boston’s “First” (read upper class) Families’ ladies club concern about lynching.

Still, I approach it like I would a 1960’s Doris Day/Shirley MacClaine movie: amusing, ahistorical fluff. Now there are hints of darkness in TBG but it’s a footnote type of darkness. Nothing happens that fundamentally impacts the narrator, a young Jewish woman who is traveling along an arc to marriage. I found myself saying “isn’t that nice?” when she found the man who she would eventually marry. Since the thrust of the story is the narrator talking to her granddaughter who’s going to an Ivy League college, it’s obvious the marriage was a success. That’s so nice.

Comic Book Writer Marjorie Liu On How Rejection Shaped Her Writing : NPR

•August 10, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Both writers have been shaped by feeling like outsiders. Growing up part-Asian American, they rarely saw people like themselves represented in books or tv or movies. For Marjorie Liu, that’s one of the reasons she gravitated — both as a reader and as a writer — to the X-Men, and stories of mutants who were ostracized from broader society.

“As someone who witnessed racism and experienced racism, to read these stories about people who didn’t belong — even though they were human beings, they weren’t quite considered human — and that resonated with me on a powerful level,” she says.

If you’d asked me ten years ago to describe the books I was writing, I would have said, ‘I write about gargoyles and mermen … but now with time and distance, I can say very clearly that what I was writing about were my experiences as a child.
Marjorie Liu
So Liu makes it a priority to put women of color, especially Asian women, at the center of Monstress, which takes place in an alternate version of Asia. The world she’s created is made up of women who don’t fit into neat little boxes.

“That was my goal through this book to show women in all their great and wonderful diversity. Women who are good, women who are evil, women who are in uniform, women in all straits of life and power — and that they are fully realized.”

Source: Comic Book Writer Marjorie Liu On How Rejection Shaped Her Writing : NPR

Under the Udala Trees – Review

•August 10, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This is a gem of a “little” story. I realized after completing it that I have come to expect West African literature to focus on characters who are so degree-oriented that they usually end up in an European/American environment where the crux of their stories come to a head. In Under the Udala Trees, there is none of that. The main character, Ijeoma, never expresses a desire to further her “official” education after she completes high school. She just wants to live and love who she wants to love. And that is, partly,  behind me designating this book a gem.

Ijeoma is the daughter of an Igbo couple who were happily married until the outbreak of the Biafran war (or struggle for independence from Nigeria) broke out and devastated the family. Out of concern for Ijeoma’s safety, her mother sends her to stay with family friends. While there she meets her first love, a Hausa girl named Amina.

That love, or more precisely, Ijeoma’s realization that she is attracted solely to her own gender is the crux of this lovely story. I say lovely because even though there is pain and heartache in this novel, there is also beauty and love; from way the geography of the place acts upon the characters to Ijeoma’s forced interrogation of Christianity, this novel is, again, a gem.

I heartily recommend Under the Udala Trees and will definitely read the next novel from its author, Chinelo Okparanta.

Book 2 of the African Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

Ghana Must Go – A Review

•July 26, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’m a pretty savvy reader. I can usually extrapolate the context of a book from its language, its word(age) and its characters.  However, Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, has left me somewhat stymied. I haven’t yet understood/absorbed the connection of the title to the subject matter/characters. This, even though, like the author, I was born of African immigrant parents who lived in the “Greater” Boston area. This, even though, like the Sai children, my parents’ silence and reticence about their non-immigrant past contributed to my feeling of being a “stranger in a strange land”. These feelings, the semi-broken connection to this book that I initially loved the language of, reinforces my connection to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story. There is not a single immigrant story and there is definitely NOT a single African immigrant story. Maybe that’s what I need to absorb and “walk away, walk away (I will follow)“. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’d love to find myself in Africa like Sadie, the youngest of the Sai children. What I do know is that I wish that when my father called me to Africa (Salone), like Kweku called Olu, I had acceded, even if the outcome turned out be as devastating as it was to Olu. I wish I had that experience of my parents’ homeland(s).

The above is part of the context in which I’m struggling to articulate my take on Ghana Must Go. As I mentioned earlier, initially, I was in complete thrall with Selasi’s writing style, particularly as it related to Kweku. But as I read on, almost all the characters, with the exception of Mr. Lamptey, gardener cum housebuilder extraordinaire, spoke in the exact same language even though they didn’t share the background, in a literal sense, as Kweku. After a while, it became an exercise in disipline to finish it but finish it I did!

All in all, I feel as if the book (and the characters who populate it) is incomplete. Kweku’s story is almost completely fleshed out and I was with him until the story segued into his children’s story, which seemed to start “out of the blue”.  That ‘abrupt’ transition could, possibly, be a metaphor for their life stories but still, it jarred.

However, it must be said that this is Selasi’s debut novel and I definitely do look forward to her next novel so that I can get more of a grip on her writing style and whether this ‘hiccup’ was an one time thing or simply how she writes.

Addendum: Sadie, the youngest Savage. Her dance at the end of the novel was simply and affirmatively restorative and magical.

Book one of the African Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

How Historical Fiction Does What History Textbooks Do Not

•July 24, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Fiction has a critical role to play in showing the perspective of women and marginalized groups, as well. Our point of view may have been silenced in the official historical record, but we can mine diaries, letters, and newspaper archives to find stories of everyday women like us. We can discover the real human cost of history in ways that textbooks cannot, and that so much non-fiction does not. The challenge lies in going deeper than many of these personal records allow to poke at the ashes of burnt letters and journals that dared show anything other than the morally upright narrative assigned to women, to dig beneath the social norms of the day and see the rough edges that have been sanded away by myth. We were there. We were human and flawed. We contributed. Our perspective matters.

Source: How Historical Fiction Does What History Textbooks Do Not

African Reading Challenge 2016

•June 17, 2016 • 7 Comments

For the past few years, I have unsuccessfully committed to the African Reading Challenge. This year, I decided to put some organization behind my commitment in order to finally, successfully complete it.

Therefore, I’m posting my list of books that I will read to fulfill this challenge. I plan on focusing on West Africa since that region includes the land of my parents’ birth, Sierra Leone.

To be read in no specific order, here is my list:

  1. Wole Soyinka’s Aké: Years of Childhood – I put this book first for the sole reason that it is already in my physical possession. (Nigeria)
  2. Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution – I have already read the Kindle version of this book but I want to feel it in my hands as I read it again. (Sierra Leone)
  3. Fragments by Ayi Kwei Armah – again, because like Aké, it is my physical possession and long overdue to be read. (Ghana)
  4. Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go – I have started, and gotten distracted into stopping, this book a couple of times, even though the language entrances me (and tells me this is a new voice worthy of paying attention to). (Ghana)
  5. Adelaide M. Cromwell’s An African Victorian Feminist: The Life and Times of Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford, 1868-1960. This would be totally new reading encounter.