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 • 5 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.

An Emotional Review of A Brief Review of Seven Killings by Marlon James

•June 5, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I am someone who reads books that break my heart, time and time again. The Book of Night Women broke my heart. Apparently, A Brief History of Seven Killings, which I’m 14 pages away from finishing, is going to do the same. And they’re both by Marlon James.

I so want to say that I hate him and his damn novels but that wouldn’t be true. They resonate too deep for hate. The Book of Night Women stayed with me so long I was extremely reluctant to buy A Brief History. I waited; saw it in my favorite bookstore, saw it win prestige and still said I ain’t buying fucking bullshit that breaks my fucking heart. I nah fi do it.

But…

Marley

whose music reached me before Prince.

Marley

whose reggae connected me to my family in a way no other music does.

And so I bought it…and started reading.

Fucking Marlon James, man. I mean, damn.

I can’t fault him for his knowledge, or sense, of history. I can’t fault him for me reading past the sick ass murder that occurred in the first few pages. I can’t fault him anymore than I could fault Dylan for Masters of War or NWA for Fuck the Police or War for The World is a Ghetto because neither him or Dylan or NWA or War are the originators of this violent ass world I’m raising my son in.

I can’t even fault him for my reaction to a book that I haven’t yet finished, although I only have 14 pages left out of a 686 page novel. I can’t fault him for me feeling sorrow for the fictional psychopath Josey Wales. I can’t fault him because he’s an honest writer. His research is solid. His writing is beyond great. I can’t do anything but finish the novel, post this review and this song…

Selassie I Jah Rastafari

Addendum: I just finished the book. Considering the deranged violence that occurred throughout the book was that I would end it smiling and happy but I did! I’d read the whole tome all over again just to read that ending but first, I need a year or two to recover, just like I did with The Book of Night Women. With this ending, I do believe Marlon James has joined my very small list of favorite writers.

How To Get Kids Hooked On Books? ‘Use Poetry. It Is A Surefire Way’ : NPR

•April 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

“The power of poetry is that you can take these emotionally heavy moments in our lives, and you can distill them into these palatable, these digestible words and lines and phrases that allow us to be able to deal and cope with the world,” [Kwame Alexander] says. “I think it’s one of the reasons why young people love reading novels in verse. It’s because, on a very concrete level, it’s not that many words so it’s not that intimidating to me. There’s so much white space.”

Source: How To Get Kids Hooked On Books? ‘Use Poetry. It Is A Surefire Way’ : NPR

Star Wars’ abandoned Tunisian locations – in pictures | Film | The Guardian

•December 4, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In the Sahara desert, the sets from the Star Wars movies were once huge tourist attractions. Photographer Simon Speakman Cordall finds the locals struggling since the revolution and terror attacks

Source: Star Wars’ abandoned Tunisian locations – in pictures | Film | The Guardian

Pre-Review Interlude: The Fabulous History of the Dismal Swamp Company

•December 3, 2015 • 1 Comment

I am absolutely fascinated with The Great Dismal Swamp (TGDS); so much so I find myself daydreaming Hitchcock-like scenarios to get the money to spend several months on both the Virginia and North Carolina sides of it. While I am daydreaming, I am also reading. The first book I got on the area was Daniel Sayers’ A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archaeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp. Quite a lengthy title, isn’t it? Such a weighty title deserves people behind it. I don’t know whether it’s a result of the lack of archaeological material available (due to the nature of swamp life) or what  but it lacks people. So I put it aside and started The Fabulous History of the Dismal Swamp Company by Charles Royster. Boy, are there people in this! Related people, intermarried people, so much so that if I had to pick one word to describe the  37 pages I read so far (out of 434, not including the notes, index and permission acknowledgements), that word would be nepotism. So and so married so and so who was the sister of a member of the House of Burgesses. That Burgesses member married the sister of the man who married his sister and when the sisters or the husbands died, they married ever deeper into their economic and social circle. The litanies of who married who (and who gained what lands as a result of such marriages) is almost biblical! There are definitely plenty of people in this book but they are not the people I am looking for.

However, I will continue reading because 1) I am absolutely fascinated with the Great Dismal Swamp; 2) in looking for material to read  about TGDS, almost everything referenced this book; 3) it will help me populate Sayers’ book; 4) regardless of the bloated self-satisfaction of the ghosts in this book, I am already aware that from the time the first ship landed in Jamestown until the end of the Civil War, a not insignificant number of enslaved people successfully sought freedom (refuge) in the Swamp.

 

Great Dismal Swamp Links:

Great Dismal Swamp Hid a Secret Human World

Fleeing To Dismal Swamp, Slaves And Outcasts Found Freedom

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

The Resurrecting Writers Series: Song of Lawino & Song of Ocol (Repost)

•December 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

image

Taking the book solely at face value, Song of Lawino & Song of Ocol are verses concerned with the disintegration of the marriage of Lawino, a rural African (Acoli) woman and Ocol, her western-educated husband. However, peeling back the cover of the words even a tiny bit reveals a woman committed to her indigenous culture versus a man who thinks that her culture needs to be removed from the face of the earth. How could two such people co-exist in the same household? How could two such differing ideologies co-exist on the same planet? According to Ocol, not at all. His song is full of imagery that calls death upon the culture Lawino praises in her song.

We will smash

The taboos

One by one,

Explode the basis

Of every superstition,

We will uproot

Every sacred tree

And demolish every ancestral

shrine.

In Ocol’s song, the thing that is so striking about this book – the use of indigenous Acoli symbols to present a woman solidly rooted in her culture – gets turned on its head. Every thing African becomes associated with death, decay and other imagery meant be extremely negative. However, that is not the case with Lawino. Unlike she does not hate foreign customs. They are simply not hers.

I do not understand

The ways of foreigners

But I do not despise their

Customs.

Of course if things were as simple as that, there would be no need for Lawino to sing her song. For instance, I agree with Ocol’s installing of an electric stove in their house. . Lawino doesn’t know how to use it and is, in fact, scared of it.

I am terribly afraid

Of the electric stove,

And I do not like using it

Because you stand up

When you cook.

Who ever cooked standing up?

And the stove

Has many eyes

I do not know

Which eye to prick

So that the stove

May vomit fire

And I cannot tell

Which eye to prick

So that fire is vomited

In one and not in another plate.

Instead of patiently teaching Lawino the benefits of the stove and how to properly use it, Ocol rails against her. He considers her lack of knowledge one more African deficiency he wants to divorce himself from. His attitude is revealing especially because he later becomes a leader of his country’s independence struggle for Uhuru (freedom). As Lawino tells it, Ocol says

White men must return

To their own homes,

Because they have brought

Slave conditions in the country.

He says

White people tell lies

That they are good

At telling lies

Like men wooing women

Ocol says

They reject the famine relief

Granaries

And the forced-labour system.

After revealing this, Lawino goes on to question an Uhuru where her husband can’t even get along with his brother.

When my husband

Opens a quarrel

With his brother

I am frightened!

You would think

They have not slept

In the same womb,

You would think

They have not shared

The same breasts!

And they say

When the two were boys

Looking after the goats

They were as close to each other

As the eye and the nose,

They were like twins

And they shared everything

Even a single white ant.

Even more astute however, is her statement describing the period of “independence”.

Independence falls like a bull

Buffalo

And the hunters

Rush to it with drawn knives,

Sharp shining knives

For carving the carcass.

And if your chest

Is small, bony and weak

They push you off,

And if your knife is blunt

You get the dung on your

Elbow,

You come home empty-handed

And the dogs bark at you!

In raising questions that center around the concept of post-colonial independence and how such an entity impacts on the consciousness of Africans who have been educated outside of africa as well as rural Africans who have never left the continent, the Song of Lawino & the Song of Ocol ranks up there with Ama Ata Aidoo’s Sister Killjoy. Both Sissie and Lawino were asking the same questions. The current state of the continent provides the answer.

 
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