We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity by bell hooks

Date Read: February 23rd 2017

Published: 2003

Publisher: Routledge

Pages: 168

The Blurb 

“When women get together and talk about men, the news is almost always bad news,” writes bell hooks. “If the topic gets specific and the focus is on black men, the news is even worse.”

In this powerful new book, bell hooks arrests our attention from the first page. Her title – We Real Cool, her subject–the way in which both white society and weak black leaders are failing black men and youth. Her subject is taboo: “this is a culture that does not love black males:” “they are not loved by white men, white women, black women, girls or boys. And especially, black men do not love themselves. How could they? How could they be expected to love, surrounded by so much envy, desire, and hate?”

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

I’m glad I’ve finally been able to complete a full body of hooks’s work instead of the select essays I was assigned to read in my college Sociology classes. Even though We Real Cool speaks predominantly about Black men, bell hooks definitely wrote this with feminism soaked into every single chapter.

We Real Cool (the title is taken from the Gwendolyn Brooks poem!) is an important, critical take on how the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy (yes, it’s a mouthful) affects the souls of Black boys & men – and by extension Black girls & women. Layered with many pop culture references and voices of various Black authors and social workers, bell hooks unapologetically asserts that Black masculinity is a reflection of white domination and provides some alternative ways/solutions Black men AND women can work together to overcome the damage and hurt, with love.

At times I couldn’t differentiate hooks’s (sometimes harsh) opinions from actual facts and some examples and stances she made seemed a bit outdated. But I really appreciated the personal examples of hurt and pain she provides, based off of her family life, while growing up.

I read We Real Cool last year as an e-book (as a pdf document, actually), and highlighted LOTS of quotes while reading; but they all disappeared when I rebooted my tablet *sigh*. Perhaps when I re-read this book, I’ll share the quotes I gathered, for those who still doubt the importance of hooks’s racial & gender analysis of our society today.

I came across an article by Derek Owusu, who is one-third of the literary podcast – MostlyLit: Black men are made to feel ugly, and we need to talk about it and immediately thought of hooks’s We Real Cool. Owusu’s article further echoes hooks’s stance on how imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy affects the souls of Black boys & men – only that, he doesn’t mention how Black girls and women are affected by extension. The article tackles the emotional challenges faced by Black British men when it comes to white standards of beauty and hyper-masculinity. I love a solution he brings forth, which encourages vulnerability among men (a state of being hooks also encourages, as a solution in We Real Cool)  –

But I feel if we are able to talk sincerely about the days when we feel undesirable, a whole new world of expression will open up thereafter and we’ll be on course for a healthier emotional life.  

There’s so much to say about this dense, complex book which ultimately aims at critiquing, loving and attempting to heal the hurts of Black men from a Black feminist lens. It’s a lot to absorb, but it’s important. Feed your soul and read some hooks!

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

Purchase We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity on Amazon

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Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Date Read: June 7th 2018

Published: April 1st 2016

Publisher: Cassava Republic Press

Pages: 118

The Blurb

Morayo Da Silva, a cosmopolitan Nigerian woman, lives in San Francisco. Almost seventy-five, she has a zest for life and enjoys road trips in her vintage Porsche. But when Morayo has an accident, crushing her independence, she is prompted to reassess her relationships and recollect her past life and loves. A humorous, joyful read.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun is a decent, really easy-going novella centered around 75 year old Dr. Morayo Da Silva, who’s a retired Literature professor. You’d never believe that Morayo is a senior citizen as she carries herself as if she’s in her 40’s – she dances, she enjoys music, she wants a tattoo, she has perfect memory, she has a healthy sexual appetite, she still drives her Porsche, she has lots and lots of books that occupy her time, she is childless (and not broken by it) – Morayo is basically old lady goals! There isn’t a major plot in this novella; readers simply follow Morayo through her life as she reminisces her past and enjoys her present.

I enjoyed getting to know Morayo through the other characters’ voices we encounter in the novella, like – a homeless woman, Reggie (who becomes a much needed companion for Morayo after her accident), Toussaint (a very talented Black chef), Sunshine (Morayo’s truly amazing friend who struggles with her Indian identity) and her ex-husband in Nigeria. The different voices gave the novella a good twist, as there were various perspectives on incidents that occur.

Some interactions and incidents in the novella felt unreal though, for example – when Morayo realizes her house underwent some renovations after her stay at the Home, she storms out of her house and speeds down the road (in her Porsche) as she cries and laments over the changes. That incident was super dramatic and felt unreal. Also, Morayo planning a clothing business with a homeless woman she usually saw on the street was sooo random and just not real to me. Because of this and other instances where I felt the text felt unrealistic, this novella is really a 3.5 stars rating for me.

While Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun portrayed how alone Morayo was, she was NOT lonely and miserable – which was refreshing! This book had me thinking about: aging, dependence versus independence (as a child and as a senior citizen), the disadvantages of not having children (to look after you and love you once you age), the advantages of not desiring children and being at peace with that decision, mental illness (Reggie’s wife – Pearl’s illness played an important role in this novella. I’d love to read a full novel on their marriage!), the sacrifices we make for the people we love.

I recommend this novella to anyone who wants to get comfy with a good book that isn’t necessarily plot-driven, but nonetheless delightful and easy-going. I’m grateful to Sarah L. Manyika for writing Dr. Morayo’s story in a fun yet insightful way, allowing us to think beyond our present; we won’t be young forever.

 

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun on Amazon

AND THE 2018 CAINE PRIZE WINNER IS…

YES, it’s that time of year again! In less than a month, the 2018 Caine Prize winner will be announced!

For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing, which was first awarded in year 2000 is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).

Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include (click on links to my reviews):

  • Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000) – author of novels Minaret, The Translator, Lyrics Alley, among other works. 
  • Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002) – founding editor of Kwani?, author of memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay How To Write About Africa found in various literary magazines.
  • Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003) – author of the novel, Dust.
  • E.C Osondu, from Nigeria (2009) – author of the novel This House is not For Sale and collection Voice of America: stories.
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, from Zimbabwe (2011) – author of the novel, We Need New Names. 

Previously shortlisted writers include: (2001) Mia Couto from Mozambique, (2002) Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria, (2006) Laila Lalami from Morocco, (2013) Chinelo Okparanta from Nigeria, (2013) Pede Hollist from Sierra Leone, (2014) Tendai Huchu from Zimbabwe, (2013 & 2015) Elnathan John from Nigeria, among others!

The Caine Prize and the shortlisted stories play huge roles in the authors I read from Africa. Many Caine Prize winners and shortlisted writers have found great success and I’ve reviewed a good number of these writers’ works here on African Book Addict!


This year, the Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented writers with unique short stories (left to right):

(Image via caineprize.com)

Nonyelum Ekwempu (Nigeria) – Read her story: American Dream

Stacy Hardy (South Africa) – Read her story: Involution

Olufunke Ogundimu (Nigeria) – Read her story: The Armed Letter Writers

Makena Onjerika (Kenya) – Read her story: Fanta Blackcurrant

Wole Talabi (Nigeria) – Read his story: Wednesday’s Story


So this year, we have 4 stories by women and 1 story by a man ; 3 out of 5 stories are by Nigerians, 1 story each by a Kenyan and South African. Nigerian excellence always dominates these shortlists – what’s new? For the past 4 years, I’ve been providing commentary on which of the shortlisted stories I enjoyed and disliked… but this year, I will not be reviewing any of them.

I hope you all get a chance to read some of the stories linked above. May the best story win!

Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the Caine Prize this year?

The winner will be announced in London at Senate House Library in partnership with SOAS, on 2 July 2018. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!

 

You can also check out past commentary on the Caine Prize below:

2014 | 2015  | 2016 | 2017

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Date Read: May 22nd 2018

Published: March 2018

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 215

 

The Blurb

On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him.

When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.

In the tradition of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Speak No Evil explores what it means to be different in a fundamentally conformist society and how that difference plays out in our inner and outer struggles. It is a novel about the power of words and self-identification, about who gets to speak and who has the power to speak for other people. As heart-wrenching and timely as his breakout debut, Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala’s second novel cuts to the core of our humanity and leaves us reeling in its wake.

 

Review –★★★ (3 stars)

Speak No Evil wasn’t really a novel I was keen to read when I published the 2018 New Releases To Anticipate at the beginning of this year. Once the book was finally released in March, my interest grew after I watched a couple of BookTubers discuss the book, so I decided to buy a copy.

Hmmm, where do I even begin to share my thoughts on this book? For the first 60 pages of the novel, I was preoccupied with Uzodinma Iweala’s audacity to write a novel based on a young gay Nigerian-American (named Niru), who was Harvard-bound. A lot of Niru’s family life seemed to mirror some of Iweala’s real life, so I kept on wondering if Speak No Evil was a fictionalized take on his personal life? Iweala’s personal life is none of our business, but I was slightly distracted while reading because I assumed Iweala was a heterosexual and hence felt it wasn’t his place to write on LGBTQ experiences. I felt the same way about his debut, Beast of No Nation – what does he know about the plight of child soldiers? But hey… writers can write on whatever they desire, as long as it fosters important conversations, right?

What a stressful book this was! Speak No Evil isn’t just about an eighteen year old’s mental and emotional journey of coming out as gay – it’s also about what it means to be a 1st generation American of African heritage (I understood a lot of Niru’s ‘struggles’ with his Nigerian parents); it’s about being a typical teenager and feeling inadequate, thanks to familial pressures and parental scrutiny via sibling comparisons; it’s about how being a Christian and being gay mess with your mind and torture your psyche daily; it’s about what it means to be a young black boy in a high school full of privileged white kids who have the luxury to be flippant about everything; it’s about how white ‘allies’ are actually the enemy – Meredith (she’s Niru’s best friend who had the hots for him, even after he confided in her that he wasn’t attracted to girls); it’s about how white lies cost black lives via police brutality. I didn’t expect these tough themes to feature in this little book, so it all took me by surprise.

I don’t think Iweala did a great job of developing the characters in this novel. Niru’s brother- OJ, was mentioned about 500 times in the story, but he only made an appearance at the end. OJ’s character felt so empty, I wondered why he had to be part of the story. Throughout the novel, I couldn’t picture Niru or any of the other characters’ faces or physiques in my mind. Iweala concentrated more on thoroughly describing Niru’s upperclass lifestyle, his church environment, the surroundings of the impromptu trip to Nigeria, his high school, Meredith’s house. Perhaps it wasn’t Iweala’s intention to focus on character development, but it would have filled some of the void I felt while reading the novel.

The novel is divided into two parts. Part 1 focuses on Niru – his family life (his father was such a domineering, toxic man… but he meant well), school life with his track team and church. I enjoyed Part 1 immensely; I especially loved Niru’s short-lived love interest with Damian. Part 2 focuses on Niru’s best friend – Meredith, who embodies America’s idea of what a white ally is. I detested Part 2 of this book, mostly because I truly disliked Meredith. I’m still trying to figure out if it was Iweala’s intention to portray Meredith as an innocent white girl who was oblivious to the plight of black folks, or if the motive of Part 2 was to highlight Meredith’s rich, dysfunctional family life as a means to validate why she was a terrible friend who perpetuated the issues we (ie: Black women and Black people in general) have with white women in America.

All you people do, wherever you are in this world, is just bring death and destruction, you bring nothing good – Niru’s Dad to Meredith and her family (pg. 201)

This is definitely a good book, but I give it 3 stars because: 1) The latter part of the novel mirrors the current horrors we witness on social media via police brutality – which is DEEPLY upsetting to read; 2) I don’t know how I feel about Iweala writing on the gay experience. I know it’s important to separate the writer from their work, but I think I’d fully appreciate Niru’s coming out experience in this novel if I had some context on the writer’s life in that realm; 3) Meredith’s section of the book – Part 2, was truly annoying.

♦ [Part 2 of this novel actually reminded me of Season 4 of the show- Orange Is The New Black, when Poussey was killed by the daft, rookie prison guard. After Poussey’s death, the episode went on to highlight the prison guard’s family/background to prove how much of a hard worker and innocent man he was. It further trivialized the prison guard’s actions and devalued black lives, especially as he wasn’t charged for the crime]. ♦

My main take-away from Speak No Evil is that we need to stop making excuses for white people and the harm they cause us black folks. WHITE LIES COST BLACK LIVES (as seen on page 196).

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

Purchase Speak No Evil on Amazon

Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean edited by Olive Senior

Date Read: November 10th 2017

Published: 2014

Publisher: Peekash Press / Akashic Books

Pages: 224

 

 

 

The Blurb

Akashic Books and Peepal Tree Press, two of the foremost publishers of Caribbean literature, launch a joint Caribbean-focused imprint, Peekash Press, with this anthology. Consisting entirely of brand-new stories by authors living in the region (not simply authors from the region), this collection gathers the very best entries to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, including a mix of established and up-and-coming writers from islands throughout the Caribbean.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

I always enjoy reading anthologies. It’s an opportunity for me to discover new writers and to get a taste of their writing styles through their short stories. I discovered a good number of new Caribbean writers from Pepperpot, especially as this anthology purposely featured stories by lesser-known Caribbean writers, mostly residing on the Islands. I absolutely love that these stories contain local dialect WITHOUT a glossary at the back of the book. If a reader wants to look-up a certain word or phrase, they can Google it! It’s almost as if this anthology was written for readers in the Caribbean and not necessarily Western readers/ the white gaze – which is awesome.

It was refreshing to read a Caribbean anthology free from Island tropes like the sandy beaches & blue skies, palm trees, coconuts, cliché Jamaican jargon – nope, not in this collection! The stories in Pepperpot explore a myriad of issues, such as: family secrets, violence, domestic abuse, infidelity, spirituality (Christianity), incest, death, homosexuality, fraught relationships, coming-of-age, poverty, grief, mental illness. Every story in this anthology had a different flavor – it’s as if the editor (Olive Senior) carefully selected these stories such that the flavor of this pepperpot (pun intended) wouldn’t be off balance.

Even though the 13 stories in this anthology were divided into 3 parts, I felt most of the stories had a cryptic, mysterious nature to them, and I really loved that. Among the 13 short stories – 5 stories are from Jamaica, 4 stories are from Trinidad & Tobago and 1 story each from Belize, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados and the Bahamas.

• •

My favorite stories were:

The Science of Salvation by Dwight Thompson (Jamaica) – This story had me at the edge of my seat. The threat of violence from a notorious gang member, coupled with the staunch Christian lifestyle of a family in a panic-struck neighborhood made for an intense tale. The evolution of the story was so heartless and unexpected. I loved it.

This Thing We Call Love by Ivory Kelly (Belize) – What I loved most about this story was the dialogue in local dialect and the mentions of popular Belizean dishes like Salbutes, Garnaches, Panades etc. This tale was a pretty hilarious take on a woman trying to prevent her husband from committing adultery.

A Good Friday by Barbara Jenkins (Trinidad & Tobago) – This story started off strange as hell! It’s Good Friday (the day Jesus was tortured and killed) and a woman walks into a bar from church, and starts crying. A fellow at the bar who had been admiring this woman from afar approaches her and a strange conversation ensues. The way this tale evolved was just so unpredictable and… had me in awe!

All the Secret Things No One Ever Knows by Sharon Leach (Jamaica) – “Ten years ago, I found out that I wasn’t my father’s only girlfriend” is the first line of this story. YES, it’s insane! This tale turned out to be pretty sick and twisted. I NEED to indulge in more of Sharon Leach’s work! Lord!

Amelia at Devil’s Bridge by Joanne C. Hillhouse (Antigua & Barbuda) – I was happy to see Joanne C. Hillhouse’s name as one of the contributors of this anthology, as she is a favorite of mine (and a reader of this book blog, which is how I got to know her! Last summer, I had a pretty popular book chat on Caribbean literature with Hillhouse). This story felt so light and read so smoothly. Hillhouse captured nuance in such a beautiful way. The tale follows a naked 13 year old girl – Amelia, who seems to be a ghost at Devil’s Bridge. It’s a layered, mysterious tale that explores Amelia’s family life.

Waywardness by Ezekel Alan (Jamaica) – Initially, I thought this story was brilliant. Alan writes with such force and he’s extremely vivid with his descriptions. But as the story progressed, I found the storyline quite ridiculous to the point where I was started to feel queasy and confused. This tale follows Brian, who is described as a deranged bisexual… he’s homeless, he’s a rapist, he sleeps with his cousin (consensual sex) and he seems poor. In short, I found this tale brutal, yucky, violent and impossible! The storyline felt too forced and I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a satire on homosexuality in Jamaica (?). But I commend Ezekel Alan. His imagination is WILD.

Mango Summer by Janice Lynn Mather (Bahamas) – *sigh* This tale follows 2 sisters – the younger sister is rude and nosy, while the older sister is hardworking and actively tries to protect her younger sister. The sisters quarrel from time to time, but they are quite close and it’s evident that they love one another. When the younger sister is kidnapped, the story progresses with the older sister feeling perplexed and lonely. This story was so poetic, so gentle and so innocent. Mangoes play a humorous role in the storyline as well. I LOVED it (Mather’s debut novel will be published this year! – June 2018).

I highly recommend this anthology and I will be re-reading this collection again.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Pepperpot on Amazon