How To Love A Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs

Date Read: March 5th 2019

Published: 2018

Publisher: Picador

Pages: 256

The Blurb

Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret—Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

In “Light-Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands,” an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In “Mash Up Love,” a twin’s chance sighting of his estranged brother—the prodigal son of the family—stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In “Bad Behavior,” a couple leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In “Mermaid River,” a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In “The Ghost of Jia Yi,” a recently murdered student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in “Shirley from a Small Place,” a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother’s big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital.

Alexia Arthurs emerges in this vibrant, lyrical, intimate collection as one of fiction’s most dynamic and essential authors.

 

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

My 4 stars rating for How To Love A Jamaican doesn’t mean I loved all the stories. In fact, out of the 11 short stories, I absolutely loved just 4 of them. But I give this collection 4 out of 5 stars because I LOVED how this collection made me feel. I carried this book everywhere with me for the two weeks it took me to finish it. I was always eager to pick it up again and didn’t mind re-reading some stories just to be in the world of the characters again. It took me a while to finish this collection mostly because of school (this is ALWAYS my excuse, have you noticed?), but also because I wanted to take my time and imbibe myself into the stories! It took me forever to get my hands on this book, so I just wanted to savor every word. Special thanks to my friend Kobby from @bookworm_man on Bookstagram who initially lent me his copy, then later allowed me to keep it 🙂

While some stories fell flat for me – especially ‘Bad Behavior’, ‘Mash Up Love’, ‘Shirley From a Small Place’ (I wasn’t fond of how Shirley’s story resembled Rihanna Fenty’s career trajectory), I mostly enjoyed how accessible Arthurs’s writing was – especially the patois. At the beginning of the book, she makes it clear that this collection is ‘For Jamaicans’ and she is true to her words. Reading stories about Jamaicans, mostly IN Jamaica or Jamaicans who were born and bred in Jamaica without migrating out of the Island, was definitely refreshing and inspiring.

••

My favorite stories were:

Island – This story is excellent. Island is about three girlfriends who travel to a Caribbean island for a wedding. One of the girls in this group is a lesbian and her friends subtly malign her throughout the trip. The tension within the friend group was palpable and maddening. It had me thinking about friendship – why we call certain people our friends and how our choice of friends reflects who we are, or who we aren’t.

On Shelf – This story was pretty ordinary from beginning to end. But Arthurs’s ability to just tell a normal story about an academically successful 40 year old Jamaican woman in the US, settling with a man below her standards in order to move forward with life and bear a child felt very real.

Light-skinned girls and Kelly Rowlands – I love that the collection commences with this story! It kept me wanting more and I eagerly anticipated reading the rest of the stories, thanks to this one. This story follows two young women in college – NYU, who become friends unexpectedly. Cecelia is dark-skinned; upper class; only dates white men; of Jamaican heritage but was born and bred in California. Brittney on the other hand is from a low/middle-class family; prefers dating black men; was born in Jamaica but moved to Brooklyn when she was six years old. I loved the sisterhood these friends shared, but I also despised the tension between them, especially when they had disagreements. I felt Brittney constantly tried to undermine Cecelia’s Jamaicanness/Blackness, because she was more or less an ‘oreo’ and had never been to Jamaica before. The ending of this story just reminded me of gnawing issues I have with folks born and raised in their native lands versus pure Diasporans.

The recurrent themes in this collection include: good ole’ problematic Jamaican pigmentocracy (aka- colorism), mother-daughter relationships (I find many Caribbean women writers love writing on this theme! So far Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid and Naomi Jackson all touch on this theme and always suggest a fraught relationship between mothers and daughters in their writing), mermaids, being haunted by ghosts, love & relationships. I especially LOVED when queer characters and issues surrounding members of the LGBTQ spectrum were introduced into stories – they were the most compelling.

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

Purchase How To Love A Jamaican on Amazon

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Period Pain by Kopano Matlwa

Date Read: January 20th 2018

Published: 2017

Publisher: Jacana Media

Pages: 188

The Blurb

Period Pain captures the heartache and confusion of so many South Africans who feel defeated by the litany of headline horrors; xenophobia, corrective rape, corruption and crime and for many the death sentence that is the public health nightmare. Where are we going, what have we become? Period Pain helps us navigate our South Africa. We meet Masechaba, and through her story we are able to reflect, to question and to rediscover our humanity.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Dr. Kopano Matlwa is a writer and doctor I truly admire! I remember purchasing her debut – Coconut, back in 2011. But I never got around to finishing the book that year, thanks to never-ending college papers. I hope to rectify this soon and possibly finish reading Matlwa’s debut this year!

Period Pain follows Masechaba (aka – Chaba), a young house officer/1st year doctor fighting through tough working conditions in a South African hospital. Not only is Chaba struggling to work in under-resourced hospital conditions, but she’s also dealing with her own health issues – severe menorrhagia, depression, PTSD; while trying to aid in the fight against xenophobia in the nation. I’m yet to read a novel set in South Africa where violence isn’t one of the main characters of the novel. *sigh*

While Period Pain is raw and agonizing, it’s not all depressing. I had many good laughs while reading this short novel! Chaba is humorous and her (only) friend we encounter in the novel – Nyasha from Zimbabwe, is such a bitch – but a ‘woke’ one, I suppose! The exploration of Chaba and Nyasha’s friendship felt very real. Nyasha was such an abrasive, ruthless person, while Chaba was the complete opposite and almost depended on Nyasha’s approval to feel good about herself. The trajectory of their friendship was quite sad and left me almost hating Nyasha, despite the fact that everyone hated her as a foreigner in South Africa.

Besides Matlwa’s exploration of female friendship in this novel, I especially related to the many helpless incidents (and the medical jargon) Chaba faced on the wards, as I’m a dental student. I’m truly starting to love novels that intersect with my medical/dental education. Such stories make me feel less alone in the struggles of the training.

Kopano Matlwa’s ability to blend heavy issues such as: suicide, sexual assault, xenophobia, depression, violence, Christian hypocrisy etc. with humor made me love this novel! The book is written in the form of a diary/journal, where Chaba talks to God about anything and everything. Her conversations with God felt like the conversations very close friends have with one another – light, needy, lonely, confused, desperate. I like that the book is laced with Bible verses and showed how Chaba meditated on the verses, but practiced the opposite of what the scriptures instructed. It sort of mirrored the lifestyle of many Christians of today.

Matlwa’s writing style was deeply compelling and made me wonder how much of HER life is part of Chaba’s story. Matlwa’s ability to make you feel Chaba’s pain, confusion and victories were visceral. I would have rated Period Pain 5 stars, but the ending fell a little flat. It felt predictable and was tied up a little too neatly for me, hence my overall rating of 4.5 stars.

Side note – Upon finishing the novel, I now see why British publishers (Sceptre) decided to name this book Evening Primrose. But I don’t understand why they thought a change in the title (from ‘Period Pain’) would sell the book better. Period Pain as a title is loud & severe, and simply embodies the essence of this novel. I’m glad I purchased this South African edition (published by Jacana Media). Supporting African publishers is necessary + I like the book cover too!

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

Purchase Period Pain on Amazon

 

Mini Reviews | Houseboy & Tropical Fish

Hey everyone!

In an effort to reduce the growing backlog of book reviews I owe this platform, below are mini reviews of two excellent books I read a couple of years ago.

Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono

Date Read: September 22nd 2017

Published: 1991

Publisher: Heinemann

Pages: 122

The Blurb

This book is written in the form of a diary kept by Toundi, an innocent Cameroonian houseboy who is fascinated and awed by the white world, the world of his masters.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

*sigh* Oyono’s Houseboy is such a painful, humorous, tragic tale.


Toundi – the main character (the houseboy), is naïve of the realities of his world in the French colony of Cameroon. While he’s is a good natured boy with a pure heart, the French exploitation of native Cameroonians cause the demise of Toundi (this isn’t a spoiler, trust me!).

This book really highlighted how fearful French colonialists were of native Cameroonians and Black Africans, in general. They were so fearful, insecure, ignorant and mentally fragile that they constantly exerted their supposed superiority over natives with hateful, brutal abuse. Toundi’s innocence gave this novel so much humor. The ways he misunderstood the lifestyle of white people was hilarious and sad at the same time. The ways the natives spoke about the French gave me some good laughs as well.

No, it can’t be true, I told myself, I couldn’t have seen properly. A great chief like the Commandant uncircumcised… I was relieved by this discovery. It killed something inside me… I knew I should never be frightened of this Commandant again. (pg. 28)

This was actually the 1st African novel I’ve ever read (I was initially in love with African-American fiction before I ever started reading books by African writers… well, besides Anansi stories). My Mom encouraged (or forced?) me to read Houseboy back when I was about thirteen years old. Back then, I didn’t enjoy this book at all and found it difficult to understand the myriad of proverbial phrases this story is blessed with. Today, I finally appreciate this novel as a superb, underrated classic within the African Writer’s Series.

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

Purchase Houseboy on Amazon

 


Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana

Date Read: September 16th 2016

Published: 2008

Publisher: Cassava Republic Press

Pages: 158

 

The Blurb

In her fiction debut, Doreen Baingana follows a Ugandan girl as she navigates the uncertain terrain of adolescence. Set mostly in pastoral Entebbe with stops in the cities Kampala and Los Angeles, Tropical Fish depicts the reality of life for Christine Mugisha and her family after Idi Amin’s dictatorship.

Three of the eight chapters are told from the point of view of Christine’s two older sisters, Patti, a born-again Christian who finds herself starving at her boarding school, and Rosa, a free spirit who tries to “magically” seduce one of her teachers. But the star of Tropical Fish is Christine, whom we accompany from her first wobbly steps in high heels, to her encounters with the first-world conveniences and alienation of America, to her return home to Uganda.

As the Mugishas cope with Uganda’s collapsing infrastructure, they also contend with the universal themes of family cohesion, sex and relationships, disease, betrayal, and spirituality. Anyone dipping into Baingana’s incandescent, widely acclaimed novel will enjoy their immersion in the world of this talented newcomer.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

After reading Doreen Baingana’s short story entitled ‘Tropical Fish’ in African Love Stories: An Anthology at the beginning of 2016, I knew I had to find her book.

I loved how nuanced this collection of interlocking stories were. Readers get a good feel of life in Entebbe, Uganda during Idi Amin’s ruling. I enjoyed the three sisters: Patti, Rosa and Christine Mugisha. I had wanted more insight into Patti’s life; she had a gentle, holier-than-thou demeanor that I wished was explored more. Rosa’s chapters were quite hilarious and poetic. I admired Baingana’s uncommon perspective on HIV/AIDS and sex through Rosa’s promiscuous lifestyle. Christine’s life (the youngest sister) is more closely followed in this book – from her days as a little girl playing in her parents’ bedroom to when she is twenty-nine years old and a recent ‘returnee’ from the States.

Baingana’s attention to the littlest things/feelings/observations we overlook in our daily lives made me love this collection. The writing was not overly descriptive; the commentary was witty, clever and overall, the exploration of life in Entebbe and the US was just heartfelt. I’m very fond of Baingana’s writing and it’s no wonder she was the winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in the Africa region and has garnered other literary awards for her writing. I hope she writes a new novel very soon.

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

Purchase Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe on Amazon

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore

Date Read: September 10th 2018

Published: September 2018

Publisher: Graywolf Press

Pages: 312

The Blurb

Wayétu Moore’s powerful debut novel, She Would Be King, reimagines the dramatic story of Liberia’s early years through three unforgettable characters who share an uncommon bond. Gbessa, exiled from the West African village of Lai, is starved, bitten by a viper, and left for dead, but still she survives. June Dey, raised on a plantation in Virginia, hides his unusual strength until a confrontation with the overseer forces him to flee. Norman Aragon, the child of a white British colonizer and a Maroon slave from Jamaica, can fade from sight when the earth calls him. When the three meet in the settlement of Monrovia, their gifts help them salvage the tense relationship between the African American settlers and the indigenous tribes, as a new nation forms around them.

Moore’s intermingling of history and magical realism finds voice not just in these three characters but also in the fleeting spirit of the wind, who embodies an ancient wisdom. “If she was not a woman,” the wind says of Gbessa, “she would be king.” In this vibrant story of the African diaspora, Moore, a talented storyteller and a daring writer, illuminates with radiant and exacting prose the tumultuous roots of a country inextricably bound to the United States. She Would Be King is a novel of profound depth set against a vast canvas and a transcendent debut from a major new author.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Prior to reading She Would Be King, I was a newbie when it came Liberian literature – I still am! I only knew about Nobel Peace Prize winner and writer – Leymah Gbowee, and her feature in the amazing documentary film – Pray the Devil Back to Hell (which I watched and deeply enjoyed for a Women’s Studies class in college). This debut had me wanting to know more about Liberia and the work of Liberian writers, such as – Helene Cooper, Hawa Jande Golakai, Vamba Sherif, Leymah Gbowee, Bilphena Yahwon (Gold Womyn) and others. While reading, I actually found a YouTube video where Liberian writer- Vamba Sherif, talks about Liberian literature in an interview. Enjoy!

She Would Be King is a beautiful mélange of historical fiction, magical realism and coming-of-age. Moore skillfully develops the three main characters of this novel: Gbessa – a Vai girl who is cursed and exiled to the forest; June Dey – the child of the strongest rebel on the Emerson plantation in Virginia; Norman Aragon – the child of Nani who was a gifted Jamaican Maroon and a British anthropologist/colonizer (such a terrible man!) . These three characters are guided by the wind and use their gifts – which are considered curses to ordinary people, to save present-day Liberia from its many hidden troubles. I always knew Liberia was the land where some freed slaves and freeborn African Americans made a living, but I had no idea freed slaves from the Caribbean also settled in present-day Liberia, making the nation a flavorful melting pot of indigenous and Diaspora folk.

The first three chapters of this debut explore these three main characters. I loved delving into the characters’ storylines and witnessing their evolution through the years. While African-American June Dey and Jamaican Norman play key roles in the establishment of Liberia through their gifts, Gbessa is the shero of this novel (this is not a spoiler, relax!) . Gbessa, who is described as a dark-skinned woman with wild red long hair, grows immensely in this story, to the point where her layered identities begin to haunt her. I’m itching to discuss Gbessa’s evolution, but unfortunately it would require divulging spoilers – and that wouldn’t be right!

[Images via Wayétu Moore’s Instagram for her US book tour dates; illustrations by Art Therapy Houston, PLLC]

Wayétu Moore’s writing felt light and magical in this debut. While reading, my heart raced as I could feel Gbessa’s loneliness and isolation, June Dey’s anger and power, Norman’s intelligence and bravery. The many issues in this story come together beautifully as Moore explores the legacies of slavery and colonialism as well as love, friendship, womanhood and independence. The sisterhood between Gbessa and Maisy – the wonderful woman who plays an immense role in Gbessa’s ‘civilization’ was so heartfelt!

I enjoyed the brotherhood between June Dey and Norman, but I wished their relationship was explored more. These men spent most of their time fighting invaders so there wasn’t enough dialogue between them. Also, it took me a while to finish this book thanks to school work, but also because I got bored of June Dey and Norman’s chapters, which were heavy with magical realism and lots of action. It wasn’t easy keeping up with the wordiness of their fighting scenes which required me to imagine all of their complex, superhero stunts. I really just desired some more depth to June Dey and Norman’s relationship and their connection to the settlement of Monrovia.

What I loved most about this novel was reading about the tensions between members of the indigenous tribes and former enslaved African Americans/ free-borns from the United States. I always knew these two groups had difficulty in seeing eye-to-eye, even in present day Liberia, but I didn’t realize how deep that tension was.

“But… some of them don’t think all of us the same. Some of them think… some of then think they smarter and better fit to lead than those who were already here” pg. 173.

The phrase ‘All My Skinfolk ain’t Kinfolk’ gnawed at me as I read how the African American settlers blatantly disregarded indigenous Liberians. It was eye-opening (and disappointing) to witness how settlers from the US treated indigenous folk similar to the ways slave masters treated them back in the US. Imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy emigrated with the African American settlers to Monrovia, where they imposed their power and discriminated against the natives. Indigenous folk had little say in the governing of their land, as the mayors and key thinkers of Monrovia were predominently the African American settlers. I had to do quite a bit of outside reading on Liberian history and the role of the American Colonization Society (ACS) in Monrovia’s complete independence. It was so intriguing to read on the motives of this society and I think I now understand why the election of Liberia’s current president- George Weah, was such a big deal.

There’s so much to say about this book! While I’d like some clarity on the use of language (pidgin) in the novel and Gbessa’s (unrealistic) infatuation with her childhood friend – Safua, this debut is pretty solid. I’d love to know what Liberians and Liberian-Americans think of this novel, as they would probably better understand the nuances of the story. I can confidently say I will read anything by Wayétu Moore, and that this debut is a lovely ode to the country of Liberia and Liberian womanhood, through Gbessa’s complex characterization.

[Today is pub day! Special thanks to Graywolf Press and Wayétu Moore for an Advanced Review Copy of this debut]

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

Purchase She Would Be King on Amazon

The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah

Date Read: June 23rd 2018

Published: May 2018

Publisher: Cassava Republic Press

Pages: 234

The Blurb

Aminah lives an idyllic life until she is brutally separated from her home and forced on a journey that turns her from a daydreamer into a resilient woman. Wurche, the willful daughter of a chief, is desperate to play an important role in her father’s court. These two women’s lives converge as infighting among Wurche’s people threatens the region, during the height of the slave trade at the end of the 19th century.

Set in pre-colonial Ghana, The Hundred Wells of Salaga is a story of courage, forgiveness, love and freedom. Through the experiences of Aminah and Wurche, it offers a remarkable view of slavery and how the scramble for Africa affected the lives of everyday people.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

I would rate The Hundred Wells of Salaga 4.5 stars in a heartbeat, but I’m rounding up my rating to 5 stars. Ayesha Harruna Attah has grown soooo much as a writer and this third novel is proof of her wonderful growth. The Hundred Wells of Salaga is very well researched and I’m ashamed at how little I knew about the internal slavery within the continent during the 1800’s. It’s amazing how we Ghanaians know very little about our country – I had no idea what or where Salaga was. While I was reading, I fervently looked for more information on Salaga and slavery of Northern Ghana and came across this video on YouTube – SALAGA: An Ancient Slave Trade Center. It’s an excellent 19 minute, short documentary on the ancient slave trade center. Enjoy!

I just love that this historical novel opens up conversation around – internal, trans-Saharan & trans-Atlantic slave trade, amongst readers. This novel opens up the wounds of our past and shows how complicit we were the in our greed for power through the fragmenting of families. The Hundred Wells of Salaga forced me to examine how many families in Africa (and Asia) currently practice modern forms of ‘slavery’ through the use of ‘house helps’ or ‘house girls’ and the effects of this modern practice.

All of Ayesha’s novels have been great reads for me because she creates well-rounded characters. Typically, the chapters of her books are dedicated to the characters, so the storyline is propelled through the lens of the different characters of her books; I was excited to see this technique used in The Hundred Wells of Salaga.

Aminah and Wurche’s characters were great contrasts – while Aminah’s character was calm, kind and obedient; Wurche was confident, pleasantly arrogant and ambitious – my type of gal, to be honest! Ayesha gets readers acquainted with Aminah and her family to the point where it feels like Aminah’s family is our own. Reading Aminah’s chapters felt a bit grime and I had this feeling of doom and fear as the story progressed. Ayesha manages to personalize slavery through Aminah’s character, and readers feel the hurt and vulnerability it caused ordinary folk.

Wurche’s chapters were the vehicle that drove the feminist narrative in this novel. Readers see first-hand how women (more so Wurche) were used to push the agendas of domination, through arranged marriages and other acts of coercion; and the various acts of rebellion the brave women took. Readers start to understand the legacies of slavery in Ghana through Aminah and Wurche, and get acquainted with other characters like – a German, who ideally would be seen as the big, bad colonizer, an Ashanti slave owner (Wofa Sarpong) and many other personalities who challenge our values. Islam plays an interesting role in this novel – I loved the dichotomy of how it was used to teach values, but also regulated the lives of women, which affect Wurche’s headstrong nature.

Ayesha did an excellent job with The Hundred Wells of Salaga! I truly hope this book is sold in Salaga or bookshops, museums and historical sites in Northern Ghana. It’s a necessary resource.


The Hundred Wells of Salaga has been acquired by Other Press (USA) and will be published February of next year (image on the right – how beautiful is the book cover?! It was illustrated by the talented Loveis Wise). The book also has translation rights in Dutch (bottom left image), French, German, Italian and Turkish!

 

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

Purchase The Hundred Wells of Salaga on Amazon

 

Check out my book reviews of Ayesha H. Attah’s other novels:

Mini Reviews | Audiobooks

Hey everyone!

I’ve been listening to quite a few audiobooks lately. As an avid consumer of numerous podcasts, audiobooks – especially essay collections and non-fiction (read by the author), act as extended podcast episodes for me! Below are 4 mini reviews of the audiobooks I’ve enjoyed thus far.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

Date Read: April 28th 2018

Published: 2018

Narrated by: Brittney Cooper

Length: 6hrs 57mins

 

 

The Blurb

So what if it’s true that Black women are mad as hell? They have the right to be. In the Black feminist tradition of Audre Lorde, Brittney Cooper reminds us that anger is a powerful source of energy that can give us the strength to keep on fighting.

Far too often, Black women’s anger has been caricatured into an ugly and destructive force that threatens the civility and social fabric of American democracy. But Cooper shows us that there is more to the story than that. Black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player. It’s what makes Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate so hard. It’s what makes Michelle Obama an icon.

Eloquent Rage keeps us all honest and accountable. It reminds women that they don’t have to settle for less. When Cooper learned of her grandmother’s eloquent rage about love, sex, and marriage in an epic and hilarious front-porch confrontation, her life was changed. And it took another intervention, this time staged by one of her homegirls, to turn Brittney into the fierce feminist she is today. In Brittney Cooper’s world, neither mean girls nor fuckboys ever win. But homegirls emerge as heroes. This book argues that ultimately feminism, friendship, and faith in one’s own superpowers are all we really need to turn things right side up again.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

I honestly don’t know how to review this book. There are updates I shared on Goodreads of my rough thoughts after some of the chapters I enjoyed. All I can say is: Dr. Brittney Cooper is my shero! That is all.

Purchase Eloquent Rage on Amazon

 


Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Date Read: May 16th 2017

Published: 2017

Narrated by: Michael Eric Dyson

Length: 5hrs 32mins

 

 

The Blurb

Short, emotional, literary, powerful—Tears We Cannot Stop is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.

As the country grapples with racist division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man’s voice soars above the rest with conviction and compassion. In his 2016 New York Times op-ed piece “Death in Black and White,” Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot Stopa provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Excellent, excellent, excellent – from beginning to end! I love how Prof. Dyson takes his time to break everything down to white folk – who are the target audience of this book. I’m glad I listened to this via audiobook, because Dyson was very entertaining while performing his words. He has a wonderful, melodic (and sometimes superfluous) way with words that made this an excellent listen. This book is in the form of a sermon and almost every other sentence is quotable; so it was challenging to listen to this book while driving, because I’d always want to add a note to certain clips of chapters as reminders to transcribe the quotes when writing a review (one disadvantage of audiobooks). But I loved Dyson’s bold, fearless approach to enlightening white America of ALL the mess they’ve caused and still remain silent about.

When I started listening, I wondered if Dyson would address the ways white America relates to Black Americans and Black immigrants – i.e: folks from Africa and the Caribbean, and he indeed addresses this towards the end of the book. While Black people from Africa and the Caribbean don’t carry the same intricate baggage of slavery as Black Americans, in the United States, we are all just Black to the white man. Dyson addressing these facts in the book made me think of how divisive we (Black people) tend to be in our communities, and how it only hurts us.

Towards the end of the book, Dyson gives a plethora of recommendations for readers to educate themselves on race in America. Some of his recommendations of writers to read include – Classics: Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, bell hooks, Michelle Wallace, Kimberly Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins, W.E.B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, Barack Obama; Gifted Black Voices In Media: Ta’Nehisi Coates, Clint Smith, Henry Louis Gates Jr, Brittney Cooper, Eve Ewing, Wesley Lowrey; Ambassadors Of Truth: Peggy McIntosh (she came to my college to speak when I was in my junior year. It was such an honor to be in her presence!), Tim Wise and many more!

I really hope white folks are purchasing and reading this book, because it was carefully written for them.

Purchase Tear We Cannot Stop on Amazon

 


Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Date Read: January 17th 2018

Published: 2016

Narrated by: Trevor Noah

Length: 8hrs 44mins

 

 

The Blurb

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

What more can be said about Born A Crime? Everybody and their grandmother has read this book.

I started the book in November (2017) but got side tracked. If I had listened to this book in 3 sittings, I might have given the book 5 stars because it was really enjoyable when I first started. Nevertheless, Trevor Noah is a very compelling storyteller – listening to him re-enact South African accents/languages and imitate various characters was such a treat. But what a stubborn child this boy was!

To me, this book is an ode to his phenomenal mother, who I truly admire. The ending of this book was deeply emotional and brought me to tears… Born A Crime had the right blend of South African racial history, humor and life lessons.

Purchase Born A Crime on Amazon

 


What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey

Date Read: July 31st 2017 & (re-read) June 23rd 2018

Published: 2014

Narrated by: Oprah Winfrey

Length: 3hrs 53mins

 

The Blurb

As a creative force, student of the human heart and soul, and champion of living the life you want, Oprah Winfrey stands alone. Over the years, she has made history with a legendary talk show – the highest-rated program of its kind, launched her own television network, become the nation’s only African-American billionaire, and been awarded both an honorary degree by Harvard University and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. From all her experiences, she has gleaned life lessons―which, for fourteen years, she’s shared in O, The Oprah Magazine’s widely popular “What I Know For Sure” column, a monthly source of inspiration and revelation.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Listening to Oprah is probably the best way you can consume this candid, uplifting book. I grew up watching & hearing Oprah’s voice on television, so obviously it didn’t take much for me to decide to experience this collection full of wisdom, via audio.

Hearing Oprah read her words gives you so much clarity and seriously puts things into perspective. I think I’ll make it a point to re-listen to this book at the beginning of every new year. It’ll help get my mind right and remind me of the things I NEED to fall back on, like – praying, taking the time to be present and feel myself breathe, making a conscious effort to see the good in everything, enjoying life, being full of gratitude and doing unto others as I would have them do unto me. What I Know For Sure reminds you that life isn’t as difficult as we make it seem, if we choose to live life full of gratitude.

Purchase What I Know For Sure on Amazon

 


Other excellent audiobooks I’ve enjoyed so far:

My thoughts of these books are on Goodreads (they do not cohere to the Black focus of this blog, so reviews won’t be posted here). Kindly click on the titles to be redirected to my thoughts on them.

The next audiobook I have lined up is – Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama. I hope to read along with the physical copy of the book (which was actually a gift to my Dad, from 9 years ago).

 

I’d love more recommendations! Which audiobooks have you enjoyed thus far?

Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Date Read: July 28th 2017

Published: February 1999

Publisher: One World / Ballantine

Pages: 288

The Blurb 

This moving memoir of an African-American woman’s lifelong fight to identify and overcome depression offers an inspirational story of healing and emergence. Wrapped within Danquah’s engaging account of this universal affliction is rare and insightful testimony about what it means to be black, female, and battling depression in a society that often idealizes black women as strong, nurturing caregivers. A startlingly honest, elegantly rendered depiction of depression, Willow Weep for Me calls out to all women who suffer in silence with a life-affirming message of recovery. Meri Danquah rises from the pages, a true survivor, departing a world of darkness and reclaiming her life.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

I read Willow Weep for Me last year around this time. After reading, I just wanted the memoir to sit with me for awhile before discussing my thoughts! I learned a lot from this book, but one thing that stuck with me is: Black women are not immune to clinical depression. We need to stop contending with the stereotypic image of strength. This image encourages stoicism while several black women live in denial by denying their pain. And it’s harmful.

The illusion of strength has been and continues to be of major significance to me as a black woman. The one myth that I have had to endure my entire life is that of my supposed birthright to strength. Black women are supposed to be strong – caretakers, nurtures, healers of other people – any of the twelve dozen variations of Mammy. Emotional hardship is supposed to be built into the structure of our lives. It went along with the territory of being both black and female in a society that completely undervalues the lives of black people and regards all women as second-class citizens. It seemed that suffering, for a black woman, was part of the package.

Or so I thought. (pg. 19)

Willow Weep For Me, which was published back in 1999, is a deeply personal memoir on Ghanaian-American writer – Meri Nana-Ama Danquah’s journey through depression. What makes this book truly special is the clarity of Danquah’s writing. This memoir is beautifully laced with poetic phrases and visceral descriptions, giving readers the full experience of various anecdotes and incidences that occurred in her life. I loved how Danquah incorporated the stories of other (black) women’s journeys through depression into this memoir, allowing readers to resonate with the many variations of mental illness. Through other women’s experiences highlighted in this book, I was enlightened on the force of suicidal ideation, seasonal depression and some side-effects of anti-depressants (which varies from person to person).

 

Some of my favorite quotes from the memoir:

White women who suffer from mental illness are depicted as idle, spoiled, or just plain hysterical. Black men are demonized and pathologized. Black women with psychological problems are certainly not seen as geniuses; we are generally not labeled ‘hysterical’ or ‘eccentric’ or even ‘pathological’. When a black woman suffers from a mental disorder, the overwhelming opinion is that she is weak. And weakness in black women is intolerable. (pg. 20)


I’ve frequently been told things like: “Girl, you’ve been hanging out with too many white folk” ; “What do you have to be depressed about? If our people could make it through slavery, we can make it through anything” ; “Take your troubles to Jesus, not no damn psychiatrist.” (pg. 21)


From the beginning, our relationship was formula for disaster. Depressed people often attract unhealthy relationships and inadvertently subject themselves and their already battered self-image, to additional abuse… You feel as if you are worthless so you attach yourself to someone who you think will give your life some meaning, be a safe harbor for your souls. But only you can protect what’s inside. (pg. 41)


I despise the way blackness in the English language, symbolizes death and negativity. Because I believe that the absorption of these connotations contributes to self-hate, I avoid them at all cost (pg 182).


We sat in an awkward silence for some time. I wondered why, after all he had been through with his mother, Eugene welcomed another depressive into his life. Wasn’t he afraid of the consequences? How did he escape the contagious effects of mental illness? (pg. 217)


“Why do you give people so much power over you? That M.D. behind his name just means that he’s trained to facilitate your healing. You’re the one who’s actually got to make it happen. Therapy doesn’t work unless you know what you want out of it. You’re the one who has the power to change things.” (pg. 220)


Racism is definitely in the eye of the beholder. White people have at hand the privilege of choosing whether to see or not see the racism that takes place around them. If Dr. Fitzgerald could not ‘fathom’ my reality as a black person, how would he be able to assess or address the rage, the fear and the host of other complex emotions that go hand-in-hand with being black in a racist society? For whatever reasons, seeing a black therapist had never crossed my mind, until then. (pg. 224)


I love that this memoir ended on a hopeful note and allows readers to view life and it’s challenges from a practical angle. We often forget that going to therapy & support groups, asking questions, talking to family/friends and taking control of your healing by being a partner in your healing process instead of being a mere patient who is being treated, is paramount and empowering.

Now with the importance of mental health getting the attention it needs in the media, I hope more people will discover this timeless memoir. Willow Weep For Me was written almost 20 years ago, and all of Danquah’s experiences and commentary on depression in this memoir are being reiterated in countless articles, think-pieces and seminars on mental health today. Danquah’s daughter (who plays a key role in this memoir!) – Korama (who was a year behind me in high school – GIS) must be SUPER proud of her mother for writing this important, brave, empowering memoir. I’m still in awe and will continue to re-read some of the quotes I highlighted again and again and again. More people NEED to read this memoir.

Before, I used to wonder what my life would have been like had I not gone through my depressions; now, I don’t know if I would trade those experiences. I love who I am. And without those past depressions, I wouldn’t be the same person. (pg. 266)

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

Purchase Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression on Amazon

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