Poetry | soft magic. & Questions for Ada

Hey everyone! At the end of my review of salt. by Nayyirah Waheed, I listed a bunch of contemporary poets and expressed my keen interest in reading their work in the near future. Poets – Upile Chisala and Ijeoma Umebinyuo were on that list and I finally purchased their collections (for my birthday last year) and enjoyed them at the beginning of this year. Below are mini reviews of their respective poetry collections.

(this is African Book Addict!’s 100th post by the way!)

soft magic. by Upile Chisala

Date Read: January 7th 2017

Published: September 2015

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Pages: 122

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

soft magic. is the debut collection of prose and poetry by Malawian writer, Upile Chisala. This book explores the self, joy, blackness, gender, matters of the heart, the experience of Diaspora, spirituality and most of all, how we survive. soft magic. is a shared healing journey.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

soft magic. is a decent collection, Upile (who is a young storyteller and ‘artivist’ from Malawi) has done well. I liked that soft magic. was healing and self-helpish, but this collection is more of a 2.5 stars rating, for me. It’s hard to rate and review a poetry collection you aren’t really fond of, because poetry is so personal to the poet and his/her journey – who am I to have an opinion on anyone’s journey?

This collection could have benefitted from more editing- the typos were quite annoying to spot. I hate to compare (especially since Upile recently went on a rant on Twitter about how discouraging it can be when people compare African writers to Chimamanda Adichie) but in my opinion, some of the poems felt like a knock-off from ‘salt.’ Also, I felt Upile overused the word ‘darling’ in this collection. I rolled by eyes so hard at every poem (which is about 80% of them) where ‘darling’ appeared; there are so many other words of endearment that could have been used in this collection. On a lighter note, I do appreciate how pro-black this collection is. The poems that expressed Upile’s unapologetic pride for her heritage and blackness were the most powerful.

My favorite poems:

being this ebony.
having this name.
carrying this language in my mouth.
there were times when I only wanted
to blend in
to sit unnoticed,
un-special,
but blending in is fading out

 

here we are,
black and in love with ourselves
and they spite us for it

Even though this short poetry collection is very pro-black, I wouldn’t highly recommend it. I just didn’t find the poems compelling or wholesome. Like I stated before – it is difficult to rate and review a poetry collection, because poetry is very personal to the poet and his/her journey. But you never know – give this collection a try, we all have different tastes! Upile recently published a new collection called Nectar, which I hope is a bit more polished than soft magic. I might purchase Nectar in the near future but until then, I will continue to enjoy Upile’s thoughtful commentary on Twitter and her lovely photos on Instagram.

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

Purchase soft magic. on Amazon


Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Date Read: January 27th 2017

Published: August 2015

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Pages: 216

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

The artistry of Questions for Ada defies words, embodying the pain, the passion, and the power of love rising from the depths of our souls.  Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s poetry is a flower that will blossom in the spirit of every reader as she shares her heart with raw candor.  From lyrical lushness to smoky sensuality to raw truths, this tome of transforming verse is the book every woman wants to write but can’t until the broken mirrors of their lives have healed. In this gifted author’s own words—“I am too full of life to be half-loved.”  A bold celebration of womanhood.

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

THIS collection right here is pure gold. Questions for Ada by Nigerian poet – Ijeoma Umebinyuo, is full of strength, vulnerability and pride. Every word in these poems is heavy with meaning and purpose. These poems show you that all your emotions are valid and must be felt. Many poetry collections published nowadays feel lazy and words just seem to be thrown onto the pages. But Questions for Ada is a collection that was carefully crafted with love and full awareness of self. I’ve dog-eared sooo many of the pages in this book because the poems truly resonated with me. I found myself reflecting after reading a couple of poems at a time. I love when a piece of writing makes you reflect on your life and society and allows you to think about them critically. Ijeoma did the damn thing with this poetry collection!

My favorite poems:

Your mother was your first mirror.
tell me,
didn’t she carry herself well enough
to make you feel like a God?
(pg. 16)

Freedom-

Your feminism
wears a wrapper,
cooks for her husband
changed her surname
(pg 33)

you are not alive
to please the aesthetic
of colonized eye
(pg. 117)

You asked your father
how you should say your name.
He said if they cannot say your name
then they must try,
but you will not soften it,
you will not break the magic apart,
you will not be ashamed of it.
(pg. 160)

 

Questions for Ada –

Ada, are you in love? Yes.

Is being in a relationship hard work? Yes

Do you write love poems for your lover?

Every day.

Does you lover believe in you?

Yes, but sometimes I fear my lover does not

comprehend her light.

What do you do on those days?

I bathe her, I play some Jazz,

I fed her, I weep for her.

Describe her in a sentence.

Her eyes carry strength,

her words scratch, she speaks love.

Ada, are you in love? Yes.

Is being in a relationship hard work? Yes.

Who is your lover? Myself.

(pg. 78)

If I could quote all the poems in this collection, I would – but I have to respect the writer’s copyright terms! Please purchase the book to enjoy the rest! A couple of weeks ago, AFREADA featured Questions for Ada in their weekly #AFREADS recommendations on Instagram and used my short review from Goodreads as the caption for the post. I was elated to see that Ijeoma appreciated my words (which don’t even do this collection’s excellence justice).

I had to screenshot this before it got deleted 🙂

Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo is beautiful work. I like to believe her target audience is women of color/ black women in Africa and the Diaspora; the poems speak on blackness, womanhood, relationships, brokenness, Africa, Diaspora, heritage, loving thyself and others. But I wholeheartedly recommend this collection for everyone to experience these poems, even if you aren’t a woman or a person of color – you would still appreciate Ijeoma’s artistry and even learn something about yourself. We’re only in the month of May and I’ve already re-read the whole collection for a second time; I plan on re-visiting and mulling over certain poems throughout the year.

If you don’t plan on reading many poetry this year, please endeavor to add Questions for Ada to your 2017 reads! And if you’re not really a fan of poetry, be assured that this collection will make you understand the beauty of poetry, as a pure literary form.

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

Purchase Questions for Ada on Amazon

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

Date Read:  February 22nd 2017

Published: February 14th 2017

Publisher: Tin House Books

Pages: 80

 

The Blurb

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé uses political and pop-cultural references as a framework to explore 21st century black American womanhood and its complexities: performance, depression, isolation, exoticism, racism, femininity, and politics. The poems weave between personal narrative and pop-cultural criticism, examining and confronting modern media, consumption, feminism, and Blackness.

This collection explores femininity and race in the contemporary American political climate, folding in references from jazz standards, visual art, personal family history, and Hip Hop. The voice of this book is a multifarious one: writing and rewriting bodies, stories, and histories of the past, as well as uttering and bearing witness to the truth of the present, and actively probing toward a new self, an actualized self. This is a book at the intersections of mythology and sorrow, of vulnerability and posturing, of desire and disgust, of tragedy and excellence.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé was one of the top poetry collections released this year that I was eager to read. I have been following Parker for a while and I love this short documentary (from 2015) that explores a bit of Parker’s life as a writer and her relationship with Brooklyn, NY. I’m simply a fan of any black woman writer with a unique, quirky character – hence my love for Morgan Parker.

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is more of a 3.5 stars book for me though. Initially, I wished Beyoncé wasn’t Parker’s muse because it made the poems that were named after her (Beyoncé) seem trivial and nonsensical. BUT, after meditating on select poems, I realize Parker uses the poems as political commentary on the criticism Beyoncé has received over the years, and how these criticisms spill over into how society views black women as a whole.

This collection explores Black American womanhood, performance, oppression, loneliness, power, sexuality and mental health – but in a whiny way. I like to believe Parker wrote this collection targeting (black) women, millennials and true poetry lovers as her audience. To be honest, only a few of these poems will actually stick with me. I think I’d love this collection more if they were read out to me, maybe at a reading and with some background to the randomness of it all. Don’t get me wrong, these poems are well-thought-out and layered with lots of (black) pop culture references, but the wordiness of it all could go over your head if your mind isn’t alert while reading.

Above is a screenshot (from my Kindle app) of one of the poems that’s oh-so relevant to the times, which I especially loved –13 Ways of Looking at a Black Girl’. The haphazard display of the words spilled unto the pages, in and of itself, is telling of how society regards black women. Are words like ‘thick, diva, nappy, flawless, loud, sex, wifey, chocolate, sassy, carefree, strong, exotic, slut’ accurate depictions of how people view black women? From whose lens are black women regarded in these ways? (please click on the image above to get a closer glimpse of the poem).

I’m in awe of the artistry of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, but most poems may seem abstract and meaningless to the oblivious reader of the times. I wouldn’t highly recommend this collection to anyone who isn’t a hardcore poetry fiend, but I personally admire this body of work for its eccentric nature.

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

Purchase There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé on Amazon

The January Children by Safia Elhillo

!important;margin:0!important;" />Date Read: December 14th 2016

Published: March 1st 2017

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

Pages: 80

 

 

 

The Blurb

The January Children depicts displacement and longing while also questioning accepted truths about geography, history, nationhood, and home. The poems mythologize family histories until they break open, using them to explore aspects of Sudan’s history of colonial occupation, dictatorship, and diaspora. Several of the poems speak to the late Egyptian singer Abdelhalim Hafez, who addressed many of his songs to the asmarani—an Arabic term of endearment for a brown-skinned or dark-skinned person. Elhillo explores Arabness and Africanness and the tensions generated by a hyphenated identity in those two worlds.

No longer content to accept manmade borders, Elhillo navigates a new and reimagined world. Maintaining a sense of wonder in multiple landscapes and mindscapes of perpetually shifting values, she leads the reader through a postcolonial narrative that is equally terrifying and tender, melancholy and defiant.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Safia Elhillo is a Sudanese-American poet based in the U.S and I believe The January Children gives readers some insight into what it’s like to be Sudanese and an American. In this collection, the narrator is constantly grappling with her complex identities and it’s evident in poems like,

republic of the sudan ministry of interior passport & immigration general directorate alien from sudanese origin passcard‘ (yes, this is the title of the poem):

at the khartoum office a veiled woman made the card in microsoft paint told me my arabic was [not bad for a foreigner you can barely hear the accent] i board the plane with grandma’s voice crackling through the phone [come home again soon] my blue passport made me American place of birth maryland usa

& in the months since my last visit syrup settle back to coat my r’s i am ambiguous browngirl

i feel american

& in new york [but your english is so good you can barely hear the accent]

mama still speaks to me in arabic but we eat with fork & knife we play adbelhalim but mostly motown to remind mama of those swaying eighties nights in the garden before it turned to dust before the old country crumbles & mama came here to give me the blue passport & last time i was home a soldier stopped the car asked where i was from laughed when i said here

The narrator has conflicting ideas of home, belonging, family, immigration, perceptions of beauty and so much more. All of these issues are juxtaposed with the narrator’s obsession with Egyptian musician – Abdelhalim Hafez, and his provoking lyrics. For most of this collection, the narrator obsesses over Hafez’s skin color, his perceptions of beauty and his singing voice. I found it weird how the narrator was fascinated with this famous Arabic musician who has been dead since 1977; but she finds meaning in her fascination with Hafez and confides in him on the things that keep her up at night – like not feeling Sudanese enough and/or feeling lost.

The January Children is a very unique poetry collection. Most of the poems lack punctuations, so it takes a while to read each poem to decipher full sentences and the meanings of them. Every word (especially the few Arab words and their translations) in this collection gave the poems profound meaning – which was interesting, yet a bit overwhelming as it takes a while to understand what some of the poems are actually about. Hints of magical realism in some poems provided sprinkles surprise and added to the slightly daunting nature of the collection (for me).

What I appreciated most about this collection was that I got some insight into African-Arab life and how African-Arabs perceive other Africans and Arabs. When I read Minaret by Sudanese writer- Leila Aboulela, I yearned (but to no avail) for commentary on the realities of being African-Arab. I’m glad this collection shed some light into this complex, very unique identity through the tensions the narrator faces. Even though The January Children is complicated and not the easiest poetry collection to read, Elhillo shows immense talent of capturing emotion in a somewhat abstract way. I think I prefer seeing and listening to Safia Elhillo performing her poems. From all the YouTube videos I’ve watched of her performing at various events, it’s absolutely breathtaking and inspiring to see and hear Elhillo speak her words, with mighty conviction.

NOTE: Reading the Forward of this collection by Kwame Dawes is imperative if you want to totally understand and appreciate this collection.

Thanks to Netgalley via University of Nebraska Press for this e-ARC. The January Children will be published and in stores in 3 days! March 1st 2017 🙂

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

Purchase The January Children on Amazon

Lizard & Other Stories by Marcelle Mateki Akita

Date Read: December 27th 2016

Published: December 18th 2016

Publisher: Marcelle Mateki Akita

Pages: 63

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Follow the stories of five young characters who try to make sense of loss, sex and sexuality in Lizard & Other Stories. Marcelle Mateki Akita explores how topics such as broken family and romantic relationships, sexual violence and masturbation impact a young girl and woman’s development. The collection’s short stories and flash fiction focus on girls and women of Ghanaian and mixed heritage. Written in an imaginative and sobering style, Lizard & Other Stories will unsettle and surprise you.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

How cute is the cover art of Lizard & Other Stories? The beads are truly attractive! Lizard & Other Stories is the good debut of short stories by reader, researcher and co-founder of Afrikult. (a literary platform that discusses, explores and celebrates the diversity of African literature) – Marcelle Mateki Akita. The collection consists of five stories that focus mainly on girls and women of Ghanaian or mixed heritage. The stories in this collection are vivid, bold and told in a calm manner. Once I started reading, I was drawn into Marcelle’s comfy, calm writing style, which allowed me to get to know the characters at relatively good paces. Some issues explored in this collection are: coming of age, religion, family, sexuality, (domestic) violence, naivety and betrayal.

What makes this collection special is the ambiguous nature of all the stories. If you read this collection more than once – which I highly encourage, you will realize that there are various interpretations and extra, juicy details you probably missed during the first reading. When I got the chance to discuss Lizard & Other Stories with Marcelle during Christmas break, I realized I interpreted the stories, especially the final one, entitled Kwesi, in a completely different way than she did. It takes talent to pull that off, even if it’s never a writers’ intention to give stories various meanings. Another thing that’s great about this collection is the unpredictability of the stories. I felt really cozy while reading the first story, entitled Ama, until the story took an unexpected turn and left a sour taste in my mouth. From the way the stories commence to their finality are polar opposites, which was refreshing!

I would’ve been more satisfied with these stories if the characters were developed a little further for readers to fully understand their actions. Also, some passages in this collection seemed overly descriptive, which isn’t my preference when reading short stories and flash fiction. But I must say, the vivid descriptions certainly allow one to picture exactly what is being observed, which was appreciated.

If you want to indulge in bold, unpredictable stories written in a calm voice, definitely look into reading this collection! I eagerly look forward to Marcelle’s future projects – a novel soon, maybe? Pretty please?

Special thanks to Marcelle, for the free copy of Lizards & Other Stories, in exchange for an honest review 🙂


To get a feel of her writing, check out Marcelle’s story that was published by AFREADA last year – Cassava’s Finest

Read more of Marcelle’s work on her websiteShe posts wonderful musings of the mind and soul every Monday and 100 word stories every Wednesday.

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

Purchase Lizard & Other Stories on Amazon

2016 Recap & My Top 5!

Hey everyone!

I hope the holiday season has been relaxing for you all. 2016 is almost over and it’s time for a recap of the year! I ended up reading 24 books this year. The break down of my 2016 reading experience is as follows:

Average books read per month: 2 books

e-books read: 11 books (wow! I didn’t realize this, even though I really dislike e-books) 

African literature: 17 books

Caribbean literature: 2 books

African-American literature: 3 books

Other: 2 books (these are non-African/non-diaspora books. I read books written by – Rupi Kaur and Tim LaHaye).

19 women writers ;  5 men writers


Top 5 favorite books of 2016

  1. Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman
  2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  3. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
  4. So The Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist
  5. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

These books took a toll on my emotions the most! If you’ve read my reviews for these books, you know exactly why they’re my top 5 of the year. Definitely look into reading these 5 books if you haven’t already!

Reviews for books read this year are in the Book Reviews section of the book blog. [Missing reviews (6 of them) will be posted in 2017].

What were your top 5 favorite books of 2016?


Favorite bookish events / images of the year:

Also:

  • African Book Addict! was featured on Mary Okeke Reviews and Brown Books & Green Tea for the blogger spotlight project and #DiverseBookBloggers feature, respectively.
  • In May, I joined the ladies of Not Your African Cliché podcast to discuss Somali-Brit writer – Warsan Shire, Beyonce’s album Lemonade, and the need for us (Africans) to support our art/artists more.

2016 Reading Goals round up:

At the beginning of the year, I set 4 reading goals and I believe I’ve achieved most of them!

  • I planned to read a wider array of African novels: I ended up reading wonderful books from 10 African countries: Botswana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Sudan, Ghana, Somalia, Nigeria, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe. (All reviews are in the book reviews section of the book blog)
  • I also set out to read more poetry: I wasn’t a big fan of poetry prior this goal, but I ended up reading 5 poetry collections and seriously enjoyed them! I hope to continue reading and feeling the words of many more great contemporary poets in the years ahead.
  • I wanted to broaden my horizon and read 1 African romance novel and/or 1 African thriller: Thanks to Ankara Press, I was sent 2 African romance novels in exchange for honest reviews. With regards to an African thriller, I read Tendai by Boakyewaa Glover which is actually of the science-fiction genre, but felt like a thriller to me! (watch out for the review in 2017). So maybe I kinda sorta missed the mark on the African thriller goal?
  • My final goal was to give back by hosting 2 or 3 giveaways this year: I achieved this by officially hosting 2 international giveaways and gave away 3 books in total (plus a cute African City tote bag to hold books!).

It’s truly rewarding to see that I have reached my goals, especially with my hectic (dental) school schedule. I always had these goals at the back of my mind and slowly tried to achieve them on a daily monthly basis. I’m proud of these achievements!

Were you able to achieve some of your 2016 Reading Goals? 

[Don’t beat yourself up if you weren’t able to – its definitely not that serious and you can still achieve them in 2017!]

Total books read in 2016

I’m truly grateful to everyone who frequents this book blog and for the great discussions (agreements, disagreements and recommendations) we have in the comments section. I really appreciate the support and love shown here from you all. This year, I’ve enjoyed discovering lots of new book blogs + book lovers and hope to connect with more in the future! Here’s to more great years of reading ahead, for all of us. 🙂  

As the Crow Flies by Véronique Tadjo

veroniqueDate Read: October 27th 2016

Published: 2001

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 106

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

An illicit love affair that turns sour is the starting point in this lyrical and moving exploration of the human heart.

Véronique Tadjo weaves together a rich  tapestry of voices to tell stories of parting and return, suffering, healing and desire.

Like a bird in flight, the reader travels across a borderless landscape composed of tales of everyday existence, news reports, allegories and ancestral myths, becoming aware in the course of the journey of the interconnection of individual lives. A new consciousness of the links between self and other, today’s society and that of future generations is revealed as the key to creating a more just world and more understanding and fulfilling relationships, for ‘love is a story that we never stop telling’. 

Translated from French by Wangūi wa Goro.

 

Review– ★★★★ (4 stars)

As the Crow Flies was originally written in French by Véronique Tadjo who was born in Paris and raised in Côte d’Ivoire – a Francophone, West African country. Kenyan academic, writer and translator – Wangūi wa Goro, who contributed to African Love Stories: an anthology and also translated Ngūgi wa Thiong’o’s novel – Matigari, (which I loved!) translated this work of art as well. I’m grateful to Wangūi wa Goro, because without her superb skills of interpreting and transforming this work into English, some of us would really be missing out on some awesome texts!

But I have to admit – this novella is not for everyone. On the first page, as if to caution the reader, Tadjo writes: “Indeed, I too would have loved to write one of those serene stories with a beginning and an end. But as you know only too well, it is never like that.” With that, I knew As the Crow Flies would be different.

Some readers may have issues with the format of this book, which is full of fragmentation and changing points of view between several voices. It’s made up of several (interconnected) poems, prose and observations. I read this novella as if I was on the back of a bird in the air (a crow, if you may), watching various people and situations in their various settings – in Abidjan (the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire) and anonymous Western countries. I believe writers would absolutely love the unique, heartfelt, lyrical anecdotes Tadjo spills onto the pages. It’s actually difficult to review this book since it sporadically touches on many different issues, like: desire, homesickness, (unrequited) love, immigration, poverty, privilege, and so much more. But almost anything and everything that can be humanly felt and observed, are portrayed in this book.

Some of my favorite anecdotes / poems/ observations:

XLVI

I need to feel the heat and sweat running down my back, feel warm nights humming with insects, the dust and the mud. At home, life sprouts everywhere. You have nowhere to hide. You can never forget that there is still much to be done.

(pg. 62)

 

I especially loved this one below:

LIV

I think of my country, far away, and my eyes open beyond space.

In this vast city, words travel fast. I am bombarded with ideas. I see myself in that large conference room listening keenly to writers from Africa – Angola, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria… One of the speakers proclaims:

‘It is our duty to understand our place in the history of humanity. An African literature cannot exist until the day we liberate ourselves from the arrogant criticism of the West.’

(pg. 72) 

 

LXIX

I remember. A day like no other. The air was mild. I had not eaten breakfast; just had a cup of coffee and my belly was empty.

I remember. His scent filled my nostrils. His sweat made my mouth salty. I lapped up his force and energy, and discovered how famished my desire was…

(pg. 87)

As the Crow Flies is a super short novella – it’s about 106 pages. I would advise readers to devour it in one sitting in order to experience, observe and feel everything this book has to offer at once. Thanks to school work, it took me over a month to complete it. But I’m glad I pushed through and finished it despite the discombobulated format which was initially confusing but truly wonderful by the time I finished reading.

With the increasing popularity of contemporary African novels, I feel like lovers of African literature are forgetting about the books of the African Writers Series, which were published since 1962 by Heinemann. Books in this series have been translated into English from French, Zulu, Swahili, Gikuyu, Portuguese, Afrikaans, Luganda, Arabic, Sesotho. Yes, some of the books in this series may be printed in (silly) small fonts; yes, some books in this series may have unappealing book covers. But books of the African Writers Series are timeless and will always be true African classics, just like As the Crow Flies.

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

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Purchase As the Crow Flies by Véronique Tadjo on Amazon

So The Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist

pede hollistDate Read: June 30th 2016

Published: 2014 (originally published by Langaa Press, 2012)

Publisher: Jacaranda Books

Pages: 352

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Long after Fina has left Sierra Leone for America, memories of a broken initiation still haunt her. She longs to return, to find her grandmother and right the path that has been set for young girls centuries past. Her journey from the streets of Freetown to Washington echo with the tensions, ambiguities, and fragmentation of the diaspora. Fina’s inner turmoil and feelings of ‘otherness’, persist as she travels further from home. Ultimately, the broken path of her childhood brings Fina back to Sierra Leone, to a life she had never imagined for herself. So the Path Does Not Die is a tender and gently observed novel exploring attitudes towards female circumcision, and a beautifully rendered novel, from an exciting new voice in African literature.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Is it me, or were there not enough people talking about this fascinating book back in 2014 when it was published? I was introduced to Pede Hollist’s writing when his short story – Foreign Aid was shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize. Back then, it was great to see a Sierra Leonean on the shortlist for a change. And I really hope more writers from Sierra Leone are brought to the spotlight soon!

So The Path Does Not Die is fundamentally a story of love and the belongingness of people and place. Finaba’s (or later known as ‘Fina’ by her adopted family) life revolves around her interrupted FGM (female genital mutilation)/ initiation process in her village. In the novel, the deadly practice of FGM is a coming-of-age event where a girl finally becomes a woman and ‘belongs’ to the people of the village. Fina’s parents loathed this practise but her grandma strongly supported it. After Fina’s family is shunned from their village due to an abominable act by her father to save Fina from this deadly practise, they move to Freetown (Sierra Leone’s capital) with heaps of curses on their heads.

In the Freetown, Fina endures hardships in all aspects of her life – family problems, university struggles, ethnic group discrimination (as she’s Fulani which is known to be in the minority), just to name a few. When Fina finally escapes Sierra Leone to the United States, though she matures beautifully and becomes relatively successful thanks to her determination to be happy and independent, she faces a new set of struggles: immigration woes, Africans vs. African-Americans vs. Caribbean concerns, the myth of the American dream and cultural alienation. For some reason, all the painful lessons Fina experiences seem to be tied back to the night of her interrupted initiation process. She somehow feels she does not ‘belong’, even when she finally finds true love. To Fina, Sierra Leone seems to be the only place where she thinks she would feel valued; a place where she feels she’d be ‘on the right path’ in life.

Initially, Pede Hollist’s storytelling gave me a Chinua Achebe vibe as the story starts off with a folktale. Hollist’s writing style is rhythmic, simple, and accurate in all the nuances he captures and I was satisfied with how this story came full circle by the end! I was a bit skeptical on how Pede Hollist would accurately write and speak for Fina in this book, as he is a man and would probably portray a man better. But I was impressed by his careful attention to consciously writing Fina’s character in a way that spoke on many feminist issues.

So The Path Does Not Die had me thoroughly entertained and I shamelessly giggled at all the intense dramatic happenings that occurred in this story! Some of the depictions of certain cultural groups portrayed in this novel may seem stereotypical, but I believe Hollist executes these depictions with finesse and in a jovial manner. This novel actually reminded me of Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah, as there are several side stories of the people Fina encounters in this story. Some characters include: Sidebe – a diamonds trader; Aman – Fina’s African-American best friend; Cammy – Fina’s Trinidadian fiancé; Mawaf – a child soldier’s wife, just to name a few. The socio-political backgrounds and commentary on these characters are all so layered and beautifully tied into Fina’s personal story of trying to find happiness, while being true to herself. I absolutely adore how this book is a cultural melting-pot of Black peoples’ (African, African-American and Caribbean) similarities, differences and the connection they all have to the African continent.

I learned a great deal about Sierra Leone from this novel! You would think us West Africans would know more about our fellow brethren on this coast, but I really had no clue. I jotted down a lot of the cultural references, ethnic groups, native foods, languages, national costumes, native names and natural resources from Sierra Leone. I particularly liked that this novel wasn’t grim with the horrors of FGM, but rather acted as a conduit for speaking against the horrible act, while commenting on other tough Sierra Leonean economic, cultural and social issues as well. Reading dialogue in Trinidadian patois and Sierra Leonean Krio as well as recognizing various West African mannerisms and sayings, made this novel all the more enjoyable, as various happenings and conversations really came to life! Don’t you just love when you learn about our world through a good, entertaining story?

I encourage anyone who is looking for a captivating book on Sierra Leone and the Diaspora to pick this up! I eagerly look forward to Pede Hollist’s future projects and I definitely plan on reading more books published by Jacaranda Books!

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

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Purchase So The Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist on Amazon

Sweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi

sweet medicineDate Read: June 3rd 2016

Published: 2015

Publisher: Blackbird Books

Pages: 203

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Sweet Medicine is the story of Tsitsi, a young woman who seeks romantic and economic security through ‘otherworldly’ means. The story takes place in Harare at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic woes in 2008.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Sweet Medicine is a good debut! Don’t you love the book cover? It’s one of the reasons I just had to have this book. In between reading, I watched interviews and talks on YouTube that featured Panashe, where she spoke on racism in South Africa (where she was raised. She’s originally from Zimbabwe), feminism and the makings of an online magazine she founded – Vanguard Magazine, which is a womanist platform for young black women in South Africa speaking to the intersectionality of queer politics, Black Consciousness and pan-Africanism. Panashe is simply an amazing inspiration, and she’s only 25!

Set in present day Zimbabwe, Tsitsi – the main character, seems to be a victim of the economic crisis in Zimbabwe. Throughout this novel, she does all she can to achieve economic and romantic stability through ways that seriously contradict her staunch Christian upbringing. I must say – it was hard not to judge Tsitsi while reading this novel. Her forbidden relationship with Mr. Zvobgo (a rich man who’s recently divorced from his wife) was uncalled for, yet understandable, I guess? Unfortunately, just like Tsitsi in Sweet Medicine, many young women find themselves at the mercy of rich men as they try to survive in the midst of economic crises. This novel tackles several dichotomies of dilemmas Tsitsi and other ordinary women (even with university degrees) suffer thanks to the terrible economic states of their nations, like – desperation versus true love; spirituality versus worldliness; feminism versus patriarchy; tradition verses modernity; poverty versus abundance, and much more.

Sweet Medicine might be one of the few African novels I’ve read, where I can confidently say is written for Africans – Zimbabweans to be exact. Panashe unapologetically throws readers into Zimbabwean slang & Shona and into the happenings of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis – as if we are natives! Initially, Sweet Medicine was a little challenging for me to read as it took me a while to adjust to the writing style and the myriad of Shona expressions and phrases blended into the dialogue. But once I got the hang of it, I enjoyed the measured suspense of Tsitsi and Mr. Zvobgo’s undulating relationship issues, as well as the glimpses of Zimbabwean life Sweet Medicine fed me.

If you get the chance to read Sweet Medicine, just immerse yourself into the atmosphere of 2008 Zimbabwe for about 200 pages. Cringe at the silly interactions and exchanges between Tsitsi and her super bold sister-friend, Chiedza. Appreciate Tsitsi’s relationship and her tortuous quandary of wanting to live a comfortable life (and provide for her family) with the man of her dreams versus wanting to honor God and her mother. And when you’re done, go back and admire the ultra-chic book cover which I believe, embodies Tsitsi’s persona. Sweet Medicine made for a decent summer read! I recommend this – especially to readers who’ve been longing to read a contemporary African novel, written for us – Africans.

P.S: I have an extra, brand new copy of Sweet Medicine which I will be giving away- amongst other goodies during my hosting the second and last give-away of the year. Stay tuned! 🙂

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

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Purchase Sweet Medicine on Amazon

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Yaa GyasiDate Read: July 16th 2016

Published: 2016

Publisher: A.A Knopf

Pages: 305

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Yaa Gyasi’s debut – Homegoing, is historical fiction at its best. I honestly thought Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah hit home for me back in 2013 when I read it. But Homegoing IS home. Homegoing is about my home. I never thought I’d read book that perfectly articulates the dynamics of being Ghanaian-American. The only book I’ve read that somewhat touches on the identity complexities of being Ghanaian by blood and American (or British) by birth, was Powder Necklace by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond (another awesome Ghanaian-American writer). I might have to re-read Powder Necklace and review it on this platform soon!

Homegoing was an emotional read – throughout! I started reading during the wake of the horrific Alton Sterling and Philando Castile police shootings of early July, so you can imagine how haunting these real life events paralleled with this particular historical fiction, which focuses on the legacy of slavery in America and Ghana. Homegoing follows two half sisters – Effia and Esi who live in 18th century Ghana and the generations after them, making Effia and Esi the matriarchs of dual lineages. Effia becomes the wench (not wife) of the British governor of Cape Coast Castle (a slave castle here in Ghana) and is the matriarch of the Ghanaian line of the family; while Esi, who is kept as a slave in the dungeons of this same Cape Coast Castle where Effia resides with the governor, is the matriarch of the American line of the family. Homegoing alternates between the descendants of the two sisters, chronologically from 18th century Ghana to present day (after the millennium), in both Ghana and the US. As with most books of the historical fiction genre, a family tree is provided on the first page of the novel which makes following the two lineages and the different family members pretty easy.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s possible to read Homegoing without harboring some resentment for the insanity white folks forced people of African descent to endure. From the events of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, to the injustice and discrimination black folks faced in the American south as slaves, to the Anglo-Ashanti wars in Ghana, to present day racial tensions and disregard for black bodies, are all legacies of slavery. I truly admire how Gyasi manages to personalize slavery and its effects through the use of character development in each chapter. In every chapter, readers witness how each generation got some inheritance of slavery – be it through mass incarceration, the need to pass as white, lynching, colorism, the fragmenting of families and so much more.

As much as the terrors white folks caused black people are highlighted in Homegoing, I appreciate Gyasi for not letting Africans off the hook for being complicit in the slave trade. Unfortunately, the role African nations played in enabling slavery are  rarely addressed. All the ethnic wars, kidnapping of innocent people and trading of human beings in exchange for goods from the British, Dutch and Portuguese were all selfish, contributing factors to the slave trade and the inhumane effects they still manifest. While reading Homegoing, I kept thinking about Maya Angelou’s autobiography – All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes and her valid feelings of anger and disappointment she expressed after visiting the Elmina Castle (a Portuguese slave castle here in Ghana) in Cape Coast, Ghana back in the 1970’s. I understood her anger, as she was a descendent of our people who were captured and sold to the Europeans. As upsetting as the slave trade was, I applaud Gyasi for using Homegoing as a way for opening up conversations on the obscure relationship between Africans and African-Americans today, thanks to our disturbed past.

Gyasi’s ability to seamlessly weave Ghanaian and African-American histories into this story was very ambitious and exciting to read! I was impressed with the plethora of themes, actual historical events and icons that made realistic cameos in this novel. Don’t get me wrong – Homegoing is not rigid with historical facts. It’s very much a holistic novel with issues like interracial relationships, sharecropping, homosexuality, racial passing, lynching, homosexuality, mental illness, abelism, colorism and so much more, embedded into the storyline with respect to the times in which the characters live. Real historic icons and happenings like Yaa Asantewaa of Ejisu, The Asantehene, the civil rights movement & non-violent resistance headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Harlem heroin epidemic of the late 1960’s and others are all impressively packed into this novel of 305 pages!

I enjoyed most of the chapters and characters in Homegoing. But my favorite character was Marjorie. I like to believe Marjorie’s chapter is Yaa Gyasi – fictionalized. Marjorie was born in Ghana and raised in the US, just like Yaa Gyasi. In Marjorie’s chapter, I loved how the character articulates how she doesn’t identify fully as Ghanaian or ‘Black American’ which is sometimes used synonymously with the ambiguous term – ‘akata’ by some Africans. I especially loved that Marjorie found joy in reading books by writers of African descent,

Her work was in African and African American literature, and when Marcus asked her why she choose those subjects, she said that those were the books that she could feel inside her. (pg. 295)

Is Marjorie me? That quote is basically the essence of why I created African Book Addict! It was refreshing to read Majorie’s chapter, as I completely understood her identity struggles. While my life story is a little different from Majorie’s/Yaa Gyasi’s, reading a character with a similar background as yours is deeply gratifying. You begin to realize that there are others like you in the world; that you’re not alone in your confusion as to where you call home; that your convictions on your ever evolving identities are valid.

While discussing Homegoing with other book lovers here in Accra, I realized there were some minor inaccuracies in the novel. But I didn’t mind the minor inaccuracies others felt the need to point out. I did however find the ending of this phenomenal book a bit corny. Marcus’s chapter should have ended with a bang – as all the other chapters did! Regardless, Homegoing was emotional and heartbreaking, yet exhilarating to read. I hope Yaa Gyasi makes a trip to Ghana soon or adds Accra to her book tour. I’d love a good ole’ chat with a fellow Ghanaian-American and of course, for my copy of the book to be graced with her signature!

I’d like to extend a special thank you to my new friend – Trish Tchume and publishers A. A Knopf  for my copy of the book.  Homegoing is definitely one of my top 5 favorite books of this year. Don’t be surprised when it is required reading in schools soon.

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

My copy of Homegoing before and after reading.

P.S: I’ve typed all of the quotes I highlighted while reading and I’m open to sending anyone who’s interested, the PDF file of the compiled quotes via email. Some of the quotes, notes and suggested readings I highlighted would make for amazing book club discussions 🙂

Purchase Homegoing on Amazon

Mini Reviews | Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime & Letter to My Daughter

Hey everyone!

Last year, thanks to finals week, I wasn’t able to review the books I read by legendary mothers – J. California Cooper and Maya Angelou. Below are mini reviews of two books written by two brilliant, African-American literature pioneer writers.

Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime: stories by J. California Cooper

J. California CooperDate Read: December 26th 2015

Published: 1996

Publisher: Anchor Books / Doubleday

Pages: 273

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Whether through her stories or her legendary readings, J. California Cooper has an uncanny ability to reach out to readers like an old and dear friend. Her characters are plain-spoken and direct: simple people for whom life, despite its ever-present struggles, is always worth the journey.

In Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, Cooper’s characteristic themes of romance, heartbreak, struggle and faith resonate. We meet Darlin, a self-proclaimed femme fatale who uses her wiles to try to find a husband; MLee, whose life seems to be coming to an end at the age of forty until she decides to set out and see if she can make a new life for herself; Kissy and Buddy, both trying and failing to find them until they finally meet each other; and Aberdeen, whose daughter Uniqua shows her how to educate herself and move up in the world.

These characters and others offer inspiration, laughter, instruction and pure enjoyment in what is one of J. California Cooper’s finest story collections.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

I discovered J. California Cooper back in 2013. But the announcement of her passing in 2014 had me wishing I’d read her work earlier. After reading Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, I realized I had really been missing out on Ms. Cooper’s yummy ways of storytelling! As I was reading the stories in this collection, I felt as if I was chatting with a good friend in my living room. Cooper’s stories have a juicy, gossipy-feel that make for an exciting, yet comforting read!

My favorite stories were:

‘Femme Fatale’ – In this story, readers are invited into Darlin’s life as she tries to find herself. After losing both parents and her beloved grandmother, Darlin does all she can to be happy and to be loved by a good man, while in the process grooming herself to be a ‘femme fatale’. This story was an emotional rollercoaster and I loved how it ended. J. California Cooper puts a lot of sass into this story!

‘Sure Is a Shame’ 

You know, it’s a fact and I seen it, sometimes when you think you taking a bite out of life, chewing hard on it, life be done taken a bite out of you and done already swallowed. Sho is a shame, sho is (pg. 159)

This is a cautionary tale on the consequences of taking the little things and good people for granted. It was a long-winded story, but also a wake up call and good reminder to appreciate each day in life, as well as the people placed in it.

Most of the characters in Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime are either 50 years and older or they grow well into old age as they recollect different events of their lives. All the stories have an element of self-help to them, as J. California Cooper drops lots of wisdom on how to live a fulfilling life, through the characters in the stories. But I wished some of the protagonists were younger and that there was more variety to the stories in this collection. Honestly, I can only remember about 3 stories out of this collection. I found the rest of the stories redundant, predictable and quite simple – without much depth. With that said, I still look forward to reading some of J. California Cooper’s full novels – like Family and The Wake of The Wind in the near future. Definitely read this if you’re in the mood for a chatty, comforting collection of stories!

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

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Purchase Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime on Amazon


Letter to My Daughter (ebook) by Maya Angelou

Letter_to_My_DaughterDate Read: November 27th 2015

Published: September 2008

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 166

 

 

The Blurb

Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter reveals Maya Angelou’s path to living well and living a life with meaning. Told in her own inimitable style, this book transcends genres and categories: guidebook, memoir, poetry, and pure delight.

Here in short spellbinding essays are glimpses of the tumultuous life that led Angelou to an exalted place in American letters and taught her lessons in compassion and fortitude: how she was brought up by her indomitable grandmother in segregated Arkansas, taken in at thirteen by her more worldly and less religious mother, and grew to be an awkward, six-foot-tall teenager whose first experience of loveless sex paradoxically left her with her greatest gift, a son.

Whether she is recalling such lost friends as Coretta Scott King and Ossie Davis, extolling honesty, decrying vulgarity, explaining why becoming a Christian is a “lifelong endeavor,” or simply singing the praises of a meal of red rice–Maya Angelou writes from the heart to millions of women she considers her extended family.

Like the rest of her remarkable work, Letter to My Daughter entertains and teaches; it is a book to cherish, savor, re-read, and share.

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Maya Angelou is one of the writers who got me truly interested in African-American literature and reading in general, back when I was 13 years old. When I was younger, I wasn’t particularly excited about the ‘classics’ I was forced to read, like – Black Beauty, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, To Kill A Mockingbird, Little Women, The Catcher in the RyeAnn of Green Gables, just to name a few. I appreciated those books, but I didn’t deeply connect with the characters of the novels. When my mother suggested for me to start reading Maya Angelou’s autobiography series which she owned in her bookshelf (my mother is an original bookworm. Me and my siblings will inherit a whooole library of books!), I started with – I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Angelou’s storytelling grasps all of your attention with her vivid descriptions, poetic writing style and punches of wisdom in each chapter of her work. *sigh* I’m still bitter that she passed away on my birthday in 2014. I really wanted to meet her or just be in her presence at a literary event.

Letter to My Daughter is my sixth read from Maya Angelou’s work and I believe it’s a timeless gem of essays!

My favorite essays were:

‘Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer’ – This story was very familiar, as I’ve read a similar version of the account in Angelou’s final book in her autobiography series – Mom & Me & Mom (2013). In ‘Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer,’ Maya Angelou takes readers back to when she dated a physically abusive man and the (emotional, physical) pain it caused her life as a young woman. To think Angelou could have died in the serious brawl she describes in this essay is horrifying. However her fierce mother – Vivian Baxter, is the real MVP of this account as her love and fearless nature save Angelou. In this account, readers ultimately learn that Maya Angelou believed in the power of prayer.

‘Violence’

Too many sociologist and social scientists have declared that the act of rape is not a sexual act at all, but rather a need to feel powerful… The sounds of the premeditated rape, the grunts and gurgles, the sputtering and spitting, which commences when the predator spots and then targets the victim, is sexual. The stalking becomes, in the rapist’s mind, a private courtship, where the courted is unaware of her suitor, but the suitor is obsessed with the object of desire. He follows, observes, and is the excited protagonist in his sexual drama… I am concerned that the pundits, who wish to shape our thinking and, subsequently, our laws, too often make rape an acceptable and even explainable social occurrence… We must call the ravening act of rape, the bloody, heart-stopping, breath-snatching, bone-crushing act of violence, which it is. The threat makes some female and male victims unable to open their front doors, unable to venture into streets in which they grew up, unable to trust other human beings and even themselves. Let us call it a violent unredeemable sexual act… (pages 39-41).

This is an excerpt from ‘Violence,’ one of the powerful (and self-explanatory) essays from this collection which is ever so relevant to us today in 2016. I wonder what Maya Angelou would make of the several, deeply upsetting rape cases that seem to be pushed under the rug today – especially the terrible Stanford rape case. Angelou picks readers’ brains and questions society’s complacency in combatting violent acts against women. This was a compelling, necessary essay.

Mother Maya Angelou can do no wrong in my eyes! This collection of essays is uplifting and familiar if you’ve read any of her autobiographies. Even if you aren’t familiar with her work, this is nevertheless a riveting collection to start with, as readers can get a feel of her storytelling, essays and poetry. Maya Angelou was a well of wisdom who touched many lives through her wonderful words – she will always be one of my favorites!

P.S: Has anyone seen the Maya Angelou Documentary yet – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise ? It was released June 7th of this year!

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

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I hope to purchase the physical copy of Letter to My Daughter soon! Above is my Mom’s super old Maya Angelou collection from our personal library. I have two books left to read from this pile 🙂

Purchase Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou on Amazon