Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Date Read: May 22nd 2018

Published: March 2018

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 215

 

The Blurb

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

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

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

 

Review –★★★ (3 stars)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase Speak No Evil on Amazon

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

Date Read: November 10th 2017

Published: 2014

Publisher: Peekash Press / Akashic Books

Pages: 224

 

 

 

The Blurb

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

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

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

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

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

• •

My favorite stories were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase Pepperpot on Amazon

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Date Read: December 10th 2017

Published: February 2018

Publisher: Grove Press

Pages: 240

 

 

 

The Blurb

An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heart-wrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.

Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these alters—now protective, now hedonistic—move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

Narrated by the selves within Ada, and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater explores the metaphysics of identity and mental health, plunging the reader into the mystery of being and self. Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Freshwater by Igbo and Tamil writer – Akwaeke Emezi, has to be the most anticipated debut of 2018. I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) early December and devoured the book the weekend I received it. Even though Freshwater is highly anticipated worldwide, I’m curious and quite nervous to see how Nigerians and other African readers will take this novel.

If I had known this book was as evil, dark and sinful as it was, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to read it. But now that I’ve marinated the story in my mind for a while, I can confidently declare that Freshwater is SO MUCH MORE than it’s insane level of lust and blasphemy. Freshwater is a dark, layered tale based in and out of the spiritual realm, which focuses on how past traumas deeply affect one’s well-being and mental health.

Ada (she/they) – the main character, has many selves. The selves within Ada are different gods or spirits who are birthed during different phases and traumas of her/their life. These gods are almost like her/their alter egos and they sustain her/their human body through protective and destructive means. Multiple Personality Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, suicide, panic attacks, rape (this was VERY difficult to read), lust, violence, sex (A LOT OF IT; it was unbelievable), self-injury, love, religion, strained family relations, sisterhood, immigration, homosexuality and gender fluidity are all explored in this complex debut.

In the beginning, reading Freshwater was frustrating. The story didn’t seem to make sense to me because I didn’t know who was talking! There are many voices in this book and I wasn’t sure whether Ada, Asughara, Saint Vincent, brothersisters or Ala was speaking (these are all the names of the gods we encounter in the story). There’s a certain rhythm to this debut which will only make sense if the reader has an open mind and patience. Some parts of this book still don’t make sense to me and I feel some characters/gods didn’t need to be introduced at all. But all in all, my weekend was well spent indulging in this extraordinary tale, even though it felt sinful at times. I was very fond of Emezi’s writing style which is accessible, calculated and not overly embellished.

For me, the most fascinating thing about Freshwater is the juxtaposition between God of Christianity versus the gods of the dark world. Ada’s relationship with the two associations speak volumes on our (Africans/Black folks) relationship with religion and how it guides and/or controls our lives, whether it feels real or not… it’s hard to explain! I absolutely loved that Emezi explores the difficulties of loving and accepting oneself in this novel, through Ada’s character. As humans, we all have other selves within us – in the form of our blended temperaments, alter egos and moods; these are all explored in a scary, extreme way.

Freshwater is definitely not for everyone (for example: hardcore Christians who can’t appreciate the art of the imagination that God blessed writers with), especially with how difficult it was to read. The book is laden with triggering incidents and the storyline has a non-linear trajectory, which may be confusing to some readers. It takes work to understand this type of novel, whose genre isn’t even clearcut- I’d say Freshwater is a mix of sci-fi, mythicism, thriller and memoir, as parts of Emezi’s real life are part of the story. I don’t think there’s a book out there like this. Akwaeke Emezi is a beast – no pun intended.

••

Special thanks to Grove Press for the ARC.

[Side note: My rough thoughts on this book were initially posted on my Goodreads, where Akwaeke Emezi spotted it and gave me a shout out on Twitter + Instagram + in their newsletter. It was a pleasant surprise! 🙂 ]

 

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

Purchase Freshwater on Amazon

2017 Recap & My Top 5!

Hey everyone!

I hope the holiday season has been relaxing for you all. 2017 is almost over and it’s time for a recap of the year! I ended up reading 28 books this year. The break down of my 2017 reading experience is as follows:

Average books read per month: 2 books 

Anthologies read: 3 books

Audiobooks ‘read’: 3 books

African literature: 10 books

Caribbean literature: 4 books

African-American literature: 13 books

Others: 1 book (this is a non-African/non-Diaspora book. Written by Cheryl Strayed).

20 women writers 5 men writers


Top 5 favorite books of 2017

  1. Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo
  2. Our Sister Killjoy by Ama Ata Aidoo
  3. Born On A Tuesday by Elnathan John
  4. Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono
  5. Now We Will Be Happy by Amina Gautier

These were the most insightful, affirming and enjoyable books for me this year! School/life has been quite hectic this year, so I’m behind on book reviews. Expect the remaining book reviews in 2018, but in the meantime, I HIGHLY recommend these 5 books!

Reviews for books read this year are in the Book Reviews section of the book blog.

What were your top 5 favorite books of 2017?


Favorite bookish events / images of the year:


African Book Addict! FEATURES:

It’s been both overwhelming and exciting being recognized for all the hard work that goes into creating content for this book blog. Book blogging here at African Book Addict! is purely a hobby (as I’m currently a 4th year Dental Student – its a 6 year program), so receiving recognition and praise is always affirming and such a blessing.

Below is a list of the features and recognitions African Book Addict! has gained this year:

Also, special thanks to the authors who’ve contacted me to show their appreciation for reviews of their books that have been posted on this platform and/or AFREADA.

Image via novelscript Instagram stories


2017 Reading Intentions round up:

At the beginning of the year, I set 3 reading intentions. But I don’t think I’ve successfully achieved them all…

  • My first reading intention was to READ MY OWN DAMN BOOKS. Only 9 of the books I read this year had been on my bookshelf for a while. The rest of the books I’ve enjoyed were acquired THIS year! Is it possible for a moody book lover to restrict him/herself to just the books sitting on one’s bookshelf? It’s tough y’all!

 

  • The second reading intention was to PURCHASE LESS books this year. Well… I ended up purchasing about 30 books (discounted/ used books – chill out!) over the summer and many, many more for friends & family as gifts. I might have jinxed myself by setting this goal/intention for myself!  *shrug*

 

  • Lastly, I set out to buddy-read some novels with other book bloggers/ book lovers. I successfully read Behold The Dreamers with Ifeyinwa Arinze and we had a great conversation on the book as well! I had planned to read books with other bloggers – Osondu (of Incessant Scribble), Didi (of Brown Girl Reading) and Afoma (of Afoma Umesi). Osondu and I weren’t excited about the book we set out to read, so our buddy-read was unsuccessful; Didi and I were to read a debut that a writer had sent us – but we couldn’t get passed the first 50 pages, so we quit; Afoma and I also tried to read an ARC together this month, but the book is super slow… maybe we’ll continue to read it together in the new year. Buddy-reading has been challenging! I think I’ll talk more about this in the new year.

Were you able to achieve some of your 2017 Reading Intentions? 

[Don’t beat yourself up if you weren’t able to – its definitely not that serious and you can still achieve them in 2018!]

Total books read in 2017

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 always appreciate the support and love shown here, from you all. This year, I’ve enjoyed discovering new book blogs, book lovers & Bookstagram accounts (Book Instagram) and I hope to connect with more in the future! Here’s to more great years of reading ahead, for all of us. 🙂  

 

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Date Read: September 29th 2017

Published: 2017

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Pages: 232

 

 

 

The Blurb

A dazzlingly accomplished debut collection explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home. 

In “Who Will Greet You at Home”, a National Magazine Award finalist for The New Yorker, A woman desperate for a child weaves one out of hair, with unsettling results. In “Wild,” a disastrous night out shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground. In “The Future Looks Good,” three generations of women are haunted by the ghosts of war, while in “Light,” a father struggles to protect and empower the daughter he loves. And in the title story, in a world ravaged by flood and riven by class, experts have discovered how to “fix the equation of a person” – with rippling, unforeseen repercussions. 

Evocative, playful, subversive, and incredibly human, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky heralds the arrival of a prodigious talent with a remarkable career ahead of her.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is out of this world – literally. I truly enjoyed Arimah’s wild imagination and the finesse with which she created worlds I never knew could exist! This collection embodies what a short story collection should be: ORIGINAL, unpredictable and out-of-the-box.

The title of this collection alone stands out and encompasses the ‘out of this world’ theme of the stories. The 12 short stories follow Nigerians (mostly women) in Nigeria and the Diaspora. Arimah explores: abusive relationships between couples, as well as strained mother-daughter relationships; We get a glimpse of the Biafran war while a father tries to discuss violence with his daughter over Chess; We follow young Nigerian women of the Diaspora trying to find their place in the world; We witness childless women desperately creating children out of durable raw materials while two girls of different social classes express their love through uncertainty and weird, hateful actions.

I wanted to give this collection 5 stars, but I didn’t care for some of the stories, especially the titular story. Furthermore, some storylines felt redundant with most characters’ relatives dead or dying, or something tragic always happening. These things recurring in most of the stories made the reading experience a bit morbid, so What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is really a 4.5 stars rating for me!

Nevertheless, I have a good number of favorites from this collection. My favorite stories were:

‘The Future Looks Good’ –  The ending of this story shook me. I felt a full range of emotions reading this story that briefly delves into the relationship between 2 sisters – Bibi and Ezinma, and their strained family relationship. The thin line between love and hate is wonderfully explored in this story!

‘Wild’ – While reading ‘Wild’, I felt like I knew Ada and Chinyere – the main characters of this story. Ada is a Diaspora kid who’s off to college soon. Her mother sends her to Nigeria to visit her cousin – Chinyere’s family for some time before school begins. Arimah explores women relationships in this story so expertly. We also get a glimpse into a troubled mother-daughter relationship that’s probably the cause of Chinyere’s illegitimate child. There’s a lot going on in this story and I loved every bit of it.

‘Windfalls’ – Arimah wrote this story as if the story belonged to the reader. It starts off like this:

‘The first time you fell, you were six. Before then, you were too young to fall and had to be dropped, pushed, made to slip for the sake of authenticity. You learned to fall out of self-preservation as your mother pushed too hard, dropped from too high a height. You have been living off these falls for years, sometimes hers, but mostly yours. A sobbing child garners more sympathy than a pretty but aging mother of one.’ (pg. 79)

From that first paragraph to the end of the story, my heart was so heavy from all the falling. ‘Windfalls’ is a warped story of an innocent daughter, who’s a pawn in the name of her mother’s thievery. This was excellent storytelling, from beginning to end.

‘Who Will Greet You At Home’ – I will never forget this story. The characters in this story are ordinary human beings, living in an extraordinary world. To be honest, this story was so weird to me as I skimmed through it when it was shortlisted for the Caine Prize this year. But once I gave this story a re-read, I definitely enjoyed and understood it better as a part of this collection! Have you ever heard of a baby made of silky, fibrous strands of hair, who only sucks/eats dirty hair? Ogechi – a childless woman who works at a hair salon, unknowingly creates a demon child and all hell breaks loose!

‘Glory’ – Glorybetogod or Glory (for short), thinks she’s bad luck. She’s almost 30 years old and she’s single as ever. She feels she’s wasted all the wonderful opportunities she’s had in the past and is basically at the point of suicide. This character – Glory, is hilarious. I didn’t know whether to pity her or laugh with her at her miserable life! She finally finds a (Nigerian) man and they start dating. But Glory isn’t sure if she wants to get married after she realizes she and her partner seem to be playing the same ‘game.’ Arimah explores the challenges of modern day relationships so well in this story. Social media and the way it influences how we date today gave this story extra relevance. I especially LOVED that the ending of this story was ambiguous. When executed well, I like short stories that end this way! You get to decide how it ends for yourself.

As Nigerians like to say – ‘Naija no dey carry last,’ they finish first and this collection shows the excellence of Nigerian storytelling. So please believe the hype – What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky deserves all the praise, literary nominations and awards it’s received thus far. Reading this collection was an exciting experience and I have no doubts that Lesley Nneka Arimah’s future debut novel will be EPIC.

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

Purchase What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky on Amazon

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

Date Read: May 25th 2017

Published: 2012

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Pages: 217

 

The Blurb

From the award-winning author, a stunning collection that celebrates the haunting, impossible power of love.

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In a New Jersey laundry room, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses.

In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, these stories lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

This Is How You Lose Her is a short story collection with brilliant writing and absorbing storytelling, but I was not a fan of the stories. In this collection, readers get a glimpse into the life of Yunior and his family who are originally from the Dominican Republic, residing in New Jersey.

I hated ALL the characters in this collection (Yunior’s brother – Rafa, really struck me though. I wanted to know more about his cancer and I wished readers got a closer look into how Yunior reacted to his brother’s fate). The characters in this collection can easily make you lose faith in humanity by their shitty actions and intentions (especially towards women). This collection tackles issues of immigration, infidelity, misogyny, love, grief, racism & colorism within the Dominican / Dominican-American community, family, brotherhood, illness, (hyper)masculinity and disappointment.

I usually love when a writer’s skill allows me to have strong feelings towards the characters, but the misogyny in this book was too strong for me. On Goodreads, other readers had issues with Díaz’s use of the word ‘nigga’ and the superfluous vulgarity of this collection. I had no issues with Díaz’s colorful choice of words – the vulgarity in the dialogue between the characters actually gave this collection so much life! But I wonder how the average Dominican feels reading this book – how much of the portrayal of men from the Dominican Republic is exaggerated?

Another thing that bugged me was the arrangement of the stories in this collection. I felt the stories were arranged haphazardly –  for example, the story entitled ‘Invierno’, which explains how Yunior and his family migrated to New Jersey and coped through winter as new immigrants from the Dominican Republic, should have been the first story and the rest of the stories should have followed chronologically – in my opinion.

Junot Díaz is no doubt a brilliant writer, but this collection was a stressful read for me. I will read his debut collection – Drown, just to experience more of Yunior; as well as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao at some point.

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

Purchase This Is How You Lose Her on Amazon

Poetry | Neon Soul & Counting Descent

Hey everyone! At the end of my review for salt. by Nayyirah Waheed, I listed a bunch of contemporary poets and expressed my keen interest in reading their work in the future. Alexandra Elle’s name was on that list and Clint Smith is a poet I truly admire, especially from his TED talk – How To Raise A Black Son in America.

Below are mini reviews of their respective poetry collections.

Neon Soul by Alexandra Elle

Date Read: May 13th 2017

Published: March 2017

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing

Pages: 160

 

 

 

The Blurb

In short, powerful verses, Alexandra Elle shares a hard-won message of hope.

Alexandra Elle writes frankly about her experience as a young, single mother while she celebrates her triumph over adversity and promotes resilience and self-care in her readers. This book of all-new poems from the beloved author of Words From A Wanderer and Love In My Language is a quotable companion on the road to healing.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

It’s inspiring to see Alex Elle’s growth in Neon Soul. From this collection, it’s clear she’s content and comfortable in her skin. These poems center around the joys of being whole and comfortable with oneself. The poems are laden with gentle, uplifting affirmations and tools for living intentionally and forgiving oneself, as well as understanding and nurturing all aspects of yourself. There are also a few glimpses of her immense love for her daughter and husband in the collection, which was very cute! One of the poems speaks on the unfortunate miscarriage she had a while back – the simplicity of that poem speaks volumes on the polarizing feelings we women of color sometimes have about our bodies.

Favorite poems:

will you ever forgive yourself
for what you didn’t do?
who you didn’t love or
let love you?
will you ever be soft
enough on yourself
to be free?

(pg. 29)

________________

it feels good to feel whole. to not live in
pieces or in fear.
it feels nice to belong to myself. to be
enthralled with the
endless possibilities to find who i am. we are
often too confused
about what parts of us deserve to stay in our
loud and vibrant lives,
but why is that? when all of the mess can
make a magnificent
masterpiece.

(pg. 114)

Overall, I love this collection because Alex Elle seems to be writing from a place of fulfillment, which is refreshing from the myriad of poetry collections out there that seem to be from a place of grief and hurt. Deun Ivory’s illustrations on select pages of this collection were the icing on the cake!

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

Purchase Neon Soul: A Collection of Poetry & Prose on Amazon


Counting Descent by Clint Smith

Date Read: August 6th 2017

Published: February 2017

Publisher: Write Bloody Publishing

Pages: 84

 

 

 

The Blurb

Clint Smith’s debut poetry collection, Counting Descent, is a coming of age story that seeks to complicate our conception of lineage and tradition. Smith explores the cognitive dissonance that results from belonging to a community that unapologetically celebrates black humanity while living in a world that often renders blackness a caricature of fear. His poems move fluidly across personal and political histories, all the while reflecting on the social construction of our lived experiences. Smith brings the reader on a powerful journey forcing us to reflect on all that we learn growing up, and all that we seek to unlearn moving forward.

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

In 56 poems, the realities of being a black boy in America are beautifully portrayed in this collection. Not only are the plights and queries of black boyhood portrayed, but black boy joy is an important component of these poems as well- so its pretty balanced, which I loved.

This collection is personal and honest. Smith shares his loving family with us and sheds light on how he was raised, with poems mostly set in New Orleans. The titular poem – ‘Counting Descent’ is my absolute favorite. I read it 3 times before I proceeded to finish the book. Smith’s metaphorical writing style will make you freeze momentarily as you clearly picture all the nuances and truths he paints with his words. I enjoyed how he personified New Orleans through its unique foods, as a tourist attraction, as a high-risk flood zone and ultimately as his home. Smith’s poems are tangible – while reading, you will feel the pain, you will feel the joy and you will feel less alone.

Today I Bought a Book for You

it wasn’t one I had ever heard of

but the first page had your favorite word

and that was enough for me

to unfold the dollar bills from my pockets.

I remember the first time

you told me what it meant.

I wrote it down in my notebook

with the hopes of using it later

to impress you.

I have a notebook full of these.

It should come as no surprise.

I have always used words

to try and convince the world

that I am worth something.

(pg. 63)

Other poems I loved include: ‘The Protest Novel Responds to James Baldwin’ (this poem gave me chills); ‘Passed Down’ (this poem surprised me… I never knew some light-skinned folk actually (and honestly) felt ashamed of their skin color. From all the books I’ve read/friends I know who are of a lighter hue, they consider it a ‘privilege’); ‘Each Morning is a Ritual Made Just For Us’ (I loooved this! I think the poem is dedicated to his wife); ‘When Mom Braids My Sister’s Hair’ and ‘For the Hardest Days’.

I’ll definitely revisit this collection again. I’ve been following Clint Smith on Twitter, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of his work!

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

Purchase Counting Descent on Amazon

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Date Read: June 21st 2017

Published: 2016

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 380

 

 

 

 

The Blurb 

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades. When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Before Behold the Dreamers was selected for Oprah’s Book Club, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the book last year, declaring it ‘book of the year’. I tried to keep an open mind while reading, but half-way through, I started to get agitated. If I hadn’t buddy-read this book with one of my favorite book lovers – Ifeyinwa, I would have put it down without finishing. Upon finishing the book, I felt Behold the Dreamers was a 2 stars novel, but Mbue’s succinct writing style made my reading experience quite fast and easy –  which I appreciated, hence a rating of 3 stars. While this novel was frustrating for me to read, I must admit Mbue did a great job of making Behold the Dreamers a layered tale on identity, social class, marriage, immigration, patriarchy, mental illness and xenocentrism.

I didn’t expect the beginning of Behold the Dreamers to be focused on the Edwards family instead of the Jonga family. As I turned the pages waiting to experience more Jende and Neni, I realized I didn’t care about Cindy and Clark Edwards’s failing marriage and the ‘rich people problems’ they endured. In fact, reading about their stresses vicariously stressed ME out! The plot, which heavily involved the Edwards’ marital and monetary issues dragged on for too long. Since several pages were dedicated to the Edwards’ family drama, I could clearly picture what Clark, Cindy, Vincent and Mighty Edwards looked like and all their mannerisms. This may seem trivial, but I wish Mbue spent more time describing Jende, Neni and their son – Liomi’s physical features so I could at least picture them in my mind.

This novel could have been a solid 150 pages, sans the drama of the Edwards family. A part of me feels like the publishers heavily promoted this book because Jende and Neni put America on a pedestal. To me, Jende and Neni were almost portrayed as African caricatures who viewed the white man as superior, their master. This novel was initially supposed to be called ‘The Longings of Jende Jonga’ so why the change of title to ‘Behold the Dreamers’? I’m guessing the former title wouldn’t appeal to white readers. Perhaps the change in title to ‘Behold the Dreamers’ also meant more involvement of the Edwards family into the storyline, to appeal to white readers. But I must say, the title ‘Behold the Dreamers’ is quite fitting – because the Jongas were portrayed as dreamers indeed. Through the lens of Jende and especially Neni, EVERYTHING about America was good and they would do anything to become Americans,

In Limbe, Liomi and Timba would have many things they would not have had in America, but they would lose far too many things. They would lose the opportunity to grow up in a magnificent land of uninhibited dreamers… because while there existed great towns and cities all over the world, there was a certain kind of pleasure, a certain type of adventurous and audacious childhood, that only New York could offer a child. (pg. 362).

I became aggravated with how Jende and Neni often looked down on their country of origin/culture and revered America to the point where they didn’t see how desperate they were – especially Neni! Throughout most of this novel, Jende was more or less an ‘Uncle Tom’ in my eyes with how willingly subservient he acted towards the Edwards family,

‘So you think America is better than Cameroon?’ Clark asked, still looking at his laptop.

‘One million times, sir,’ Jende said. ‘One million times. Look at me today, Mr. Edwards. Driving you in this nice car. You are talking to me as if I am somebody, and I am sitting in this seat, feeling as if I am somebody.’ (pg. 44)

Neni (she got on my nerves, gosh! But my feelings softened towards her as she bears the brunt her family’s fate) would do anything just to remain in America and even started using her kids as a desperate justification to stay,

And Liomi was going to become a real American one day, she whispered in the darkness. He had taken so well to America, hardly missing anyone or anything in Limbe. He was happy to be in New York, excited to walk on overcrowded streets and be bombarded by endless noise. He spoke like an American and was so knowledgable in baseball and all the state capitals that no one who came across him would believe he was not an American but a barely legal immigrant child… They could never take him back to Limbe… He might become angry, disappointed and hostile, forever resentful towards his parents. (pg. 227)

While Behold the Dreamers was frustrating to read, I resonated and empathized with certain happenings, once the story shifted away from the Edwards family and focused more on the Jongas. Neni lecturing her son on the importance of education for us Africans/Black people struck a cord with me as it still holds true,

I’ve told you this, and I’ll keep on telling you: School is everything for people like us. We don’t do well in school, we don’t have any chance in this world. You know that, right? (pg. 68)

Jende’s lawyer warning him to steer clear of the police felt timely, especially with police brutality being a rampant occurrence nowadays. This novel was set between years 2008 – 2010 and its disheartening how 7 years later, we black folk – whether originally from Africa or Latin America, are constantly reminded of how the justice system doesn’t particularly value Black bodies,

The police is for the protection of white people, my brother. Maybe black women and black children sometimes, but not black men. Never black men. Black men and police are palm oil and water. You understand me, eh? (pg. 74)

Another aspect of the book that resonated with me was how some folks of the Diaspora (1st and 2nd generation Americans) identified. I remember having a chat with one of my cousins this summer in the States, and she confided in me about how she went through a phase where she actively distanced herself from her Ghanaian culture when she was younger. During this phase, she hated identifying with anything that had to do with Ghana or Africa. Shame plays a huge role in this novel. Mbue shows how some children of immigrants from Africa, who have no connection to their parents’ homeland (for various reasons – maybe the parents don’t have pride in their homelands themselves, like Neni and Jende) feel embarrassed and humiliated by their African roots,

When people asked where they were from, they often said, oh, we’re from right here, New York, America. They said it with pride, believing it. Only when prodded did they reluctantly admit that well, actually, our parents are Africans. But we’re Americans, they always added. Which hurt Fatou and made her wonder, was it possible her children though they were better than her because they were Americans and she was African? (pg. 358)

I read Behold the Dreamers back in June and its really been on my mind ever since. I’ve even been apprehensive about posting this book review because I feel my interpretation of this novel is quite judgmental as I’m interpreting the book’s happenings through my 1st generation privilege of never having experienced immigration ordeals. I recently discussed this novel with my parents and through our discussion, they made me aware of my Ghanaian-American privilege and encouraged me to try and accept Jende and Neni’s struggles as their (the characters’) truth and the truth of many Africans who strive to achieve the ‘American Dream’.

Reading and interpretation of text is highly subjective. The ways readers interpret and find meaning of books they read depends on their politics, morals, level of education, socio-economic status etc. I read this novel through a middle-class, 1st generation, pro-Africa/Black lens, so it was quite difficult for me to read and understand characters express self-hate and shame towards their African origins. Since Jende and Neni were of lower social class in Cameroon, was their xenocentrism of their country of origin justified? Most immigrants I know (of both lower and middle social classes) actually start deeply appreciating their countries of origin when they move to live in the States… but I do realize that for some folks, getting to America is truly their ultimate dream.

The ending of this novel felt realistic and made me appreciate Jende’s character evolution – flaws and all. While I disliked how Mbue perpetuates our self-hate through the characterization of Jende and (mostly) Neni, Behold the Dreamers strikes up conversation around immigration, identity and the need for African countries to better cater to their citizens (instead of us relying on living in Western nations to fulfill our dreams). In my opinion, this novel is popular because it perpetuates American nationalist views with African self-hate as a bi-product of it’s success.

Other compelling immigrant tales which I highly recommend over Behold the Dreamers are: So The Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist, Americanah by Chimamanda N. Adichie, Minaret by Leila Aboulela, Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko.

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

Purchase Behold the Dreamers on Amazon