Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

Date Read: July 21st 2019

Published: June 4th 2019

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Pages: 272

 

The Blurb

Kara Davis is a girl caught in the middle – of her Canadian nationality and her desire to be a ‘true’ Jamaican, of her mother and grandmother’s rages and life lessons, of having to avoid being thought of as too ‘faas’ or too ‘quiet’ or too ‘bold’ or too ‘soft’.

Set in Little Jamaica, Toronto’s Eglinton West neighbourhood, Kara moves from girlhood to the threshold of adulthood, from elementary school to high school graduation, in these twelve interconnected stories. We see her on a visit to Jamaica, startled by the sight of a severed pig’s head in her great aunt’s freezer; in junior high, the victim of a devastating prank by her closest friends; and as a teenager in and out of her grandmother’s house, trying to cope with the ongoing battles between her unyielding grandparents.

A rich and unforgettable portrait of growing up between worlds, Frying Plantain shows how, in one charged moment, friendship and love can turn to enmity and hate, well-meaning protection can become control, and teasing play can turn to something much darker. In her brilliantly incisive debut, Zalika Reid-Benta artfully depicts the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation Canadians and first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity and predominately white society.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

The title of this collection is so cool! Everyone loves fried plantain, so the title is truly inviting (Fun fact – fried plantain is called kelewele in Ghana (when diced & spiced), dodo in Nigeria, alloco in Cote d’Ivoire). Frying Plantain is a coming-of-age collection of interconnected short stories that follow Canadian-Jamaican girl, Kara Davis. Initially, I thought with each successive story, I’d be engrossed into Kara’s journey as she went through childhood into adolescence. But now, a part of me feels a little disappointed by this collection. While reading, I felt like I was drowning because I found the characters relentlessly toxic, hence making my reading experience a bit sour.

The collection commences with a story called ‘Pig Head.’ In ‘Pig Head’, we’re introduced to Kara who is on holiday in Jamaica with her family. While on holiday, Kara is sent to get something from the freezer and is terrified by the sight of a huge severed pig head stored there. Kara goes back to her 4th grade classmates in Canada and tells fibs about the pig head. She brags about how she helped kill the pig and gives her classmates gory details of the killing, which eventually land her into trouble with her school’s principal and her mother. Kara fabricates the story in an effort to seem unique and to claim her Jamaican roots even though her neighborhood friends call her ‘stush’ (posh/boujee).

Throughout this collection, Kara tries to fit in by either lying, falling prey to peer pressure or staying quiet to keep the peace. As a child, she spends a lot of time with (toxic) neighborhood friends, who are also of Caribbean heritage. Among her group of friends, some are even straight from the Islands and they impose their Caribbean authenticity by constantly reminding others within the group – including Kara, of how un-Jamaican/Caribbean they are –

Miss Canada gwine fi bust out the patois? Yuh need to stop Ja-fakin’ it, Kara – pg. 32

 

I enjoyed the short stories that explored Kara’s relationships with boys and wanted more! I found the descriptions of her first kiss so cringey yet hilarious, as Reid-Benta aptly portrays the awkwardness –

I told him he could kiss me, and then he inched forward and meshed his lips with mine… My own lips were still puckered when he started to open his mouth. He pressed the tip of his tongue against my teeth until I unclenched and allowed him access. I couldn’t figure him out… I hunched my shoulders instead, trying to show eagerness, and twirled my tongue around his, but he got excited and shoved his tongue so far down my throat I gagged. I pulled away – pg. 116

But Kara’s mother’s sharp gaze always marred my joy of witnessing Kara find love (or have fun, in general). Kara is raised by a single mother – Eloise, who seems pretty miserable. Initially I didn’t feel any love between mother and daughter, but later I realized Eloise’s brash, over-controlling manner was driven by fear. Eloise raises Kara on her own but with the help of her own parents, who come with their own set of issues. *sigh* Eloise’s relationship with her parents (Kara’s grandparents) is tragic – there is a lot of emotional abuse, verbal abuse, manipulation and gaslighting between Eloise and her parents, but also between Kara and her grandparents. Eloise’s parents also have a dysfunctional marriage – but I don’t even have the energy to get into their marriage. Kara’s family dynamics in this book are just A LOT.

Since Kara is raised in an over-controlled, stern environment, her personality is unassuming and quite unclear. She comes off as meek, subdued and repressed; but she can defend herself or react to unfair treatment when pushed to her limit, which is often.

According to other readers on Goodreads, this collection is very Canadian. I wasn’t sensitive to the Canadian-ness of this collection, as I wouldn’t even know where to catch the nuances. I’ve only visited Canada three times (Toronto when I was about 5 years old, Montréal as a sophomore in college and Windsor when I was a senior in college), so I didn’t have the eye for spotting the Canadian vibes from the collection. I did like the mention of poutine though, when Kara and her friends trekked through a snow storm just to eat some.

I thoroughly enjoyed Zalika Reid-Benta’s writing style. She has a beautiful way with words such that I vividly saw Kara’s quiet awkwardness; I could hear Eloise shouting at Kara to stop crying; I could feel Kara’s desire to fit in with her fellow Caribbean friends. Zalika Reid-Benta’s writing is the reason I finished this collection. She has a gift with words, and I surely admire that!

I think I would have enjoyed this collection more if I was new to African Diaspora literature. But I’ve read countless stories like this, so it didn’t really stand out to me as super unique. I just find it very interesting how Caribbean women writers always seem to touch on strained mother-daughter relationships in their work. I haven’t read a ton of work by Caribbean women writers, but so far Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Naomi Jackson, Alexia Arthurs ALL touch on this strained relationship in their stories. Why is this type of relationship so prevalent in their work? Anyway, even though I wasn’t blown away by this collection, I look forward to reading more of Reid-Benta’s work! She’s a pretty damn good writer.

Thank you to House of Anansi Press for sending me a review copy of the book!

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

Purchase Frying Plantain on Amazon

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AND THE 2019 CAINE PRIZE WINNER IS…

In less than a month, the 2019 Caine Prize winner will be announced!

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

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

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

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

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


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

(Image via caineprize.com)

Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) – Read her story: Skinned

Meron Hadero (Ethiopia) – Read her story: The Wall

Cherrie Kandie (Kenya) – Read her story: Sew My Mouth

Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti (Cameroon) – Read her story: It Takes A Village Some Say

Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor (Nigeria) – Read his story: All Our Lives


There’s finally some diversity in the countries represented on this year’s shortlist! Ethiopia and Cameroon! And women are dominating, once again – I love it. So far, I’ve only read 3 out of the 5 stories and I’m feeling pretty good about them.

Cherrie Kandie starts Sew My Mouth with- “My lover can only love me behind drawn curtains,” taking readers on a rollercoaster ride of the relationship between two women lovers/friends and their forbidden love. I think I liked Kandie’s short story. The writing was very matter-of-fact, in that, she doesn’t mince her words in her descriptions. She does a great job of gradually creating tension and remorse between the characters, as one of them isn’t quite out as a lesbian, which causes heartbreak and pain (literally). The ending of the story was quite disappointing though. I found it anti-climatic and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I do hope Kandie is writing a novel though! I’d like to read more of her work.

Tochukwu Okafor’s short story – All Our Lives was very easy to read. I enjoyed how accessible and lucid his writing was. But Okafor’s story is not new to readers of African fiction. It actually reminded me of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names which I have conflicting feelings about. All Our Lives paints the picture of poverty in a Nigerian city – from the descriptions, probably Lagos, Nigeria. We follow the desperate lives of Yahoo boys/419 boys, trying to catch a break via deceit, ‘The cybercafes are our second home. They are tight spaces on ground floors in one- or two- storey buildings… Do not think we are searching for love. Love does not exist in this city. We are men of the night. Our reward is money.’

Okafor describes the plight of the poor very vividly, constantly reminding readers of the dire conditions in the city. But the ending of this short story had me confused! It briefly describes how some of these Yahoo boys all of a sudden start viewing gay porn and have a ‘longing to be explored by men’ and touches briefly on the consequences of these desires. I found this random mention of same-sex desire too brief, almost oversimplifying the true lives of LGBTQIA in Nigerian cities. For those who’ve read this short story – was the ending as random to you as it was for me?

The Caine Prize shortlist hasn’t been this exciting in years, so obviously I had to read the story by Meron Hadero, from Ethiopia! The Wall is a slow burn type of short story… I actually hope she’s developing this story into a full-fledged novel. I’m assuming the story is semi-autobiographical, as Hadero’s personal life seems to coincide a bit with the main character of the story.

In The Wall, readers follow an un-named young girl refugee, who recently moved to the US with her family from Ethiopia via Berlin. She knows very little English, but is fluent in German and her mother tongue – Amharic. By chance, she meets Professor Weil aka – Herr Weil, at a community potluck who generously offers to teach the young girl English after school, and they form a beautiful friendship. While Herr Weil helps this young girl learn English, he mostly creates space for her to express herself and her feelings about her new environment – in German. As I was reading, I was so scared that this old German man would take advantage of her in someway, but I was pleasantly surprised by his pure heart. There isn’t much to say about this short story with respect to an exciting plot, but Hadero tackles various issues – such as, loneliness, same-sex attraction, courage versus regret, friendship, ageism, the plight of the lives of refugees etc. The ending of this story had me wanting more and I will read anything Hadero writes henceforth!

I haven’t read Lesley Nneka Arimah and Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti’s short stories yet. This year marks the third year of Arimah making the Caine Prize shortlist. I wonder why she continues to compete for the prize, given the success of her short story collection from two years ago… but then again – why not? I raved about Arimah’s phenomenal work back in 2017 via What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky, and I have no doubt that her current shortlisted story is breathtaking.

Even though I haven’t read all the stories yet, my money is on Hadero’s, The Wall to win the prize. It’s truly just a beautiful story. I hope you all get a chance to read some of the stories linked above. May the best story win!

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

The winner will be announced in London at Senate House Library in partnership with SOAS, on 8th July 2019. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!

 

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

2014 | 2015  | 2016 | 2017 | 2018

How To Love A Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs

Date Read: March 5th 2019

Published: 2018

Publisher: Picador

Pages: 256

The Blurb

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

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

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

 

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

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

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

••

My favorite stories were:

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase How To Love A Jamaican on Amazon

Mini Reviews | Houseboy & Tropical Fish

Hey everyone!

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

Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono

Date Read: September 22nd 2017

Published: 1991

Publisher: Heinemann

Pages: 122

The Blurb

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

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

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


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

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

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

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

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

Purchase Houseboy on Amazon

 


Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana

Date Read: September 16th 2016

Published: 2008

Publisher: Cassava Republic Press

Pages: 158

 

The Blurb

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

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

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

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

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

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

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

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

Purchase Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe on Amazon

2019 NEW RELEASES TO ANTICIPATE!

Happy New Year, everyone!

What books are you excited to read this year? Below are 80 new African, African-American and Caribbean books that look very promising. This is just a snippet of the books 2019 has to offer!

Please click on the images to read the blurbs and/or to purchase the books.

(this post contains Amazon affiliate links)

MORE books to look out for in 2019:

Image via Twitter

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Blurb

Fiercely told, this is a timely coming-of-age story, told in verse about the journey to self-acceptance. Perfect for fans of Sarah Crossan, Poet X and Orangeboy.

A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.

To be published August 2019

 


Image via Ayana Mathis

A Violent Woman by Ayana Mathis

The Blurb

The story of an estranged mother and daughter separated by a thousand miles, the mother’s shadowy past as an itinerant blues singer, and her daughter’s mental illness and recruitment into a radical political group.

Check out my book review of Mathis’s debut novel – The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. I’m really looking forward to this new novel!!

To be published September 2019

 


Image via Elise Dillsworth Agency

Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie 

The Blurb

Nudibranch is Irenosen Okojie’s second collection of short stories, a follow up to Speak Gigantular which was shortlisted for the 2016 Jhalak Prize and 2017 Edge Hill Short Story Prize.

The collection focuses on offbeat characters caught up in extraordinary situations – a mysterious woman of the sea in search of love arrives on an island inhabited by eunuchs; dimensional-hopping monks navigating a season of silence face a bloody reckoning in the ruins of an abbey; an aspiring journalist returning from a failed excursion in Sydney becomes what she eats and a darker, Orwellian future is imagined where oddly detached children arrive in cycles and prove to be dangerous in unfamiliar surroundings.

To be published October 2019

 


Image via The New York Review of Books

The Fraud by Zadie Smith

Synopsis

The Fraud is inspired by the real events on North West London (Smith’s childhood home that she has chronicled in most of her novels, most notably NW) from the 1830s to the 1870s.


Also look out for work from: Akwaeke Emezi, Petina Gappah, Talib Kweli, Maaza Mengiste, Rivers Solomon, Binyavanga Wainaina

 

What new releases are you excited about? Please do share!

2018 Christmas Wish List

Hey everyone!

Christmas is right around the corner and I have some new wishes for Santa! Incase you were wondering, I acquired two of the books from my 2017 wish listBlack Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness edited by Rebecca Walker and Always Another Country by Sisonke Msimang (which I’m currently reading). Below are books on my 2018 Christmas wish list:

(not in order of preference; click titles to read the blurbs on Goodreads)

 

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves edited by Glory Edim

I’ve already ordered by copy of Glory Edim’s Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves, so this is definitely a Christmas treat to myself. We all love and relate to stories that specifically speak to us – us, black women; and this anthology prides itself on discussing the importance of recognizing ourselves in literature. I’m ready to be inspired by the contributors of this anthology and especially look forward to the pieces by Zinzi Clemmons, Gabourey Sidibe and Glory Edim! If you’ve already indulged in this anthology, how did you like it?


Filigree: Contemporary Black British Poetry edited by Nii Ayikwei Parkes + preface by Professor Dorothy Wang

 

Filigree typically refers to the finer elements of craftwork, the parts that are subtle; our Filigree anthology contains work that plays with the possibilities that the word suggests, work that is delicate, that responds to the idea of edging, to a comment on the marginalization of the darker voice. Filigree includes work from established Black British poets residing inside and outside the UK; new and younger emerging voices of Black Britain and Black poets who have made it their home as well as a selection of poets the Inscribe project has nurtured and continue to support

This anthology is fairly new – it was published November of this year. I hope to indulge in it soon and I especially look forward to the poems by the poets of Ghanaian descent: Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Nana-Essi Casely-Hayford, Louisa Adjoa Parker, as well as the other contributors! The collection is edited by Ghanaian-Brit writer/poet Nii Ayikwei Parkes (with a preface by Professor Dorothy Wang), so I know this anthology will be worth the read.


Talk Stories by Jamaica Kincaid

I’m a huge Jamaica Kincaid fan. I’ve read a good number of her work and still have a couple of books to finish before I can confidently declare that I’m an OG fan. Talk Stories (how chic is the book cover?!) is a book I’d love to add to my collection. It’s a collection of her original writing for the New Yorker’s ‘Talk of the Town’ column, where the young Kincaid (fresh from Antigua) wrote on her experiences in New York back in the late 1970’s – early 1980’s. I expect these stories to be humorous, thoughtful, slightly miserable and sensitive – in good ol’ Kincaid style!

Check out Jamaica Kincaid’s pieces from the 1970’s to the early 2000’s – The New Yorker


Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Everyone has been raving about this short story collection! I’m seriously out of the loop. Some of my online bookish-friends describe this collection as intense, raw, too much – the list goes on. According to the blurb:

Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day. These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world.’

Another thing that attracts me to this collection is that fact that Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is of Ghanaian descent. If you follow me on social media (Bookstagram & Twitter), you’d know I’m all for supporting Ghanaian literature/Ghanaian writers, hence I created the #ReadGhanaian hashtag where readers can explore the plethora of books by Ghanaian writers out there. Friday Black is at the top of my TBR!


The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

I’ve read very few books by writers from Northern Africa. A couple of my friends claim The Moor’s Account is one of the best books they’ve ever read! I recently read an article where Gary Younge also praised Laila Lalami’s work, after reading a bunch of books by African women writers this year. It’s time for me to experience this brilliant novel as well! Lalami has a new novel coming out next year and I’d love to read The Moor’s Account first, as a great introduction to her work.


The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 by Lucille Clifton

This collection is 720 pages! I’ve only read a few of Clifton’s poems online, or quotes from friends who are fans of her work. Her poem – won’t you celebrate with me is pure brilliance:

 

won’t you celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

[Source: Poetry Foundation]

 

These are the types of poems that speak to me directly. Poems like this are comforting and unforgettable. It’s written so eloquently, but echoes loudly. I’d be privileged to own any of Lucille Clifton’s work and the generations after me would benefit from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 as part of my collection of books as well.


What books are on your Christmas wish list? Please share some titles!

Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

Book-Music Pairings feat. Dandano (Part 1)

Hey everyone!

Do you listen to music when you read? If you do, what kind of music goes well with the books you read?

I like many different genres of music – Neo-soul / Soul (think Raphael Saadiq, Georgia Muldrow, Jill Scott, Bilal, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Sade etc), Jazz (think Robert Glasper, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane etc), Rap/Hip hop (think The Roots, J-Hus, Kendrick Lamar, A Tribe Called Quest, Noname, Sa-Ra, J Dilla etc), R&B (think Faith Evans, The Internet, Moonchild, Res, SZA, The Foreign Exchange etc), Highlife (think Ebo Taylor, Osibisa, Kwadwo Antwi), Afrobeats (think Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, R2Bees, KiDi, Davido, Simi), I could go on and on!

 

I prefer reading in silence, but when I listen to music while reading, I like to listen to music without any words (especially not Rap), just so the words being sung don’t jumble with the words I read. Music has always been a form of storytelling. I love vibing to the beats and rhythms of music, but once I pay close attention to the lyrics of a song, I’m opened up to a new world.

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what songs or albums would go well with some of the great novels, short story collections, magazines, poems I’ve read in recent years. I asked Hakeem Adam (who’s knowledge in ALL things Black culture and the arts is vast!), the founder of Dandano – a Digital platform dedicated to the distilled love of African Film and Music, to help me pair some great songs and albums to great literature.

Enjoy our pairings below and stay tuned for Part 2!


  • Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue – Immigrant Chronicles by M.anifest & Green Card by Wanlov the Kubolor

The African immigrant story is dominant in 21st century African fiction, manifesting in different ways, but mostly pointing towards the American Dream. In Behold The Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue looks to center the disillusionment of the American Dream among African immigrants. The novel asks the dreamer to wake up and think of home. 

Ghanaian rappers M.anifest and Wanlov the Kubolor were both dreamers and like the characters in Behold The Dreamers, they were also forced to think of home after being sold a dream. On both their debut albums, Immigrant Chronicles and Green Card, they chronicle such experiences.

Both albums speak strongly to the hefty emotional and psychological cost involved in buying into the American Dream. Smallest Time, off Green Card for instance, could easily make the score for the novel as the song oozes with a yearning for a familiar home. M.anifest also does similar on Coming To America on his album. Despite the glaring threads that link these works of art, what makes them perfect companions is how thematically they do try to present an honest perspective, without being irresponsible in those narratives – by Hakeem Adam, founder of Dandano.

Check out the book review for Behold the Dreamers

Listen to snippets of the debut albums for M.anifest’s Immigrant Chronicles & Wanlov’s Green Card

 


  • Period Pain by Kopano Matlwa  – A Seat at the Table (more specifically the songs ‘Cranes in the Sky’ and ‘Weary’) by Solange

In Period Pain (the UK edition is called Evening Primrose), we follow Chaba – a junior doctor in South Africa who is struggling to work in under-resourced hospital conditions; but she’s also dealing with family troubles and her own health issues (severe menorrhagia, depression, sexual abuse) while trying to aid in the fight against xenophobia in the nation. South African writer – Kopano Matlwa’s writing in this superb novel reminded me of Solange’s songs Weary and Cranes in the Sky from the album, A Seat at the Table:

‘I’m weary of the ways of the world
Be weary of the ways of the world’

‘I tried to let go my lover
Thought if I was alone then maybe I could recover
To write it away or cry it away
Don’t you cry baby
Away’

While Period Pain may seem depressing with Chaba constantly feeling weary about her new life as a doctor, it’s actually a very humorous, enjoyable book! It was refreshing to be able to relate to Chaba’s experiences in the hospital, as some of them mirrored mine during my medical and surgery rotations at school. In the same vein, while Solange’s A Seat at the Table is an album that boldly speaks on the despair, self-care, fury and pride of Black folk in America (especially in the interludes), there is light and hope by the end of the album – by Darkowaa.

I read Period Pain back in January and will post the review soon!

Listen to A Seat at the Table

 


  • The Famished Road by Ben Okri – Water No Get Enemy by Fela Kuti

Ben Okri’s The Famished Road is a bewitchingly brilliant novel, blurring the spiritual boundary of African realities. Very few pieces of music can touch it terms of stylistic and thematic quality, but Fela Kuti’s Water No Get Enemy comes close.

With rousing horns complementing the temperate drum loops and eerie mellow piano scales, the song feels mystical in its energy yet, it’s one of the few calm cuts from Fela’s discography. The lengthy instrumental intro is also a great way to set the mood as you wade into The Famished Road. Fela’s verse at the tail of the song about the power of water seems to mirror the power shown by Azaro, the spirit child in Ben Okri book – by Hakeem Adam, founder of Dandano.

Vibe out to Uncle Fela’s Water No Get Enemy

 


  • A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid  – Sor (more specifically the song ‘Afro Aid Problem’) by Kyekyeku

A Small Place is an important book and a wake up call. It reveals a lot of truth, exposes the unsatisfactory leadership of her native island (well, I don’t know if the government of Antigua has changed much today) and ties all the complex issues Antigua faces to our imperfect human nature.

Kincaid’s small book pairs excellently with the song, Afro Aid Problem from the album Sor, by my favorite Ghanaian highlife & folk artist – Kyekyeku. Kyekyeku playfully laments over the many economic problems we Africans face, over harmonious sounds of trumpets, guitar strings, bass guitar, the keyboard & background vocals from his band – by Darkowaa.

‘They take your money and give it back to you and then they call it aid.

They take your money and give it back to you and then they call it grant.

Calculate the money, non-refundable.

Visa processing fee, non-refundable’

Check out the book review for A Small Place

Listen to Kyekyeku’s Afro Aid Problem

 


  • Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi – Afropolitan Dreams by Blitz the Ambassador

The concept of an ‘Afropolitan’ is not without its flaws. In some sense, it represents the idea of floating in no definite space with not a single identity as an African. In Ghana Must Go, Taiye Selasi uses certain characters to expand on this philosophy of ‘Afropolitanism,’ which she herself practices.

On Afropolitan Dreams by Blitz the Ambassador, he attempts to construct a scope of the range of sonic identities that an ‘Afropolitan’ can identify with. Blitz takes you through his experiences between Africa and the diasporas showing how his African identity can manifest in different ways. In some ways, this album could be a loosely-knit b-side to Ghana Must Go, presenting you with the thoughts and emotions that Taiye Selasi and her characters do not speak of directly – by Hakeem Adam, founder of Dandano.

Listen to Blitz the Ambassador’s Afropolitan Dreams

 


What are some of your favorite book-music pairings?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Book-Music Pairings feat. Dandano!

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore

Date Read: September 10th 2018

Published: September 2018

Publisher: Graywolf Press

Pages: 312

The Blurb

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

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

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase She Would Be King on Amazon