#5 Discover Iconic Authors of Colour
This was my first Langston Hughes but it won't be my last.
This is the story of Sandy and the people he loves. Sandy grows up in a poverty-stricken, African-America community in the post-slavery era.
Sandy's grandmother works dawn to dusk washing clothes for rich white folks. She ministers to the sick in the poor, black community. She looks after Sandy. Then there is Sandy's mother who is a domestic for a white woman, his two Aunts, both rebels in their own way and Sandy's father, Jimboy who is absent working on the railroads.
His aunts and his grandmother want Sandy to 'make something of himself'. Sandy does well at school and he has dreams of his own...
We get to know the characters. We see the detail of their daily lives and their toil, sacrifices and struggles.
Sandy (based, apparently, on the young Hughes) is insightful and kind. He understands a lot. He knows his aunts' secrets and his grandmother's worries and he does his best to navigate them.
Especially poignant was his desire for a sledge at Christmas when the family are barely able to put bread on the table. Then something surprising happens...
We learn what each person thinks of white folks (without bitterness).
We learn too, of the faith and strong spirit of the African-American community - who support and buoy each other up. This is particularly clear with Sandy - whom everyone wants to succeed.
A lovely book. Hughes gives us a gentle eye on the realities of that era.
#4 (2) Discover Ten Iconic Authors of Colour
There is a hunting accident and a child is killed.
Landreaux and his wife Emmaline follow the Native American tradition and take the terrible decision to give away their own son to the bereaved mother and father - Peter and Nola, who live next door but off the reservation.
Far from being depressing, I found it uplifting to read how this profound act affected everyone involved - the four parents, their other children, the Pastor, Landreaux's friend Romeo and Romeo's son, the elders on the reservation.
The beauty of the writing, the honesty (which is sometimes painful) and the theme of traditions and their root in history and path into the future - these were all lovely and rare to read about.
At the end of the story, I was left full of feeling.
In particular for Peter and Nola's difficult daughter, Maggie, who becomes Larose's new sister, and for Larose's own two feisty older sisters, Snow and Josette. I loved all their characters.
And of course, LaRose, who is five when the accident happens. Throughout the story, he takes events into his own hands and will become the person on whom they all depend to survive the years of ordeal.
Wonderful writing. Wonderful story.
#4 Discover 10 Iconic Authors of Colour
This is such a great book.
It's also a very difficult one to read because it pulls no punches about the Native American experience. In this book you will read about grindingly cruel experiences, the drudgery of daily life, alcoholism and suffering, in-fighting and rivalry that lasts generations.
Erdrich tells us about her characters in small stories, each centred around a different character. Sometimes we read about the same event in different stories, told from different perspectives or perhaps by someone in the succeeding generation.
Erdrich tells us about her characters by telling the story of key points in their everyday lives - cooking for guests, caring for a loved-one in an alcoholic stupor, greeting relatives, losing a relative, visiting a forbidden lover, coming home from war.
In these short scenes, she describes her characters so fully, so completely, that we see them bared to the bones of who they are. Yet in telling us of their weaknesses she does not diminish them.
I think this is what I loved the most about this book because somehow her writing has the opposite effect and lifts her characters up.
It's Erdrich's actual writing style that conveys this special touch and brings beauty and eloquence to it all.
#3 Discover 10 Iconic Authors of Colour
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has an eye for detail.
She use this to great effect because her main characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, also have a great eye for detail and they make wonderful observations of the people and situations that surround them. These observations and commentary make up the majority of the book.
In essence, this is a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze.
Ifemelu also has a love/hate relationship with America and with Nigeria (that's how I interpreted it). Ifemelu fills the story with commentary on her friends, her family and work colleagues and how they react to race, racism, values, hierarchy, privilege and the lack of privilege, and the fight for survival when you are an African American, or a black African living in America and starting pretty much at the bottom of the ladder.
We follow Ifemelu as she lives in America, then returns to Nigeria to face friends and family that have changed in ways she has not. Of course, Ifemelu has also changed in ways that her friends and family have not.
I liked Ifemelu - she's brave, she has a wry sense of humour, she's independent and an independent-thinker. She herself says that this puts her apart from her Nigerian women friends.
Ifemelu suffers a terrible depression in America and we see her struggling to cope in her new country.
The author is fresh and exciting and I enjoyed her observations, which seemed to me spot-on.
In the second half of the book, I found that the same themes are repeated from the first half.
This wasn't a problem, though, if I'm honest, I was probably hoping for the writer to go deeper or pull more gems from the bag. (But, hey, she had already wowed me in the first half.)
Instead, we plunge further into the love story between Ifemelu and Obinze. They have been cruelly been ripped apart by fate, circumstance and shitty, immigration experiences and it seems impossible to bridge the gap that has grown between them...
#2 Discover 10 Iconic Authors of Colour
Original. Cutting. A fly-on-the-wall view of the immigrant experience in all its complexities and absurdities.
This is an epic read in length (some 500pages in my edition).
We follow the lives of Archie and Samad. They are two unlikely friends who re-meet in London in the 1970s. Samad and Archie served together in the second world war and the chapters devoted to their memories and what happened between them during the war, were my favourites. I think this is because it's the part of the book where I found the most warmth.
Archie and Samad both find wives. They have children who know each other. We get to know each of these people in detail - the wives, the children, the friends of the wives, the friends of the children, as well as a host of other characters that move in and out of their lives. In fact, there is so much detail on each person, at times I felt bogged down and had to stop reading.
However, detail is also the author's strong point and this detail is used to show us humour, irony at situations which race and racism place the characters in, the difficulties of immigrant families, religion and how it can turn into dogma, fate and odd circumstances and the way events from the past seem to shape the present.
I liked this book, though there were parts I didn't like because they were too long. The ending worked for me because all the threads came together to bring closure to each and every character's story - some of these endings were good and others were bad.
This was my second Zadie Smith, so I was well prepared for the slow pace of the prose and the detailed meandering through the lives of several characters.
We follow the friendship of two girls - they grow up in one of the poorer parts of London, both have dreams of fame and dance success and of breaking out of the confines of racial stereotyping.
The issues of racism are well explored and expanded to include West Africa, where the main character ends up working on a development project spearheaded by her superstar boss.
There are lovely nuances between all the characters, though, strangely, at the end I felt it was the main character whom I knew the least (she is never named) - whereas her best friend Tracey, her mother, her boss, the African friends she makes in the village and her colleagues are well drawn. This was a little frustrating and I wondered why the author had chosen not to tell us more about the heart of this main character.
I enjoyed reading this book though I think it's less of a story and more of a touching exposition on the interactions between ordinary people.
#1 Discover 10 Iconic Authors of Colour
A wonderful book.
This was the second time I read this book and after a space of some fifteen years, I can say I understood it much more deeply than I did before.
Though the racism is full of pain and pulls no punches on the drudgery and sheer survival of black people, I found it uplifting this time around and saw the positive side. Alice Walker understands and portrays the strength of the human spirit to endure.
I really loved the ending.
Here's my ultra short book review/haiku -
A woman's tale
on the politics of black
Georgia,1930s, grit, faith
survival - told from the heart
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