#9 Discover Ten New Authors of Colour
Red Blood Yellow Skin by Linda L. T. Baer
This is the story of one girl's life in Vietnam.
She was born Nguyen Thi Loan in 1947 and she lived through three wars in Vietnam - between the Vietnamese and the French in the 1940s-50s, then the civil war between North and South Vietnam, then she is a young woman when America sent almost half a million soldiers to the country in the 1960s.
It's an incredible story, We learn of her life as a young child in rural Vietnam. We learn of her simple lifestyle and family traditions. We see how the fighting affected her family and neighbours. We learn of the mass exodus and flight to the south which left thousands homeless and starving.
We learn of how her family survived and the sacrifices they had to make.
Linda has such a strong spirit and she grew up in situations which are almost impossible to contemplate, yet she survived and found her own way, by her own initiative, by luck and by courage.
This book tells of events from the humble perspective of an ordinary person. There is no political agenda. It's a simple testimony. For that reason, it's an incredibly powerful and enthralling story.
#8 Discover Ten New Authors of Colour
The Orphan of India by Sharon Maas
We follow the story of Jyoti – told, at first, by her adoptive, British parents who cross Jyoti’s path in Bombay, India. After a tragedy, they are able to follow an exhausting procedure and bring the little Indian girl lawfully to England as theirs.
However, Jyoti's adoptive parents were never the ideal couple. Jack is a talented musician and teaches Jyoti, who has a natural love for music. Monika is side-lined. Then their marriage starts to go badly wrong and their dreams of having a child of their own may not, it seems, be sufficient to stop things going off the rails.
Jyoti will come into her own as a gifted violin player. As readers, we know her first love is for the sitar (an Indian instrument) and her private longing to play Indian music versus her success as a classical violin player, is handled masterfully by the author. Through this, we are shown Jyoti’s struggle with her life in England versus her roots in India.
Jyoti also has difficulties in her love life. As a little girl she falls for a young man who later comes back to her once she is rich and famous. They seem ideally suited, but what of the Indian sitar player who also entranced her? How can she ever reconcile her feelings for two men and two continents?
Jyoti must endure terrible losses and find a way to overcome her inner feelings of coming from nothing. She must learn to capitalise on her strengths. This is the part of the story which most captured my imagination and Maas deals with it sensitively and with profound insight. A very well written book in a literary style, that is far more than it seems.
Biopic Sharon Maas
Five things you didn’t know about Sharon Maas
1) I am a German citizen. Yes indeed. I first came to Germany in 1975, when I was 25, and married a German. I did not like it much and didn’t have an easy time getting adjusted – though I did learn the language pretty quickly. Again and again I tried to escape: to France, to the USA, to India--but it never worked out. I always returned to Germany. I even married another German after my divorce! And here I am still. Germany has changes so much over the last 40 years and now I love it, and feel very much at home and at ease. However, now that I am retired, I’m thinking of moving to a nice warm tropical country: how much are you betting it will work out?
2) I’m a social worker and my first employment was as a probation worker in Germany. I also worked with pre-release convicts in a halfway house in Boston, back in 1981. I had a long break to raise children and write books, after which I worked as a social worker in a German hospital. I had a second job helping young unaccompanied refugees in a home in Germany. That was the best job ever. But now I’m retired and have all the time in the world for my true calling: writing.
3) I was in jail myself! After hiking around South America for a year I was arrested for possession of a box of marijuana in 1972 – a long story I’ll tell someday. I was locked up for a couple of weeks, and then miraculously released. An experience that turned my life around…
4) My favourite book of all time is the Mahabharata, the Indian epic. It’s also the oldest and longest epic in the world. I thought it was much too long, that the main story got lost in the length, so I wrote my own version, hoping to catch the wonderful essence of that book, and self-published it. It’s called Sons of Gods. And I still think the Mahabharata is the best story of all time.
5) Apart from Germany I have two spiritual homes. One is Guyana, the country I grew up in. I wouldn’t change that for the world, as that childhood was simply wonderful. My spiritual home is in India, for it was there, as an adult, I found my bearings and my identity. But basically I just love being on earth, and feel that every country, every culture, is fantastic.
Thanks for talking to us, Sharon, and good luck with your latest release.
#7 Discover Ten New Authors of Colour
Lola's House by M.Evalina Galang
We are immersed in paragraphs and passages which describe Filipino women's memories of their experience during the Second World War, when the Filipines was invaded by the Japanese.
We read of abductions into sexual slavery, the witnessing of atrocities against family members, the witnessing of rape and torture of other women and young girls in the 'camps' set up by the invading Japanese army.
The author is a researcher and she mixes passages from the survivors, with her own impressions of them and of their lives currently at Lola's House, where the women meet after a campaign to 'out' the atrocities of the war, supported by the Filipino media and international women's organisations.
The author, an American with Filipino ancestry, is clearly moved by the women and their lives. When she first goes to interview the women, she takes with her several young American girls who befriend the survivors and we also see the reactions of these young girls. I found this mix riveting and we really experience the girls' view of the women.
The survivors accounts are horrific.
The accounts are told by women now in their eighties and nineties, many of whom had never told their family members what they suffered. They kept their experiences a secret because of the shame piled on them by society after the war.
This was made more complicated (I understood) by the fact that many villagers fought as guerrillas and fled to the mountains, whereas the camps were in the cities and urban areas full of Japanese - therefore there were few actual Filipino witnesses who were not either imprisoned themselves or collaborators.
At the end of this book, I felt the most sadness over the fact that the women's hopes and campaigning for an official apology from the Japanese government, have not been realised - even after years of fighting for justice and with the backing of the US Senate.
The women are so old, there will be few left soon.
I found their courage in the telling of their stories deeply moving.
I was glad to be an honest witness to their experiences and felt the reading of the book to be an act of solidarity - in defiance of the lack of political will to recognise how terribly these women suffered at the time and then throughout their lives in the silence.
I also could not help thinking of the Japanese perpetrators and whether any of them are still alive. Since most of the women were abducted when they were young (12, 13, 14 years old...) and the soldiers were older, then I suppose this is unlikely.
The photographs in the book make each of the women more real.
Congratulations to the author for her work in documenting these important stories.
I give this book 5 stars for the women's stories.
I dropped it to 4 stars because of the style of documenting, in which the experiences are mixed in with reflections, campaigning, visits to the women's home villages - but this was not done in a linear manner and made it a little difficult at times to follow the threads.
The women felt very real to me and this is a book that will stay in my mind for a long time.
I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley. These are my honest views.
#6 Discover Ten New Authors of Colour
Either erotica is your thing or it isn’t, and, well, sometimes it is mine.
Here’s a book that’s a mixture of erotica, African folklore and fantasy.
Give yourself a treat and try this heady, powerful novella.
Abiku: A Battle of Gods by Elizabeth Salawu
She was called an Abiku, an evil spirit sent to this world to lure men to their doom
Dayo is a bi-racial twenty-something year old with a German mom and a Nigerian dad. She has a semi bougie lifestyle, always jetting across the pond between Africa and Europe.
She starts dating her father's driver in secret after seducing him.
On her return from her cousin's twenty-first birthday, she tries gbana (crack) for the first time. She finds herself in an alternate realm and thinks she's hallucinating from using gbana. She doesn't take anything that happens there seriously as she thinks she's having a vivid dream. That is, until she couldn't wake up from getting married to a 'man' she met in that realm...
Ann Girdharry’s View
A highly original story that blends eroticism, Nigerian folklore and a young woman's dual life. I’ve never come across anything similar.
Dayo comes from a rich family and has a privileged lifestyle. Once free from her parents' supervision, she seduces her father's chauffeur and they start a hot, steamy affair.
Things start becoming strange when sex and drugs seemingly push Dayo into another realm. It's a mythic realm in which she begins an affair with a man who appears to be a god.
Is she hallucinating? Has she gone mad? What’s real and what isn’t real?
As the story spins out, Dayo has some tough choices to make, but she’s a tough young woman, so don’t think the odds are all stacked against her.
This book touches on notions of African beauty, and portrays a different view of attractiveness.
The erotic scenes are well written and the first half of the book is particularly powerful.
Photoshot of Elizabeth Salawu
Five Things You Didn’t Know about Elizabeth Salawu
1.I record my podcase (The Segilola Salami Show) in my bedroom whilst wearing my PJ.
2. I love jollof rice and fried plantain (Nigerian jollof is the best).
3. The only place I can imagine spending 365 days in at a stretch is London.
4. Every time I re-read Abiku: A Battle of Gods, I say to myself, “Wow, did you actually write that?”
5. Whilst pregnant, I decided I was only going to breastfeed my daughter for one month but somehow I ended up doing it for two years eheheheh
Thanks for letting me review your book and for talking to us today, Segilola (Elizabeth Salawu). You can check out more about Segilola here
Today, I have the privilege of introducing you to An Ishmael of Syria by Asaad Almohammad. This book has been nominated for 2016 Goodreads Choice Award.
I found it to be full of raw power. Read on to find out more.
An Ishmael of Syria by Asaad Almohammad
Adam is a tortured soul. Exiled from his homeland, forced to watch the horrors unfold from afar. His family, still living – or surviving – in war-torn Syria, struggle daily.
Adam tries to be a ‘global citizen’ and become a part of his new community in Malaysia, but is constantly faced with intolerance, bigotry, and plain old racism. Opportunities are few and Adam finds himself working long hours for poor pay so that he can help his family.
The increasingly distressing news bulletins, along with Adam’s haunting childhood memories, compel him to examine his own beliefs; in God, in humanity, in himself and his integrity as a reluctant bystander in the worst human catastrophe of the twenty-first century.
Ann Girdharry’s View
Shocking. Anguished. Insightful. Don’t expect this to be a comfortable read.
However, I’d rank this as a must-read, particularly for anyone interested in understanding the experiences and emotions of a man in exile.
I should tell you too, that the style of writing may change forever your view of what a novel is or should be.
I admit that being inside the head of the main character required all my concentration. We witness Adam’s fragmented encounters in Malaysia with strangers, fellow students, colleagues and other Syrians unable to return to their home country.
With each conversation we come to better understand Adam’s state of mind and terrible helplessness, despite, or perhaps because of the fact, that he is the financial lifeline his family at home depend upon. We see that it isn’t only the Syrians in Syria who struggle, Adam struggles daily to survive too, just in different ways to his family.
The writing is interspersed with passages from Adam’s life as a young boy and the friends and family he grew up with.
I think this book is so powerful because it’s so raw, so don’t look for literary perfection.
Reading of Adam’s experience has forged a link between me and the Syrian people – just from the reading of one book – I call that remarkable.
Photoshot of Asaad Almohammad
Five Things You Didn’t Know about Asaad Almohammad
1.An Ishmael of Syria is my debut novel. It’s about a young Syrian man who is haunted by his past as he tries to find a home. It’s also about struggling against odds that we all might face. Rather than centre on surmounting his struggles, the novel is more about his journey. The story follows Adam across Syria, Lebanon, and Malaysia between 1989 and 2015.
2. For a year or so I’d translated my first-hand experiences coupled with my psychological insight into a work of fiction. With terrorism, radicalisation, and the refugee crisis becoming the centre of heated debate, I thought that the story is one that readers might appreciate.
The novel is semi-autobiographical. I have to say the bulk of it actually happened. I’ve used some artistic licence to weave the stories together. But in essence everything happened. Through the narrator, I used critical consciousness as a tool in tackling a number of socio-political issues. I wanted to engage the mainstream audience without neglecting readers with deeper knowledge of the region and issues conveyed through the book.
3. I was born and raised in Syria. I moved to Malaysia around 8 years ago and just recently finished my PhD in neuro-political psychology and marketing. I live with my wife and our two cats.
4. For the last few years I’ve been working as a consultant on a number of issues spanning across deradicalisation intervention programmes, civil unrest, illicit financial flows, and due diligence research.
5. I am avid follower of news on foreign policy, trade, and immigration. One of my favourite pastimes is discussing current affairs and politics with my wife and friends
Add this one to your ‘to buy’ list and please remember to post up a reader’s review, for instance on Amazon. Reviews are important because they help authors to get noticed. (They are especially important to new and lesser-known authors.)
You can find out more about Asaad Almohammad here http://asaadalmohammad.com/
Until next time and Happy Reading!
This week’s author is one for poetry lovers.
What is it about poetry that makes it magical? If you like poems, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. In poetry, meaning and feeling can be captured in a few words. Today, I’m joined by Hibah Shabkhez.
I came across the poetry of Hibah Shabkhez by chance on a part of Goodreads which is frequented not by readers but by authors. Her poems are so enticing, polished and easy to read that they give the (surely false) impression they were easy to write.
Rather, I think this tells us of the writer’s talent. Read on to find out more.
Alack, The Ashen Waves of the Sea by Hibah Shabkhez
Alack, The Ashen Waves of the Sea is a book of quatrain poems that would have you sing softly of love and light and laughter, of truth and of daring, of knowledge and innocence and fantasy. With this silken string of quatrain-chaunts, let yourself soar feckless unto the sun, like Icarus, for the space of one glad smile.
Ann Girdharry’s View
I think that talking too much about poetry can spoil it. Poetry is such a personal experience and, when well done, can evoke surprising emotions, or memories, in the reader.
I enjoyed this varied, short collection which, in my interpretation, included themes of love, loss, death, the existential, the beauty of nature. The book description above gives a glimpse of the treats instore.
In each quatrain, I liked the way the author played with so few words to give such depth. The poems reflect the creativity, mastery of words and life view of the author.
Photoshot of Hibah Shabkhez
Hibah is so eloquent - I really enjoyed her responses to Five Things You Didn’t Know about Hibah Shabkhez -
1. I like to think of myself more as a number of people operating under the alias ‘Hibah Shabkhez’ than as one person defined by the name. This deliberately Wemmick approach to identity does tend to make people believe I am a trifle bonkers, but then who wants to pretend to be sane anyway?
2. Languages fascinate me, especially the impact that sound and spelling have upon meaning. So I made language-teaching my ‘half-plate’ – my regular job – and I add to it a slice of every language I run across. For my diary, of course, I invented a multilingual secret alphabet all my own.
3. One of my selves is a Pakistani girl who dreams of adventures, of discovering brave new worlds and a million different ways of living. At present I am in Paris studying at a university right out of my storybooks, and daily I discover some fresh beauty in this land of strangers like me. As long as I live I pray that every day will bring me new wonders, one sleepy windswept park-square at a time.
4. Recipes and principles of good sense make standard cooking rather boring, but I do like crazy culinary experiments. So, every once in a while, I grab a bowl, beat up half a dozen eggs, and toss in a fistful each of all things vaguely edible around me, from chocolate-coated cereal to chunks of fish ... Try it out sometime.
5. According to the lore of my country, royal children in olden days learnt a craft as a sort of back-up plan against penury. As a writer in the ivory tower of legend, I chose book-binding to be my ‘royal skill’. It may not haul in the millions, but it certainly allows me to bind myself hundreds of books.
Thanks for joining me today, Hibah, and having a ‘royal skill’ sounds like a great idea.
You can check out more about Hibah Shabkhez here - https://www.facebook.com/hibahshabkhezsarusaihiryu/ and here http://languedouche.blogspot.fr.
Next time, I’ll be joined by an author nominated for this year’s Goodreads Choice Award. His powerful book is based on the experiences of a Syrian in exile. Watch this space.
Today’s author is Nadia Hashimi. Nadia has twice been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award 2014 and 2015. Read on to find out more.
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age.
But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-aunt, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.
Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell interweaves the tales of these two women.
Ann Girdharry’s View
The two girls in this story lived generations apart but they share similar experiences - the experience of a terrifying marriage as a child bride, the abuse of their family-in-laws, the punishing attitude of their husbands, and their lowly status as women in a society that values men.
We see how precious their links are with other women and how Shekiba and Rahima can be made or broken by them.
There are a few brighter moments and there is much hardship and tragedy. We gain an insight into Afghanistan and I found my interest caught by all the details of everyday life.
This is an uncomfortable tale and I liked it because it was out of the mould of many books. So, if you’re looking for something a little different, this is definitely for you.
I felt both Shekiba and Rahima were incredibly strong young women. The story left me with a lot think about, especially the similarities and differences in women’s lives across the globe and the power of inner strength.
Photoshot of Nadia Hashimi
Five Things You Didn’t Know about Nadia Hashimi -
1. I think I was in middle school when I read Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews). I’m sure my parents would cringe to know that I was in middle school when I dug into a novel about caged siblings drifting toward incest. I was a voracious reader and tore through anything I could find. Though it may not have been the most age-appropriate selection, I’m thankful my parents didn’t police my choices. Reading has been my only preparation for writing and Andrews and so many authors have surely influenced my story-telling in some way.
2. I hate mushrooms. This may be a strange thing for a mostly-vegetarian (I do eat fish) to say but mushrooms are fungus. I refuse to ingest things called tree ears or be fooled by fancy names like Portobello.
3. I do a lot of writing in coffee shops for three reasons. One: Coffee. Two: I get to people watch which is absolutely essential to my writing. You never know when you may eavesdrop on a juicy conversation. Three: Coffee. (Or did I mention that already?)
4. Writing is my way of channelling outrage. Hearing about the hard choices families in war-torn countries have to make for their children, reading about young girls who are given as “brides” to men three times their age, learning about corruption at all levels of society, I am outraged. I used to share articles with friends so that they could share my outrage. I’d also yell at the television which is heartbreakingly ineffective. Since people tell me that my stories enlighten, inspire and educate, I think it’s far more productive than what I was doing before.
5. I’ve travelled to more than 25 countries around the world. In my grandfather’s words, travel matures a person. I’d like to think those early trips to India humbled and informed me about the harsh lives so many people lead. It is a beautiful country with a vibrant culture and posh tourist spots but because we were visiting family who had fled to India as refugees, we stayed in areas where poverty was quite evident. I’m hoping to open my children’s eyes once they’re a little bit older. I think they’ll be better global citizens if they get a taste of the world’s diversity and a view of how income disparities play out in real life.
Thank you for talking to us today, Nadia.
You can check out about Nadia and find out more about her books here - http://nadiahashimi.com
It’s Halloween Season and don’t-ya just love the ghouls, the pumpkins, the screams of mock-terror, the kids in their top-to-toe, trick-or-treat disguises? I do.
Well, here’s your Halloween treat because it’s time for #2 of 10 New Authors of Colour.
Today, I’m interviewing V.M. Sawh, author of Cinders. Cinders is a perfect, dark pick.
Read on to find out more.
Cinders by V.M. Sawh
As a slave in the bawdy Black House, Rella longs to escape the whips and chains of her existence. When she is chosen for a dangerous mission and offered a chance at freedom, Rella knows she has to take it.
Armed with a secret weapon, Rella must infiltrate the Grand Ball and come face-to-face with the true price of her salvation.
Cinders (Good Tales for Bad Dreams) is part of a short-fiction series of re-imagined fairy tales. Each story is set in a different time and place.
So strip bare your assumptions, open your mind and take a walk on the dark side of make believe.
Ann Girdharry’s View
There’s a wicked sense of humour in this dark re-telling which takes us a million miles from the original ‘Cinderella’, to a place of violence (and sex), where choices have to be made for your own survival. V.M keeps the style and tone of a fairy tale whilst conveying a story which is something utterly different.
What I liked was the way the author kept it dark and yet, the reader knows the hidden heart to the story, and understands Cinders as a young woman with a slim chance. There’s a battle of values here, of who we are or what we want to be. There’s also great writing with rich descriptions.
This is for those who like dark, mature themes, with a clever touch. The raw creativity needed to create such an original tale makes me look forward to a full length novel from V.M. Sawh.
Five Things You Didn’t Know about V.M. Sawh
1. Born in Guyana, I came to Canada during the big snowstorm of 1993, one day after my 9th birthday. I felt caught between the world I'd left behind and my new role as an immigrant, and discovered unexpected differences between the Indian culture I thought I knew and the Indo-Canadian experience. I sought to forge a new identity as I grew up - one free from culture politics and the social pressures that came with colour-based labels.
2. I crafted 3 novels by age 16 and was courted by a publisher while still in high school. To my everlasting regret, I doubted myself and chose to forgo my dream of publishing. Instead, I finished high school a year early, got a job and paid my own way through university.
3. I fulfilled a life-long dream when I drove to the top of Mount Haleakalā, a 10,000 foot volcano, white-knuckling it on both ascent & descent, in a silver Dodge Challenger nicknamed "Luna". With no guardrails on that mountain road, a single slip of the wheel meant instant death. Once I reached the peak, I was able to watch the sunset above the clouds and laid eyes on the Silversword - a metallic flowering cactus that only grows in the Mars-like crater at the top.
4. As a die-hard fan of monster movies, I was overjoyed to meet my long-time hero - director Guillermo del Toro (of Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth & Pacific Rim fame) in person. Del Toro was so disheartened by lack of studio support for Hellboy 3 that he wondered aloud if he should stop making movies. Seeing him losing hope, I told del Toro "You are living the dream of so many of us, who long to create art the way you do. Please don't give up." He promised me that he would never quit.
5. A life-long lover of martial arts, I studied Karate in South America and Canada, eventually gaining my Black Belt as a teenager and going on to teach. I learned the value of fair play during regional competition when my sensei asked me to throw the fight against my opponent - a celebrated rival from a sister school - due to racial & political implications. I gave in and settled for the Bronze. After being injured a year later, I was forced to retire from active competition. Now I feed my passion by dissecting fight choreography in martial arts movies.
Thanks for letting me review your book and for talking to us today, V.M.
Check out V.M's website here - http://vmsawh.com
or go here https://www.facebook.com/vmsawh
Next time, I’ll be unveiling a writer who has been voted Goodreads Choice Author 2016 and 2015. She’ll be telling us about the personal and cultural inspirations behind her book.
See you then.
I've started writing for the Huffington Post.
In 'Discover 10 New Writers of Colour' , I’ll be interviewing exciting, new writers with great books for you to discover.
#1 Smita Bhattacharya, author of He Knew A Firefly.
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