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This year S. Krishna’s Books again is hosting the South Asian Challenge 2011, inviting readers to discover books by South Asian authors. I will be signing up to read, hoping to post more of my reviews than I did last year. For details or to sign up, visit S. Krishna’s blog. There is an extensive list of reading suggestions as well as links to past reviews. Here’s to a new year of excellent reads!

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A new year means another opportunity to challenge myself to read amazing literature. I am thankful for the encouragement and ideas presented by blog writers, and I will sign on for the Quirky Brown Reading Challenge hosted by BrownGirl BookSpeak. As she writes, “This challenge is more than about finishing a certain number of books, but about challenging the overly subscribed to depictions of the so-called ‘Black experience’. I hope participants also discover some of our lesser known contributions to American literature.”

She offers many author suggestions, and there will be links to reviews by readers to give you additional ideas. I encourage you to sign up, and make 2011 a year to discover unfamiliar writers.

Touch by Adania Shibli


At Belletrista, an excellent online literary magazine focused on women writers, there is an interesting discussion of Touch, written by Palestinian author Adania Shibli (translated from the Arabic by Paula Haydar).

I encourage you to take a look at this author. My review of Touch is posted at Elevate Difference, and you are welcome to post comments there.

in the woods


fox warren today. an actual, multiple-entry point fox warren. i saw it with my own eyes, on a family walk in the woods on our farm. the residents, to be sure, stayed hidden. i’m sure they were appalled by our canine sticking her snout into their doorways. my spouse indicated that the home had been made by groundhogs, then forcibly taken over by the fox family. an unsavory custom of foxes, perhaps, but amazing nonetheless. i knew we had red foxes, more than one family, living here, but i had not expected to be so close to their home. a few times i have caught glimpses, but red foxes are rather shy and quick to dash away. one morning last spring a fox was on the edge of our garden beds, likely tracking a rabbit. i stood transfixed until he slinked away through the cover of marsh grasses. i would love to write a poetic nature essay in response to today’s discovery, yet at the present i am too awed, too struck with the excitement of it. oh, the daughter’s plans: to wake up before the sun and walk silently with her father into the woods, to catch a glimpse of scarlet canines on their way home from breakfast. i will awake just in time to sit on the porch, steaming mug of coffee between my palms, watch my daughter canter home across the field, wild glimmer in her eyes and grin ear-to-ear. Vulpes vulpes, you have captivated us.

Photo, alas, is not my own, but from Wikimedia Commons. Woodcut image © AllPosters

Forget Sorrow by Belle Yang


I jumped at the chance to review Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale, an unconventional graphic memoir from writer/artist Belle Yang. While I am no expert on graphic literature, I did devour Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis series. With this medium, I enjoy (and envy) the way an artist can show emotions through inked illustrations, and use words more sparingly. Further, there is an intimacy created on the page, because the typeface and conversational style evoke a personal journal lying on a nightstand.

Read the complete review, published on August 23, 2010, and post your comments at Elevate Difference.

Knots by Nuruddin Farah


today a lovely package was waiting in the mailbox: a copy of Knots by Nuruddin Farah. i was the lucky winner of a copy from the blogoversary giveaway at BrownGirl Speaks. i’m looking forward to reading and then posting a review. In the story, a Somali-American woman returns home after 20 years in exile. i have avoided reading reviews, but i do know that the role of women and the challenges of peacemaking will play a large part in the novel.

Beloved

Toni Morrison’s Beloved will stay with me for a long while. I had put off reading it for years, picking it up in the library only to replace it on the shelf, because I have a big problem with ghosts. However, it is not only the ghost in the story that will haunt me, but the frightening and painful details of what slavery wrought upon the African Americans in this novel. From the epigraph, “sixty million and more,” the tears began.

Yet the story has redeeming moments of beauty and tenderness, as in the pleasures of nature, the colors of a quilt, the light touch of an old friend, or the quiet help of a neighbor.

The story centers around Sethe, a woman who escapes from slavery to join her children (escaped) and mother-in-law Baby Suggs (freed from through paid labor under an unusual enslaver). Baby Suggs was a leader in her Ohio community, known to be a healer and a powerful preacher.

From the beginning of the novel there is a sense of pending doom, despite the hopefulness of escaping to freedom, because we know one of Sethe’s children died and is haunting the home she shares with Baby Suggs and a daughter, Denver. Slowly, Morrison unwinds the story of Denver’s birth, of Sethe’s life enslaved on Sweet Home, of her escape, and of the disaster.

Only a month after Sethe’s arrival, disaster strikes, leading to the death of the child who haunts their home. After escaping from slavery, and longing for her family to be together, Sethe is shaken by this disaster and its impact on her family. Morrison creates for the reader a world where the freedom to love is a frightfully precious thing, something that those of us born into freedom should never take for granted.

Aside from the fact that a main character in this book is a ghost that takes a bodily form, the details of the novel are all-too realistic. Morrison’s descriptions of the everyday sufferings under slavery, and in the period following the Civil War’s end, are heartbreaking. Supporting characters, including Paul D from Sweet Home, provide a window through which the reader sees the disastrous results of treating people as less than human.

Morrison’s luminous writing gifts the reader a view into the loving and wounded hearts of these characters. To be honest, many parts of this novel turned my stomach, and I cried more than a little. But that is only right, considering the subject matter.

Beloved was published in 1987 and received the Pulitzer Prize. I read this book as part of the African Diaspora Reading Challenge hosted by BrownGirl Speaks. Her blog is full of wonderful reading suggestions, and I invite you to join the challenge.