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Posts Tagged ‘African diaspora reading challenge’

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.

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With The Thing Around Your Neck, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives readers a collection of twelve impeccably crafted short stories. Adichie, author of the novels Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus, brings her home country vividly to life, from life under military regimes to the challenges and pains of emigrating.

During a busy week, I carried this book around and squeezed in a story whenever I could. The aching sorrow in these stories meant that I sat in a doctor’s waiting room with tears about to brim over, swallowing a large lump in my throat. Mug of coffee in hand, the surprising humor of Adichie’s writing caused a laugh to burst out into my quiet kitchen.

Tales of immoral police, corrupt regimes, and racist colonial powers broke my heart. No less moving were stories of heartache that transcend cultural boundaries—infidelity, the loss of a child, the confusions of growing up.

Three of the stories did not move me as much as the others. It is hard to say whether it was a problem of the style of the story, or if the subject matter in those stories was simply less natural for the writer. Perhaps my criticism comes only from personal preference, and I found those particular characters to be less interesting.

Adichie fills her stories with powerful women. As I finished the stories, I wished I could invite Ujunwa, Ukamaka, Chinaza, Nwamgba, and Ugonna’s mother for tea. Through these tales, Adichie offers tender, and even surprisingly humorous, glimpses of lives in a world crying out for change.

This book is the fourth I have read for the African Diaspora Reading Challenge hosted by fabulous blogger BrownGirl Speaks. I encourage you to participate.

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When facing large problems of injustice, can one young person feel that her or his actions make a difference? Kekla Magoon’s novel The Rock & the River gives us a deeply personal glimpse of this question, through the eyes of narrator Sam Childs. In 1968 Chicago, Sam’s father is a leading civil rights activist, a friend and follower of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Meanwhile, Sam’s 17-year-old brother Steven (Stick), frustrated by demonstrations amidst continuing injustice, becomes involved with the Black Panthers.

Sam endures an internal struggle. He longs to remain close to his brother, but his brother and father have a falling out. (Mr. Child’s strong position against violence even in self-defense leaves him unable to support the methods of the Panthers). After the death of Dr. King, the violence in the streets provides a twisted reflection of Sam’s internal struggle. A sense of forboding hangs over the book, yet all the while Sam is grasping at hope. Tragedy strikes, yet the final notes of the novel are uplifting.

Sam’s daily life shows the reader many of the challenges facing the African American community of the late 1960s (and, arguably, these problems persist today). There are several instances of police harassment and brutality, as well as racist assumptions and mistreatment by white people. For example, when Sam is browsing in a store, he reaches into his pocket for his money; the shopkeeper verbally abuses him, accuses him of shoplifting. These instances were heartbreaking to read because I know they are based in truth.

The portrait of the Black Panthers is a sympathetic one, but also balanced and unflinching. The reader learns of critical contributions made by the Panthers, such as free breakfast programs and efforts to build clinics. However, the story hints that some party members might have been drawn too quickly toward violence. A few details allude to the lack of gender equity in the distribution of the tasks of organizing. One small wish is that the author’s note, which touches on history, might recommend a couple of reliable, balanced sources on the Black Panthers.

This riveting debut novel, written for a young adult audience, won the 2010 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award.

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Last night I read Hush by Jacqueline Woodson. Yes, that’s right—last night, the whole book. It is not a long one, but still, I am no speed reader. The narrator was so compelling, I needed to let her finish telling her story before sleep.

Hush

When I first heard of this novel, I was skeptical. A family entering the witness protection program seemed too far-fetched for a realistic fiction fan like myself. I’m glad I ignored this thought, because the emotions of this story are very believable, and accessible to all readers: the pain of loss, the importance of having a sense of purpose, the desire to excel, the longing to fit in somewhere. I was stunned by how much depth of character Woodson could fit in such a short novel.

In the story, twelve-year-old Toswiah and her older sister Cameron leave Denver for an unnamed city. Their father, a police officer, has testified against fellow officers, and the family has received threats. Toswiah/Evie copes with leaving behind everyone she has known, while observing dramatic changes in her parents. Eventually Toswiah/Evie finds an outlet in running, a way to reconnect with her self and find a way forward.

I have read almost all all of Woodson’s picture books, but this is my first of her young adult novels. I am grateful that she has so many, because she is a stunning writer, and I plan to devour them all. This novel will count towards my reads for the African Diaspora Book Challenge, hosted by BrownGirl Speaks. I hope you’ll check it out. The reviews will give you fantastic reading suggestions.

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i have just finished Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (1924-1987), my first book for the African diaspora reading challenge hosted by BrownGirl Speaks.
i encourage you to sign up for the challenge, and to read this powerful novel.
African diaspora reading challenge
i can’t believe i did not read this book sooner. it has been on my “to read” list for a long while, but kept getting displaced by newer works. with this novel, his first, James Baldwin demonstrates tremendous skill with language and imagery.

this semi-autobiographical, coming of age story, uses emotional intensity and verbal precision to evoke the experiences of 14-year-old John, whose father is a preacher at a storefront church in Harlem. with this context, the novel is rich in Biblical references. John does not want to be anything like his father, a very harsh man, and this contributes to John’s spiritual crisis. Baldwin gives the reader background on John’s parents and his paternal aunt, each of whom has intense internal struggles and challenges to overcome. their stories, while unique in their particulars, contain elements common to other stories of African Americans leaving homes in the southern United States in the hopes of better opportunities in the northern cities—the story of migration that led to the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s and 30s.

this novel is full of moments of beauty and tender love, but still it does not shirk from describing the ugliness that each of us has within. some of the universal experiences these characters had have remained with me: the aching love of parent for child; the fear that love comes but once and is too easily lost; the errors in judgment that have unbearable repercussions; the challenge of guiding headstrong youth who must learn from experience; the confusion of wanting to know God and yet feeling angry at the pain it appears God has allowed to happen. i write this review with a lump in my throat and sleepy eyes, because it was very hard to close this book.

the edition i read was part of James Baldwin: Early Novels and Stories, a 1998 Library of America volume edited by Toni Morrison.

next up should be Sassafrass, Cypress, & Indigo by Ntozake Shange.

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I’ve gotten hooked on book blogs, and my reading list is growing longer and longer. Though it is a virtual community, book blogs can be a great space to connect with others who are passionate about reading. In this spirit, I have decided to join in a couple of the many reading challenges I have seen posted. The first is the African diaspora book challenge, which I read about at BrownGirl Speaks. This is a motivator to read books that have been in the back of my mind for a long while, and also, hopefully, to bring some attention to excellent literature. I’m signing on for the versed level, but hoping to make scholar. There are, happily, at least a half dozen on the list which I have already read (e.g. Zadie Smith, Edwidge Danticat, Zora Neale Hurston—who rocks, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, perhaps due for a re-read). I may start with Sugar by Bernice McFadden, or Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin. Reviews soon to come. Please join the challenge. I welcome suggestions of favorite books by writers of the African diaspora.

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