BOOK REVIEW: OPEN WATER -CALEB AZUMAH NELSON

The story of boy meets girl has been told since time immemorial. In this one, a photographer (he) and a dancer (she) meet in a pub in South East London. Both black, and scholarship beneficiaries.

While in London they struggle to fit in, and in a fast-paced world, they automatically draw towards each other. The dancer is in a relationship with someone else but cannot seem to ignore the photographer and the photographer craves to make her his muse. They meet whenever they can, and he jumps through hoops to ensure each encounter is memorable.

The photographer tackles the challenges of being a black man, being vulnerable, and pursuing love. The words used are gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.

“The happy ending is never universal. Someone is always left behind. And in the London I get up in- as it is today- that someone is more often than not a young black man.”

“You don’t want to admit that he too knew he had been marked for destruction, that he had spent a life so close to death that it was less a life lived and more one survived.”

Still, he does not falter.  Hope over anxiety, “When you sow a seed, it will grow. Somehow, someway, it will grow.”

The dancer has an active social life, always attending something, being part of something and feels out of reach to the photographer but somehow they collide and fall in love.

“I feel like a big part of our foundation is eating and drinking together.’ ‘I don’t think those are bad things to take pleasure in.’’

Cute, it’s the little moments that make up the big picture…right?

Open water reverberates the story of boy meets girl and the challenges of modern love. The pressure to live up to expectations while still holding on to individual truths. It covers depression, loneliness and trying to overcome them. The writer is crafty with his words and almost feels like nuggets of advice to anyone going through these traumas.

 “You are more than the sum of your traumas.”

“You do not want to die before you can live.”

 I particularly loved the tone of the book, it is an easy read and a compelling story that is relatable and touching. It may read as a cliché but aren’t all boy meets girl stories clichés? For as long as new ones get born each day, the boy meets girl story will forever live.

This 163-page book is a remarkable debut novel. And a book that recommends other books is always a plus! Reasons why the to-be-read list will never be zero!

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BOOK REVIEW: HOMEGOING – YAA GYASI

“Somebody gotta know you free now. Somebody in this world need to know at least that.”

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi follows the story of a family deep in the throes of slavery and slave trade, Cobbe Otcher’s lineage slaves, and Big Man Asare’s lineage traders.

It clearly delivers on the impact of slavery on family bonds, marriage, parenting, work, the search for opportunities and the desire of the slaves to go back home. Additionally, it is an excellent portrayal of what Africans did to fellow Africans, the benefits of slave trading, the societal status of traders and conversely the story of slave traders turned slaves. A double-edged sword.

As generations come the story unfolds vividly detailing the suffering endured by slaves in ships and dungeons and the flourishing slave trade in Africa. An emotional portrayal of what life was, what the struggle for freedom was and the privileges we enjoy today because of those that came before us

Following the characters was a look into the mirror, a recognition of what the majority of our ancestors endured. Throughout Africa slave trade was practised, so the look into Ghana is easily translatable to the glimpse into my own land.

Homegoing has many characters, 27 characters total not counting the slavers, overwhelming to keep track of but the family tree at the beginning of the book is a great help. With every new character, I had to refer back.

Yaa Gyasi does not mince her words, she is powerful and confident and ensures that this 300- page book delivered what it was supposed to.

Excerpts:

  • “The need to call this thing “good” and this thing “bad”, this thing “white” and this thing “black”, was an impulse that Effia did not understand. In her village, everything was everything. Everything bore the weight of everything else”.

Homegoing is thought-provoking, elicits emotions and almost piques one’s anger against the injustice meted upon the blacks.

  •    “…she’d discovered that only the white men talked of “black magic”. As though magic had a colour. 

Statements that guarantee you will not remain unchanged.

  • “You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves”.  
  • “If we go to the white man for school, we will just learn the way the white man wants us to learn. We will come back and build the country the white man wants us to build. One that continues to serve them. We will never be free…..we have to start somewhere…..so let’s start with ourselves”. The greatest takeaway from this masterpiece.

Homegoing is the full circle. In the end, the family reunites on the shores of the gold coast. Giving birth to renewed hope and freedom. This book is a great read for anyone in search of knowledge and understanding of Africa’s coming-of-age story. A book for someone in search of what we are not taught in history class and in search of free thought. Go in willing to have your opinions challenged and your thought process provoked.

BOOK REVIEW: FINDING ME – VIOLA DAVIS

Some books change you.

No doubt memoirs are literary selfies. And one must strongly believe that their story is worth telling to put in a book. Viola Davis’s story is truly one that had to be told and needed to be read.

A life of resilience from childhood, teen, young adult and adult. She vividly captures her experiences and makes the reader walk in her shoes. Her’s is a story marred with pain, heartbreak and abuse but also a story of triumph and getting back up. She said best when she said, “My biggest discovery was that you can literally re-create your life. You can redefine it. You don’t have to live in the past. I found that not only did I have fight in me, I had love.” Fall down 8, get up 9.

Throughout this 291-page book, I felt like I was talking to a close aunt who wanted nothing but to see me excel. Sharing her steps, missteps and her lessons along the way. Some sentences literally jump at you and make you think. Isn’t that the essence of a life-changing book? One that leaves you pondering way after it’s done.

This memoir is big on hope. As she puts it,, “I now understand that life, and living it, is more about being present. I’m now aware that the not-so-happy memories lie in wait, but the hope and the joy also lie in wait.” Finding me grapples with the true nature of hope over fear, hope over anxiety and the desire to see life not just as is but as it could be.

We see A-list stars and admire them on the red carpet, but we hardly get to see the years, sweat, and tears that went into the making. Her career life is one that will leave even the doubting Thomas believing that hard work pays.

Viola’s life has come full circle, a life that has paved the way for others and a constant reminder to Remember the love . . . Don’t play the pain and betrayal, play the woman fighting hard to restore the love.

Finding me is a worthy read, a book well written, thought out and clearly structured.

  “May you live long enough to know why you were born.” ― Viola Davis, Finding Me

REVIEW: When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

The title got my attention. When women were birds…did they fly? Were they able to fly free?  My imagination ran wild. The author, Terry Tempest William surpassed them all.

What would you do if you got a hold of your mother’s deepest secrets, thoughts, experiences and opinions but only after she’s gone? If she were alive, the room to ask questions, to seek clarification would be priceless but alas! A caveat.

Through these pages I felt the author’s awakening, the realization that children hardly know their parents, and on the rare opportunity that they do, they may or may not like them; may or may not relate with them but unmistakably will see them for who they are.

The book tackles the importance of using our voice, how we speak to ourselves, to others and how we are spoken to. It delves into the realm of women’s struggle with being heard, the power of NO and consequently the importance of consent.

When women were birds is a kaleidoscope of the author’s interpretation of the mother’s blank pages. On occasion what we write and what is perceived aren’t always the same. As the author says, “To write requires an ego, a belief that what you say matters.” Through self-interpretations of one’s words, we get to see and relive them.

One of my favourite quotes is, “When one woman doesn’t speak, other women get hurt.” This is true of history, present and future, we have come a long way as humans but still have more to conquer. By the end of the book, I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging and encouragement to speak up.

The constant is this, “When silence is a choice, it is an unnerving presence. When silence is imposed, it is censorship.”  Use your voice, use it clearly, use it consistently and use it unapologetically.

BOOK REVIEW: BRITAIN’S GULAG- CAROLINE ELKINS

Author:           Caroline Elkins

Publisher:      Henry Holt

Publication date:       2005

ISBN:  0-8050-8001-5

Prize: Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction in 2005

Every now and then you have to read a complex book. You have to push through the pages to see what was. Such books leave you dazed and appreciative of the present. A book that demands to be read.

There are many books that cover colonization in Kenya and the Mau Mau uprising. But there is no book like Britain’s Gulag by Caroline Elkins. Caroline Elkins dives deep into what she knows is true, as hideous as it may be.

Britain’s Gulag covers the brutal history of colonization in Kenya. The Mau Mau uprising, and the draconian response of the British government. It tells of the evils meted on the Kikuyu population, the use of detention camps that held nearly five hundred people and how they were tortured and treated as less than human.

Covering the period starting 1952 to 1960. A period that saw over a hundred thousand Kenyans killed by diseases, exhaustion, torture, starvation and physical brutality.

The lessons taught in history class merely glide through the grotesque mistreatment of the Mau Mau, however, Caroline Elkins ensured that the truth did not go untold. This book is widely and deeply researched, the author took the time to do an extensive investigation, spoke to hundreds of survivors and unearthed mountains of documents that had been “lost”.

The brutality in the detention camps and the efforts to hide the truth make Britain’s Gulag a must-read for all, we need to understand what it was if we are to appreciate our freedoms. The colonisers’ ruthlessness and the Mau Mau pushback left me dumbfounded and proud to be Kenyan.

I do not disregard the effort that went into the making of this book. However, having to go through hundreds of one–on–one interview of similar experiences and searching through a myriad of material on the same topic birthed countless pages of repetitive reporting. As informative as it is, this 475-page book almost feels dragged out.

A vivid and accurate report on the cruel behaviour of the British, and the relentless spirit of Mau Mau. A daunting read. It is a book that requires attention, patience and a bit of a strong stomach.

BOOK REVIEW: THE PROMISE – DAMON GALGUT

Originally published: 6 April 2021

Author: Damon Galgut

Nominations: Booker Prize

Think about how you would respond to these questions. Do you believe in promises? Are promises binding? Are you liable to carry out the contract your parents make, if they pass before fulfilling them? Do you keep your promises? What is a promise?

The promise tackles this. Set in Pretoria, the Swarts (white family) are gathering to bury the family matriarch who has been sick for a long period and was being catered to by Salome (a black woman). Salome has been with the family for decades, helping the Swarts raise their kids as she struggled to raise her own. Feeling indebted to Salome, Ma promises to give Salome, her own house and her own land. Sadly, Ma passes away before fulfilling the promise made to Salome.

Set during the Apartheid period.  The Swarts are a wealthy family, that benefitted from having black women as servants. The children are not particularly proud of their family’s treatment of the blacks, but in Pretoria, during this period they had to go with the times.

After Ma’s burial and enough grieving time has passed. The promise conversation comes up. Pa dismisses it. With each passing year, it became a distant wish for Salome. Decade after decade, Salome stays steadfast in the hope that one day she will own her own house and her own land. She still serves the Swarts diligently and relies on prayer and hope steadfastly.  

Excerpts:

Got to have some faith! It might take some time but sooner or later, if you just keep trying, someone will stop for you.

Apartheid has fallen see, we die right next to each other now, in intimate proximity. It’s just the living part we still have to work out.

Damon Galgut is brilliant with words, the story is gripping and intense. I found the layout of the book crafty, four-part book – Ma, Pa, Astrid and Anton- each phase takes the reader through the thoughts of the character, their feelings, and their belief of what a promise means. Their perception of the changing country and the importance of family.  

There are many twists and turns throughout the story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. There is also a nice message about the importance of family and doing the right thing.  

The characters are well-developed and the pace of the story does not miss a beat. The writing is crisp, and the flow is fast. This book will be difficult for anyone to put down and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a gripping story.  

This book does not seek to answer the questions set in the beginning, it, however, delivers on making the reader think about their beliefs and opinions about promises and their weight both on self and those bound by them.

Damon Galgut is gifted and his writing is highly recommended.

THIS PLACE

Embu county, Kenya

I get to call this home. I get to say, “My home is magical.”

Away from the noise of city life. Away from the pressure of what’s in or out of style.

People are kinder here. Neighbors know each other by name.

The rainy season is applauded. Eagerly waited for.

I cannot be drowned by my mind because the present time is magical.

Of everywhere I have existed. I found myself here.

This place, the place I wouldn’t have chosen myself but life knew it’s where I needed to be.

May you find your place and may it heal you too. 🤗🌼

BOOK REVIEW: TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM – Yaa Gyasi

Some people make it out of their stories unscathed, thriving. Some people don’t.

Originally published: July 2020

Genres: Psychological Fiction, Domestic Fiction

Nominations: Goodreads Choice Awards Best Fiction

Original language: English

Pages: 288

Transcendent Kingdom follows the story of an immigrant family from Ghana.

Gifty -the protagonist of the story- is in search of understanding. She seeks to know why life is the way it is. To her, science bears answers if one goes searching, so, she dives head first in attempts to understand addiction.

Hers is a small family of four. The turmoils of striving for the American dream drive her parents apart and her father (the Chin Chin man) moves back to Ghana, leaving a heartbroken woman to raise their two children -Gifty and Nana.

Nana is the apple of the community, the proverbial son every parent would be proud of. But Nana bears struggles he cannot talk about. Slowly he falls into the pit of drug addiction and eventually commits suicide. The pain of his loss drives the mom to seek comfort in religion, the Chin Chin man falls on traditions and customs and Gifty goes to science to try to understand whether it could have been avoided.

Excerpts:

We read the bible how we want to read it. It doesn’t change but we do.

What’s the point of all of this ? is a question that separates humans from other animals. Our curiosity around this issue has sparked everything from science to literature to philosophy to religion. When the answer to the question is “Because God deemed it so, ” we might feel comforted. But what if the answer to this question is ” I don’t know,” or worse still, “Nothing”?

There is no living thing on God’s Earth that doesn’t come to know pain sometime.

Yaa Gyasi does an amazing job in developing all characters and portraying the challenges encountered by immigrants, the struggle of searching for greener pastures, and missing the comfort of home while raising children. 288 pages that will keep you glued and guarantee a few thought-provoking issues.

Gifty’s journey throughout this book felt like a sob story. But her resilience and bravery came out in the end. I felt like I was the friend she needed, the listening ear and subtle shoulder pat ‘You got this!’. Seeing her challenges opened my eyes to the impact of upbringing. They deserved present parents, but as is with life….. It goes on.

A few questions lingered at the end. How does society react to the face of depression and suicide? Is it worthwhile to leave your native country in search of better? If what you pictured as better differs from reality then what? Is it ego to stay and shame to return home? What provides comfort for you in times of distress religion or science? How important are traditions and customs in today’s world?

Letting go

You don’t get to give up

You don’t get to throw in the towel

No matter how hard, how tough,how alone you may be

You don’t get to give up.

But, if it gets too much and it hurts to keep going. It is okay to choose yourself. Many times letting go hurts, but the world always adapts.

BOOK REVIEW: LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS- Heather O’Neill

This book is set up in the slums of Montreal and follows the life of Baby, when it starts Baby is 12 years old, with a deceased mom and left with a heroin-addicted father, Jules.

Baby the protagonist of the book narrates her life in hindsight. She is vividly reliving her childhood which is major trauma after trauma. Being a heroin addict, Jules fails to take care of Baby and she ends up in foster care. During this period, she craves stability, having present parents, a home, and love.

In foster care, she bonds with fellow children and has some resemblance of normalcy. Jules goes to rehab and soon as he’s out gets Baby back. The addiction resumes, as is the demon of most addicts, he falls off the wagon again, when he is arrested Baby goes to live with their neighbour, a mother of two, Johnny (18) and Felix (14). Johnny is inappropriate with baby, when Jules is released, he again attempts to give Baby ‘stability’.  Sick cycle carousel!

As the book progresses, Jules is no longer an addict, but he is mean. Baby, in search of solace, joins a community centre which didn’t sit well with Jules, and he makes her quit. Lonely and alone, Baby forms a friendship with Theo. She missed all the red flags, she only sought love, and Theo looked like it, only, Theo was abusive.

At 13, broken, beaten down, addicted to heroin and alone. Baby falls for the advance of the town pimp Alphonse. She moves in with him. He defiles her, prostitutes her and takes all her income. Baby becomes resentful and still in search of a ‘home’ she starts dating Xavier her schoolmate. One time, Alphonse catches her sleeping with Xavier in a hotel room, he beats her up, takes her drugs and shoots them up. He dies of an overdose. Baby reunites with Jules, and together they take off to live with Jule’s cousin in the country.

This is a story of childhood trauma, the impact of drug abuse on the family unit, effects of early pregnancies and subsequently early parenthood. The rot in society- taking advantage of the innocent amongst us and exploiting them- as well as the role of community in shielding and protecting those most vulnerable.

I teared up more than once while reading lullabies for little criminals, it can be gory and painful to read, but it forces the reader to see what society is/ has become.

Excerpts:

  • “From the way that people have always talked about your heart being broken, it sort of seemed to be a one-time thing. Mine seemed to break all the time.”
  • “Becoming a child again is what is impossible. That’s what you have a legitimate reason to be upset over. Childhood is the most valuable thing that’s taken away from you in life if you think about it.”
  • “Lonely children probably wrote the Bible.”
  • “The smallest a family can be is two members, and that was Jules and me.”

Baby narrating her story makes this book read like an expose, like a behind the scenes and paints the gruelling picture of abuse meted out to children.

ALLOW PEOPLE TO BE

ob-la-di, ob-la-da life goes on

You live your entire life without a person and then you meet.You meet and everything before them feels empty like your entire existence was solely for the purpose of them to ignite the fire in you. Suddenly, the colours are robust, all foods taste better, and everything is livelier even the boring and mundane.

You meet someone and every love song is about them, every adventure -they are the ideal partner and every day after that is solely to be experienced with them.

Then, one day, while you’re still on your high, the tower comes tumbling down.

Piece by piece you break, you break to a point you believe cannot be repaired.

Here’s what You need to remember while at this point.

You had a whole life before their entrance into your life, you were a whole individual not tethered to anyone’s life. The exit is painful but it is not the death of you.

You are wholly you, you deserve the love you so easily give away. Anyone who comes into your life should not destabilize the ecosystem, their presence should add on not take from. If we had the luxury of a trailer clip of people’s impact on our lives beforehand we’d know whether to subscribe or ignore…but that’s not how life goes.

Take the leap still, for what is the purpose of life if not to feel everything we can feel?

You are enough, allow people to come and go as they please. It is greedy to think you can own anyone. Experience them then when it’s time for them to leave, let them leave.

Those that are to stay, will stay.

BOOK REVIEW: DEAR WOMAN – MICHAEL REID

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Own your crown!

Dear Woman by Michael Reid is a book for the woman, the woman in search of hard truths, the woman in need of a close conversation with a” tough love male BFF” one who is not afraid to hold the mirror to you and make you look. It is a book ideal for a woman in the exploration of self-worth, self-love and self-acceptance as is, not as society dictates.

This 170-page book reads like an unwrapping of well-hidden fears and facing what we may choose to ignore. Out of fear of self-confrontation or fear of touching fresh wounds.

Michael Reid feels like the potential confidant. He is encouraging and warm in this way of reminding the woman of her worth, her presence, her beauty, her courage, her beliefs and her position in the grand scheme of things without sugarcoating or telling her just what she needs to hear.

The mix of poetry between some tough-to-read pages is a great way to provide a little relief. The poems are powerful, enlightening, uplifting and definitely memorable. The most common one is a poem by the same book title.

“Dear Woman, Sometimes you’ll just be too much woman. Too smart, Too beautiful, Too strong. Too much of something that makes a man feel like less of a man, Which will make you feel like you have to be less of a woman. The biggest mistake you can make Is removing jewels from your crown To make it easier for a man to carry. When this happens, I need you to understand You do not need a smaller crown— You need a man with bigger hands.”
dear woman

The reflective flower pages that double as colouring pages are awesome for the meditative periods that one is bound to experience when devouring this book. Tackling the strains of single motherhood, career, role in society and family, relationships and self-identity, Michael Reid guarantees you look in the mirror and see the truths you might have worked so hard to bury.

The dear woman reads not as a self-help book but as a conversation that should be had by any woman in today’s world. It is not a book on “how to get a perfect partner” but a book that allows you space to scrutinize your past and present choices keenly. It definitely ensures you have something to talk about at the next “girl time” meet-up.

Excerpts:

  • ·       “In a perfect world, a woman receives her crown from her father, and her mother shows her how it is to be worn.”
  •   “This is YOUR book. With it, comes the responsibility to be a better woman. Also a better friend, better daughter, better mother, better wife. Not everything will apply.

It is not a one glove fits all book. It will impact everyone differently. Take what works for you and let the rest be. Dear woman be wholly and unapologetically you!

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