Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge

Sally Morgan and Bronwyn Bancroft In Your Dreams 1997
Oh Jonathon!
My daughters are now three and nearly six and they enjoyed this. It’s a picture book with a fair degree of prose on each page, enough to tell the story of Susie who has to discover her dream of becoming an artist.

The text is by Sally Morgan so there is a degree of complexity – the parents urge Susie to take up well paid work. And the illustrations are by Bronwyn Bancroft. The ones which sparked most discussion with my kids were one of a rainbow and stars (they liked the colours) and one of Susie at school (Pearl pointed out that most of the students had pink skin and some had brown skin, just like at her school).

Books read in 2013
stock leopards - ginia_no_niwa
Here's the list of books by people of colour which I read in 2013. Where I've left reviews I'll link them, but otherwise it'll just be text.

1. Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh
2. River of Smoke - Amitav Ghosh
3. Fledgling - Octavia Butler
4. The Happiest Refugee - Anh Do*
5. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
6. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother - Amy Chua
7. Tales from Firozsha Baag - Rohinton Mistry
8. The Enchantress of Florence (reread after some eight years) - Salman Rushdie
9. And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini
10. The Honey Month - Amal el-Mohtar

*Despite my perfunctory review of it, I highly recommend this one, especially to Aussies and (obviously) those who like Do.">>"">"

The Book of Negroes - Lawrence Hill
Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes* is an exceptional work about an exceptional woman that manages to put the spotlight on a little known historical document (the titular Book of Negroes).

Spanning sixty or so years, from the mid 1700s to early 1800s, The Book of Negroes is about Aminata Diallis, a woman who as a child is kidnapped from her village in West Africa and sold into slavery.  Through sheer luck and a series of coincidences she is able to learn how to read and also to "catch" babies and these two skills allow her to survive and find work wherever she goes. The book traces her amazing journey from Africa to South Carolina to Nova Scotia to Africa again and finally to England and in the process educates the reader on the path a few thousand black slaves were able to take in order to free themselves, a difficulty that Hill manages to convey is a million times more difficult that the process of enslavement was.

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*N.B.: The book was published as Someone Knows my Name in the U.S.

9. Jack D. Forbes, Columbus and Other Cannibals
cartoon wolf
Forbes uses cannibalism as a metaphor to examine imperialism and related evils from a Native American perspective. He was a Native American Studies scholar, but this is not an academic work, since it understandably makes no attempt at scholarly objectivity. In particular, there is quite a bit of romanticising of Native American spirituality. I found it was best approached as a splendid rant along the lines of Edward Said's Orientalism, although I don't think the writing is strong enough to make it quite the tour de force that Said produced.

NW - Zadie Smith
Joan Smalls, Yoncé
I dove directly into this after finishing up Trois Femmes Puissantes which was something like kismet. I don't know if Zadie Smith reads French, but there were some striking parallels in structure and theme between her most recent novel and Marie NDiaye's work. Most likely though it's just a coincidence since both NW and the English translation of TFP came out in 2012.

Reading Smith's work over the years I had come to the rather ungenerous view that she was one of those literary prodigies who would slowly peter out. Her work went from staggering genius (White Teeth) to misunderstood masterpiece (The Autograph Man) to dull (On Beauty) to overly didactic (Changing my Mind: Occasional Essays). The gap between On Beauty (which came out in 2005) and NW (2012) made it seem like even Smith was bored of writing fiction so I had my reservations when it came to reading her latest work. How wrong I was.

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Trois Femmes Puissantes - Marie NDiaye
Marie NDiaye has an illustrious career in France, winning both the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Femina and being one of only two women who have ever had their work performed at the Comédie française. It is no surprise then that Trois Femmes Puissantes (available in English as Three Strong Women) which one the Goncourt, is such a staggering sweeping epic piece of work.

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Born with a Tooth - Joseph Boyden
Born with a Tooth is Joseph Boyden's first published book, a short story collection divided into compass directions (North, South, East, West) which inform the reader which part of Ontario the stories are set in.

Boyden's has two other works to his name, the loosely interlinked Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, both of which earned critical raves and won major literary awards in Canada. Born with a Tooth is a rougher work with Boyden never manages to hit the staggering heights he achieves with his sprawling novels, perhaps finding the short story format too confining. Also, bizarrely, one story features characters with names identical to the characters in Three Day Road although none of their other features including the setting, background or characteristics are the same.

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6.-8.: various
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6. Crystal Blanton (ed.), Shades of Faith: Minority Voices in Paganism. Pagans of colour write about their experiences. As with any such anthology, some pieces engaged me more than others; some were very moving.

7. Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince. This one is great - a post-apocalyptic dystopian take on the Gilgamesh epic, with strong female characters, in a setting where bisexuality is unremarkable and possibly even the norm. It left me hoping for a sequel, and I will definitely be checking out more of Johnson's work.

8. Karen Lord, Redemption in Indigo. Fantasy set in West Africa. I gather it's a retelling of a Senegalese folk tale, which means I miss most of the references, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment. Again, I will probably read more of her work.

5. Marjane Satrapi, Embroideries
cartoon wolf
This features several of the female characters from Satrapi's Persepolis, gathered together over tea in a Tehran apartment and taking advantage of their menfolk's afternoon nap to talk freely about their sexuality. It's beautiful and touching and very much in line with other things I have read about Iranian women's culture, and I highly recommend it.

4. Gede Parma, By Land, Sky and Sea: Three Realms of Shamanic Witchcraft
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Before I started this challenge, I read Parma's first book, Spirited - a 102-level book for Wiccans and Neopagans - and liked the writing style. I have recently joined a Druid organisation, and since Druidry tends to work with the Three Realms of Celtic mythology rather than the four elements preferred in Wicca and much ceremonial magic, I was interested to see what he had to say on this topic. Unfortunately, the title turned out to be rather misleading; there is very little reference at all to the Celtic background of the Three Realms concept, which is perhaps explained by the fact that not a single entry in the bibliography is a source that focuses on that culture. Although it does nominally have one section dedicated to each of the Realms, the assignment of topics to those sections seems a bit random. I also found the ordering of the sections counter-intuitive; Parma suggests that the Sky realm is the most alien to our ordinary experience, so it would make more sense to me to place it last rather than second. However, as a 201 book for Wiccans or other eclectic Neopagans - which in fairness is pretty much what it's intended to be, judging from the introduction - this probably isn't bad; it just wasn't what I was expecting from the title or from my previous reading of Parma.

ETA: I have a version of this review on my own journal, and oakmouse commented over there to say that the Druid Revival end of the Druidry spectrum does tend to use the four elements and not the Three Realms (unlike ADF, which is closer to the reconstructionist end, although it does not actually define as reconstructionist). I'm grateful for the correction.

(When I came to post this, I noticed that my previous post to this comm had double-posted, so I've now deleted one copy; apologies, mods and anyone else who was annoyed by that.)

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