Category: Literature


Hello,

Todayś feature is my second youtube video, in which I recommend some Finnish books that feature diversity, and most are written by a person who shares the same background as the novels protagonist. Enjoy.

/ Maaretta

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(Important Note: This post differs from others in that this will be a crosspost with the website “Girls Gone International”, an organization that has book clubs all over the world. Since I currently run the one in Stockholm, this post follows the formula of Book club spotlights on their site. Therefore the style of review is a little different.)

This August the Stockholm GGI book club had as their book of choice the novel ”The Woman Next Door” by Yewande Omotoso. The book has been long listed for The Bailey´s Womens Prize for Fiction, which as the theme for the August meetup, motivated the choice of the text. The Stockholm GGI meetup group decides the novels through a poll; “The Woman next door” won overwhelmingly so.

In attendance for the discussion were five female members of the club, not including myself, who is the organizer of this small band. Not all had finished the book, but it didn´t prevent the evening from becoming a lively and invigorating discussion regardless. A noted problem with the book, that was a focus for the discussion, was that while the writing style and language was easy to engage with, many found the two main leads distancing and unlikeable. This was noteworthy as the book is adamantly character driven making this a fundamental issue to the text and creating a difficulty in merging with the unfolding of the narrative and form. Yet, at the last, and on the whole, the attending members of the group all seemed vaguely positive about the novel despite this haunting flaw.

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The novel recounts a tale of two women living in Cape Town: Hortensia and Marion. Both women are in their eighties, recently widowed, and both are successful, but former, career women. Marion is white and has lived in South Africa since early childhood, Hortensia is black and has moved to South Africa only recently, after growing up in London and living in Nigeria as an adult. The two women hate each other passionately, and the novel builds on the antagonism between them while delving into their respective past lives. This recitation of their lives garners a number of topics and historical moments and touches on Apartheid, racial discrimination and dysfunctional marriages. While the novel is advertised as the two being forced to live together and therefore becoming more friendly with each other, it should be noted that the plot twist of the two of them having to live together is introduced quit late in the novel.

Those in attendance of the book club had a convergence of agreement that, what seemed the overriding theme of the novel, i.e. race relations, was the strongest part in the novel. The members of this group agreed that the novel discussed racism with understanding and nuance, and portrayal of the protagonists resonated with the reader. General accord in our group was that the subject was not only interesting but also an important one in the current epoch of the immigrant and the newly rising ethnic tensions of the world. That said, however, the growing mutual acceptance and redemption aspect in the novel, with Hortensia and Marion becoming less antagonistic with each other and finding a tolerant appreciation in their relationship, felt rushed, and faintly hallow to some in our debates on the story. The way the women warmed up to one another did feel natural, but that too little time was given to it to expand this budding appreciation into a full human understanding. Some pointed out that usually, in real life, the reason why people change is because they want to. And, in the narrative case of both Marion and Hortensia, the attendees were skeptical with the general feeling given in the text that these two embraced the notion of a change enough to reach an understanding and tolerance. In other words, there was the question of how believable the character development was.

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In the narrative itself, there existed the specific scenes we all particularly loved. The one that resonated and was most heavily praised in our unceremonious assembly was an unsettling scenario with Marion recalling being asked by her children why she buys a separate kind of toilet paper for her black housekeeper. This slice in the narrative exposes the deep seat of Marions prejudice and with the excavators of her bias’s being her own children becomes a scathing indictment of the false consciousness of prejudice. The attendees elaborated further on the aftermath of that scene, all agreeing that when it turns out that the housekeeper had been buying her own toilet paper and refusing to use the poor quality kind Marion had bought for her was, in the attendees words, ”Awesome”. Certainly, though we had misgivings about the enticements of the tale, this engagement that the readers had with this juncture of the story engaged the readers and was revealed the subtle believably of the text.

The narrative structure of the book is formulated on alternative point of views between Hortensia and Marion, as well as tells events and stories of both their lives in flashbacks. Because of this structure the novel was, at times, comparatively confusing to some of the attendees, me included. Some in our group indicated that they had at times had to return and re-read passages to understand who´s point of view we were reading. As for myself, the rapidity of change which the author imposed on the reader in regards to the narrative alterations felt exceedingly jarring and broke what intensity the flow of the story should have had at times.

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One of the narrative objects that was loved by the entirety of the company, including me, was the fact that the main leads were of a forgotten faction of our world: older women. It was very refreshing to read about women who were not young, and it was very unusual to read about older people changing their ways and not being fixed as per the clique of the older members of our society . This made the novel feel fresh.

Recurring words used at the meetup were: Interesting, important, hard, confusing and enlightening.

The discussion was very rich and we got a lot out of ”The Woman Next Door” and were glad we had picked it for the Month of August. An honest account of our world today.

2017 is already half way through. A lot has happened this year; There´s been marching for Science and Women´s rights. Wonder Woman finally got her own live action movie. The Midterm election 2018 in the US is coming up. And the UK begins the stumble out of the EU with seemingly no plan. Since a little over a year has gone by, it seems like a good time to share some great books that are yearned to be discovered already this year.

1. ”Inexcusable” by Chris Lynch: This 2005 young adult novel centers on a teenage boy named Keir, who considers himself a proper, honest guy. The book starts with Keir arguing with a girl named Gigi, who accuses Keir of raping her, which Keir considers impossible, due to his (according to him) good nature and due to the fact that he loves Gigi. Thus Keir decides to set the record straight.

The chapters alternate between the present and the past with the voice of Keir narrating the kaleidoscope of temporal slices. His story is comprised of misbegotten attempts to explain his reputation, his actions and emphasizes his own wounded state. The language and tone of the narration is distinctive and memorable. Lycnh uses the trope of the unreliable narrator to raise questions of self-image, consent, violence and masculinity. While following Keir´s story, the book tackles and deconstructs ideals and norms regarding ”good guys”, abusers and how both are viewed in society. ”Inexcusable” tells us something that our black and white, victim-blaming society often neglects: that rape and sexual assault occurs much more frequently than we would like to admit, and is committed by what the social order wants only to dismiss as the ordinary behavior of men and boys. This book is perfect for lovers of unreliable narrators or for those interested in the issue of toxic masculinity. A brave book, with an also twisty narration to make for a great reading experience.

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2. ”Signs Preceding the End of the world” (2015) by Yuri Herrera: This slim volume of a novel is about Makina, a tough girl living in a crime-filled small town in Mexico. The book opens with Makina getting a request from her mother; that she go find her brother who migrated to the US and who dropped out of contact with the family thereafter. Makina embarks on her quest crossing the US/Mexican border without papers, encountering the world of the tentative and shadowy, a world where the immigrants face many dangers and strange characters.

Signs preceding the end of the world” tackles immigration and borders from a surrealistic, dark view. Makina throughout the book shows a strong, rough side and brutally defends herself against the many trails of racism, sexism and the place of the invisible other. Along her journey to find her brother Makina places herself as a handmaiden of help to many of the numerous people she encounters on her quest (including, even those who have shown her evil both ethically and sexually) and takes from even her meager and slight actions and possessions to be generous to all she encounters in her travels. Makina is a rare type of female character one encounters not often in standard literature or as protagonist in our normative culture: a tough, fiercely independent person who doesn´t let her independence make her indifferent to others around her. Makina is meant as a protagonist outside of the self- centeredness of our individually based culture who embodies a genuinely nice person who is simultaneously steadfast and believes in herself while not taking from others. With Makina as the pivot of this optimism of the possibility of social responsibility, the book shows how much violence, hatred and despair immigrants crossing borders have to endure and makes us wonder at the uselessness of this suffering.

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Not ignored in the text is the disconnection and separation that families experience by the growing machinations of neoliberal inequality which pressure the migrations while instigating nationalist crowds to blame the migrant community for problems created by this. Makina´s narration shows the gap created in social and income instability between her brother and the rest of the family, as well as high lights what the actual face global income inequality looks like in the midst of a community it raptures. The book packs a great punch despite it´s size.

The author, Yuri Herrera, lives in the US, writes in Spanish, and was born in Mexico, making this book somewhat #ownvoices.

3. ”El Deafo” (2014) by Cece Bell: This is a middle grade graphic memoir on how Ms. Bell at the age of four lost her hearing, leading to her needing the help of a hearing aid. The memoir follows her struggles with fitting in, being insecure about her hearing aid, learning to read lips, and navigating friendships and crushes. At the same time these many insecurities and upheavals that are occurring in her young life, Cece envisions herself as a superhero with the codename El Deafo, to help her cope with the slew and chaos of the difficult times of her adjustments.

Cece Bell wrote and illustrated this book herself, giving the text and graphics a lighthearted yet serious tone similar to graphic memoirs such as Raina Telgemeier´s”Smile”. The book tackles the difficulties of dealing with condescension, the feelings of the heightened obviousness of her different ableness in the device of the aid, and how small things like watching tv changes drastically due to her new hearing parameters. At the same time, while navigating this specific course laid upon her in the developments with her hearing, young Cece deals with problems many will recognize from their own childhood, like the painful PE classes we were forced to endure.

El Deafo” is able to navigate the pain of finding friends and of learning to accept oneself, all while using ones imagination to empower oneself. A heartwarming, as well as educational read.

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As mentioned, this is a memoir, and therefore has #ownvoices deaf representation.

4. ”Wayward Women: Sexuality and Agency in a New Guinea Society” (2006) by Holly Wardlow: This is a book I started reading for a class I took last year, but found interesting enough to continue afterwards. The book is a non-fiction anthropology text about an ethnic group called the Huli in Papua New Guinea. The book is a little over ten years old, so some facts may have changed, but nonetheless the book felt both exceedingly fresh, and very insightful. Wardlow spent years in the Huli areas in Papua New Guinea and her fieldwork concentrated primarily on the women of the Huli group. ”Wayward Women” discusses in particular female sexuality among Huli women, and half of the book solely discusses the women among the Huli who become prostitutes, or ”Passenger women”. While most non-fiction out there focuses on how sex work is done in desperation to earn money, or how sex work is something forced on the women, this book deals with women who choose to sell sex not because of money, but often, in many cases in the Huli group; out of a means of revenge against family injustices they have endured (often it involves rape). Wayward shows all the complexities in the Huli gendered discourse, never taking an easy answer to what she describes in her study.

An absolutely fascinating account.

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5. ”Exilens Dilemma” (2015) by Razak Aboud: This very petite volume of poems is unfortunately only available in Swedish, but the title means ”The Exiles Dilemma”. The poems discuss just this, the aftermath of escaping and seeking asylum. The issues masterfully explored in this slim text of poems include not only the social stresses of the exiled but the continually incurring loneliness, confusion, trauma and the separations of the migrant experience. The opening poem describes a narrators search for ”the sun of freedom”, but ends up washing dishes and not seeing any sun at all after coming to a new country. Other poems which leap from the pages with devastating emotion include an immigrant confronting a Christmas which chrysalises the feeling of emptiness and ostracization caused by both his loss of youth and home; and another gripping poetic narration when a doctor visit excavates the deadly past into the banal present of a health examination including the necessary medical enquirers “did they beat you and where?” and ”were you raped?”. The poems are exceedingly sad, yet beautiful in their crafting. The themes confronted in the power of the words are dealt with in grace, honesty, without fear. Each poem is devised as a small story that deals openly with the hopelessness of feelings confronting the refugee, the overwhelming of feelings which are packed with the chaotic attitudes that refugees meet; how they are often either invisible looked upon as deficient cultural beings, or perceived as a threat to the social. Especially poignant in the series is the somber feeling of being unseen in the midst of your fellow humans which runs decisively through the thread of the texts and exposes a melancholy feel even to those without any relatable experience to the plight of the exile.

A small volume worth the time for all.

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The author, Razak Aboud, has stated that these poems are based on his own experiences, making this #ownvoices for refugee/immigrant representation. He also writes in Arabic at times alongside Swedish.

6. ”There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé(2017) by Morgan Parker: This collection of poems has been getting a lot of buzz, and for no small reason! Mark my words, these poems will completely blow you away.

Morgan Parker is a relatively new voice in the literary world, making her debut in 2015 with ”Other Peoples Comfort Keep Me Up at Night”. ”There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé” is her second collection which Parker worked five years on. The title is taken from a saying inside the younger black community which Parker elaborating on the icon of Beyoncé as a representation of the myriad of double standards and struggles black American Women face in today’s society. Using Beyoncé as well as Jay Z, Nelly, and Earth Wind & Fire as referents Parker delves into the social power of the imaginary of pop culture to discuss issues of oppression and living in a myriad of specific social communities; Black, white, male, female, and where they diverge and intersect. In the poem ”99 Problems” Parker references Jay Z´s most quoted song to list actual 99 problems, which range from dating, oppression’s, drinking too much, being sexually pressured, and the very notion of a Black woman ”being strong”. In the poem ”What Beyoncé won´t say on a shrink´s couch” the narrator despairs that she is unseen (and unheard) when she says she´s tired. In her invisibility to asking for recognition of humanity she laments in song. In Parkers text ”All they want is my money my pussy my blood” a last gasp to point out the crisis she cries: ”I don´t mean YOLO I mean they are hunting me”.

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The unseen theme of the black voice and life (#BlackLivesMatter) is also devastatingly exposed to in the poem ”The president has never said the word black”, in which Parker critiques former president Barack Obama for the silences he (even) occulted the Black with in order to be heard by the white. Strong and painful to even the hand that writes it this poem, the short text here captures the binds that exist inside politics and race.

Parker´s poems discuss both the beauty and pain of black womanhood, with poems that are as eye opening as they are alluring. The collection details the daily despair, fear, exhaustion, and power of being black and female while cautiously navigating a world that selects to objectify and hurt you. Yet still in the forest of the words the poems also have a wry, witty sense of humor, and an uplifting message that black women are, in fact, more beautiful than anyone can imagine.

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For people just getting into poetry, as well as being newbies to Black feminism, this collection is a must. Naturally, this book is also #ownvoices.

So those are some real good books read this year so far. What about you readers, what have you loved this year book wise?

Been super busy with writing gigs, school and running book clubs. As summer approaches, the promised themes will begin and there will be an increase of post. But until then, why not do a more personal post so you can get to know me a little better.

This survey is based on the Anglo alphabet, but since this blogger is also fluent in Finnish this survey will add the Letters Ä and Ö. The survey was originally created by the blogger Jamie over at The perpetual page-turner”.

A: Author you´ve read most from.

Tove Jansson. I took a class on her authorship at the University before I got a Bachelor degree. Because of that I´ve read nearly all the Moomin books and comics, and one of her standalone novels, ”The Summer Book”. While ”The Moomins”-series is one of the best book series out there, ”The Summer book” kind of faded from memory.

B: Best Sequel Ever.

Alice through the looking glass”. A major accomplishment considering its predecessor. While I´ve always loved both ”Alice”-novels, ”Alice through the looking glass” was the book I made my dad re-read to me continually before I learned to read myself.

C: Currently reading

Ender´s Game” by Orson Scott Card. The copy I have was bought at ”Housing Works”, a second hand store in Manhattan (so no profits have gone to Card! The profits in fact went to giving aid to homeless people and people diagnosed with HIV) last year. I am reading it for a Science Fiction book club. 85% and find it to be a very engaging read, but a little formulaic at times.

D: Drink of choice while reading:

Lidl´s Cola light. Cheap and tasty.

E: E-reader or Physical book?

Physical book. But I also love Audiobooks. When stuck doing house chores, traveling on a crowded buss or cooking, an audiobook gives readers the opportunity to multitask.

F: Fictional Character you probably would have actually dated in High School:

If he would be aged up, Huey Freeman. (This counts because of the comics). When I was sixteen years old, Huey Freeman was my idea of a perfect man: politically active, nerdy, serious, and badass. Now, I´m not so sure. He´s a bit of anti-social sometimes 😀

G: Glad you gave this book a chance:

To all the boys I´ve loved before” and its sequel, ”P. S. I still love you” by Jenny Han. While I tend to avoid romance books and books set in high school (the Young Adult novels I read usually take place outside of high school), these books are delightful in their sincere exploration of family, life, identity, and even bullying.

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H: Hidden gem Book:

Butterfly burning” by Yvonne Vera. A forgotten feminist classic.

I: Important Moment in your reading life:

Reading ”The Trial” by Franz Kafka when in the 8th Grade (which made me at the time 14 years old). That´s when I truly fell in love with the written word.

J: Just Finished

Pig tales” by Marie Darrieussecq, a required reading book for a class at the University. The book is a first-person narrative about a woman who starts to slowly turn into a pig while dealing with a misogynistic boyfriend and working at a abusive cosmetics/brothel department store. It was a wild ride, with great biting satire.

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K: Kind of book you won´t read:

Self-help books. A very problematic part of our current neoliberal society.

L: Longest Book You´ve Read:

Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates. It is 867 pages long (at least the copy I own has that amount of pages). It is a very easy read despite it´s length and is a very well crafted depiction of sexism in American culture.

M: Major book hangover because of:

No book, but usually after finishing an exam I have a couple days burn out where reading is impossible. This was especially true last February, when the stress of finishing my bachelor degree made me unable to do anything outside of school.

N: Number of bookcases you own:

Counting the ones I don´t share with my parents: six.

O: One book you´ve read multiple times:

I´ve read ”Home” by Toni Morrison twice.

P: Preferred place to read

On my bed.

Q: Quote that inspired you

Politics means accepting that things happen for a reason” – ”I love Dick” by Chris Kraus

and from the same book: ”Art, like God or The People, is fine for as long as you can believe in it”.

First quote sums up why I´m a feminist/leftist activist. The second sums up why I´d ever study literature and be a critic/poet.

R: Reading Regret

That I never finished ”All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr. Everybody loved that book. My significant other read it in a week and could not stop talking about it last year.

S: Series you started and Need to Finish (in where all the books in the series are published):

I am yet to read ”Madaddam” by Margaret Atwood, the final book in the ”Madaddam” trilogy. I adored ”Oryx and Crake”, the first book in the series; it was fresh and original. The topics are also still relevant, with genetic mutation and environmental concerns, as well as child slavery.

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T: Three of your All-time favorite books:

The Trial” by Franz Kafka, ”Waiting for the barbarians” by J. M. Coetzee, and ”The Handmaids tale” by Margaret Atwood.

U: Unapologetic Fangirl for:

The Hunger games”-trilogy by Suzanne Collins. These books have great characters and discuss issues most books shy away from (even the more progressive ones), such as Poverty.

V: Very excited for this release:

Hunger: A memoir of (my) body” by Roxanne Gay. It deals with a topic quite rare in literature, which is the eating disorder of over-eating. Can´t wait to finally read a book about this topic.

W: Worst book habit.

Reading multiple books at the same time. Means that some books I end up not finishing and adding it back to the to-be-read pile.

X: X marks the spot. (the blogger is suppose to Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book.

Brown girl dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson. Birthday gift this year.

Y: Your latest book purchase.

In one person” by John Irving and ”Jag vill ha ett liv” (”I want to have a life”) by Sofia Hedman from a second hand bookstore.

Z: ZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late)

Saga vol 2” by Brian K. Vaughan. Those comics are very addictive.

Bonus round!: Ä: ”Äitienpäivä”. (”Mothers day”). Most memorable mother character you´ve read.

Marigold from ”The Illustrated Mother” by Jacqueline Wilson. Marigold is a very imperfect, but very well-meaning, mother who tries to be a good parent but can´t because of her undiagnosed bipolar disorder, as well as being a single parent with illusions of a past love that will return to her. A very touching, if heartbreaking, depiction of parenthood.

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Ö: Finnish word that starts with ”Ö”.

Öljy. It means oil!

Take Care/ Maaretta

Yesterday Was Dr. Seuss day in the US! To celebrate here´s one of the classic author´s greatest quotes, from “Horton Hears a Who”(pub. 1954)

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February in The United States is ”Black History Month”, a national holiday in which Americans remember the long, multilayered history of Black Americans. The holiday sheds light on events and struggles Black Americans have faced, but also highlights the contributions that this minority has made nationally and internationally. In honor of this holiday, here are five diverse Cultural items that discuss race and experiences of Black Americans, and which, naturally, are headed or produced by members of this vibrant community.

1. ”Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler (published 1979): While often referred to as the first science fiction book written by a Black American woman, Butler herself considered it a fantasy novel. This splendid novel follows a time travel tale of the protagonist Dana, who one day is suddenly transported from 1976 to the 19th century, where she encounters her ancestral for-bearers, who are both white slave owners and Black slaves. Thus begins a journey that not only openly discusses American Slavery, but also raises complex questions about morality and power. This novel interestingly deconstructs the concept of time traveling, while also showcasing some of the most horrid and uncomfortable aspects of human nature. Not for the hesitant, or those who have a light acquaintance with the realities of slavery, the book deals with rape quite heavily, and is explicit in the sexual violence that Black women (both free and enslaved) were subjected to. The protagonist Dana, herself, often is ensnared in situations where she wanders into morally uncomfortable territory, and a subtle swell of self doubt is entangled in the interactions and reflections she experiences with her white husband (who time travels with her) with his faint dismissals of the repugnance relations of slavery. Her relationship with Rufus, her white slave-owning ancestor, is twisted and full of abuse, verging continually between friendship and hatred. Yet regardless of all this ”Kindred” mesmerizes and can only be called a real page turner. Fast paced and very exciting; Butler is able to mix historical fiction, social commentary and action-packed fantasy all into one book. Highly recommended to both genre and literary fiction lovers.

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2. ”Lemonade: the Visual album” (2016) by Beyonce: Few culture events were as buzzed about last year as Beyonce´s visual album ”Lemonade”. This ambitious hour-long odyssey adeptly combined poetry, songs and visual, while simultaneously being both an ode to Black Womanhood and Beyonce’s own personal explorations, including facing the anger for her husbands infidelity, the eternal messiness of complicated relationships one has with ones parents, Black lives matter, to name a few. Both the lyrics of Beyonce´s songs and the poems (a collaboration between Beyonce and British poet Warsan Shire) survey a riveting tale of a woman living and dealing with anger, jealousy, sadness and ultimately forgiveness towards her husband, while also remembering the resentment and love she felt towards her father, who cheated on her mother when she was a child. The mixture of visuals reflect not only the long form music video form but also makes loving nods to the production of visual artists from the likes of Matthew Barney to Pippilotti Rist. The stirring and lingering camera and vocals looking at the strides and difficulties of the Black Lives Matter movement, touch us especially as a melancholy segment where the group of (real life) Mothers of unarmed young black men gunned down in obviously racist events, stand as the human face of the stricken down in evident calm and startlingly noble demeanor. Loss and strength of a people are embodied in this scene where it´s hard not to tear up. So much has already been talked about “Lemonade”, so all that’s left to say is: watch it, you won´t regret it.

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3. ”A Patch of Blue” (1965), directed by Guy Green: This classic drama which resonates with elements of the romantic genre follows the young blind girl Selina who lives with an abusive mother. Selina´s mother has not only barred her from attending school, but seeks to totally and sadistically isolate her entirely from society. By accident, Selina stumbles upon Gordon, a (unknown to her) black man, and the two become friends. The movie stars Sidney Portier and Elizabeth Hartman (who would later voice Mrs. Brisby in ”The Secret of NIMF”). These two galvanizing presences enlighten the screen and give the tale a touch nuance a midst the strength of many heartfelt moments. The film discusses Gordon’s experiences with racial segregation of the period, and how his friendship with the white woman reverberates with fears, hesitations, and anxieties. Selina, trapped in her own segregation from the society, deals with a systematized ableist world which looks askance and down on the “less than human” of her blindness. The two characters, both dealing with their own oppression’s but also empowerment, bond and encourage one other, which blooms into a deep human relation. Connecting the leads, here, nothing more important need be said then that they really do seem to have an authentic and sweet feel between them. The movie also plays with the romantic aspect in a realistic way; while the film hints at a mutual attraction, the movie does not overly prioritize the love story, and instead focuses on Selina´s development and new fond chance to get education. A little known gem, but totally worth checking out.

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4. ”Home” by Toni Morrison (published 2012): While all of Morrison’s novels are worth reading, ”Home” is one of her newest releases and is fairly short, so a much more of a quicker read. The book follows two siblings, Frank and Ycindra Money, in Post-Korean war America. Frank is suffering PTSD from his time in the war, and lives in a world composed of continual confusions and a persistent mourning of the death of his fallen friends. “Home” begins with the duo being split due to Franks time in Korea, followed by him moving in with his girlfriend. Frank then hears via letter that Ycindra has grown sick, and must rush to her side. The book is told in a series of nonlinear flash backs from both Ycindra’s and Frank’s point of view, and is rounded out with segments of Frank´s internal dialogue candidly presented to the reader. While the book tackles issues such as racial discrimination and eugenics, the book also confronts the subjects of guilt, unreliable narration, and family. The relationship between Frank and Ycindra, who´s parents died when they were young and, therefore, were raised by unkind grandparents, is moving but also with it´s darker elements. The novel explores race and gender in subtle ways, with themes that anyone regardless of their backgrounds can relate to. ”Home” also gives a shocking twist that is bound to get the reader thinking. A must read.

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5. ”for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf ” by Ntozake Shange (published and first performed 1976): This experimental play has a dedicated fan-base, but was highly controversial at the time of its release. The author was accused of hating men, and the all black cast was unusual for the time. The play is told in verses, and if read in book form comes across as more poetic than play (Ms. Shange is a poet, as well as a playwright and novelist). The narrative follows the intertwined stories of a group of Black women, all having their own chronicles of joy and heartbreak. The poetic text tells a myriad of tales of rape, domestic abuse, sexual awakenings, the discovery of reading, and independence. The form of the play lies with each women telling their stories, playing on a narrative open field which moves from the uplifting to the funny and, naturally, through the devastating. The style also makes the reading experience unique. The cast is entirely female, entirely black, and talks about issues that revolutionized theater in America and beyond. A play that deserves the title classic in every way.

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So those are a few suggestions in honor of Black History Month. What would you all recommend? Comment down below!

Dorit Rabinyan is a rising star in the literary world. Born in Israel to Iranien Jewish parents, she has three books translated into English: “Persian Brides”, “Our Weddings” (also published as “Strand of a thousand pearls”) and “All the rivers”. “Persian Brides” won the Jewish Quartely-Wingate Prize in 1999, and “All the rivers” has been an international best seller. However, “All the Rivers”, has been controversial in Israel; despite being well received and winning an award, in 2015 a scandal emerged: a committee of teachers requested the novel to be added to the recommended curriculum for Hebrew high school literature classes. Another committee in the Israeli Ministry of Education however objected to the request and declined to add it, on the grounds, according to The Economist, that it ”promotes intermarriage and assimilation”. In short, ”All the rivers” has gotten flack for portraying an interfaith and intercultural relationship.

Before moving on to the review, I must tell an endearing story about when I was waiting in a posttalk line to have Ms. Rabinyan sign her novel, ”Our weddings”. Ms. Rabinyan had not quite understood that she was suppose to do signings after her talk. Her publisher went to get her for the signing, and when Ms. Rabinyan appeared and saw the line, she exclaimed happily: ”Wow, are all these people here for me? This is fantastic!”.

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All the rivers” tells the sad love story of Liat, a Persian Jewish woman from Israel who, while temporarily living in New York, meets Hilmi, a young Palestinian man. Despite Liat´s internal reluctance, the two fall in love. However the relationship is filled with conflicts and Liat, additionally in her hesitation, hides the relationship from her parents and from many of her friends. Hilmi and Liat, in the midst of their tumultuous relationship, continually revert to mammoth arguments regarding the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Regardless, as the days go by, and the relationship with Hilmi deepens, it becomes harder for Liat to stick with her original plan to merely have a frivolous adventure while on a long trip and to return to her ”normal life” once she leaves the escapade of New York.

While the novels premise may sound banal and the books description would have the book sound like your average star crossed lovers story, ”All the rivers” surprises with a complex, mature and engaging story of politics and life. The novel is told from Liats point of view, and Rabinyan does not shy away from showing her heroine as deeply flawed. Liat often in fights with Hilmi exposes her insensitivity, and she often, and flippantly voices opinions she would be horrified to hear others utter. Yet, at the same time, Liat is very likeable. She is kind, self- critical and deeply cares about Hilmi, her family, and the humanity of all those around her. For those unfamiliar with Jewish culture they will certainly learn much about it through Liat´s narration.

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Hilmi as a character is loveable. Hilmi´s an ambitious and aspiring artist, has a deep and subtle sense of humour, and, despite a past of hardships engendered in the experiences of the Palestinian occupation forsakes bitterness for compassion and understanding. While hurt that Liat hides him from her parents, he has also remarkable patience with Liat. However he is not kind to a fault.

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In the two leads, Rabinyan explores a different spin on the tropes of intercultural relationships. While often in a text which wants the reader to sympathize with the protagonists, the tendency of the narrative of the two lovers would be written as free from prejudice or bias. Here though, we are exposed directly to Liat´s main flaw of her unremitting bias towards Israelis, and her admission of prejudice regarding Arabs, something she shamefully admits and tries to work on. (Note: people of Iranian descent consider themselves Persian, not Arabic). Liat is not purely a bad guy; Rabinyan shows that Liat deeply cares, supports and loves Hilmi, and listens to his stories of oppression without gaslighting him.

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Rabinyan’s plays in a refreshing perspective to the star-crossed lovers story showing us a human relation of real people embedded in both their prejudices and the dilemma of a loving intercultural relationship which resolves to neither the unloving or unkind. The novel paints a very morally complex and honest reality that explores the problematic nexus of privilege and biases, while showing the personal, political struggles the lovers have in recognition of their ignorances and invisible, unchecked privileges. The politics of the story are honest, and multilayered, while also being delicately critical of Israeli norms in understated ways.

Hilmi´s backstory also breaks ground in how Middle Eastern characters are often depicted in both cultural representations and narrative structure. Hilmi talks about his father, who he mentions was an atheist, and while it is never stated Hilmi himself does not seem very religious. While most literature often depicts Middle Easterners as Muslim or Christian, ”All the rivers” depicts two often forgotten groups: Jewish Middle Easterners and Atheist/non-believing Middle Easterners.

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The political context of the novel, one which the lovers are entrenched in and struggling against, revolves ultimately around the paramount and continual system of apartheid system towards the Palestinians in Israel. Hilmi, when going to Ramallah to visit his family, describes the oppressive atmosphere of the wall and details the surprising event of his time in prison for painting as a teen (the authorities thought he had painted the Palestinian flag). The novel, despite being written by an Israeli writer, does not shy away from the less than stellar aspects of the conflict.

The book is addictive, and difficult to put down. Despite being utterly depressing, ”All the rivers” also makes the unfortunately still relevant cautionary tale of not letting intolerance get in the way of the most human of things, our relationships with one another. Liat, despite knowing Hilmi is a good person, and despite acknowledging that she loves him, does not allow herself the relationship she desires due to fear of her parents disapproval. This denial leads to a heartbreaking ending where Liat is forced to face the harsh reality, of not only lost opportunities, but also of injustice as a destructive force. ”All the rivers” will surprise readers greatly, while also making them cry and rethink. Rare books do so much.

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Photo by Benoit Courti

All the rivers” is a triumph. Even if love stories are not your usual cup of tea (or if you just generally don´t like star-crossed lovers stories) still this novel cannot be recommend more highly. Beautifully written, brave and filled with both overt and restrained insights, ”All the rivers” is the love story for the person wanting to understand the world just a little bit more, and think of the individual enterprise a bit more clearly.

2017: New Year, new plans.

Hi Everybody.

It´s 2017. Due to exams, I was not able to be very active on this site in December. However Now it´s a new year, and I have three major plans for the future on this blog.

– Around the end of February, there will be the start of a series called “Pop goes the art!”, where I will examine the portrayel of art in popular Western animation shows.

– I´m starting probably at the end of this moth a long ongoing series called “Maaretta reads Salman Rushdie”. Each post will be a review of novel by Sir Rushdie, starting with “The Satanic Verses”.

– There will also be the ongoing series called “The Literary Quest for Freedom”, where each blog post will contain a review of a book that discusses democracy and human rights.

Hope you all had a good holiday, and let´s fight the power in 2017!

Take Care/ Maaretta

“Adua” by Igiaba Scego

My third published article appear on the feminist site “Femtiden” last week. It is a review of a novel published in 2015 by the Somali-Italien writer Igiaba Scego. The novel deals with Italien history from a postcolonial viewpoint. Link down below:

http://www.femtiden.se/kreativt/romanen-adua-behandlar-tillhorighet-skuld-och-ensamhet/

The novel is fantastic. Highly recommended.

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(Trigger/Content warning: Suicide and depression).

Even if it is perhaps a banal and cliché statement, it still feels right to say that Lygia Bojunga’s ”My friend the painter” is one of the bravest books I have ever read. It takes one of the most taboo and stigmatizing subjects in our society – suicide – and manages to not only capture the grief, loss and confusion that one feels when a loved one has killed themselves, but also depicts the act of suicide in a complex manner, with a voice of honesty, compassion and melancholia. Despite being a middle grade level novel, I would highly recommended this book for all ages. No matter the age, the reader will assuredly get much from this novel.

The story is about 10-year old Sergio, who, in the first chapter, tells the reader about his neighbor and friend, whom he only refers to as the painter. He talks about how the painter educated him in art, and how they in bygone times would play chess together. The chapter ends with Sergio telling the reader that he must now use the past tense, since he won´t be doing anything with his friend anymore. His friend has just died by his own hand.

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The book is entirely from Sergio’s point of view, and therefore the reader is mercifully spared the details of the death and discovery of the body. Instead the book explores Sergio’s resolute search for answers, most prominently to the desperately haunting question: ”why did my friend choose to die?”. The adults around him try their best to shield him at all cost; the painters girlfriend lies and claims that it was an accident, Sergio’s parents blurt out that the reason for the tragedy is that the painter was sick in the head. All the adults of the novel are in a circuit to avoid and ignore Sergio’s confrontations and questions. Sergio feels at a loss, since he feels like the adults don´t take him seriously and never answer any of his questions. To add insult to injury, when Sergio tries to talk about his grief to his child friends, they are too caught up in their own worlds to sympathize. The situation of the grieving child is messy, to say the least.

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In these scenes, Bojunga captures the heartbreak, confusion and hopelessness that comes with the loss of a friend, while showcasing how the adults around Sergio seem too scared or judgmental to even talk about the life that has passed. Especially, when it comes to Sergio as child, the adults are reluctant to explain or discuss anything with him, despite the fact that Sergio was close to the painter, and is seeking a means to understand the death and his own grieving. The perspective of an overlooked child is a common theme in Bojunga´s authorship, and here it´s used to illustrate not only the condescending view of children, but also the stigma of suicide. The tragedy that has taken place is so taboo that the adults try to shield the boy from everything regarding it, even if it only makes the grieving process that more difficult.

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How the novel deals with suicide itself is brilliant as well. Numerous aspects of the painters life is dealt with before his death- his past with being politically persecuted brought about by a critique of the former dictatorship in Brazil, his girlfriend’s withdrawal of support during this oppressive time, his continuous struggles with depression (it is implied that this may be clinical depression, but is gone unnoticed by others), and his difficulty making it as an artist. In real life, why people attempt suicide ranges from a plethora of divergent reasons, from struggles with mental health through loneliness to economic problems. It can also be a case of many of these causes overlapping, and becoming a state unbearable to the bearer of these emotional burdens. Often times, when the suicide attempt becomes fatal, the ones left behind never really find out why the person they knew chose this deadly direction. This is the case with Sergio; he wonders if it was the painters despair in his art, or his conflict with his girlfriend, or some other unseen despair, that was the trigger that drove him to kill himself. The adults around speculate (behind Sergio’s back) that it was his mental health issues or could be seen in the light of his past as a political prisoner that lead to the sad and untimely death. As the many buildings toward the horrific event of the death itself, the novel never lets us resolve this penultimate question with any easy or obvious answers. The reality of surrounding the question of suicide is, at the least, so multilayer-ed that we will never fully understand.

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“Obbachlosigkeith” by Kata Petricevic

The grief that Sergio feels also captures a painful reality; that of being left with trying to cope after a loved one has killed themselves. The novel doesn´t sugarcoat this experience at all; Sergio’s inner thoughts and process when trying to make sense of everything is as devastating to read about as one can imagine.

My Friend the painter” by Lygia Bojunga is a sad, honest depiction of a complex, important issue. With this book, Bojunga gives a realistic and mature depiction of a tough subject, that speaks with a strong voice whist avoiding the capture of judgment and simplification. Strongly recommended.