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Doctor Strange” (2016) is a superhero film that is one of the latest additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, followed by this year’s ”Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2” and ”Spiderman: Homecoming” (both of which I have yet to see). The films comprising the series of Marvels cinematic Universe are constructed not only internally to a worldbuilding fiction but are additionally intended to have (slight) continuity amongst themselves as a group. Movies such as ”Iron Man” (2008), ”Thor” (2011) and ”Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) lead up to ”The Avengers” (2012). After that, films such as ”Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier” (2014) built on the previous movies events. However, while ”Doctor Strange” is a part of this universe, it relies very little on the many previous films and focuses more on introducing Doctor Strange as a new hero, encased somewhat notably in its own world building.

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The plot follows the pompous, yet brilliant, doctor Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The doctor, specializing in neurosurgery, is world famous for being able to do near impossible surgeries with stunning results and we are witness to a short introduction to his brilliance from the movies very beginning. However one day, due to texting while driving, Stephen gets into an accident and undergoes himself massive surgery to survive. Strange survives, but his hands are irrecoverably damaged, destroying any possibility of his continuing being a surgeon. In his despair, Stephen does everything he can to get his hands back to the way they were, which leads him to a secluded unknown temple in Nepal. There he meets a woman named The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who´s a teacher of an ancient mystic art of magic. Stephen, realizing with these techniques he would again be able to use his hands as he did before, and even a bit more, starts studying along the ancient one. And as usual in superhero movies, an old pupil from the past emerges as a foe for the newcomer Stephen to defeat.

Doctor Strange” was plagued with controversy as soon as it was announced that the Ancient one was re-visualized from being male and Tibetan in the comics to Celtic and female in this cinematic incarnation. This is a complicated issue that I don´t really have an authority from which to comment on (I am not familiar with Doctor Strange comics and am Caucasian) so will link to some articles on the issue here.

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But beyond this issue, the movie has other problems. One is that the film itself is dull at times; the pacing in the beginning feels off and there are times that (while most likely intentional) the titular character comes off as whiny, trivial, and cruel, in the strongest sense, making it hard to connect with him. The fighting scenes felt lacking as well. While the battle scenes certainly are meant to invoke a psychedelic experience, they sometimes failed to capture the attention of the audience which the whirlwind sensation of the scenes most assuredly should.

On the flip side, there are lots of elements that work really well. The film features a scene where The Ancient One and Stephen discuss how he can learn to use magic, with the punch line being ”by studying, duh!”. That learning and achieving greatness takes a lot of practice is often glossed over or not even mentioned in most block buster films, which makes this scene both refreshing and honest. Also notable, engaging and tantalizing in the narrative is the character of Wong (Benedict Wong), the librarian who guards the books that contain all the knowledge of which Stephen is studying. Wong is portrayed as a very stoic, no-nonsense type of person but also as someone with a hidden soft side, with a welling sense of enticingly hidden humor. (It´s also shown in one scene that he enjoys Beyoncés music, which is both touching and hip! A hard duality to pull off in a film.).

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Left to right: Mordo, Stephen, The ancient one and Wong

Also as a resonating relation and nuanced capture of the personal in the Doctor Strange storyline, and, surprising despite the controversy around Tilda Swintons casting, the film actually does manage to showcase and develop a believable and moving connection between Stephen and the Ancient one.

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However ”Doctor Strange” also suffers from great lost opportunities and re- enforces tired tropes. It is, despite the films great efforts with Wong´s character, still jarring that the temple Stephen studies at has a mostly POC cast, but the token white guy has to be the lead and hero. ”Doctor Strange” also uses disability as motivation for the more able bodied characters. In activist circles, this trope is known as ”Inspiration porn” or ”teachable moment”. This trope has been a predominant role given to disabled characters, often reducing them to mere motivational slogans rather than giving them the narrative body of actual characters with their own stories elaborated to be followed in the text. In ”Doctor Strange” we are hit hard with the trope of a disabled person being a teachable moment – and simultaneously loose a potentially cool story line.

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Hamir

When Stephen in one scene is in despair over learning the arts, there is a scene where the Ancient one states that it is Stephen himself who holds himself back. Stephen explains he simply can´t accomplish anything giving the blame to the damage in his hands. In response, the Ancient one calls a pupil, Master Hamir (whom previously had one scene where Stephen mistok him for the ancient one), to come forward. It is revealed then that Hamir has only one hand, but is able to perform magic all the same. He then leaves, and Stephen realizes he can achieve greatness despite limitations.

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Hamir as a character immediately and definitely disappears after this incident. Even in this pivotal scene to the story arch the Hamir is given no lines of dialogue (it is worth noting that the film does not confirm Hamir as mute). When the major battle against the villains takes place Hamir is not seen fighting along other pupils. His capability to fight and use magic despite being disabled is merely there to inspire Stephen, who is written as able-bodied. Some would argue his injured hands are a disability, however Stephen himself only talks about not being able to perform surgery and never of the multitude of common day events which would impact those of limited mobility with hands. While this is a limitation, it is not the same as a disability; the most which is confronted by the character is the inability to perform surgery. Stephen seems never to note the marginalization which would occur in the vast arrangements of the social (and its hardware) to the character. This means that ”Doctor Strange”, despite its meagre attempts at diversity, falls into having it´s only Canon disabled character as a ”teachable moment” to transcend (which is only due by his hands becoming now “usable”). Both Hamir specifically, and Doctor Strange more generally, become textbook examples of ”inspiration porn”.

What makes this even sadder is that the world building in ”Doctor Strange” makes this trope very easily avoidable.

Since ”Doctor Strange” canonizes the fact that the magic the Ancient ones pupils use is available to people regardless of their bodies limitations, the film opens up the possibility of having people with varying disabilities (as well as different cultural/racial background) as pupils and guardians. It is odd that one would make such a thing possible, only to end up playing it safe. Diversity is a hot button issue in pop culture right now, and it is important to remember that part of diversity is including people with various physical and mental disabilities. When it comes to things like ”Doctor Strange”, that uses magic, it is odd that the story limits itself. Why not have a mute, one handed warrior as a part of Strange´s squad? There literally, inside the story, is no reason to not use the world building to justify diverse and unusual superpowered fighters. In fact given that many superheroes development their powers begin with “accidents” it is assuredly odd that this doesn’t find its way into more usage.

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Yet still the genre remains often enclosed and encircled by a set tired tropes and unfortunate clichés. Why not use stories with odd powers to include and shake up hierarchies? With more brave writers, Hamir could have been more than a small role, lingering outside of the story which was actually about such a character and therefore become a text of more power and insight.

My hope is that while superhero movies are trying new things, they will also try to do more daring things and use the potential in their stories to go to places further than the imaginings that we have in the ordinary of life. To the place where all abilities can find a place of not only understanding and acceptance, but one of unfolding, becoming powers.

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Inspiration porn has been going on for long

While ”Doctor Strage” is enjoyable, it ends up playing it safe in both race and able- bodieness. It is desirable to see the (most likely upcoming) sequels try to fulfil a more disability positive spin on this lore.

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Trigger Warning: Sexual violence.

Also spoilers for “Gotham” and “The Killing joke”.

This week I was a guest on Missmagicgirl´s youtube Channel. We discuss the classic comic “The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore (1988) and the movie adaption with the same name that was released in 2016. The conversation can be found below (I´m the one on the right). Enjoy!

One fun aspect of Festivals is that, while roaming the areas, you might stumble upon something you are not familiar with.. Or, if you are lucky, something obscure, a hidden gem of sorts. Last month there was a yearly held comic festival, where I ended up buying the small graphic story collection, ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon” (2016) by Cajsa Nordlund. The format she uses is called a fanzine (a non-professional and non-official form of publishing produced by enthusiast in a certain sub-culture or community for fellow members, in Ms. Nordlund´s case Ex-Mormons and people interested in the phenomenon of de-conversion) which entailed a related collection of drawings with dialog.

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Cajsa Nordlund is a Swedish artist who is also a former Mormon. It is hard to find much information on her, but according to her instragram account @tossaniska she´s a painter and graphic story artist, who, in addition to this volume, has just published another comic-based collection, ”Lite Mycket Begärt” (”A Bit Much of a Request”, roughly). In the graphic volumes back cover there is a short biographical explanatory text, where it is informed that Ms. Nordlund was a Mormon for six years, and married whilst a believer and member of the church. At the age of 27 she left the church and got a divorce. The comic collection, ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon”, is, according to the volume, based on real experiences from Nordlund and other Ex-Mormons.

The Mormon church was founded in America and is still predominately an American religion, but due to their global missionary program (in which young men travel abroad to convert others) they have been able to create a substantial following in other countries. Mormonism has been present in Sweden since 1850. Today Sweden has about 9000 Mormons (a fairly notable number, when you take the countries size and famous lack of religious people into account). Missionaries are common in Stockholm, in fact my Chinese significant other had more than one encounter with young Mormon men who approached him using Mandarin as an “in” to begin the missionary moment. A Mormon church also exists in Finland, with about 5,000 members according to the CLDS own reckoning. Finland’s first contact with the Church came from Swedish emigrants baptized in the early 1870s and Swedish missionary brothers who preached in Vaasa. In 1876, the first converts in Finland were baptized, and by 1886, 25 people had been baptized among the Swedish-speaking Finns. My first ever encounter with Mormons was that of a Finnish woman who had converted and was married to an American man, both residing in Finland. (For those who want, check the star below the review for more History of Mormons in Finland*).

The sketches in ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon” are short, pithy, insightful and, probably needless to say, humorous in nature. There is no singular directive story, just the revolution around the denunciation of peoples commitment to the Mormon religion. The sketches are separated into three sections: ”Benefits of Becoming an Ex-Mormon”, ”Downsides of Becoming an Ex-mormon” and ”Before & After”. These three sections work very much to the comic structure benefiting from sharp and short narratives which cleverly embody both the thoughts and feelings of former believers and fleshing out the experience of leaving the calming steadfastness of the Mormon belief and the more generalized condition of loss as Nordlund and others tumble from their former community. In a minimized format of the comic formulation Nordlund is able to give a big and nuanced perspective on a life changing event, both as vast philosophical rupture and the loss of the safety of the social. While self-discovery often is empowering, it also does comes with a vanished connection to both thought and emotion, and Nordlund is not shy of facing this uncertainty doing so, in her work, with passion, humor, and sassiness. While ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon” does ultimately state that leaving the church is an empowering moment to face the many and ambiguous truths of the world, it also never shirks the reality and downsides to leaving a very tight community and wade into the realities of persistent doubts, open bouts of loneliness and the existential fears this entails.

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In the Benefits section, the stories move around the newly found freedom and advantages of not being Mormon. Many of the advantages the stories talk about are quite Mormon specific, like finally being able to drink coffee, whilst others are more generally applicable to a number of different religions (like being able to skip inconvenient, and constant, praying). Some of the enclosed graphic stories in the volume are difficult to understand unless one has at least a passing knowledge of Mormonism, as, for instance, Nordland comments on the relief of being able to laugh loudly after leaving the church. Despite this the reader will never feel abandoned to the mysteries of religion in this compendiums graphic tales as, in the unfolding of the total work, the reader is almost invisibly explained the customs in the Mormon church (such as the pressure to storage food for the latter days, the strict dress codes, and the pressure to marry) while not bogging down the narrative flow which rests instead on the ex-believers journey.

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Nordlund´s stories also touch upon the gender dynamics in the church, bringing up a number of a feminist issues in the tales, for instance with the collection critiquing the notion embodied in church doctrine that the fundamental role of womanhood entails primarily their functioning as mothers. Because of this the ideological community of the Mormon dictates strict rules regarding women´s bodies (a universal critic of religious communities) and their functioning visibility in the social. Nordlund underlines this uneasy genetic behavioral doctrine, and her adamant rejection of its biological determinism, with a strong sketch panel where we find a naked woman smiling with her arms spread out, and a text pronouncing: “Now my body is mine and No One can tell me what to do with it”.

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While Nordlund´s comic is a critic of the Latter Day Saints Church, her sketches are also critical regarding gender roles and expectations inside of overall society; she´s able to play with this dynamic masterfully through her illustrations. For instance, in one segment, the comic notes that one of the supreme benefits young heterosexual couples have in communities (and familial structures) is that people withhold asking them, verses single members/ dating couples of society, when they will get married. Followed by the constant query of when they will have children. A woman in the strip notes, after the later advantage is discussed, that it is useless as: “Just kidding. Pretty much everyone everywhere assume all people want kids”.

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an Illustration by Ms. Nodlund; while not present in the comic, still very interesting.

The Downsides segment is a laugh inducing and poignant examination of more unfortunate sides of losing one’s religion. This section of the graphic stories revolves around the issues of confronting the existential dilemmas of understanding and thought, and the penultimate responsibility for the future (since it is no longer the latter days of the saints of the church Ex-Mormons looks to for morality) in which the individual must generate and embody themselves and their ideas in living. Choices are now the choices made and lived by each of us in the community, and there are no straight-forward answers (give to us by others) in which we can hide from the responsibilities of our decisions. Outside of the rigid theist setting of rules and actions, Nordlund, (as all humans in the field of thought, belief and acts) battles with the questions, not the least the existentialist, of life.

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The last section, “Before & After” differs from the previous two sections in that the situations the individuals find themselves in are explored in two panels, while the previous sections explored themes in one panel. “Before & After” deals with many different experiences with the theme being anxiety and shame before, and peaceful relief afterwards. The sketches deal with topics such as LGBT+, disability**, body issues etc. The issues confronted in this section regard the often, almost subliminal, feelings of shame, nonconformity, abnormality and guilt due to the incongruence between the norms of the church and the (in actuality) normal actions of being an individual. Neverr reductionistic, the group of insights here show that after leaving the church, the journey of exploring who you are, and learning to accept this ambiguous and messy self its founded on a freedom (not only in the lack of pressure to conform to a narrow model of the human) based on the emancipatory realization of the self beyond simple boundaries and contradictory foundations. While less funny, many of these sketches are very moving and show the complexities of becoming human in the greatest sense.

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Becoming an Ex-Mormon” is an easy (I read it in an hour and a half), enlightening, and read, and is without a doubt worth re-reading as well. The illustrations are straight-forward and simple, yet appeasing nuanced in their declarations. Well worth checking out!

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* In 1903, Apostle Elder Francis M. Lyman visited Finland. The Finnish Mission was organized in 1947, when there were only 129 members in Finland. During the next seven years, the Church gained legal status and the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, a companion scripture to the Bible, was translated into Finnish. The Helsinki Stake was organized in October 1977 with 3,642 members. Ten years later, Church membership was 4,100. The main Chruch for latter day saints today resides in Helsinki.

** While many religious people are supportive of disability rights, there are parts of religious texts and beliefs which hold very ableist opinions. This side of religion/superstition is rarely discussed inside of narrative media, and it was great to see it presented in this collection.

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

Happy Nationalday to Norway, Finland´s and Sweden´s cool neighbour!

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Take Care/ Maaretta

Hello,

While studying for a Master´s Degree in Literature and having potential other writing gigs going on is very time consuming, it is still regretful I´ve been neglecting this blog. The first installments of ”Maaretta Reads Salman Rushdie” and ”The Quest for Freedom” are still on their way, promise, but in the meanwhile let´s talk about protesting.

The March For Science – a protest against the Trump administrations anti-science politics – was not only an event in America. In Stockholm there was a big march on last Saturday, that is 16th of April. It is estimated that 2500 people participated in the March. While I was most certainly marching against climate change denial, anti-vaxxers and other misinformation that politicians in the US are spreading, I also had a personal reason for marching. I shared the reason on Facebook and will quote it here: ”Today I will #Marchforscience because when I was 2 years old, I had a tumor in my head, and it’s only thanks to scientific research that the technology to discover it in time and to operate on it exist. I wouldn’t be alive today without science. #Ilovescience”.

Below will be some pictures from said March.

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Many signs had a humorous way of protesting, while others were more straightforward.

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“Proud Researchers” in Swedish

Many different scientific fields were present at the March, such as the Natural History Museum and The Karolinska Institution for Medicine.

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Take care/ Maaretta

Saw Disney´s newest animated feature, “Moana” (2016) and loved it. Jemaine Clement voices the sort-of villain Tamatoa, which he discusses down below. Enjoy!

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.