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)
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)
It´s International Woman´s day! Usually for this day I would do a list of articles concerning Women´s rights and liberations across the world, but this year comes a decision to change things up a bit. Instead I will list a few feminist books and stories that are more than worth checking out. In order to explain what, in this list, is meant by a feminist read I´ll make a short explanation: it is a story that has three dimensional female characters and either deals with the subject of female liberation or deals with the subject of female oppression. Let´s get started.
Quick Note!: Most of these books can be triggering due to dealing with rape and violence.
1.“Changes: A love story” by Ama Ata Aidoo: This is a classic work of African literature, and for no small reason. The book takes place in the 1990´s Accra, Ghana, where the independent Esi decides to divorce her husband due to having endured a rape at his hands. After that she falls in love with a Muslim man named Ali, which leads her to question whether or not she should become his second wife. “Changes” was published in 1993 and was one of the first African books that dealt with women trying to balance home life with work as well as the stigma of being an independent woman. But it also openly deals with marital rape and its aftermath, which even to this day is still a taboo subject in much of literature and culture (including western). Esi´s struggles against expectations are shown in a complex light; while she is determined to keep her job and independence she finds herself still inclined to forgo her autonomy to please Ali and others. The book is honest and human. As the saying goes, the personal is highly political, especially for Esi.
2.“Purge” by Sofi Oksanen; This novel takes place in both modern times free Estonia and the Estonia of WWII, when it was under Russian occupation. The story is about an old woman meeting a young woman; Aliide Truu, a woman who was rape and sexually tortured by KGB agents in her youth, and Oksana – a youth who has escaped from the hands of traffickers. Oksanen delves deftly, but horrifically, into a story of two forms of sexual violence; that of politically motivated rape and that of modern day sexual slavery. The novel is heavily disturbing, but the characters, especially Aliide, are wonderfully complex and the illustration of female oppression is powerfully exposed. It´s best to not say too much, since the plot´s enigmatic structure makes it a book best to read blindly.
3.”The Ribbon Maiden”: This fairy tale, which originates from the Chinese ethnic minority of the Miao, is about a woman who people proclaim as the maker and creator of the most beautiful sowing and ribbons found in the land. The emperor, wanting this skill only to himself, has The ribbon maiden kidnapped and held against her will unless she makes him a continuous supply of the elegant ribbons. She submits to the emperors demands, but due to her great talents she is able to make the emperors bondage of her backfire on him. The tale is laden with female power – from the Ribbon Maidens wish to return home so she can reunite with her female friends, to her refusing to submit to the bully emperor. It is impossible not to cheer on this woman as her many gifts, and powerful sowing, defeats her captors and manifests her freedom in the face of oppressions both political and ideological. A really, really cool fairy tale.
4.“Blood and Guts in High School” by Kathy Acker: The most absurd and weird novel on this list tells the story of a woman who endures emotional abuse, trafficking and abandonment. The writing is surrealistic and the story is told in a nonsensical order, with Ms. Acker´s own NSFW yet creative drawings. The prose is a surging gush of rage and aggression, delivering a punk-themed punch to the capitalist patriarchy. Beautifully random.
5. “Ladies Coupé” by Anita Nair: This book is formed of an assorted set of narratives focused on diverse women of Today´s India. A woman aboard a train contemplates if she should run off with a younger man she´s in love with or stay with her conservative family instead. Finding herself in the company of a group of women during her trip she asks for advice. What follows are a myriad of tales of life and struggle – the serene joy of learning to swim, of getting the last wondrous laugh against a bully husband, and the lonely tragedy of being impregnated via rape. The tone continuously pivots from the lighthearted to the cruel throughout the entirety of the narrative, with both the epic and minute of characterizations. Despite some stories being tragic, the novel leaves a clear hope in the end, depicting a happier life just around the corner.
6.“From a crooked rib” by Nuruddin Farah: This novel takes place in 1980´s Somalia, where a nineteen year old girl runs away from home to escape an arrange marriage, only to find herself having to marry other, equally unpleasant men, in order to survive. Beyond all hope, and needing both men to ensure her social and monetary survival, she navigates a precipice to keep secret her twin marriages from both men (she hasn´t legally divorced either one of them). Farah illustrates the economic and political challenges facing women in Somalia and minutely exposes how the social mores, and legal system is biased against women (and laying bare double standards applied to men, as opposed to women, when it comes to marriage and relationships). While the heroines husbands both indulge openly and continuously in second wives and many lovers, the protagonist finds herself mercilessly slut-shamed, tormented and ostracized by the community for falling outside of the hallow prescripts of monogamy. “From a crooked rib” was Farah´s debut novel, but you would never guess that.
7.“The Butcher´s Wife” by Li Ang: Based on real events, this story is about a Taiwanese woman, Lin Shi, who after taking years of absolutely ruthless abuse kills her husband in self defense. The story begins when the protagonist’s parents, fearing Lin Shi’s youthful behavior as signs of uncontrollable and uncontainable sexuality, marry her off to a local butcher, who it turns out is fond of making Lin Shi scream in agony. He abuses her both physically and sexually, and when she starts to defend herself he starves her. One of the toughest books I´ve ever read, but none the less this novel remains gripping and spellbinding. The novel not only showcases abuse, but critiques neighbors and family members that enable abuse through ignorance and acceptance, as well as showing a side of the local Buddhist religion which is not a flattering depiction to say the least. Thought-provoking yet brutal.
8.“The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros: The story of a Mexican-American family is told in a series of drabbles in this short book. Through the narration of the adolescent Esperanza these petite deft drabbles explore poverty, culture, sexual assault and hope. The stories are like extended poems, with heartbreaking scene after heartbreaking scene. From Esperanza witnessing her father grief stricken by her grandmother’s death to Esperanza being sexually attacked by racist white boys, the novel makes a depressing, memorable quick read.
9.“The House of Bernarda Alba” by Federico Garcia Lorca: This was not only an unusual play for it´s time for its open brutal criticism of Spanish honor culture, but is also remarkable by even today´s standards in being a play with a all female cast with no speaking roles for men, as well as dealing with female sexual frustration. The play is about a classist, narrow minded mother who rules over her five daughters with an Iron fist, never allowing them to socialize with others in the town or marry. This leads to a major conflict when a young man arrives and three of the same sisters are smitten with him. Things become especially disturbing when the youngest daughter is implied to be pregnant without being engaged. The sisters play off each other perfectly, and the deep seated melancholy and sense of being trapped in being an “honorable woman” echoes through the story with great strength.
10. “Woman at Point Zero” by Nawal El-Sadaawi: the angriest and fiercest work in this list by fair, El-Sadaawi´s classic novel tells the story of a woman on death row that has killed her pimp. The woman details her life from girlhood to the point where she ended up in prison, describing her ordeal with female genital mutilation, male betrayal and violence. Through the course of the novel the protagonist makes abundantly clear how she has come to be so angry and uncompromising with the world she lives in, where, beginning with her birth as a woman, she was set up for pain. The woman´s narration bursts with a fire at the face and fact of an unjust world. It is provocative and unapologetic, an instant masterpiece.
That´s a few recommendations. What feminist novels, short stories/ fairy tales or graphic novels do you readers recommend? Comment done below and A Happy International Women´s Day to all sisters, Cis to Trans, out there!
As a full time student and constant seeker of summer jobs, I have been neglecting my blog for quite awhile. I will try to change this right now, starting with a short post following a tag which many a book vlogger and blogger are sharing at the moment. It was created by Thebookarcher; you can visit her YouTube page here. Despite blogging about a lot of movies, cartoons and occasional political comment, (and despite that I wasn´t tagged by anyone to do this) but having written many a book review, I was quite eager to consider and reflect on these questions. Hopefully those that started the tag will not find it remiss that I write these questions in this post.
The tag consists of nine questions which I will list one at a time and proceed to answer. Unfortunately I will have to mention a lot of Swedish authors at times, since, due to living in Stockholm, I am exposed to lots of Swedish literature. It is also crucial to remember that these are just my opinions, and everyone is free to enjoy which ever books they enjoy.
1. A popular book or series that you didn´t like:
There´s actually many best sellers I just didn´t like at all, so I will mention just a few that I really, really didn´t like at all: “The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz was boring, way too long and its main character – Oscar – was much too self-involved and reckless to be likeable. The narrator, and narrative voice, is a single tone of an obnoxious womanizer, and worst of all the political oppression that is present in the book (specifically, the atrocities committed by former Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo) takes a back seat so that men can either brag or complain about their sex lives. “Fight club” by Chuck Palahniuk was well-written, but the plot was ridiculous and the plot twist made no sense. “Allt” by Martina Lowden is an 800-page book where the author whines about bus stops, postmodernism and tends to lists of all the books she reads akin to a casual grocery shop list – really not my thing.
Other books far from my favor: “Svinalängorna” by Susanna Alakoski (a black-and-white portrayal of Sweden Finns, where this group is heavily demonized), “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe (found it impossible to care about the protagonist), “The Great Gatsby”, “Kalla det vad fan ni vill” by Marjane Bakhtiari, “My friend Percy´s magical shoes” by Ulf Stark, “It´s just a little AIDS” by Sara Graner (I didn´t find it funny), “Willful Disregard” by Lena Anderson (a novel about a older man, younger woman cis, straight, white-Swedish, economically stable couple in which the man emotionally abuses the woman. The book, in its unreflective stance to the abuse, misguidingly thinks it´s saying something profound about love. The novel also lacks any character growth) and “The Sorrows of Young Werther” by Goethe (lots of people find this book romantic; I found it creepy).
Without a doubt, the novels of Nobel Prize winning Elfriede Jelinek for this one (maybe not popular, but most certainly infamous). She´s often accused of Misandry and writing grotesque pornography, but to be frank those accusations are entirely, and undoubtedly, unfair. Jelinek´s books tend towards the misanthropic if anything, but the misanthropy is not in vain. Jelinek´s prose is elegant, her sentences literary punches and the themes of her books are as relevant as they are universal: totalitarianism, fascism, and violence towards women to name a few. For a more in-depth view into my opinion on her work, go here.
I will give one example from both of those questions. The love-triangle where the girl ended up with the wrong guy in my opinion is from Guus Kuijer´s children´s book series “Polleke”, about a young Dutch girl and her life. The books tackle and discuss subjects such as arrange marriages, racism, drug addiction, child abduction and First native rights. (Spoiler): the protagonist Polleke ends up with her classmate Mimoun who´s she´s dated since the first book. However Mimoun is not a very supportive or particularly nice boyfriend; he yells at Polleke for kissing him (she´s not allowed to because she´s a girl) and cheats on her with her best friend. To be fair he was a likeable boy in the series first book, but becomes quite unintentionally cruel as the series progress. Polleke flirts with a farm boy who lives near her farming grandparents, but I didn´t really care for him either. Honestly the love triangle should have perhaps ended with Polleke becoming single since both of her love interests were kind of useless characters. An OTP I didn´t like was Harry and Ginny from the “Harry Potter”-books, which was a very rushed romance with clumsy build up and had a lack of chemistry.
4. A Popular Genre you hardly reach for:
Fantasy, Detective novels, and Romance. Just don´t read much genre literature at all, really.
5. A popular or beloved character that you don´t like:
Fred and George from the “Harry Potter”-series. Out of all the colorful, imaginative characters I found these two to be extremely one-note, lazy (they don´t even try to get good grades!), bullish and slimy. They also are basically copies of one another; no distinctive trait that marks them from each other. Another beloved character I don´t care for is Puck from Shakespeare’s “A midsummer night’s dream” – all the messes could be avoided if it weren´t for him!
Again, I have quite a few. I can´t really get into the Nobel Prize winning Japanese writer Yasunara Kawabata – he´s a fantastic writer no doubt, but his works don´t really ever seem to coalesce into a plot, making the narrative line meander about for no reason. The characters rarely do anything of importance and once more the reader can find no line of thinking for this emptiness. For some these absences don’t matter, but I am continually frustrated by the question of what do these lacks mean. Another writer I just couldn’t ever get into was Yoshimoto Banana. I read two of her books, “Kitchen” and “Hardboiled & Hard luck” which were dull. Her plots are all over the place. The books also contained a lot of Heteronormativity. For instance in “Kitchen” the romantic leads continually misgenders the hero´s transgender mum. As a final note, her writing might improve if she would use the “Show, don´t tell”-technique more in her books.
Per Nilsson, a Swedish young adult writer, also makes the list of writers I can´t quite stand; he romanticizes things such as stalking in his books, does a hand-wave towards anti-immigration and racism and honestly in my opinion doesn´t write women very well. With Nobel Prize winning writer Mo Yan, I also have issues with for his normalization of violence towards women and demonization of disabled people. In “Big breast and wide hips” the protagonist´s mother is repeatedly raped with it never really affecting her or the plot of the novel at all (in fact rape seems to be used just to victimize the mother). The writer Yiyun Li actually points out many of my issues with Mo Yan; go see a review where she points the problems out here. So yes, unfortunately Mr. Mo´s and Mr. Nilsson´s books are really not for me at all, to be honest I think there both pretty terrible writers.
7. A popular common trope that you´re tired of seeing:
My biggest complaint with books I dislike is often romanticized abuse. It´s exhausting to read books that have men who abuse women and children (and sometimes the protagonists male friends get into the abusive act as well) with the writers of these tales horrifically using the trope to either showcase their male protagonist as “real” tough men, or to position male possessiveness and entitlement as something to admire. Needless to say, I have no patience with such writing.
Quite a few actually. The “Divergent” series isn´t appealing to me, mostly because of it seems oddly anti-intellectual. I never had any interest reading the “Twilight Saga” (“Twilight” is one of the few books I never finished). Same goes for the “Fifty Shades”-trilogy. I also have avoided Stieg Larssons “Millennium”-trilogy like the plague since the things it was praised for you can find a ton of in Japanese and Finnish fiction (that were published before Larsson´s books), as well as some blatant male fantasy stuff. I am also avoiding the “My struggle” book series because those books are way too long (I am a university student, and there is homework!) as well as the writer Karl Ove Knausgård coming off as fairly arrogant and obnoxious (this usually wouldn’t matter, but the books are about himself, and his “Fight”…. so). While not a series per se, I am also not interested in Harukumi Murasaki. None of the praise has gotten me curious, unfortunately.
9. The saying goes that “The book is always better than the movie”. But which movie adaption did you prefer to the book?
“Carrie” directed by Brian De Palma. While the novel is very good, the movie was able to build up the suspense better.
Langston Hughes (b. 1902-1967) is one of those writers that don’t need an introduction. Mr. Hughes was the author of several plays, dozens of poems, two biographies as well as a slew of other writing projects. Rarely has there been a writer who could deliver such strong wisdom, wit and a sense for justice in his prose. His short stories and poems speak of the nuances and horrors of racial hatred and discrimination. Hughes’ description of a sole black student in the poem “Theme For English B” captures the alienation that’s been magnified by race, and his poem “Madam and her Madam” (where a hard working black maid calls out the white woman she works for after the latter claims there is no barriers between them) speaks of the utter obviousness and destructive naivety whites embodies in a white privileged society. Langston Hughes work spoke of hope and tried to often empower the oppressed in his poems, such as in his poem “Democracy”. In his most famous short story collection, “The Ways of White Folks”, Hughes tells stories of segregation from the point of view of both whites and blacks, the ongoing theme as the title suggest being the ways whites oppress in era of Jim Crow.
One of his most powerful short prose pieces is “Poor Little Black Fellow”, which tells the story of Arnold who at a young age becomes an orphan and is adopted by a white rich couple. Arnolds is black and his lost parents were servants. Arnold, or Arnie as everyone calls him, grows up realizing he is not allowed to do nearly anything. Throughout his childhood and youth Arnie experiences being denied the same rights as the white children. He doesn’t get to join the scouts; he doesn’t get to play with the other children and is not invited to any parties. The Church, which his adoptive parents attend, use him as a symbol of “Christian charity”. Everyone in the story displays a superficial tone of exaggerated niceness to Arnie since they know he can’t be a part of anything. Their kindness is patronizing, not really helping with Arnie´s problems as a toxic bearer of blackness in a world of hidden white oppressions. Indeed, Mr. Hughes shows in this story that kindness can in times be worse than maliciousness. By being nice, the whites are able to deny Arnie any forms of equality or rights. Arnie knows in a way that the kindness is fake, a way to rationalize the racism he faces, but is powerless to say anything. Being extra nice to Arnie does nothing but put Arnie down, since he is not treated as a normal kid. Even worse he is used by his adoptive white parents and their friends and neighbors to make them feel better about themselves, while contributing and continuing the dehumanizing segregation and its hidden ideology.
But once Arnie starts to reach adulthood, Arnie and his adoptive parents take a trip to France. There Arnie starts to become immersed in political activism and social milieu (notably “party’s”). He begins a journey where meeting people for the first time gives him the feeling that the kindness he receives isn’t patronizing and degrading, but actually based on him as a person. He even falls in love with a white French girl and plans to marry her.
He wants to stay in France, where he is treated equally and not shut down by faux-kindness. However, when he tells his parents about this plan, the white rich couple for the first time quit being “extra nice” and show their true colors to Arnie.
Hughes uses France as a strong contrast to the US; while one country features segregation, the other provides hope and rights. Many black intellectuals in fact did move to France before and after the civil rights movement, such as James Baldwin and Richard Wright. While France did offer more rights to people of color at the time, the French did their share of also the separation and exotic-fication of blacks in their society.
The black French writer Frantz Fanon spoke of how, in his opinion, the French didn’t fully allow for blacks to be black in their own way nor did they fully understand what it was like to be “imprisoned in ones skin color”. Indeed, the French had a subtle, but emphatically problematic way of viewing Africa and Africans, believing them to be the “pure emotional ones”. Blacks were categorized at times as all African and there were cases where whites would tell blacks to behave “more African”. Mr. Fanon wrote an entire book on the account of racism in France, most notable the book “Black skin, White Mask”, where he deals with the psychological aspects in racism. Also, the time Hughes is describing in his story is the same time when Algeria was still colonized by France. So while the basic truth Hughes describes in his story ( that France offered some basic rights for the black Americans while the US still lived in the mind set of Jim Crow) this does erase certain more troublesome aspects of the French racial mindset from that time as well. None the less, Mr. Hughes uses this contrast between the two countries (France is more of metaphorical country in Hughes story than the real France detailed by Mr. Fanon) in a clever way to also show the difference between patronizing and humanizing.
“Poor Little Black Fellow” is a great literary document of the 1930’s. It is also a great example of how racism is more and more insidious than the explicit and obvious malicious and cruel actions engendered in the prejudiced social world. It’s also denial, which Arnie´s adoptive parents are guilty of. Prejudice and hatred take different shapes. Just because one is acting nice it most certainly doesn’t mean the actions are not harmful. This niceness, as described by Mr. Hughes, can be a way to exercise ones privilege and of looking down. Making someone less of a person is exposed in a grammar of oppression regardless of ones tone or being “polite” about it. This story is the perfect example of this, and should therefore be read by everybody who thinks everything will be okay if we are just nice to each other. If only it was so easy, but true kindness comes in the form of true equal rights, opportunity and freedom, as Langston Hughes illustrates.
“I think most human beings go through some sort of depression in their life. And if they don’t, I think that’s weird” – Kirsten Dunst
Yu Dafu (郁达夫) was born in Fuyang (a country-level city under jurisdiction of Hangzhou, which in turn is the provincial capital of Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province in China) in 1896. He died in 1945, probably executed by the Japanese during the final moments of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Yu Dafu lived his yearly childhood years in poverty. However, he was able to study due to receiving several scholarships from the government of the time. Mr. Yu studied at several Universities, for instance the Hangchow University, which he only studied at for a short time since he was expelled for participating in a student strike. He then moved to Japan, where he met several Chinese intellectuals. Together they founded the “Creation Society”, which promoted modern literature. Around this time he also started publishing his earliest works in Japan; in 1921 he published the short story “Sinking” (“Chenlun”, 沉淪), his most famous work.
“Sinking” was mandatory reading for a university class I took last term. When discussing it, the class was fairly divided; many accused the story for depicting an egotistical person who does nothing. One woman in my class however stated: “This man seemed fairly isolated and hasn’t received any affection, any love from anyone. I think this character could have used some therapy”. Her thoughts reflect exactly the take this review will have of the protagonist in “Sinking” and what the story, arguable, describes: A man with severe emotional difficulties due to an unbalanced society.
The protagonist in “Sinking” is never named. He remains just simply an anonymous “He”. However his back story has many similarities to that of Yu Dafu, such as his father dying at the age of three and living in poverty as a child. It has been stated that Yu’s short stories and poems often reflect his emotions and are influenced by his experiences in life. However, this is a little questionable as a major theme in “Sinking”, found as well as his other works, is the feeling of being alienated from women, while the author in actuality was married three times with three different women. On the other hand similarity to Mr. Yu can be found in the stories protagonist is pursuing a study course in Japan and this is the environment which we explore with him. “Sinking” begins with the protagonist lost in a field of alienation triggered by the deep well of “lonesome” which engulfs his person. So begins a story tightly focused on the main characters feelings and moods which unmoored by the feelings of disconnection cause the mental state of the protagonist to uncontrollably (and drastically) undulate over the short span of the narratives unfolding.
Depression has only recently become a topic which our society can openly confront and discuss. And even if a new openness has been conceded to the subject within Western cultures, it is still one which finds an “uncomfortableness” in the normal conversations of the public and one which finds some stigma lurking in the background. In the midst of this silence and awkward speech, however are to be found some wonderful and insightful works of fiction that depict depression. The most famous example within this “genre” for the Western Reader is Sylvia Plath’s magnus opus, “The Bell Jar” and interestingly, Yu Dafu’s young, lonesome “He” shares similar traits with Esther, the protagonist of “The Bell Jar”.
“Sinking” is, frankly, another great literary depiction of depression and the whirlpool of desperate emotions it entails.
Both Esther and “He” find it impossible to enjoy literature. In the “The Bell Jar” Esther describes with great alarm to her psychiatrist and her mother that she “no longer reads books”. The protagonist of “Sinking” is described as picking up books, reading “out of sequence”, deceitfully deciding to himself that it would be a pity to just gulp down a book, and abandoning the text . Yu describes the fragmented thoughts engendered by this depression: “Everytime he closed a book, he made up similar excuses for himself. The real reason was that he had already grown a little tired of it”. Both start irregular sleeping habits, such as Esther describing that she “no longer sleeps”. “He” from “Sinking” starts to over sleep, also developing irregular eating habits: “Without bothering with lunch, he slept until four o´clock”. Other than that, the main character in “Sinking” has also a habit of crying spontaneously as well as has mood swings. “He” is prone to self-pity, a common trait of depression in men.
Naturally one can’t claim this story purposefully wants to solely illustrate a person with depression due to its simultaneous political agenda, however the text openly states that the character suffers from “melancholia” and arguable depression is the terrible and tumultuous state which Yu Dafu is hoping to explore.
Yu Dafu was a known critic of society and was known for highlighting government incompetence. During the 1920s, Chinese intellectuals (especially the ones who participated in the May Fourth Movement) believed that in order to improve Society one had to begin by looking, not at the State, but at the individual. To tone up the “I”, so to speak. “Sinking” is purposefully about a man who is not feeling well due to society. Similar to Esther’s depression in “The Bell Jar” being primarily triggered and horribly engendered by the rampant sexism in the American society, Yu’s protagonists depression is caused and sustained by the unstable economical and political situations in China, the alienation and racism he faces in Japan, and a Society which stoutly refuses to recognize its own problems placing it on the individual instead.
Critics have often pointed out that “Sinking” is highly nationalistic, which of course resonates differently today then what it did back in 1921. Personally, this inclination in the text bothers me little since it was mostly expressed as a sense of wanting to be just seen as equally good as others (Yu Dafu as we find in “He” is a Stranger in a foreign land)*. In Sinking, the protagonist laments: “Isn’t the scenery in China as beautiful? Aren’t the girls in China as pretty?”. “He” does wallow about in fantasies of revenge and violence, which is assuredly unnerving to the reader, but the statements and questions do strike a sort of truth regarding “He’s” chaotic, alienated mental state and the veiled hostile abandonment a society and State imposes on the “outsider”. The Japanese students who “He” continually encounters in the milieu of his study treat him coldly and venture into the adjacent terrain of alienating indifference and covert intimidation to which “He” naturally reacts to with insecurity and anger. It can be said for all that when engulfed in a shadow of forces beyond control and sense even the sanest of us respond with insecurity, confusion and resentment. Using the Plight of “He” Yu Dafu endeavors, along with this question of the inhumanity of person to person, to lay a ground to motivate China to reform and improve itself. To look at the how the State may encourage and nurture the individual and consider a Society formed at the best intersections of Personnel and Political, the individual and the Nation/State.
Yu Dafu was also fairly shocking for his time with his frank dealing with sexuality. Indeed, “Sinking” makes frequent references and depictions of the protagonist masturbating. This works as a way to demystify self-pleasuring, but also a way to portray the protagonist’s alienation. He is insecure and uncertain of himself and barely can find the courage to approach women (or any person, really). He is friendless and unable to bond with another human being. The masturbation scenes are not for shock value, but an honest way for the author to speak of his protagonists’ feelings of guilt and his hopeless earning for love.
The story also is interesting in how openly the protagonist is, in his own way, a little bit too romantic for his own good. He even considers suicide since, as he puts it: “And what would life be without love?”.
Not much happens in “Sinking”, Yu just lets the story of a sad man’s life unfold. “Sinking” is a tale about emotions, deep unhappiness and despair. No doubt the story will speak to anyone who has ever felt lonely or hopeless at some point in their life. It is a raw, honest and painfully candid tale with timeless themes.
*As a person of Finnish descent, I can relate strongly to the insecurity of being in another countries “Shadow”. In fact I have asked similar questions to myself as “He”. Here’s a music video recorded by a Finnish Band about living in Swedens shadow (My apologies for the title, it was written in the fifties). No English, just Swedish and Finnish sorry.
Today is Joseph Heller’s great and most famous novels birthday. Published in 1961, “Catch 22” tells the equally tragic as hilarious story of Yossarian, an American captain during the Second World War, and his friends. The novel is mostly known and appreciated for its anti-war themes, but Heller explores in his novel many other themes.
In “Catch-22”, corruption and capitalism at its most extreme is portrayed and explored, especially trough the character of Milo, one of the most unlikeable characters. Milo is desperate to make profit, doing all sorts of irrational schemes to make money. As the book nears its end, Milo springs – as often during extreme capitalism – out of control, caring more and more about profit instead of people. The results are horrendous, as Heller masterfully describes in this passage: “This time Milo had gone too far. Bombing his own men and planes was more than even the most phlegmatic observer could stomach, and it looked like the end for him. … Milo was all washed up until he opened his books to the public and disclosed the tremendous profit he had made” (chapter 24, page 269).
The novel also centers one of the most iconic atheists. Yossarian, a young man full of idealism, sees the horrors of war and comes to the conclusion that no god can exist in such a world. He’s reasoning is touching and relatable, one of the more truly honest depictions of a person’s lost of faith. I myself can identify with Yossarian on this point, since I became an atheist after hearing my teacher give the numbers of dead men (as well as women and children) during the second world war.
There is also a chapter (no spoilers!) depicting violence towards a woman, and there Heller raises the problem of how societies used to not care at all about such problems – and makes one think if more could still be done.
“Catch- 22” is rich with lively and complex characters. They are wacky characters, sympathetic characters, tragic characters and bizarre and evil characters. I could go on and on about all of the themes and characters explored in “Catch- 22”. There was a film adaption from 1970, which in no way is as good as the book, but has its moments. To end this post, here’s a clip of one of the most funny scenes from the film (you might want to make it full screen):
Joyce Carol Oates is perhaps USA: s most popular contemporary writer. She is also critically acclaimed and many of her fans are of the opinion that she should win the Nobel Prize for literature. Even if I am not a huge fan of Oates (despite her undeniable talent, I personally have a few of other women writers I think should win the Nobel Prize instead of Oates) she has written some extraordinary pieces of fiction. The novel “Blonde”, a fictional bibliography of the iconic actress Marilyn Monroe, is in my personal opinion a masterpiece and future classic. In it Oates demonstrated her talent for experimental writing. Oates has also shown a great talent in her novel, “Zombie”.
“Zombie” centers on Quentin P. As the novel begins, Quentin has been charged and is being prosecuted for sexual violence towards a minor. He is found guilty and is forced to enter both group and personal therapy. Quentin, despite his age, is supported financially by his parents and grandmother and he lives a solitary and confined life. Quentin P. becomes obsessed, after reading about lobotomy, with the notion of creating a sexual zombie for himself. He begins this horrific attempt with the obvious result of a slew of deaths meted out to the young men on which he tries his fanatical experiments.
The story is told completely from Quentin P.’s point of view and Oates convincingly plumbs the twisted portrait of a psychotic mind. Similar to the attempts made by Ian Banks in his novel “The Wasp Factory”, which portrayed a teenage sadist, and by Brett Easton Ellis in his most famous novel “American Psycho”, Oates uses a telling prose to navigate us through Quentin’s thoughts and feelings. The prose, as constructed by the irredeemable protagonist, is always grammatically challenged and resembles, at times, a child’s way of writing. Oates additionally lays out an “illustrative novel” of the disturbed mind by giving us a set of small, simple pictures that are supposed to be drawings made by Quentin. While both the language and imagery is childlike, the actions described by Quentin are chilling, sickening and unpleasantly graphic. Here Oates succeeds in commenting on how the mind of violent people may sometimes be: they are immature and outside the kin of the social and interactive. This is an interesting take on people who commit extreme acts of violence. What if they never learned empathy while growing up?
Oates doesn’t give the reader a straight explanation for Quentin P’s behavior and psyche. She shows Quentin as a master of manipulation, being able to gain sympathy from people even if he clearly doesn’t deserve it. He says things that don’t mean anything to him, but he knows will get him out of trouble. This cynical and remote characteristic of manipulation is shown as his most poignant and disturbing weapon from when he was a little boy attacking a playmate and not wanting to get into trouble with his parents for it, to the present day when he wants sympathy from the counselor in his group therapy. This tactic gives Quentin the possibility to do more and more terrible crimes and still feel he is distant to them. Oates hints that Quentin’s use of manipulation may be an explanation for how he can get away with his crimes, along with Quentin’s immaturity and lack of empathy being a reason for how he himself can carry out them.
Other possible reasons for Quentin’s actions and psyche described in the book are Quentin P’s repressed sexuality, loneliness and obsessive need for control. Quentin speaks of how his “Zombie” will think he (as friend, companion, master and creator) is the greatest of humans, will be ultimately committed to Quentin regardless and despite his actions, and will be totally subservient to his wishes and commands.
The fundamentally and major motivator to the psyche of Quentin is his father, who in a telling moment, relentlessly chastises the young Quentin for his deep “sickness” regarding his attachment to the pictures of muscular men and forces the traumatized Quentin to create a bonfire of this collection in the suburban family backyard. Quentin is show growing up, and obtaining the deep mental scars, in an environment and time (50’s and 60’s) where homosexuality is regarding by nearly all as the most disquieting and repellent of sins. Quentin, not being able to develop and explore his sexuality identity, must repress the normal explorations of his-self with the consequences and developments emerging as a disturbing, violent nature.
“Zombie” is a rough read. It is not for the squeamish. However I do recommend this novel. It has a difficult subject matter, yet deals with it both subtly and thought provokingly, while not giving way to simplistically “clear” answers or undemanding moral polarities.
Worth the read on each and every page.
Afro-amerikanerna har alltid haft en stark egen kultur i USA. Speciellt i områdena som dans, musik och litteratur. Svarta författare behandlar de svåra ämnena som sin identitet, utsatthet och deras mörka historia på ett imponerande sätt. I den här artikeln tänkte jag berätta kort om Afro-amerikanska litteraturens genombrott och berätta om de mest kända författarna.
Harlem Renaissance var, enligt Nationalencyklopedin, en period av livligt kulturellt aktivitet som pågick runt 20- och 30 talet i Harlem, New York. Genom bland annat antologin ”The new Negro” skapades en ny känsla för svarta gemenskap och för vikten av ansträngningarna för att få sina röster hörda och lyftes fram betydelse i det afrikanska arvet. Men författarna diskuterade också utsattheten på grund av sitt ras och historia som slavar. Viktiga svarta författare som trädde fram under denna period är bland annat Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, och Jean Toomer. Efter den här perioden har många Afro-amerikanska författare fått möjligheten att få sin röst hört.
Den mest kända svarta författaren från USA är förmodligen Toni Morrison, som fick Nobelpriset i litteratur år 1993. Toni Morrison är född i Ohio 1931 och debuterade år 1970 med romanen ”De blåaste ögonen”. I den boken skildrar hon hur en ung svart flicka utsatts både för rasismen i världen och sexuellt våld i hemmet. Morrison skriver om det dubbla förtrycket som svarta flickor och kvinnor utsatts för på ett gripande sätt. Hennes kanske näst mest kända bok är ”Solomons sång” från 1977. I den boken skildrar Toni Morrison de hårda levnads villkorna i USA som svarta människorna levde under tiden från 30 talet till sent 60-talet. Hon berättar om en ung mans uppväxt från en pojke till en mogen man och samtidigt hela hans familj saga. Här använder Toni Morrison Magisk Realismen; hon begagnar fantasi elementer för symbolik. Till exempel när huvudpersonen Milkman lär sig att flyga betyder det att han har blivit självständigt och klok och på så sätt kan ”befria sig”. Hennes mest kända roman är ”Älskade” från 1987. Toni Morrison skriver om slaveriet och fattigdom. Berättelsen är tragisk och tonen i boken är bitter, och hon använder mystiska dimensioner för dramatik, alltså Magisk Realismen igen. Även i den här romanen beskrivs en familj saga. Huvudpersonen Seth har en mörk hemlighet. Ett av hennes många barn, som heter Älskade, dog på ett konstigt sätt, men nu kommer hon tillbaks från döden som en ung vuxen kvinna – och skapar kaos. Romanens berättelse symboliserar de förflutnas grepp på oss och hur man lider för saker man har gjort och vilka hemska villkor man lever under i fattigdom och förtryck. Morrison skildrar ofta kvinnor som extra utsatta, eftersom svarta männens traditionella beteende är inte alltid så trevligt mot kvinnorna.
Ralph Ellison (1914-1994) är mest känd för sin debut bok ”Osynlig Man” från 1954, som delvis är självbiografisk. Boken handlar om en svarts mans utveckling till självinsikt. Den utforskar rasismen, utnyttjandet och manipulation inom politisk aktivismen och svart identitet. Huvudpersonen förblir vara namnlös genom hela boken och befinner världen han lever i obegriplig. Ellison ansågs av många vara arvtagare för författare Richard Wright i sin skildring av samtida svarta verklighet, men attackerades av svarta nationalister på 1960-talet. Efter denna kritik och jämförelsen hade Ralph Ellison svårt att pressa fram en ny bok. Han har också skrivit viktiga essäer om svart musik kultur som är samlade i böckerna ”Shadow and act” från 1984 och ”Going to the Territory” från 1985.
Richard Wright (1908-60) började sitt författar karriär i Chicago 1934 med att skriva om hur de svarta människorna har formats av det vita samhället. Romanen ”Son av sitt land” från 1940, som handlar om en svart pojkes svåra uppväxt i Chicagos slum, lyfte Wright till en av århundradets mest inflytelserika Afro-amerikanska författare. Han har också skrivit en självbiografi ”Black Boy” från 1970, där han skildrar sin familjs liv i fattigdom och deras hårda kamp att ta sig ur denna miljö. Efter kriget bodde Richard Wright i Paris tills hans död i 1960. Där skrev han bland annat romanen ”The Outsider” 1954, som handlar om en svart mans engagemang i Kommunistpartiet. Wright själv tillhörde till Kommunistisktpartiet under en period.
Zora Neale Hurston (1903-60) anses av många litteratur forskare att vara en av de viktigaste kvinnliga prosaförfattarna. Till och med Toni Morrison har sagt att ”(Hurston) är en av de största författare av vår tid”. Hennes studier i antropologi och folkloristik präglade romaner ”Mules and Men” från 1935 och ”Their eyes were watching god” från 1937. Däremot ”Dust tracks on a road” är en självbiografi. ”Their eyes were watching god” är Hurstons absolut mest kända verk och författaren Alice Walker har sagt att ”det finns ingen bok som är viktigare för mig än den”. Romanens huvudperson är kvinnan Janie, som berättar historien om sitt liv till en väninna. Janies liv har präglats av hennes tre äktenskap till tre väldigt olika män. I boken gestaltar Neale Hurston en stark bild av hur det är att vara kvinna, och hur det är att vara svart. Så som många andra viktiga böcker, är inte den här boken heller bara omtyckt; till exempel författaren Richard Wrights kritik mot boken är att eftersom alla svarta karaktärer talar extremt dåligt engelska i romanen, ger den bara en bra möjlighet till vita att skratta åt de svarta. Och han fortsatt: ”boken ger ingen antydning att vara en seriös värk”. Ralph Ellison har i sin tur kritiserat boken för att den är oseriös och att den är mer ”en elak parodi”. År 1979 författaren Alice Walker utgav en samling av Hurstons texter med titeln ”I love myself when I am laughing”.
Langston Hughes (1902-67) var en poet, författare och teater aktivist. Han debuterade 1926 med diktsamlingen ”The weary blues”. Under 30-talet skrev han prosa där rasfördomarnas absurditet blottades och en radikal social politik förespråkades. ”The ways of white folks” är samling av hans satiriska noveller. Hughes grundade svarta teatergrupper i Harlem, New York, Chicago o.s.v. Hans pjäser är samlade i ”Five plays” från 1963. I hans serie av böcker som handlar om Simple (Till exempel ”Simple speaks his mind”) låter Hughes en naiv ung svart man, huvudpersonen Simple, bli hjälte i historier där maktens män blir dragna vid näsan och där de allra fattigaste människornas bekymmer blir synliga. Som många andra Afro-amerikanska författare har Hughes skrivit självbiografiska verk, de två romanerna ”The Big Sea” från 1940 och ”I wonder when I wander” från 1956.
James Baldwin (1924-1987) var både författare och dramatiker. Han är född och uppväxt i Harlem och Manhattan. I 1940-talet umgicks han mycket med Richard Wright, som också inspirerade och imponerade honom. James Baldwin första essä publicerades 1946, men det var så sent som 1953 han debuterade i skönlitteraturen med romanen ”Gå och förkunna det på bergen”. Han blev en känd samhällskritiker och uppskattad författare väldigt snabbt. Först fick Baldwin berömd för sina essäsamlingar, som ”Ingen känner mitt namn” från 1961 och ”Elden nästa gång” från 1963. Baldwins verk bygger på många av hans egna erfarenheter och upplevelser. Särskilt i ”Ingen känner mitt namn” skildrar han sina möten med Richard Wright, Ingmar Bergman och Norman Mailer. Under 60- och 70- talet blev Baldwin en mycket respekterad röst för svarta i deras kamp för sina rättigheter. Baldwin var även öppet homosexuell och skrev i sina romaner om homosexuellas dåliga livs situation och deras kamp för bättre position i Amerikanska samhället. De två mest kända böcker med det här ämnet är ”Giovannis rum” från 1956 och ”Another Country” från 1962. Att skriva eller tala om ett sådant här ämne är ovanligt i svart litteratur kulturen och genom att lyfta fram ämnet Homosexualitet skiljer han starkt från de andra författarna jag har berättat om. Baldwin fick hård kritik för sina böcker från bland annat ”The Black Panthers”, som tyckte att Baldwin gjorde helt fel när han jämförde homosexuellas situation med svartas situation. Som aktivist i kampen för svartas rättigheter avstådde Baldwin från allt våld, i likhet med Martin Luther King.
Nella Larsen (1891-1964) författare från Harlem Renaissance perioden har fått mycket uppmärksamhet fast hon har skrivit bara två romaner ”Quicksand” från 1928 och ”Passing” från 1929. Larsens första bok berättar om en halvvit och halvsvart tjej Helga. Hela hennes liv präglas av rasismen och sexismen, och hennes eviga sökande för identitet. Larsens karaktär Helga är annorlunda; hennes vita mor kom från Danmark och pappan var från Indien (men ändå svart). Helgas bakgrund som i boken skildras är unikt inom Afro-amerikanska litteratur. Berättelsen handlar också om hennes sökande och längtan för att hitta en man och kärlek. Larsens andra roman ”Passing” handlar också om en tjej som är halvvit och halvsvart men som ser ut som en vit person. Hon lever i rädslan av att upptäckas, att det skulle komma fram att pappan var svart. När hon möter en barndoms vän så rivs allt upp och ner. Boken är väldigt diskuterad på grund av sin utforskning av ras och identitet, men också för att det kan tolkas att det finns ”romantisk” kärlek mellan de två tjejkompisar. Dock den stora uppskattningen hon fick av sina romaner slutade Larsen skriva och blev sjuksköterska istället.
De sista två författare jag vill berätta om är Alice Walker och Maya Angelou.
Alice Walker (1944) är känd feministisk författare. År 1982 kom ut hennes berömda bok ”Purpurfärgen” som också blev filmatiserad och succé med samma titel, regisserat av Steven Spielberg. En annan av hennes många romaner värd att nämna är ”Omskärelsen” från 1992. I den boken berättar hon om könsstympning av kvinnor i Afrika. Inte heller ett helt vanlig ämne inom svart litteratur, och desto viktig.
Maya Angelou (1928) har skrivit mycket poesi, men är mest känd för sin bok ”Jag vet varför burfågeln sjunger”, som är del ett ut av hennes självbiografi serie av 3 böcker. I romanen skildrar hon sin uppväxt som svart kvinna i Sydstaterna under ett svår och dramatisk tid. Denna bok har kommenterats av James Baldwin: ”Ett testamente av en svart syster som markerar början på en ny period inom hjärnan och hjärtan av svarta män och kvinnor… Inte sedan min barndom har jag blivit så rörd… Hennes skildring är en biblisk undersökning av livet i skuggan av döden”.
Det är svårt att inte bli imponerad av alla dessa fantastiska författare. Afro-amerikanska litteratur är fylld av vassa, skarpa, känsliga röster, som skriver inte bara om hur det är att vara svart, kvinna, eller fattig, men hur det är att vara en människa, och att vara en liten person i ett stort, hårt, och fördomsfullt samhälle. De skriver om strävan efter trygghet och överlevnad, om kampen för mänskliga rättigheter och kampen för jämställdhet