Hi everyone, I'm new and my goal is to read 50 books by people of color this calendar year and post reviews once a month. So far I'm a little ahead with reading and a little behind with posting. These are the books I finished in January:1. Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker
This is a novel made up of linked short stories about Haitian and Haitian American characters, most of them somehow related to stories of political violence, especially the torture of prisoners. It's not clear until the end how the different parts relate to each other and at times I felt a little lost as far as that goes, but all the characters felt very real and all their stories were interesting and moving, even when I wasn't sure what year I was in, and even though I know very, very little about Haitian history. I liked that there were characters from different social positions and different sides of the conflict but they were all sympathetic, all presented as human beings. I liked that one of the women had an ex-girlfriend and this was part of her character but not the point of it. Mostly I just loved Edwidge Danticat's prose! I hadn't read anything of hers before but I've got the novel Breath, Eyes, Memory
out from the library now and I'm also very interested in I will definitely be reading the memoir Brother, I'm Dying
, which was reviewed here
.2. Machado de Assis, Dom Casmurro
I had to read this for school, but I enjoyed it anyway. :) Most critics and regular Brazilians consider Machado to be the greatest Brazilian writer of all time, and this is one of his most important books. This is a novel about a friendship, courtship, and marriage in which the husband, Dom Casmurro, is the unreliable narrator. In some ways it's incredibly frustrating that we never get to hear the woman's side of the story, but that's also what's so fascinating about it, that the book is partly about
her being silenced, and over a hundred years later readers continue to argue about what actually happened in the story. The writing is also just fun, with lots of crazy asides in which the narrator addresses the reader or talks about the construction of the novel. ( Read more... )3. Jamaica Kincaid, My Brother
I was excited to read this because back in college I'd been blown away by Kincaid's novel Lucy
and her essay A Small Place
. My Brother
is a memoir about the author's younger brother dying of AIDS in Antigua in the 1990s. What I liked about it was one of the things I loved about those other books – the raw honesty of it. Kincaid doesn't hide her anger at her mother for the way she treats her children, at her brother for being careless about his own and others' lives, at Antiguans in general for trying to ignore this disease, and for not taking care of people who are sick and suffering. I liked this book, I got sucked into it and read it quickly and found it very affecting, but it I wouldn't recommend it as readily as I do those other two. (I'm also planning to read her novel Annie John
soon.) To me this read like something Kincaid had to write in order to deal with this horrible event in her life, but where she wasn't really thinking that much about the reader, or that's my explanation for why I didn't connect as much with this one.4. Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower
I know a lot of you have read this already and it's been reviewed in the comm before, so I won't summarize here. I had a little trouble getting into this at the first but I loved the second half and I'm looking forward to reading Parable of the Talents
. ( Read more... )5. Eric Liu, The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker
I know some Asian American readers have had strong negative reactions to this book and others have loved it. It seems to work for most people as a memoir, as one guy talking about his experience as a Chinese American, deciding (or having his parents decide for him) how much his Chineseness is going to be part of his life and his identity. I really like how honest and thoughtful he is, that he not only acknowledges that his Chinese language skills are not good or that some Asian Americans would call him a "banana" because he "acts white", but that he really talks about different sides of what that means. I also like that he talks about people he knows who've experienced being Asian American in completely different ways, and he talks about how his own attitude has changed throughout his life, or sometimes how it changes in the course of one conversation.
Some people don't like the parts of this book that go into bigger generalizations about history and assimilation and the meaning of race and ethnicity in the US. But I really loved these parts too! I figure it's not that you need to agree with him on everything, but he's putting out some really interesting ideas and the writing is elegant; it was a real pleasure for me to read.