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[personal profile] delfinnium
(recommended to link here by Deepad. First post, first review thing!)

Thanks to [personal profile] deepad, I'm currently reading the series Gameworld Trilogy by Samit Basu. (can be found here. It can be bought here!)

And it does start off a little slow, in the beginning, especially if you're like me, and have very little familarity with the Ramayan other than a very vauge understanding of 'something happens, Demons evil attack! Princess is involved, there is a vanar, Lord of monkeys and a damn good archer, involved somewhere, there is a lot of fire, and a chariot happens to be there somewhere', you might be a little thrown by all the terms there.

And it's GOOD!

I like that!

I mean there are some books (like the God of War series) that use terms so obscure and strange that it is hard to actually understand what is going on in the world unless you read it several times (and I'm not so sure I'm drawn into it), but this world is not like that!

I mean there are creatures whom you don't know what they are - vaman, pashan, vanar (though since I know passingly from School the ramayana, i know what vanar are), khuldran, and so on and so forth, and Samit doesn't explain, not at first.

But then as the story opens up, you start to realise what they are. Vaman are the equivalent of dwarves, vanar are monkeys/apes, pashan seem to be troll types, asur are... I'm not sure what they are, really, other than that no one likes them and they do all the dirty shitty jobs that no one wants.

( Yet longer incoherent flailing review here! )


You like POC cultures and fantasy? Sick of male dominated Generic White Medieval Fantasy?


Genre: SFF, fantasy, parody
Subject: parody, trope inversion, non-white fantasy
Author nationality/ethnicity: Indian
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10) Reckless Eyeballing by Ishmael Reed

I want to recommend this book with as many warnings as possible. This book is sexist, racist, anti-semitic, homophobic, ethnocentric, classist, colorist, and probably a few other -ists as well. It's got a rape, a lynching, a sexual assault, a blood libel, a murder, police brutality. And that's the point. This book is designed as a provocation. Reed throws so many -isms at you as a sort of reductio ad absurdum about intersectionality of oppression. You're still trying to think in terms of a hierarchy of oppressions, Reed says. Your brain wants to say "Oh, racism is worse than anti-semitism. More horrible things have been done in the same of racism." or vice versa. Or whatever. But your brain is wrong. You can't compare this stuff, and trying to do that plays into the hands of people who are more interested in power than justice. Trying to construct a calculus of privilege will only lead to madness.

In a Tom Wolfeian 1980s New York, playwrights vie for the attention of the downtown theater scene. A white feminist playwright has written a play rehabilitating Eva Braun. A black male playwright works with first a Jewish male director, then a black female director, then a white female producer, on an all-female play about the aftermath of a 1960s lynching and who might be to blame. Reed calls a lot of attention to the eyeballing part of his title, the role of constantly changing perception in shaping this world, but I think 'reckless' may be the more important part of the title, the key to his linkage with Wolfe, the key to understanding his characters' behavior. The story is manic, crude, mostly out of control, highly confusing. It's also pretty damn funny, and pretty damn thought-provoking. I enjoyed it a good deal and I enjoyed having conversations about it with people. But... all of my warnings stand. Go into this book with your eyes wide open about what you're stepping into.

tags: a: reed ishmael, african-american, postmodernist, satire
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I'm officially in love with Percival Everett, I think.

It started when I learned that he'd written a book called A History of the African American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond as Told To Percival Everett and James Kincaid. My sense of humor is too cocked for me to not be drawn to such a long and ridiculous title. Benjamin Rosenbaum's similarly titled "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes', by Benjamin Rosenbaum" is among my favorite short stories, after all.

While I waited for that to arrive on Amazon, I picked another of his books up at the library.

35) I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett.

The title, in addition to being a strikingly on-the-nose sentiment, is possibly a spoof on Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, as the novel is also concerned in some sense with the evolving cultural mores of today's youth culture. The novel's title character is named Not Sidney Poitier, a curious moniker his mentally ill mother assigned to him for no clear reason we're ever given. It turns out that as he grows up, he begins to closely resemble his non-namesake, and Everett has Not Sidney endure a series of adventures that more or less directly parody famous Poitier movies.

The novel begins Shandyan, with a very funny and very peculiar narration of the narrator's birth. It ends Borgesian, with the lines between Not Sidney and Sidney blurring in almost ecstatic ways. And on almost any other book I was writing up for this community I would hesitate to make those comparisons, because I'm growing wary of making naive comparisons to white authors on this community, wary of slotting them into a paradigm where they're considered second class citizens. But among the questions Everett seems to be asking, particularly in a central passage where Not Sidney experiences Not Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, is what makes a particular narrative "white" or "black". What separates Dick from Delany, what separates Baldwin from Hemingway, what separates Sidney Poitier from Not Sidney Poitier, and what separates Not Sidney Poitier from billionaire Ted Turner, who has a hysterical turn here as Not Sidney's eccentric adoptive father figure. So it's vitally important that Everett run his novel up against Tristram Shandy and David Copperfield and The Metamorphosis, in addition to the narratives of Frederick Douglass and Sidney Poitier and the rest of his "black narratives". The result of this mishmash is a literature of suffering and hope, joyously combined.

36)Erasure by Percival Everett

All three novels of Everett's that I've read feature some form of self-insertion. In I Am Not Sidney Poitier, Percival Everett is a Morehouse professor who teaches a course on the Philosophy of Nonsense and offers Not Sidney all manner of entirely unhelpful and nonsensical advice. In A History of the African American People, Everett is a Berkeley professor contracted by Strom Thurmond to help set his thoughts down on paper. In Erasure, Thelonious Ellison (a name which in a way is the same as Not Sidney) is a middle class novelist and teacher who has just published a novel that parodies the post-modern literary establishment and is recognizably similar to Everett's Glyph in form and content.

Ellison takes a leave of absence from his teaching job at Berkeley after his sister is shot and he is left to care for his Alzheimer's-afflicted mother. In the interim, he sits down and writes a parody of one of the "ghetto novels" that has become so popular lately as epitomized by Push. Everett sets down 60 pages of the novel within the novel, an ebonics-laden tale of violence and drugs titled My Pafology.

The novel poses fascinating questions about authenticity as "My Pafology", retitled "Fuck", becomes a best-seller and wins the National Book Award. Everett is brutal and funny as he mocks Oprah, the literary establishment, liberal guilt, and our desire to find a fiction that somehow communicates the truth of human suffering.

37) A History of the African American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond as Told To Percival Everett and James Kincaid by Percival Everett (and James Kincaid? I'm honestly not sure what Kincaid's contributions were, which is part of the point)

An epistolary narrative tracing the development of the titular historical memoir, from its conception in the blurry mind of a Thurmond aide through its development by a desperate Simon and Schuster editor and the bewildered ghostwriting undertaken by the team of Everett and Kincaid, writers in the Berkeley English department, one white and one black.

Unlike a lot of such parody novels, Everett doesn't supply you with any sort of anchoring character. Everyone you meet is just as poorly adjusted to society. They let their perversions, their foibles, their weaknesses drive them. Thurmond's aide misrepresents his relationship with his boss. The editor abuses his position of authority to make sexual advances on his assistant. Kincaid is obnoxiously overcareful to avoid offending his black colleague, while Everett abuses this deference for amusement and personal benefit.

And somehow, amid a cast of misshapen lunatics, serious thoughts begin to emerge about the nature of history and narrative, about the way we read the world around us. Somehow, misguided as he is, Strom Thurmond's insistence that he is more responsible for the history of the African-American people than anyone begins to teach us how to ask the right questions about who writes history and how they interpret it. The book shows when and how to question the historical canon, when and how to embrace minority opinions, asks whether it's ever necessary to decide on a definitive answer. And I have no idea how Everett does this. It's magic, how he finds form in his chaos.
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I borrowed all of these from the library, but they don't have a lot else in common - the first is a YA, coming of age (or responsibility) novel, set in contemporary Pakistan; the second, a literary novel that mixes general and personal histories to create various identities (in families, in cultures, in racial/ethnic groups); and the third is a satire, sharp and uncomfortable. More details follow - spoilers, definitely, for the first book, and the second two I talk about how I felt about the endings, although am hopefully vague enough about actual events.

Amjed Qamar, Beneath my mother's feet. )

Hsu-Ming Teo, Love and Vertigo. )

Colson Whitehead, Apex hides the hurt. )
ext_20269: (studious - reading books)
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Three reviews, as I'm trying to catch up on writing these up!

'Blonde Roots' by Bernadine Evaristo

Before reading 'Blonde Roots' I had it described to me as an alternate history novel, set in a world in which Europe was colonized by the Africans. Having read it, I'm not sure that's what it is at all. I mean, it is on the surface, but the world is (as others have said) not really coherent. Even the opening scene, of Bwana and his family celebrating Voodoomass doesn't make a lot of sense, as voodoo is specifically a faith tradition created from a fusion of African and European beliefs, in the crucible of a European dominated society. Surely a culture in which African beliefs had been dominant would not have had to adapt in that way? There are other oddities too, but that all makes sense when you stop trying to make sense of it as a coherent world and view it just as a satire.

Everything is basically a neat inversion of the history of the Atlantic slave trade, designed to make people re-examine everything they thought they knew. One thing I really liked was the very detailed description of the main character, Doris', home life in England, which pointed out quite painfully that a working class existence in 17th and 18th century England was really exceptionally poor, brutish and very easy to describe as 'uncivilized'. The descriptions of how rough Afro-centric beauty standards were on the Whyte slave women were also very powerful, and reminded me of a couple of articles I've seen on the net.

As ever, Evaristo's language is lovely to read, with a real flow, and I even managed to follow the story to the end, even though it was quite unremitting painful in places.

'Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia' by Cindy Pon

'Silver Phoenix' is a gorgeous Young Adult fantasy novel, set in a kind of magical medieval China. It is wonderful, and easily one of the best books of its genre I've ever read. The world was a fantastic alternative to the standard European/Tolkienien setting, the characters were in depth and the lead character in particular was fantastic. It was also alarmingly effective as food porn, and I spent about a week craving dim sum after reading this book.

About my only very mild issue with this novel was that I really wished at times that the hero was stronger. I mean, I loved the fact that the heroine was very tough and did drive the story forward, but at times her love interest seemed a little bit like a damsel-in-distress, and I did wish that she had someone a little bit stronger, just to provide a more equal pairing. Very mild spoilage )

There is a sequel coming out this year, which I'm very excited about and looking forward to no end.

'Beyond the Stars' by Steven Barnes

This is a novelisation of a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode in which Benjamin Sisko begins to have dreams of being a Black man in 1950s Harlem, who is dreaming of a space station with a Black captain in the future. I remember the episode, and I remember liking it a lot (as is the norm for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes) but was a little apprehensive at there being a novelisation. In general, I'm not a fan of novelisations of TV or films, and tend to find them lacking in some odd way. However, despite my fears, I really enjoyed this. It actually went a step further in developing the story and fleshing out both Benny Russel, the 1950s version of Ben Sisko, and Ben Sisko and his relationship with the prophets.

The only issue I had with this novel was the sexism. I was unsure if it was deliberate or not, as most of it came from Benny Russell, who was living in the 1950s after all, but it did occasionally bug me. Some spoilers lurk beneath )

However, these niggles aside, I did really enjoy this - far more than I was expecting - and I really loved reading Steven Barnes' short essay at the end on what Star Trek, and Deep Space Nine in particular had meant to him as a PoC. Plus, the novel reminded me how fabulous DS9 was as a show, and that's never a bad thing to remember.
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#20[b]: A Right to Be Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury, Aaron McGruder
2003, Three Rivers Press

This is hilarious. I remember reading The Boondocks on and off while it was running in newspapers (more off than on; I was moving around a lot and not all my papers carried it), and I remember being sometimes impressed but often lukewarm on it. I remember formulating the impression that it was presumably the strip's controversy value and what Amazon somewhat coyly calls its "notoriety" that made it such a big success. (What "notoriety" means here is, among other things, visibly black characters talking about visible black issues, often with no white people in sight(!), and, with enormous daring, going so far as to claim the aforementioned right to be hostile. In America's newspapers! In the funny pages!)

Anyway, reading this compilation, I'm forced to dramatically revise my opinion. This is fabulous stuff. McGruder's incisiveness, cutting wit, characterization and sense of timing are often nothing short of brilliant. The strip really does bring to mind the eminent predecessors McGruder cites as influences in the foreword (Trudeau, Watterson, Breathed). (All of which leaves me unsure why I didn't find the strip quite so awesome at the time, except that it does come to mind that collections allow authors the luxury of picking and choosing; McGruder may have wisely left out a lot of duds. ;)

Anyway. What is awesome about this strip?  Let me tell you! )

[identity profile]
I just finished reading Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and felt compelled to post about it to this community and extol its virtues to anyone who would listen.

Summary from In exile now for more than twenty years, Kenyan novelist, playwright, poet and critic Ngugi wa Thiong’o has become one of the most widely read African writers.

Commencing in “our times” and set in the fictional “Free Republic of Aburiria,” Wizard of the Crow dramatizes with corrosive humor and keenness of observation a battle for control of the souls of the Aburirian people. Fashioning the stories of the powerful and the ordinary into a dazzling mosaic, this magnificent novel reveals humanity in all its endlessly surprising complexity.

The summary doesn't even begin to describe how amazing this book is. Thiong'o himself says the aim of the novel is "to sum up Africa of the twentieth century in the context of two thousand years of world history", and the novel depicts "a battle for the control of the souls of the Aburĩrian people" by the competing forces of a corrupt dictatorship, folk wisdom/religion, fanatic Christianity, and self-serving capitalism. The novel is a gigantic political satire that strikes with great accuracy because by reducing these entities into farcical imitations of themselves, it exposes the truth about them. This novel is funny and touching and fast-paced and just *O*.

This book also follows along the tradition of African story-telling in its construction. It weaves distinct threads that eventually come back to the main narrative to create a cohesive whole, and I was amazed at the ability of Thiong'o to create a narrative of hope out of a story of chaos. This is possibility some of the finest fiction I've ever read, and although it is pretty long (768 pages in hardcover), it's worth every single minute. The time went by so fast for me because I was completely immersed in the novel, just wanting to know how it all ends, and that's what I love about this novel—it's an engaging tragicomedy that really gets into what Africa is. This novel is peopled by real Africans, men and women, all of whom are complex and none of whom are passive "victims" awaiting rescue, even if they are farcical at times.
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[personal profile] sanguinity
41. Bernardine Evaristo, Blonde Roots.

Oh, this was awesome. :-D

For some reason, I had been expecting a straight-up specfic-nal alternate history. It's not, however: it's satire all the way. (Or put this way: it's as much a coherent alternate universe as Pratchett's Discworld is -- i.e., it makes no sense unless you're conversant in the dominant explanatory narratives of our world, and it only makes "sense" as a commentary on those narratives.) The very first sentence of Blonde Roots tipped me off to that -- here is a a world where Aphrikans are the imperial powers and whytes are slaves, but in which the beverage "rum and coke" -- Coca-Cola Corporation? really? -- exists. This can't be an alternate history. Even so, it still took me a chapter or so to stop fighting the implausibilities of the world (implausibilities which had been never meant to be plausible!) and slip mental gears into satire-through-AU.

(I'd still advise to skip the map in the forepages, though. That thing, with its Italy on a Polar ocean, like to broke my brain. The only thing you need to know about the map is that the British nation-state has been separated from the ethnic identities of England, Scotland, and Wales. The island of Great Britain is now the United Kingdom of Great Ambossa and is positioned off the Aphrikan coast; the ethnic English, Scottish, and Welsh peoples are still a part of Europa. That's an impressively sweet little bit of footwork on Evaristo's part: she can keep the British Empire on the satirical hook for its colonial outrages by having it be part of the Aphrikan power structure, even while she uses our expectations of how English culture "ought" to be spoken of to show us how screwily African cultures are spoken of. Too many "imagine the roles were reversed" narratives can devolve into allowing white people look away from things their cultures actually did, while helping them fantasize about having been themselves oppressed; Evaristo sidesteps that nicely here.)

(Also, using satire instead of a straight-up AU also effectively sidesteps the we-too-could-have-been-oppressed fantasy. When Doris Scagglethorpe (hee!) fantasizes about cabbages, cabbages, vermin in the thatch, and cabbages, it's so obviously tongue-in-cheek that a white reader can't descend into a help-I'm-being-oppressed fantasy. Others on this comm have long expressed fangirl-squee for Evaristo: on the basis of this single novel, I concur.)

There are essentially three interlinked satirical worlds here: a whyte house-slave in an imperial city (which, for whatever it's worth, could about as easily be set in the American South); the "I worked for everything I have; we're doing them a favor by enslaving them" worldview of the Aphrikan slaveowners; and a hybridized whyte/Aphrikan Caribbean slave culture. There's not a lot of plot here (of which I was glad -- the book was slowest where it got most plot-like). Instead, the book spends the bulk of its time exploring its satirical worlds, using both humor and horror to navigate them. (Purely technical aside: how does she do that? How does she keep the humorous satirical stuff from cheapening the horror she wove in?)

Anyway, the book makes me wish I was far better-read, because I know I'm not nearly getting all the references, but what I do get makes me grin. Some of the satire is "just" obvious role-inversion -- pointing out how ridiculously ethnocentric our beauty standards are by reversing them -- but other things are jabs at genre conventions or current social trends. (Like that thing in nineteenth century novels where no matter where you went in the world, you run into the same six people! And "field wiggers," f'rex, is a clear jab at the "everything but the burden" white culture vultures -- if you want to be a 'wigger,' then be a wigger and take the historical burden, too! Oh, wait -- you can't!) And then there's the Gaiman-esque moments of making verbal imagery literal: I too remember being confused as a child about how few Underground Railroad books seemed to mention either the railroad part or the underground part.

Let me share one of my favorite moments: a passage mocking the faux-oppression of the privileged. Near the end of the book, Doris, who has gone through incredible physical and emotional pain -- violently separated from her family as a child; her own children sold away from her; beaten savagely; working long, brutal hours in the cane fields; and all throughout having had to pretend unfettered adoration the masters that she hates and despises -- is in the master's house and spies a locked cupboard with the key still in:
...I opened it, and found myself on a trip into Nonso's mind.

Self-help books were stacked on shelves, loads of them:
They F**k You Up--How to Survive Family Life
Healing Your Inner Child
How to Start a Conversation & Make Friends
Dealing with People You Can't Stand
How to Motivate Your Workforce
Hidden away at the bottom, spines turned inward: Inheritance Tax for Dummies and Curing VD the Natural Way.

Not a single book had a creased spine.

I had to laugh.
I had to laugh, too.
[identity profile]
Since I'm failing at making time to post about books (here and elsewhere), I figure I will pare the number of potential tasks down by only reviewing books that haven't been posted here before. I'm doing great on numbers so far this year!

I grabbed this off the library shelf, because who could resist the title? A Case of Exploding Mangoes turns out to be a depressing and hilarious military novel set in Pakistan about the 1988 death of dictator General Zia. It mixes up timelines and viewpoints with abandon, both before and after the fatal plane crash, but I always found it easy to follow.1 The obvious novel comparison (as the NYT apparently also thought) is Heller's Catch-22, but the writer I kept thinking of was Vonnegut. Other themes include mysticism, homosexuality, parasites, hubris, and corruption.

It's not the sort of thing I'd normally read at all, but I definitely recommend it.

1 Though I should probably mention that when I saw Ashes of Time Redux it also made sense, which is not most people's experience.
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I've just finished reading a satiric late19th-century Japanese novel originally published in installments. It's been published a variety of ways: as ten installments in a magazine, as three shorter books, and as one very hefty volume. I have the hefty volume.

It's about a nameless cat, written in a very formal, stuffy way (the cat uses the royal "we", as in "we are a cat"). It's an interesting contrast to British novels of the same period, but some of the observations are very funny. During the cat's account of his first attempt to catch rats, he compares himself to a famous historical general. The seriousness with which the cat describes his routine (pine sliding!) is funny, but only if Dickens makes you LOL.

I think the best part is the last volume, which includes a long conversation between several Japanese men, friends of the nameless cat's owner, Mr. Sneaze. They read poetry, discuss philosophy, and tell stories.

More fascinating history on the novel here, but the Wikipedia entry tells how it ends.


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