Thursday, February 23, 2017
The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
There was something so incredibly engaging about this story of Paul Coates and his two sons. Now, Paul had many children but this memoir focuses on Bill and the author, Ta-Nehisi. Brothers by two different mothers, often in the same house and completely different. Their father was steadfast in their life but his history caused him to be strict and in many ways an isolationist. An ex-member of the Black Panther Party, “conscious” and not a believer in the holidays, his children were constantly aware of their world and their place in it. Ta-Nehisi and Bill were taking two separate paths. Bill was the one who was always quick to fight and determined to be something. Ta-Nehisi was a slacker, not at all prone to violence, simply trying to make it through his days. Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas were not holidays they celebrated. Baltimore was their home and the setting for this memoir about growing up the son of Paul Coates.
Compelling writing and an intriguing story set the pace for this memoir. Ta-Nehisi’s description of life in Baltimore under the strict upbringing of his father was extremely interesting, complicated and a memoir like I hadn’t experienced. I loved that Coates took time to reflect on his father’s upbringing, his different stints with women and his involvement with the Black Panther Party. Taking the time to divulge that information really set the tone for the story he was telling. Moments of self-reflection were the ones I found most captivating. Coates is very well aware of his faults and those things that caused him to fair so poorly in certain situations like school and girls. The nature in which he reveals and discusses them shows an honesty that we can only reveal later in life, when time has passed and the memories of who we were seep out.
I enjoyed this memoir. An easy read that dealt with father-son relationships in a very honest, though sometimes grim light. I had really been looking forward to reading this book and the focus wasn’t where I thought it was going to be, I still found it really enjoyable. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips
In September of 1912 two white women were attacked in Forsyth County. Ellie Grice claimed to have been raped by a black man. Mae Crow was beaten and left for dead. The events that directly followed these two incidents were the lynchings of five black men accused of the crimes and the exodus of the almost 1100 black residents of the county. The white residents of the town threatened, attacked and stalked the black members of the community until they feared for the life and fled into neighboring counties. Those residents who sought to protect the black workers that worked for them would be threatened until they conceded. Forsyth County, Georgia would then be known as a “white county” something the residents relished with pride. For the next 75 years this county would hold its racial line, defending it with threats to any African American that dared to cross it. In 1987 the Civil Rights movement would finally break through the barriers and drag the county into the national spotlight where their views would finally be challenged and eventually overcome.
Patrick Phillips and his family were residents of Forsyth County in the 1970s and 1980s. They would march in the Brotherhood Marches led by Civil Rights leaders. His writing and testimony lends such a terrifying credibility to this story that’s hard to deny and honestly extremely disturbing. This isn’t a story to be taken lightly and Phillips did an amazing job in his research and in the way he conveys the county’s history. Every rock has been overturned in an attempt to honestly convey the tone of those who prided themselves on living in a town which such a disgusting history.
Why do we read books like this? Because it’s important to understand the history of racism, how it is conveyed, how it is inherited and how it is a result of an irrational fear. There was absolutely no evidence that the attacks that took place were at the hands of black men. But the fear that lived throughout the town was so prevalent and all-consuming that one man was lynched the day Mae Crow was found, without a trial or any evidence pointing to his involvement in the crime. It’s beyond disgusting but so very evident of the problem with racism in this country. This book is a glaring spotlight on the racism still prevalent in the U.S., and how it’s managed to rear its ugly head time and time again. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. I am shaken and angry after finishing but grateful that this story has been told.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince
She was known as Mabinty Bangura in Sierra Leone. She wouldn’t become Michaela DePrince until she had lost both of her parents. Her father was shot in the diamond mines by the rebels. Her mother would die from sickness. Mabinty would become known simply as a number by the guardians at the orphanage. When the rebels removed the children from the orphanage everyone would escape to Ghana, where her new mother Elaine would take her and her best friend, also Mabinty, to the United States of America. Her first night with Elaine before they left Ghana she would show her a picture she had found while at the orphanage. It was a cover of Dance Magazine. On the cover was a ballerina elevated on pointe. She wanted to be that dancer.
It is hard to imagine what life could possibly be like for an orphan child in Africa. Reading Michaela’s account of her young life is extremely emotional and hard to digest. Murder, fear, bodies lying in the street and the rebels’s forces always near. Michaela does a great job recounting her experiences and detailing how much her life changed after being adopted. It’s obvious that throughout each phase of her life in America that she was loved by her adoptive family. This was as much a coming of age story as it was a memoir.
This was a very quick and lovely read. I loved learning about Michaela’s history and seeing the growth and maturity of such a young woman. She tackled issues of race as a ballerina and how she was perceived while having white parents. She talks about the stress and decisions she had made to become a ballerina. It’s an incredible story and journey. This was an easy one to enjoy. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Cecilia went first. She failed on her first attempt even though she needed over 20 stitches on each wrist. But the second time, Cecilia succeeded in ending her life. Her four older sisters were watched with scrutiny around their neighborhood and their school. Were they mourning? Did they know why Cecilia wanted to kill herself? What could be going through their heads? Lux, Mary, Bonnie and Therese would go a year without their sister before joining her beyond the grave. The entire time they were being watched by the boys who loved them. They tried in vain to reach the Lisbon sisters, to understand them, to express to them the love that boiled over for them. That love would take the boys through to their adulthood, to this book that holds their recollections of the Lisbon sisters. They have been examining the evidence for years trying understand the sisters and their suicides.
The Virgin Suicides is an intense story with a supremely unsettling tone. Our narrators were young men when the girls took their life. Their narration is filled with unrequited love for the girls and the pain of their losing the Lisbon sisters. There is also an overwhelming sense of mystery surrounding the girls. The reader learns nothing about the girls from the girls themselves. Everything is learned through the observation of other people, whether it be our narrators or the many people they interviewed, or conclusions based off the evidence our narrators have collected. The world is built around these girls but they remain an overwhelming mystery. The biggest question being why they killed themselves.
I really enjoyed this novel. I loved the tone and the obvious despair. I wanted answers as much as our narrators did. No one could ever understand how five sisters managed to kill themselves. Eugenides did a great job with how he told the story with the constant reflections of the girls and the nonchalant descriptions of how much life has changed in the present. The story exist in the present but is looking back at the time when the girls lived because the narrators can’t move beyond it. I think this book is simply really well executed and unique. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.