Sunday, June 25, 2017
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Kambili lives within the walls of her family’s compound. She follows the schedule provided to her by her father, tries to accomplish first in her class every term and ignores the sounds of her mother being beaten. Kambili has felt her father’s anger before too. Her brother JaJa is also no stranger to her father’s hands and the belt. Her father wants them to be as close to God as possible and when they fail, he punishes them out of love. Her father is a very wealthy, very well-known man and depended on by the people of his home village. Whenever they return he brings food and money to the village and shuns his own father, Kambili’s grandfather, accusing him of being a heathen for not converting to Catholicism like he has. When the government begins to fall around them he allows Kambili and JaJa to travel away for the first time, spending a week with his sister and her children. It is there Kambili learns what it’s like to live outside her father’s control, listening to music and watching TV, pastimes she was never allowed to enjoy. That is also where she realizes just how unhappy she has been for most of her life, seeking approval from a man who has caused her so much harm out of love.
Sometimes you don’t know that you have been hurting until you have been removed from the source of that pain. That seems obvious with Kambili and her narrative. Always seeking approval from her father, she had no idea the kind of psychological trauma she was experiencing under him. She had no concept of what normal was. The wealth that she was always privy to meant security but it never guaranteed happiness. When placed in an environment completely different than what she has ever known Kambili slowly starts to realize how unhappy she had been. I enjoyed Kambili’s narrative. Her naiveté was painful at first but it made her growth that much more endearing. She was constantly reexamining her family, mulling over their life and their views.
Adichie did a really amazing job with this story. From character development to world development, to examining religion and its effect on Kambili’s family. Everything was so well fleshed out and so well executed. As the reader, I realized very early on how convoluted Kambili’s father was and how manipulative he was towards those around him. Reading Kambili’s journey and watching her discover the truth behind her happiness was really intriguing and really well paced. The subtlety of Adichie’s writing lends itself really well to this story. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.
Sunday, June 11, 2017
Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps
There are so many aspects about Black hair and the culture surrounding it that people simply aren’t aware of. With Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, Byrd and Tharps attempt to make that information as accessible as possible. This book begins where African American history begins, the tribes of Africa and the pride that was once held in black hair. It continues with how the pride and care put into Black hair was demolished during the middle passage and the beginnings of slavery. It expands on the idea of Black hair with examining the beauty standards of the day in America and how enslaved Black people had no luxuries and none of the oils and tools they used in Africa were available to them to properly care for their hair. Issues of race and colorism also weighed heavily throughout the history of Black culture and still has an effect on how Black hair is perceived in society. From the earliest parts of history to 2014 when this version was released many wide ranging topics are discussed including the industry and money behind it.
As a Black woman there are many parts of this story and the history of black hair that I was well aware of. The stigma of natural hair, the concept of “good” hair versus “bad” hair, and the manageability of Black hair were things openly commented on throughout my life. Hair Story though brought all of these concepts together and did a really good job of simply presenting the facts. I appreciated how well researched and comprehensive the information was. The area in which I was completely unaware was the industry behind Black hair and how it has changed so extensively over the centuries.
What Byrd and Tharps really did with Hair Story was remove the veil regarding Black hair. If you are a complete novice to the subject then this would be a great book to introduce you to the beauty that is Black hair. The problems I have surrounding this book has to do with the way it was structured. At times it became repetitive and redundant. There were interviews included throughout the book, in the middle of chapters, and more often than not it completely disrupted the flow of information. I would still recommend this book because it does have a plethora of information and really handles the topic well. Overall, I give this story 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora had never planned on running. But after the beating she received on behave of Terrance Randall, she knew the time had come. Only weeks had passed since Ceasar had asked her to go with him. Now she was ready. The train sat on the tracks underground. She had no idea whose hands had dug these tunnels. Cora only knew that they needed to get away from Georgia. Ridgeway had hunted Cora’s mother, Mabel, who ran when Cora was a young girl. He was never able to find her and Cora was his next big target.
I’m not sure what I expected when I first picked up this novel. There was so much hype regarding the story and so much praise lauded on that I was scared I would be disappointed. Needless to say that within minutes of starting this novel I was hooked. Whitehead begins this story with one woman’s journey across an ocean to slavery and it’s endearing and heartbreaking and honest. Cora’s story follows directly after and within a few pages you become drawn to her character, her struggle and the struggle of plantation life, the life of a slave. All of these characters were well developed and felt true. The people Cora interacted with slave, freedmen, owner, conductor and slave catcher were believable. Whitehead took readers back in time with his world building. From the bodies lining the trees, to the sprawling plantation, to the Negro dormitories and train underground you feel transported. Transported to the days of slavery, to the time of running to be free, to safety.
Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is worth a read. I really enjoyed Whitehead’s writing style and his ability to weave in and out of different narratives. There was never a sense of safety or a journey completed. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next life changing event to happen and I was never disappointed no matter how much it broke my heart to read it. This was the reality and the tone of the novel breaming with fear, made me as a reader tense. Even when the story ends you know that there will be more to the characters, that there will still be fear, there will always be movement and that may never pass. I’m giving this novel 4 out of 5 stars. It keeps you invested throughout the story. Cora’s struggle becomes your struggle and the railroad keeps you moving. But the Underground Railroad overtime becomes more symbolic than anything. It’s a mystery to those looking for it and it’s a mystery to those who have to ride it to safety.