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May-June 2014 Reviews of Graphic Novels

Reading graphic novels is such a pleasurable experience and can be an excellent way to convey simple to complex ideas.  Many avid readers have a tendency to ignore graphic novels for they are perceived as maybe too simple and not profound enough.  Reading them is surely very different from reading books, but it’s all a welcome challenge and can even pull readers out of deep reading slumps.

In May and June I read quite a bit but only 3 graphic novels.  The first on the list was Storm.  You guys must know who Storm is. She the black superhero featured in the Marvel comics’ Ex-Men.  With her white long tresses and blue IMG_0373eyes, we find out the life of Storm as a young twelve-year-old trying to survive with a group of young people stealing in the streets, somewhere on the plains of Africa.  They are being led by an adult master thief, Storm calls Teacher.  Storm is already aware of some of her powers but not all of her capacity.  She is learning slowly but surely about who she really is and what she is capable of.

The story was written by bestselling author Eric Jerome Dickey.  He’s an African-American author who is known for having written contemporary fiction novels with relationship themes containing African-American characters.  Some of his popular novels are Milk in My Coffee, Sister, Sister, Between Lovers, and the four-part Gideon series(detective series).  I felt that Dickey was an interesting choice to breathe some life into this neglected superhero.

The comic was beautifully published and the story was interesting, however some explanations aren’t fully clarified.  Nevertheless, the comic did its duty which was to help me escape and provide me with a light read.  The artwork is detailed and colourful, while the artistic depiction of Storm as a twelve-year-old left me perplexed.  She looked to be 20+ years old.  I don’t know why, but comics are usually drawn by men who enjoy all their women in comics depicted with overtly shaped bodily features (even if they are supposed to only be 12).  Even though, check it out.  Storm is such a wonderful character that deserves to have her own X-Men film. Hint! Hint! For anyone out there that could actually make that happen.  Please do.

My next adventure read had me travelling through space to a futuristic world in the popular growing comic Saga vol. 3.  Hesitant to jump on IMG_0282this bandwagon at the beginning of this year, I decided to give it a try.  The first volume introduces the reader to Marko and Alana. These 2 fantastic characters are described as the Romeo and Juliette of space.  Although I feel that analogy is a simple version of a well put together graphic novel that combines societal commentary, science-fiction, creative uncanny characters, and high quality artwork.

The story is being recounted by Hazel the daughter of Alana and Marko.  So, we know that in the end she will survive all the trials and tribulations of her parents, who are having a relationship that is forbidden and trying to escape from all the people who want them dead.  Alana is from the Continent and Marko is from the Crown.  In this real futuristic world they aren’t meant to be together.  Hazel is a product of their love (a miracle she’s survived) and they spend each volume trying to protect her and to give her a good life.  On their journey they encounter many strangely unique looking characters that give the story sentience.  Through each episode we get closer to understanding the worlds of Marko and Alana and why their people are warring and have been for aeons.  We root for them to finally find peace and happiness in this tragically war ridden world.  Their adventures are what keeps the reader wanting more.

Volume three opened up so many new angles to the story that when it was over I would have liked volume 4 to already be by my side ready to devour.  The artwork is done by Fiona  Staples and the story is written by Brian K. Vaughan – the Dynamic Duo if you will!  Definitely a series to pick up if you’re not squeamish about sex in comics and stories that take place in far off futuristic worlds.

The last but absolutely not the least of the graphic novels/comics I read in May and June 2014, was Chroniques de Jérusalem (Chronicles of Jerusalem in English) by Guy Delisle.  This is a non-fiction graphic novel about Delisle’s stay in Jerusalem with his wife and children.  While his Médecins Sans Frontières= Doctors IMG_0156without Borders wife performs her medical duties in Gaza and other citiess in Israel, Delisle discovers the complexities and idiosyncrasies of this vibrant, in constant movement country Israel.  Delisle tries to record events and places through travel and meeting people, but soon realises that things are never as simple as they should be.  He conveys to the reader the good, the bad and the ugly of Israel and he does it with a certain sense of humour that keeps the reader wanting more.  I could have read this graphic novel in one day but it was so interesting and informative that I found myself reading slower to savour the moment.  I visited Israel for about a week 16 years ago and there were stories that brought back memories for me. I also learned a lot about the culture that I didn’t know and hadn’t heard of before.

Delisle’s black and white simple style of drawing puts the accent on what he’s trying to say, but is pleasing to the eye.  His artwork isn’t dark and gloomy like a lot of black and white comics.  He’s managed to capture the essentials of the story harmoniously in 333 pages.  This is a must read for everyone, especially those that don’t know much about the Middle East conflict.  Check out this five-star winner of the best graphic novel in the Angloulême, France competition in 2012.

So what about you? Are you lovers of graphic novels, comics, or manga? Let’s chat below on why you are or aren’t.  I definitely prefer graphic novels to comics, but hate manga. Shhh! Don’t let my daughters hear me saying that.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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Super Sad True Love Story

IMG_0284It’s the future and our world has turned into a giant social media mess.  From +800 statuses, to +1500 credit ratings, to communicating with äppäräts, teening, and staying young.  Gary Shteyngart creates an hysterically frightening in-your-face plastic world that is nothing more than society today exaggerated.  From the first pages of the novel we meet Lenny Abramov, a 39-year-old who works in the Post-Human Services Division of Staatling-Wapachung Corporation.  This corporation is trying to make it possible to live forever, young, and seemingly at all costs.  It’s through Lenny’s diary where we learn everything about him including what’s happening, who his friends are, what he’s feeling and doing.  Lenny is verging on “old”, suffering from male patterned baldness, has too much LDL cholesterol, and to top all of that off reads smelly books. We are introduced to his first thoughts and those are on a certain Eunice Park, who as he puts it “will sustain me through forever” (Super Sad True Love Story, p. 2)  Eunice is a 24-year “young”, sexy Korean girl who has no real prospects on life other than finding hot guys and spending her father’s money on online shopping.  She’s trying to pass the LSAT but really wants to work in retail. Super Sad True Love Story is told in a succession of diary entries, emails, text messages, and some face-to-face episodes. Henceforth, the reader is plunged into this futuristic world, do or die. The unsuspecting meeting of Lenny and Eunice is Shteyngart’s commencement to critiquing today’s society’s relationship with social media and our relentless obsessional, rapport with being young and never ageing.  Their love story is central to the novel but the real story is all that is surrounding them.  Shteyngart has developed a world in which he can critique, American society (immigrant and racial stereotypes), social media and its contagious world growth, however he puts so much into the world building that the characters of Lenny and Eunice appear flat and not defined enough.  By page 100 I didn’t care about either of them. Shteyngart’s writing style is very staccato.  Each page is filled with so much information that sometimes I had to reread some of the passages to make sure I understood everything.  There are myriads of eccentric characters and situations that happen that are crucial to understanding the plot of the book.  You will be surprised by Shteyngart’s creativity with words and sometimes you will smirk.  Knowing and understanding pop culture and intellectual culture will help in getting the jokes.  If you’re squeamish about sex, abstain.  The references could be considered very vulgar. I read the book in 3 days and at the end I was exhausted.  Super Sad True Love Story is 329 pages but by 200 you just want it togary shteyngart end, especially since the ending is predictable!  The overt use of racial stereotypes as a writing technique annoyed me enormously.  I feel using stereotypes just reinforces them and unreservedly does not make them go away.  On the whole, I would have liked this book a lot more if it would have been shorter.  In spite all the bad and exasperating, I’m glad I picked it up so that I could see what all the love for this book was about.   Not so sure I’ll pick up Shteyngart’s other novel, Absurdistan, because it sounds similar to this one humour wise,(gets old when 200+ pages) but I might pick up Little Failure so that I can see where he’s coming from with his writing.  I gave this 2 stars over on Goodreads, but that’s probably 2,5 stars to be exact.  If you read this one or any of Shteyngart’s other books, did you like it? Would you read any of his other books? If so, which ones?  Love hearing from you guys!

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2014 in Book Club, Book Reviews

 

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The Enchanted

IMG_0184I read The Enchanted the second week of last month (May).  It took me three days.  Once I got started I felt I needed to read it quickly or I’d stop reading it and never finish.  This is the story of prison, prisoners, the people who work there, and the system.  It starts with a beautiful passage introducing us to this enchanted place.  “This is an enchanted place.  Others don’t see it but I do.  I see every cinder block, every hallway and doorway.  I see the airways that lead to the secret stairs and the stairs that take you into stone towers and the towers that take you to windows and the windows that open to wide, clear air.” (The Enchanted p. 1)  From there this mysterious prisoner recounts the ins and outs of this “enchanted” place and the people in it.

The rest of the story is recounted in a third person that remains omniscient, even though we know this prisoner is real, even though we don’t his name (until the end).  He knows everything about the prisoners and the people who work there.  This is not really plausible but the reigning of magical realism scattered throughout the story allows for this.  By page 60 I was already a bit detached from the story because of this.  It didn’t help either that some of the main characters didn’t have names. They were referred to as the Lady, the Priest, and the Warden.  This made me detached from them.

I always seem to have a problem with magical realism in novels when its purpose is not defined correctly in the story.  The problem with the magical realism in this one is that it seems to be nothing more than a device to soften the horrors of the story.  Reading about violence and sexual abuse for 233 pages was difficult for me.  It didn’t get better as it went along.  It got worse.  The unfolding of the traumatic backgrounds of the different characters reinforced the points they have in common. There seemed to be no optimism or light at the end of the tunnel anywhere.   Denfeld obviously had an agenda when she wrote this novel and I felt slightly manipulated while reading it.  She used her personal experience to give realism to the story and that coupled with excellent prose adds a certain strength to the novel.  Unfortunately, I’m sure I wouldn’t have picked this book up if I would have known what it was really about.  It was very heavy and there were passages that were difficult for me to read.  The abuse and violence seemed to be unfaltering.  However the writing is very astute and to the point.  It is one of the strongest points about the book.

Rene Denfeld is a death penalty investigator, so she deals with death row clients as well as working with at-risk adolescents.  She has written a few other non-fiction books and articles in magazines.  She will most likely get much recognition for this novel because of the importance of the subject.  The Enchanted is fiction and deals with prison life differently than what is normally expected for this kind of work.  Her novel is already being hailed as possibly the best novel of 2014.  So, if you’ve read The Enchanted comment below and tell me what you thought about it?  Do you think it’s the best novel of 2014? Did you like the ending?

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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In the Shadow of the Banyan

13057939I read In the Shadow of the Banyan at the beginning of the month.  It took me three and a half days to read but then plunged me into a week + worth of thought.  We’re nearing the close of the month of May and I still can’t get this book off my mind.  I figure my reading for the month of May was all worth it because I had the pleasure of experiencing my second 5 star book of the year 2014.  Now if you’ve been following me here or over at frenchiedee you know that I absolutely don’t have a habit of giving out 5 star ratings.

In the Shadow of the Banyan is the fictionalised story of Vaddey Ratner’s four-year ordeal living through the genocide that took place in Cambodia once the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975.  The main character is called Raami and she is seven years old when the story begins.  The first few chapters we are introduced to her family and their lifestyle.  They are a wealthy and privileged family.  They are a royal family in Cambodia and her father is a poet as well.  Soon there after we learn that the Khmer Rouge have taken over the country and are driving the population from the city to the countryside.  There they are made to work in the rice paddies, surviving on little food.  The Khmer Rouge are enforcing Marxist philosophy on the population and forcing them to forget life as it was before.  People of privilege, professors, scientists, teachers, artists, musicians, etc. are hunted down and killed.  They are perceived as enemies to the Organization.

This story is more than just a retelling of a historical event and of Ratner’s experience.  It is a story of human survival.  One wonders how they would behave if they had to go through such a situation.  I thought through it so much and feel as though I would have caved in and hoped for a swift death.  Ratner shows the limits of human beings and how survival is not necessarily dictated by what one may think.  Raami thinks a lot of her father, the things she remembers that he said to her, and of his poetry.  Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can help someone to survive.

The writing in In the Shadow of the Banyan is absolutely beautiful!  That Ratner could write such beautiful prose about such a blight on Cambodian history and on her family is remarkable.  Since we see this story through the eyes of a seven year old, things are recounted with much detail.  This detail may be perceived as wordy but I assure you that it is not the case.  The descriptions are there so that we as readers are literally transported to Cambodia.  We see, feel, and taste what Raami describes.  There were passages that were difficult to read, but Ratner’s writing becomes a metaphor for the insidious behaviour of the Khmer Rouge. In the beginning the people don’t understand what is happening to them but quickly things change and they realise they are trapped in horror.  Even Raami develops over the 410 pages tremendously.  In the beginning, she is naive young and joyful despite her handicap, but her character development is portrayed with the right flow of the story.

Another interesting aspect of this story is the relationship between mother and daughter in such a traumatic life/death event.  Their relationship at the beginning of the story seems fairly undefined but thrown into the uncertainty of this historical event, mother and daughter learn a lot about each other and marvel over each others’ strengths.  This is one of the most touching parts of the story.  I just can’t gush enough over this novel.  It’s a must read.  Pick this one up because you won’t regret it.  Check out Vaddey Ratner below talking about In the Shadow of the Banyan.

 

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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Maya Angelou a Phenomenal Woman

I was reading when a notification popped up on my iPad.  It read “Maya Angelou dead at 86″.  I dropped everything in search of the article.  I just couldn’t believe it.  I still can’t believe it.  Maya Angelou will be greatly missed.  I heard someone say “My black feminist heart is weeping.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Maya Angelou was a jack of all trades, but most of all inspiration for everyone.  Her quotes give advice on love, liberation, freedom, women, men, education, and on many other dilemmas of life.  She will live on through these quotes, her poems, and novels.  I can say I was one of the lucky ones to have had the pleasure to see and hear this intelligent, wise beyond centuries woman speak in person.  I remember how captivated the audience was when she spoke.  The air was light and our spirits were lifted.  The silence in the room was devoted to that special moment of sharing her poetry, her expression.  I’ll never forget it.  As a tribute to Maya Angelou writer, poet, educator, actor, director, producer,  historian, activist, playwright, and….

PHENOMENAL WOMAN

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size       Maya-Angelou
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Bookish Stuff

 

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The Hare with Amber Eyes

IMG_0051The Hare with Amber Eyes was the sixth book read in my book club this school year.  When I voted for it I thought the book was going to be about something completely different.  On the onset I was a bit put off and disappointed.  I really wanted to know more about netsuke.  Netsuke are small Japanese figurines made of wood and ivory that were used to close the obi on Japanese traditional garments.  They represented animals, people, and mythical characters.  I believed the story was about netsuke, but they were nothing more that a vehicle for Edmund De Waal to explore his fascinating Jewish family.  When Edmund De Waal received the large collection of netsuke as an inheritance from his great-uncle Iggie who was living in Japan, he felt compelled to research his extraordinary family.

The story begins in Odessa, Russia and we as readers follow the family as it grows and expands and travels throughout Europe.  There are fascinating tales and detailed descriptions of various family members throughout the 350 pages.  Now I have to be honest I had some problems with various sections of this book.  I found some parts extremely slow and dry.  I really had to keep my eyes open.  I managed to read the book in about 4 days but was struggling to find that special thing that was going to grip me to the story. I was afraid to put it down to long.

As I soldiered on, around about page 200-225 something clicked and I started to find the story more interesting.  The writing lightened up and De Waal’s writing style seemed to develop into a more detached tone that was more acceptable to me.  His constant interjections into the story bothered me a bit earlier in the story, even though I enjoyed his erudite and sometimes humoristic commentary.

Discussing this book on Saturday with my book club proved very enlightening.  Firstly I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a little boring at times.  I’d read many reviews where it seemed everyone loved it.  I kept wondering if there was something wrong with me.  I wasn’t alone.  A few people hadn’t finished it.  They still had the last stretch of 100 pages.  The parts that I preferred.

The Hare with Amber Eyes is one of those books that you either love or hate, even though I’ve fallen smack in the middle (liked it). I gave it 3 stars because it is such an incredible family history.  The book is a mixture of history, art history, and family saga.  Those are definitely ingredients for an engrossing story.  It’s the fourth non-fiction I’ve read this year and for me that’s a lot, since I have a specific preference for literary fiction.  In spite of not loving The Hare with Amber Eyes immensely, I’m still happy to have read it and learned some new things through others’ eyes.  Not through the hare’s eyes though since it wasn’t about him or the netsuke.  I wonder why they chose that title.  We discussed that on Saturday and we weren’t so sure.  I and a few others felt the title was slightly misleading and then someone said it continues a certain mystery something hidden that’s lurking to be discovered.  The netsuke are there through it all.  They survive through all the good times, tragedy, and will continue to exist, going from generation to generation.

Below is a link to the video I watched after finishing the book.  As I listened to De Waal I regretted that I hadn’t picked The Hare with Amber Eyes up on audiobook.  Suddenly his work came to life for me, as I listened to him read parts of the book, along side the giant pictures on-screen.  The pictures that just appeared to be too small and dark in the book.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-504RbknCNo

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Book Club, Book Reviews

 

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Americanah

Chimamanda! Chimamanda! Did I say Chimamanda! Ah Americanah swept me off my feet and has had meIMG_0117 deep in reflection for the past 3 weeks.  That hasn’t happened to me in quite some time after finishing a book.  I found myself rereading passages after I’d finished it. I couldn’t get enough.

Americanah is Adichie’s third successful novel.  It’s the story of Ifemelu and Obinze who are Nigerian and they meet and fall in love instantly at school.  It’s the story of their love, their growth, and their immigration stories.  The central character of the novel is Ifemelu who is young opinionated and intelligent.  We follow her from Nigeria where she leaves the love of her life, Obinze,  and her parents to immigrate to America and live with her Aunt Uju and cousin Dike.  There the ups and downs and harsh reality of life in America, for immigrants, shape the story as well as Ifemelu’s character.  She develops with each new situation and new character she meets.  She slowly shapes into a woman with each relationship she has.  For with each boyfriend comes new lessons to learn.  It was wonderful to watch her grow and make mistakes.

Readers may feel that Ifemelu and Obinze’s love story is non-existent, however their love story is non-conventional but oh so passionate and runs deep.  Adichie constructs the novel to contain themes that are pertinent and that have not as yet been dealt with in such an outright way.  Race, immigration, natural hair, and blogging are the central themes that drive the story.  You’re probably thinking race and that you know what she’s going to say. Wrong! You don’t and frankly you’ll be a little surprised at times, happily surprised and maybe a little uncomfortable.  Adichie deals thoroughly with all the different sides to race.  You get the points of view of the Africans, the African immigrants (Americanahs), the African-Americans, the white Americans, and other races.  Some may not appreciate her African-American view and feel as if she’s slighting us but I had to admit that I know African-Americans that I’ve heard saying a lot of the things she writes in the book.  Adichie’s views may at times come off as semi-rants but the context in which she writes them are fitting.

The novel was written in third person, which is lively and amiable, just like a good friend accompanying you throughout the 477 pages.  At times the third person was Ifemelu speaking and Obinze but most of the time I felt it was Adichie expressing her personnel opinions.  All in all, I loved that because those passages were filled with the most stimulating and thought-provoking lines.  To aid in telling this story Adichie uses blog entries which Ifemelu writes while in the United States to talk about race.  Through these strategically placed blog entries Adichie examines all the uncomfortable angles around the subject of race.  At times they made me laugh aloud, smile, or just say a subtle yes.  I hadn’t thought so much about race from an African’s point of view, much less an African’s view of race in the United States.

Immigration was the next ubiquitous theme.  The heart-rendering immigration stories of Ifemelu in the United States and Obinze in England paralleling each other depicted the difficulties they were going through, while showing their growth as people – lack of money, being homesick, looking for jobs, being illegal, dealing with unsavoury characters, and constantly searching and not finding.  It was funny that through all the difficulty of immigration they both had, they always  seemed to turn to reading or books for comfort, which I found astounding.  The books mentioned in Americanah are A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipul, The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance – Barack Obama.  Each book mentioned has ideas relevant to the scenes where they are mentioned in Americanah.  Adichie is trying to reinforce her ideas through the recurring accepted ideas of an old British classic, a story about an Indian living in Central Africa, a highly respected classical African work, and a novel written by an African-American president who had an African father.  I love the way The Heart of a Matter is mentioned in the beginning by Obinze’s mother and how things come full circle at the end when Ifemelu says how much she likes The Heart of a Matter and how much the story means to her.

Amongst these two real subjects, natural hair is wedged in throughout the story here and there.  The novel opens with Ifemelu in a salon getting her hair braided.  This was a symbol of many things – African-American women being a slave to their hair and trying to tame it at all costs to fit into American society, the workplace, etc., It’s also a place where one is meant to open up and exchange stories about themselves and often be judged, and a place which has a lot of cultural value in the African-American community for getting women together and getting men together.   The hair salon is like a meeting of cultural similarities for Africans and African-Americans.  We see Ifemelu struggle with accepting her hair when she is forced to stop relaxing it because her hair is falling out.  So she has her hair cut to a short afro.  She doesn’t accept her short kinky hair at all so she calls in sick two days because she’s apprehensive about the way she will be perceived.  As the story went on, it seemed as if Ifememlu got more radical as her her afro grew.  Is natural hair political? Is it just hair?  Those are two questions that are debated incessantly these days as the the natural hair movement spreads in the African-American community.  Acceptance of one’s appearance, actions, and ideas is one of the first steps to accepting and knowing one’s self.  This Ifemelu and Obinze both learned the long and hard way.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977.  She has a successful list of works starting with Purple Hibiscus which was her first novel written in 2003 and followed by Half of a Yellow Sun in 2006, which is set during the Biafran War.  The Thing Around Your Neck was a short story collection written in 2009. “My writing comes from melancholy, from rage, from curiosity, from hope.” (quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  during a lecture at Princeton University, 20 October 2010 – The Writer as Two Selves:  Reflections on the Private Act of Writing and the Public Act of Citizenship)  That is very clear in her writing.  That’s what makes it sincere and palpable.  I urge you all to give Americanah a try and to check out the video below of Adichie speaking about the dangers of the single story on TEDTalks. Brilliant!

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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