Behold the Dreamers

snapseedThe immigrant story has been the central theme to quite a lot of contemporary novels these past few years.  The release of Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers may have first been perceived as another typical immigrant story to join all the others, but actually it’s much more.

I was sent a Net Galley uncorrected proof in exchange for an honest review, so I opted to listen to the audiobook while reading simultaneously.  The experience was very interesting because I got to see what was edited and how the change of a few words can give a passage a totally different feel. The general story of Behold the Dreamers is a family from Cameroon united after some time. We the reader follow their ups and downs to remain in the United States and to hopefully obtain the proper paper work.

The story begins with Jende who is going through an interview with Clark Edwards to become his chauffeur.  Happily, Jende gets the job and Behold the Dreamers evolves and explores the dynamic relationship between the Edwards, the rich American family and the Jongas, the Cameroonian immigrant family.  Honestly, this juxtaposition between the two families is brilliant.  Mbue tells this story while favoring none of the characters.  What works the best in this novel is that the characters feel as if they could be real people.  They aren’t all good or all bad. They are characters that have all the possibilities of making wrong and right decisions.  Despite the wrong things these characters do, the reader will automatically find at least one of them sympathetic.  You’ll even be able to understand why they do and why they do things, even when you won’t necessarily agree with them.  That made this immigrant story an extremely refreshing and fair retelling.

From the beginning, the growing relationship between these two families seems promising.  They add to each other’s lives while still remaining at a comfortable distance.  Following their connections with each other is as fragile as the American economy.  There  is a constant nagging feeling of dread that haunts the reader.  What will happen next?

The Edwards family have everything and from outward appearances things are perfect, and  the Jongas are a struggling family trying to maneuver the difficulties from everyday day life, education, family issues, immigration bureaucracy, and money problems.  The funny thing is that both families have similar problems and are both affected by the financial market crash.  The question is which family will fall perfectly on their feet?  Or will both? Or neither?  Mbue uses the market crash of 2008 to show that it was an equalizer of sorts when it came to the damage that Americans and immigrants felt – losing their jobs, their homes, and even family.

Mbue’s writing is direct yet, you will be surprised by where it leads you.  It’s amazing to read this debut novel from a young writer who has come into her gift without loads of  practice.  True passion and well written.  I’ll link the video below where she talks about how Behold the Dreamers came about.  It goes to show you that the simplest idea came become an interesting book.  They just need to be developed.  So, if  you haven’t read this book I strongly encourage you to pick it up or even listen to the audiobook, which was brilliantly read.  The accents were perfect and really added another dimension to the story as opposed to just reading the book, especially if you’re not familiar with Cameroonian accents.

Behold the Dreamer, 380 pages – Random House, March 2016

My Rating:  4 stars

Recommended to:  Readers who enjoy immigrant stories.

Audiobook:  Excellent

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#NonfictionNovember 2016

This is the second year that Olive from abookolive and Gemma from Non Fic Books are hosting #NonfictionNovember over on Booktube.  It entails reading as much nonfiction as you want in the month of November.  It’s already the first of November, so I thought it would be a good idea to introduce it to you in case you’d be interested in joining in.  There is a Goodreads group called Nonfiction November that you can join and partake in the discussions and they have already begun.  The hostesses have chosen four general categories for the reading challenges:  New, Fascinating, Controversial, Important.

So here are the books I’ve chosen to read this month in honor of nonfiction.

New:  I’ve chosen The Night Wanderers Uganda’s Children and the Lord’s Resistance Army by Wojciech Jagielski.  I received it from my Booktube friend Kamil from img_3163WhatKamilReads for my birthday.  You should check him out becuase he always suggests great books and lately loads of great nonfiction recommendations.  I’m counting on this book to really entice me to read more  nonfiction regularly.  He sent me this book before I had decided to do #NonficitonNovember. So I guess you could say it came at just the right moment.

Fascinating:  I’ve chosen 2 books for this category. The first one is Jhuma Lahiri’s In other Words, where she talks about learning Italian and moving her family to Italy.  Since I teach English and am always interesteimg_3162d in the way people go about learning languages I figured that this one would be perfect.  I also chose a second book which also fits well under fascinating and it’s called Soldier A Poet’s Childhood by June Jordan.  She was a prolific poet, essayist, and author (writing African img_3160American Literature and LGBT Literature) who isn’t talked about enough.  She died  in 2002 at the age of 65.  I’m excited to get to this memoir of her childhood and to follow-up with more of her work later.

Controversial:  I wasn’t sure what to choose for this category so I’m reading Negroland by Margo Jefferson.  Now I’m not really sure if it’s controversial but I think it might be since Jefferson’s memoir covers her img_3164life as part of upper crust Chicago in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  This is a point of view that we rarely hear about and I suspect some people don’t think it really exists. I’ll be buddy reading it with 2 other Booktubers: Manika Wangata and Kathleen Ann.  You should also go check out their channels. We’d decided to read this together over a month ago and we are all really excited about it.

Important:  Obviously I had to choose Hidden Figures The Untold Story of the African img_3161American Women who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. Learning about these intelligent, not talked about black women, is very high up on my list.  I can’t wait to get into the book.  There is also a movie adaptation for those who prefer seeing the movie first, which is going to be released December 25th 2016, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae.  I’m sure this going to be a must see.

 

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Here Comes the Sun

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel explores living on the island of Jamaica.  Masquerading img_3150behind a jovial gay cover in bright orange, yellow, and green, Here Comes the Sun, starts gently and insidiously goes places we aren’t prepared for.  The novel revolves around three unlikable main characters – Delores, Margot, and Thandi, who form an unforgettable trio.  Delores is a mother preoccupied with money and not enough to the real well-being of her daughters.  Margot her oldest daughter is motivated to work in the hotel and she gets to the point of selling her body to hotel guests to earn enough money to pay for Thandi’s education and the family’s house expenses.  Thandi, Delores’ youngest daughter, is 15 years younger than Margot.  She’s brilliant in school and is searching to be loved and accepted.  All the family’s desires of escaping poverty in River Bank are tied up in the hopes of Thandi succeeding at school and eventually going to medical school to become a doctor.

The setting of this novel is River Bank a quiet little village situated near a resort hotel, where cruise ships make frequent stops with nonchalant tourists.  Life in poverty on an island can make people do things they would have never thought of doing to survive.  The way Dennis-Benn uses light and darkness to convey the moods of the characters and to set a scene is masterly.  Told with luscious language and poignant analogies, she accurately paints the picture of the horrific situations facing Jamaicans in little sleepy towns near luxurious high-rise resorts.  As I was reading this novel, it made me think of A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid and the rage that ran through the novel.

“The darkness claims her, encircles her with black walls that eventually open up into a path for her to walk through.  She takes a few steps, aware of the one foot in front of the other; of the strangeness creeping up her spine, wrapping itself around her belly, shooting up into her chest, The scent of the bougainvilleas that line the fence is like a sweet embrace. The darkness becomes a friendly accomplice. Yet, the familiar apprehension ambushes her: Can she be seen?  She looks over her shoulder  and contemplates the distance it would take for her to walk to her house from here.  A good mile.  She stands in front of the bright pink house that emerges from the shadows.  It seems to gloss in the dark….”(Here Comes the Sun, pp. 15-16)

Here Comes the Sun is a novel that mixes a good plot with excellent character development. It’s obvious that Dennis-Benn set out to depict a story showing the sociological implications of the difficulties people on the island face, while balancing the plot with pertinent themes such as homosexuality, mother/daughter relationships, colorism, sexism, class, race, missing fathers and of course the long-lasting effects of colonialism on the thoughts and behavior of the island people.  You’re probably thinking that this sounds like a lot to put in a 345 page book, but it’s brilliantly balanced, paced, and speaks clearly to the reader.

Having four generations living under the same roof was Dennis-Benn’s way of having the reader follow and understand the difficulties of each character.  Dolores is a horrible mother but her discourse is obviously that of the after effects of colonialism.  Money is the only thing that she believes will get them out of where they are.  She would subscribe to the expression – You gotta do what you gotta do.  Delores’ voice and a few of the other secondary characters like Charles, Miss Ruby, and Maxi are always in Jamaican dialect which roots the reader into the tradition of life in River Bank.  The dialect isn’t hard to understand.  Saying the lines out loud can help you understand the meaning better if you struggle with reading dialect.  Margot hiding her homosexuality, her deep hatred for her mother, and her desire to earn enough money to leave River Bank and set up elsewhere drive her throughout the story and the lengths she goes to make this happen are mind-blowing.  Thandi who has the weight on her shoulders to succeed in school to save her family from poverty and at the same time doesn’t feel accepted in her school;  has seemed to take in all the derogatory things she hears about dark skin.  “Tsk, tsk. Well, God played a cruel joke on you.  Because, chile, if yuh skin was as pretty as yuh hair, you’d be one gorgeous woman.” (Here Comes the Sun, p. 25)  Sadly, she is so sure that she’ll be accepted if her skin is lighter.

You’ll be glued from the moment you begin to read this story, anxious to find out what’s going to happen next, shocked as you’re pulled through all the twists and turns.  All the secondary characters are just as memorable as Delores, Margot, and Thandi.  The only real problem I had with Here Comes the Sun was the ending, to be exact the last chapter.  I was really disappointed to not get the closure I was hoping for once the novel was finished.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters.  Chapter 40 left me dissatisfied.  I really enjoyed all the other parts of the novel and felt they were perfect.  Unfortunately, the outcomes of the characters are left hanging and inferred.  It felt like she had no idea how to finish this book or maybe she was reluctant to end the book with all the loose ends perfectly tied up.  Could she have felt that ending the book this way shows that life goes on, as if we the readers were just witnesses to a part of these characters’ lives?  I’m wondering if maybe she plans on using these characters for another book.  That would make a great second book. 😉  So, have you read this one and if not are you interested in trying it?

My copy:   Here Comes the Sun, 345 pages

Rating: ****

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Krik? Krak!

img_2994I’d never heard the words Kirk? Krak! and wondered what they meant when I picked this book up.  Reading the back cover, I learned that storytellers say Krik? and listeners say Krak! in Haiti.  Krik? Krak! is a poetic collection of connected short stories that explores the Haitian community in the United States and in Haiti.  The tradition of storytelling is a way of passing down moeurs and is an important part of Haitian culture.  This is specifically treated in this collection – passing culture from mother to daughter.

Krik? Krak! opens with a short story of Haitian refugees that are attempting to escape the political strife and horrors of their country and are floating out to sea desperately trying to reach Miami, while shedding their personal items along the way and in some cases their lives.  Each story is told from the poignant point of view of Haitians however surprising these stories have a strong sense of universality about them as well.  Everyone has a sense of home, a sense of family, of culture, and a desire for a good life.  Danticat does a brilliant job of integrating the recurring themes of water, suffering, and hope.  Water is often portrayed as a barrier.  The barrier that surrounds the island of Haiti and separates it from the Dominican Republic.  Just as the ocean must be crossed to attain a hopeful life in the United States, water is the notion of escape along with the reminder of all the Haitians that didn’t/don’t make it.

It’s very hard to read these stories and not think about the refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria and immigrating to Europe.  Leaving one’s country and having to find the balance between acceptance into a new country and preserving the culture that was left behind.  Danticat’s writing is infectious with a dynamism of superstition and it enlightens the reader to Haitian history.  I strongly recommend reading this short story collection to learn more about Haiti and its people but mostly to experience the passionate manner in which Danticat evokes the honesty, courage, sensitivity, and authenticity of their stories.

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer born in Port-au-Prince in 1969.  She was raised in Haiti by her aunt and uncle.  She finally joined her parens, who had left for the United States earlier, at the age of 12 in Brooklyn.  Danticat began writing at the age of 9 years old.  Her move to Brooklyn was difficult so she turned to literature for comfort.  Her first published writing in English was A Haitian-American Christmas: Cremace and Creole Theatre.   Some of the major themes that are dealt with in her writings are mother-daughter relationships, national identity, and Haitian diaspora.

She has been decorated with  countless literary awards and honorary degrees.  Having earned a Masters of Fine Arts from Brown University, Danticat has gone on to write many well-known titled books such as The Farming of the Bones, The Dew Breaker, and her latest novel Claire of the Sea Light.  On a high note, a young director named Easmanie Michel fell in love with Krik? Krak! and is working diligently to bring Edwidge Danticat’s short story Caroline’s Wedding to the big screen.  She believes that Danticat’s work will translate well on-screen and she has been entrusted to make it happen.  If you’re interested in keeping up with the new developments on this film project head over and check out Easmanie Michel’s Facebook page Caroline’s Wedding.

 

My Copy:  Krik? Krak!, paperback 224 pages

Rating: *****

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The Fire This Time

The Fire This Time.  Police brutality and systemic racism are plaguing the United States as if we hadn’t gone through the Civil Rights movement.  I living in France, a country without worry or anxiety when I go out, don’t have to face so much overt racism, nor too many microagressions, sit and listethe fire this timen to the countless horrific cases of police brutality ending in fatality.  I am almost fifty years old and am proud to have seen a black president and hopefully a female one.  However the hate crimes, police brutality, and systemic racism I fear I won’t see an end before my death.

Jesmyn Ward compiled a series of poignant essays called, The Fire This Time, that each explore the difficulty that black Americans are having today concerning race.  Some Americans may not even be aware of these difficulties that are well known to black Americans.  The subjects in this collection range from the  role of the black father, to Phillis Wheatly, to preserving our dead, to to simply walking. Each essay is just as important as the other.  There are important lessons to be learned through this read by ALL Americans.  It is a must read.  We can all learn something from The Fire this Time.  For example, I hadn’t heard about the Know Your Rights murals informing citizens of their rights when confronted with the police.  I also hadn’t heard about the remains of slaves found in the New England area that have been conveniently paved over and left to be forgotten.

Powerful, informative, and moving The Fire this Time will make you think and sadden your heart.  It will make you wonder why and where have we gone wrong and why do some Americans not feel that there’s anything wrong about all these recent events which have been going on for longer than a few years. “What Baldwin understood is that to be black in America is to have the demand for dignity be at absolute odds with the national anthem.”(The Fire This Time, )

Another important essay is by Garnett Cadoan. Since when is it a crime to walk. Apparently only if one is black is it a problem.  As a matter of fact a black man running, walking, and waiting on street corners for friends can get him into trouble and in some cases killed. “Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders in accessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone.”(The Fire This Time, Black and blue by Garnette Cadogan)

If you don’t pick up Between the World and Me, I get it, but definitely check out this 5-star collection containing essays from important writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Jesmyn Ward, Mitchell S. Jackson, Claudia Rankine, Isabel Wilkerson, and many more.

My copy: The Fire This Time, ebook 240 pages

Rating: *****

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The Blackbirds

The Blackbirds is the latest release from Eric Jerome Dickey, known for writing contemporary novels about African-American life.  Naughtier than Nice, the sequel to Naughty or Nice and One Night, a standalone were the last two novels he published in 2015.  For me, It’s been a while since I’ve read anything from him so I sort of knew what I was going to be getting into with this one.  Exquisite cover, 400 plus pages, this is that “girlfriend book” that everybody has been anticipating this 2016.

img_2867Four best friends as close as sisters, Kwanzaa, Ericka, Destiny, and Indigo are all trying to find love and solutions to their personal quandaries.  The novel is plot driven like only Dickey knows how to do.  He has his writing formula down to a science.  It’s funny, zany, sexy, over the top, heartbreaking, and explanatory.  Dickey has found a way to balance what would be considered a typical urban erotica novel, while packing it with loads of social commentary.  He makes references to all sorts of incidents from police brutality to political to social media, etc.  The Blackbirds is brimful of urban expressions and millennial lingo, so if you’re not hip to the groove I suggest you read it with the urban dictionary open.

The themes seem to be typical of what Dickey writes – sexuality, homosexuality, male/female – mother/daughter – father/daughter relationships, cheating, female friendships, illness, etc.  It touches on just about everything. The thing that surprised me the most was the quantity of sex in the novel.  I knew it would contain sex but not to that extent.  Sex scenes took over the story in the second and third parts of the novel.  So if you have a problem with reading erotica, this won’t be the book for you.  Surprisingly, there is no mention on the stunning cover about the novel being erotica, but when you look on the inside flap it’s written at the top in red.  Now this has intrigued me because when books are written by white authors they always put some kind of trigger warning that it contains copious amounts of sex, etc.  So I’m wondering how is it that this novel has no mention of it on the front cover.  Could it be that Dutton thought that the way the book was going to be marketed that only black readers would be interested in it?  Or is it that Dutton assumed that black readers like reading about sex so no need to point out the obvious?  Or maybe it’s just that Dutton doesn’t think that white readers will go for this one anyway because essentially it will be in the black interests section in Barnes & Noble, so no need?

To exacerbate my previous questions, I saw a comment made in the review section of Goodreads where a white man said he was disappointed by The Blackbirds.  “He said he had to quit before he plucked out his eyes and that it was dreadful.  He then commented that he was obviously not the the target audience and moreover he thought Dickey’s talent would shine through. Alas!”  (Goodreads user)  I didn’t realize the reader had to be the target audience to enjoy a book.  That’s a new one for me.  Granted, Dickey’s book isn’t 5-star in my opinion, but it isn’t totally bad either.  If anything he’s guilty of, it is of sensationalizing his book with too much sex and trying to develop too many story lines at once; which I believe is always a trap when there are several main characters.  For instance, there are a few story lines which are thrown together quickly to end the book just over 500 pages.  Those story lines should have been treated with more care, but instead their development was bypassed for some juicy sex scenes, which made the last 200 pages feel rushed.

Nevertheless, The Blackbirds is a nice escape read that titillates, amuses,  makes you smile, makes the head shake, and the mind say Amen (at times). It’s loud, hysterical, ratchet, violent, sexy, etc.  It’s a story that reads quickly, plot developing as well as characters growing.  It’s definitely worth picking up if you want erotica with a bit more real storyline.  EL James could take a few pointers from Eric Jerome Dickey.  I’m just sayin’ y’all. 😉

My copy:  The Blackbirds – hardcover, 508 pages

Rating:  ***

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 29 -A Few Favorite Books from Last Year

Day 29A Few Favorite Books from Last Year  Today’s the last day of Black History Month but certainly not the last day of #ReadSoulLit.  I encourage all of you to keep posting and talking about books by black authors, while using #ReadSoulLit! Thanks to you all for supporting and participating…

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