Book Review — Equiano, The African: Biography of a Self-Made Man

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Equiano, The African is one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read. Hands down. To even tell you everything that I learned would take much more space and time than we have time to talk about here, but let’s go over the highlights, shall we?

First, let’s talk about the author a bit. Vincent Carretta is a professor of English at the University of Maryland, and he specializes in 18th century history and literature. He’s published books about other important voices of black history, such as Phillis Wheatley, the first African American poet, and Philip Quaque, the first African Missionary.

In this book, Carretta takes us on a voyage through Equiano’s life by going through Equiano’s autobiography, and gives us the context surrounding specific moments of his life, some of which are incredibly original.

“Equiano’s autobiography is the most extended and detailed account of naval experience left by any eighteenth-century writer of African descent”

The book is divided into fourteen chapters, each cataloguing specific parts of Equiano’s life, such as the descriptions he gives of his birth in Africa, which is still under debate. Carretta argues that Equiano was not actually born in Africa and might have been born in the Carolinas in the United States. This hypothesis is very clearly laid out and Carretta also explains how, if this is true, Equiano was very clever in writing his autobiography and marketing it so that people wouldn’t suspect otherwise.

Equiano started as a slave, became a sailor, and after buying his own freedom, he even managed the transportation of slaves. Equiano didn’t view slavery as a bad thing at first, but through his experience and his spiritual and religious discovery, he became certain that slavery was a thing of evil. But the most interesting part of this book for me was how Carretta was able to put more than one perspective of the abolitionists of the eighteenth century as the framework for how Equiano himself came to that conclusion.

“Opposition to the African slave trade was politically nonpartisan and religiously nonsectarian. Conservative Christians opposed it because it was sinful, political reformers because it denied the natural rights of humanity, social reformers because it was oppressive, and economic theorists because it was inefficient”

We get to explore the timeframe of the eighteenth century, when horrible things were done to many human beings who were seen as “others” or who simply had to pay some debt and went into the vortex of slavery to never get out. Equiano is our point of reference through which we can see how the world was back then, how far we have come, but also how some things remain the same. It taught me the origins and transformations of our biases based on skin color for example:

“The traditional definition of race as bloodline was increasingly replaced by the notion of race as species that became dominant in the nineteenth century. This “modern” concept of race, which was secondary during the early colonial American period, became primary.”

But it also taught me some really interesting facts, about naval ships at the time, how the politics worked under a monarchy previous to a parliament, and things like this:

“…Birmingham’s Lunar society, so-called because it met on the Monday nearest each full moon, when its amateur scientists and experimenters had enough natural light to find their way home following an evening of conviviality, conversation, and consultation… Mostly from humble origins, many of the self-described “Lunatics” were self-made men like Equiano himself.”

Carretta’s writing is enjoyable and flows really well. Even when talking about battles and dates and names of politicians I found myself immersed in the writing and invested in the people, so much so that I am definitely looking forward to reading more of his works (at least the two mentioned at the beginning of this post).

Equiano was a fascinating man, no matter where he was born, he left a legacy that will not be forgotten. He was part of many activists of the eighteenth century who fought to abolish slavery, and even if he didn’t get to see it all come true, he lived a life true to his values and to his beliefs.

This was but a taste of what’s in this wonderful book, I definitely recommend it if you like history, original perspectives, and, especially if you think that history has nothing left to teach you (because it does!). Also, if you think history is boring, read this, this was far from boring and I just wanted to know more about many of the people introduced in this book (like Phillis Wheatley!).

Do you like nonfiction books? What’s your favorite? I need recommendations! 😀

Book Review — The Spark by David Drake

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The Spark and Ulysses were this month’s TBR jar picks!

So I received The Spark in a Page Habit box a few months ago and it was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

David Drake was born in 1945, he’s a Vietnam War veteran and he’s known for being a major author in the military science fiction genre. The Spark is the first book that I read by Drake and I really enjoyed it!

The Spark is a take on an Arthurian legend, if you are familiar with the tale, you’ll see plenty of parallels, but the differences are what really caught my attention. First is the world where this story takes place. It is a world that has many towns and cities connected by a Road. The world is divided into Here and Not Here, two sort of parallel universes that connect or overlap in certain places, one of them being this Road that connects everything. There are artifacts from the Ancients (which seem to be today’s world since there are references to umbrellas, projectors, and weapons) that only certain people are able to fix and make work again, these people are called Makers.

“Since I’d come away from Beune, everything I’d seen was people in pyramids, somebody at the top and everybody else scrambling to get on top instead. Or at least to get off the bottom” — Pal

So, Pal is our main character, he’s a young man from a small town that’s not exactly governed by the Commonwealth but Pal’s dream is to become a Champion of Humanity (Pal’s also a Maker!). The Champions are selected at Dun Add, a city where King Jon rules the Commonwealth. The story begins as Pal arrives at Dun Add after traveling through the Road with the help of his dog Buck (people can’t see well in the Road and must see through the eyes of their animal companions in order to travel safely).

Truthfully, the part that I was dreading the most was that of the romance. Of course there must be a maiden in distress that needs saving! However, even though there was a woman who needed help finding her sister, there was no romantic love there! Even the one who might be Pal’s main love interest is not even considered so by him until perhaps the end of the novel. I liked this because it wasn’t the usual “Oh, they saw each other for the first time and now they are in love and will get married tomorrow after they slay the dragon” deal. Women are portrayed as individuals with purpose and their own dreams and desires. They aren’t always nice and pretty and princess-like, they are raw and real and troublesome too.

Then there was the violence. There are certainly deaths and some gory parts that stand out in my mind even days after reading them. Drake is really good at describing the battles and the fighting, he gives us enough detail to know what’s happening but not too much that we are overwhelmed.

“You can’t spend all the time thinking about how to stay safe and still live what I’d call a life” — Pal

So all in all, this book had a variety of interesting characters, three different adventures all rolled into one, and it was entertaining!

I don’t know if I’ll like other books by David Drake, but I now know that he can tell a story without going for the usual tropes and cliches that one tends to find in this genre. If I come across another of his books, I’ll likely give it a try.

Have you read any of Drake’s books? Which one should I read next?

Book Review — An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon was a book that challenged me for the better. I got to see through the eyes of a woman who lives in a society that treats people like objects and who is missing the knowledge of her family history. She feels like she is missing something but she doesn’t dwell on it since there are no clear and quantifiable answers.

“A part of each person lay in their past, in their parentage and grandparentage, and if that history was missing, were said people incomplete?
–Aster

As part of the lack of history that she feels, she seeks knowledge of her surroundings, she immerses herself in studying the world around her, from growing plants to synthesizing chemicals to aid her in her work as a healer. She’s a crucial part of her community, going around and healing those who don’t have access to doctors, but soon all that will change when she gets some clear information on what led to her mother’s death.

“Chemicals plus chemicals makes magic”
— Aster

Although this book is a science fiction novel, it was not what I expected, it’s not just a voyage in space. It is a novel that gives an immensely important voice to social and cultural issues that are not represented in many forms of media, from film to books and everything in between. Among these issues is gender. In Matilda, the ship that carries what’s left of humanity through space, people live in different levels depending on their social status, skin color, and gender. It is explained that humanity has developed a third gender “they”, which was a result of a hormonal condition that made it so that people of this gender didn’t fit biologically into male or female.

“…said Flick as she–he–no, they–shook the starjar. Aster regretted her error.”

The third gender uses the “they” pronoun and it’s the first time that I even read a book where this pronoun is implemented. Such a book can be very powerful for people who use this pronoun and for those who don’t know or don’t understand why or how to use it.

The world that Solomon creates in this book is slowly built up through Aster’s eyes. At first this was frustrating to me because I wanted a clear picture right away, but I learned to be patient and see things as Aster did. Aster only sees specific details that are important to her. It was frustrating to have a very meaningful and emotional encounter happening and have Aster focus on a seemingly trivial thing that leads to the sudden end of that encounter. This is actually very important because not everyone sees the world in the same way, some may only pay attention to the details and others may focus on the bigger picture. This book taught me to be open to the way that others see the world, even if at times it can be hard and frustrating to stop and see a situation from the other person’s point of view to realize that we might both want the same thing and that it will just take a bit of understanding from both parties to reach the objective.

This book really did leave me thinking, it was really well written and it gave me something that no other book has given me: a perspective that was very difficult to connect to, but which taught me how to be understanding of those who don’t express themselves the same way that I do.

What’s a book that you’ve read that had a difficult perspective but which was valuable and worth reading?

Book Review — Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

“It was a house that turned from the world and cast its gaze inward, a house whose women believed the very walls listened for sin, a house where we whispered the truth or didn’t speak at all” — Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik.

Jasmin Darznik is an author who tells us the story of Forugh Farrokhzad, a woman who lived from 1934 to 1967 in Iran, a place where women didn’t have the freedom to pursue a life outside of marriage and who had to comply to what their culture and society deemed right. Forugh’s life was hard from the beginning as she grew up in a very strict household and which only got harder as she began to discover her love of writing. Forugh was a poet who expressed feelings that women had about their sexuality, their feelings, and their way of life. She broke barriers and eventually became a filmmaker who mixed her poetry with film and created a powerful message about people who had been cast aside without a second thought.

Darznik manages to tell us Forugh’s story through this novel that, although it is not 100% faithful to truth, it does tell us what it would have been like to feel what Forugh went through. This story then lets the reader into the world of women in Iran, from Forugh’s youth, to her untimely death.

The writing is beautiful:

“We were driven by forces we didn’t understand, moving toward a destination we couldn’t see”

There are so many messages to inspire, to make one think about our own society, about our own beliefs:

“The Golshiri men were learned aristocrats who spent their days in leisurely contemplation, but it was his mother, a woman unable to write even her name, who’d shaped his education”

Then there’s also the importance of telling our own stories, because our own stories can inspire others to break barriers and inspiring others in turn:

“And yet I’d never heard of a woman surviving away from her family, without a father or husband to protect her. It wasn’t just beyond hoping; it was beyond imagining.”

How important is it to view yourself in the stories you read? Do you identify with the main characters in your favorite books? Is your story told within the pages of books?

Forugh’s story inspires me to tell my story, to inspire others, and to become at least a bit like Forugh by standing up for what I believe in, and not allowing people’s expectations to keep me from doing what I love.

Needless to say, Jasmin Darznik touched me in ways I couldn’t have imagined through Forugh’s life story. I hope to read more of Darznik’s writing and also to read Forugh’s own poetry and watch her film to see what she saw, if only for a few minutes.

 

January Book Bites

Hello everyone!

At the end of each month, I will update you on a few things, which books I read, the ratings for each, link to their reviews (if any), updates on challenges, prominent themes, and the best bites (quotations) for the month. Let’s take a look!

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The month started with a book from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series: Mort. It was a great way to start the month since it’s always fun to read Terry’s work. However, it also became a bit emotional since I kept remembering that Terry is no longer with us…

Mort takes us on an adventure with the anthropomorphic representation of Death and his brand new apprentice, Mort. I simply loved this installment and look forward to reading more of Death & company’s adventures

  • Favorite bite:

“‘WHAT IS IT CALLED WHEN YOU FEEL WARM AND CONTENT AND WISH THINGS WOULD STAY THAT WAY?’
‘I guess you’d call it happiness’ said Harga.” –Mort by Terry Pratchett

  • Perspective rating: 8/10 We get an amazing perspective of life from Death’s point of view. It certainly paints life in a new light!
  • Emotional rating: 8/10 I personally felt close to this book because of Terry and his death not too long ago. The isolation that Death feels also got to me…
  • Bites rating: 7/10 Although it has some really good quotations, I didn’t find myself annotating it all over the place.
  • Overall rating: 7.66/10 A great book overall and a good starting point in the Death books in the Discworld series.

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Then I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, which was a great book, with excellent writing and a very unique perspective I had not encountered before. We get inside the mind of a patient in a mental hospital in the 1960s as he is under various treatments (drugs, electroshock, etc). You can read more about the book and my comparison to the movie here.

This was the first book I read from my TBR jar and I was very happy with this selection!

  • Favorite bite:

    “All I know is this: nobody’s very big in the first place, and it looks to me like everybody spends their whole life tearing everybody else down” — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

  • Perspective rating: 9/10 The perspective from a person with mental health issues is priceless. It’s incredibly well written, which makes the experience that much more immersive.
  • Emotional rating: 6/10 I didn’t become too emotionally invested in the story or the characters, but it was heartbreaking to see what did happen to patients back in the 60s that ended up in mental hospitals with no proper regulations.
  • Bites rating: 8/10 I annotated quite a bit and there were quite a few quotations that left me thinking for a while…
  • Overall rating: 7.66/10 Another excellent book that could have used a bit more emotional connection with the rest of the characters and the overall story. Either way, a great book.

IMG_20180131_182300284The third book I read was Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich (you can read a full review here) and it was simply amazing! This was the first book for the #HarpiesReadTheWorld challenge to read a book by a Native American author. This book tells the story of five women who have been married to the same man. These women meet at a crucial point in their lives and start to tell their stories surrounding their husband.

  • Favorite Bite:

“It was like that now, in the space around us — the emotional messages flew so thick and fast I couldn’t read them as the whizzed by and my brain felt pricked, torn by the hooks of question marks and darts of commas.” — Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich

  • Perspective rating: 10/10 One of the main points of this novel is perspective, how do different people see one person and their role in their lives? Who is that person if not the accumulation of the perspectives of everyone who knows them? It’s one that definitely leaves you thinking.
  • Emotional rating: 9/10 This novel takes you on a roller coaster of emotions, from despair, broken hearts, love, passion, lust, and hate. However, it remains impersonal so that the perspective changes aren’t too jarring so that takes the one point away from this rating.
  • Bites rating: 10/10 I’ve written, highlighted, and even drawn on some of the pages in this book! It’s got bites that I can go back to and savor that part of the novel in an instant. Delightful!
  • Overall rating: 9.66/10 Erdrich easily became a new favorite! This book is just the beginning in my journey through her novels and I can’t wait to explore more!

January 22, 2018 at 01:17AM.jpgSong of a Captive Bird by Jazmin Darznik was the fourth book I finished this month and wow! Darznik tells the story of Forugh Farrokhzad, a poet from Iran who became an inspiration for generations to come as she broke barriers set by her society, at the same time as Ken Kesey’s patients were trying to overcome the Big Nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (talk about perspective!). This was the second book I read for the #HarpiesReadTheWorld challenge and the full review is here.

  • Favorite Bite:

“‘More words to sharpen your tongue and keep away any husband who’d have you!’ [Forugh’s mother said].
She was right in her way, because it was my preference for books and for the world inside my head that left me so incapable of accepting the usual and the ordinary.” — Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

  • Perspective rating: 10/10 Yes! Another perfect perspective rating because Forugh’s life sheds light on a perspective I never imagined that I could know about the life of a woman in Iran as she breaks stereotypes and becomes a successful poet and filmmaker. Not only that but a woman who goes through hardship like nothing I could ever imagine (mental hospital, jail, divorce, affairs, etc).
  • Emotional rating: 10/10 I connected with the main character in ways I can’t even explain, her fears were mine, her worries were mine, the hopes and dreams were my own. I hoped the best for her and, even though she dies young, I was happy that her legacy is strong and lives with many women in Iran and all over the world.
  • Bites rating: 10/10 I was only disappointed that the copy I have is in kindle format so I couldn’t actually highlight and draw hearts and tears all over the margins. (I acquired this copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review). I will definitely be buying it so I can reread it and properly annotate it once it comes out!
  • Overall rating: 10/10! Perfect score for a perfect book in my opinion. I loved everything about this book and I can’t wait to read the final version.

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The last book I read was The Attack by Yasmina Khadra, which was set in Tel Aviv and tells the story of a renowned surgeon whose life gets turned upside down when his wife dies at a suicide bombing attack. The most shocking thing for him is that his wife is the one blamed for being the suicide bomber and so we take the journey with him as he goes to figure out if his wife did commit such an atrocity, or if his wife is just another victim of the attack. A difficult book to read but one that gave me plenty to think about so it is valuable in that sense. This was the third and final book for the #HarpiesReadTheWorld challenge.

Favorite Bite:

“‘One should always look at the sea. It’s a mirror that can’t lie. Among other things, looking at it has taught me to stop looking behind me. Before, every time I looked over my shoulder, I found my old sorrows and my old ghosts, still intact. They were preventing me from regaining my taste for living. Do you understand what I mean? They were spoiling my chances of rising from my ashes'” — The Attack by Yasmina Khadra

Perspective rating: 7/10 While the perspective was very unique, I felt like it was unfair that we din’t get to hear straight from the woman who is the one who is at the center of this story. We got to hear from every man around her, how she affected their lives, but nothing from her at all. I wish we could have heard this story from her own point of view.

Emotional rating: 8/10 While emotions ran high while I read this book, it wasn’t in a good way, I found myself stressed and anxious. So, it is effective in what it is set out to do, to put the reader in a most difficult perspective with many moral questions and introspective meanderings.

Bites rating: 6/10 The thing that I wished with this book was that it was better translated. This book is translated from French and sometimes the language seems forced in order to make it seem more adorned than it needs to be. At times we end up with beautiful language, but that’s at moments when simplicity would have worked best.

Overall rating: 7/10 A good book that could have benefited from a better translation, will probably not look for more books in this subject for a while though…

What a month! An emotional roller coaster through mental hospitals and war torn countries as I followed strong women and men in search of happiness and just a bit of hope.

There is one more book that I drew from my TBR and I Did Not Finish it… After The Attack I just couldn’t handle Sanctuary by William Faulkner, a story about a kidnapping and rape of a woman. The language was violent and quite gross so I decided that I will draw two new books for next month and I’ll put back Sanctuary for another month.

I read 5 books from my TBR and I only bought one new book so now I only have 103 books left to read! XD

How was your reading month? Have you read any of the books listed here? What was your favorite read this month?

 

Book Review — Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich

“My prayer is a tale of burning love”–Sister Leopolda

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I’ve finished Tales of Burning Love, as part of the #HarpiesReadTheWorld challenge, and it was an excellent read! This book has plenty of layers, perspectives, and delightful bites.

Tales of Burning love is the fourth installment of Louise Erdrich‘s “multi-generational epic on the long-lasting effects of colonialism on Ojibwe peoples and communities”, as stated on Goodreads.

The plot of the book is centered around Jack Mauser and his wives. We start the novel with Jack and his first wife, June Morrisey, a relationship that lasts only a day and ends with June’s death. The novel then jumps to a few decades later when Jack is now newly married to Dot Nanapush, his accountant, who has no idea that he has been married before. As the novel goes on we meet Eleanor Schlick, Jack’s second wife, a literature professor and writer, Jack’s third wife Candace Pantamounty, a dentist, and Jack’s fourth wife Marlis Cook, a cunning woman who Jack didn’t quite like at the beginning and for good reasons. The novel jumps back and forth between his wives and what they are doing in the present, and Jack’s life with his new wife. However, the climax of this novel comes when all four wives end up trapped in a snowstorm and are forced to keep each other awake so as to stay alive. In this way we get their points of view on Jack, how they met him, and what kind of a man he was to them.

It’s incredibly interesting how Erdrich manages to have an omniscient narrator and have each character also as an independent narrator as each tells their own story. The personalities of each character really shine through in Erdrich’s writing. For example:

“All I had to do was make myself available because I knew from his look, from his approach, from the way he had walked toward me down the aisle of glass, that he could be interested in me. I knew.” –Eleanor Schlick

“I developed hopes from this. We might bond on the trip. He might fall in love with me for real and ever. I’d melt him, warm him, fill him with cheese sandwiches and heat him up with thermos coffee” — Candice Pantamounty

Jack Mauser is described by each of the women in particular ways, and this made me think of how each of us is seen differently by every person that we meet or know. The perspective of us from each member of our family is different, not to mention the perspectives of the people that we have other meaningful relationships with. Each person sees us in different time frames, in our childhood, as we grow into adolescence and into adulthood. I am so curious as to how different people in my life see me, as well as how the one perspective I have on the people I know is different from others. It’s just mind-blowing!

The title of the book, Tales of Burning Love, is echoed throughout the book with the language that Erdrich uses. She often gives us the imagery of fire or heat, both literal and figurative. There are many instances where the characters are saved or doomed by fire, just as they are by love and desire. The idea that love is fire, it can warm you and protect you, save you, but also burn you and even kill you, is thoroughly explored in this book. In that sense, it is not just romantic love, there’s also the idea of familial love that can be a safety net or a dangerous fire one must keep at bay. She says:

“Love — which the young expect, the middle-aged fear or wrestle with or find unbearable or clutch to death — those content in their age, finally, cherish with pained gratitude”

Although this book talks about love and relationships, I’m not sure that “romantic” would be the best way to describe it. The characters are driven by this love, but it’s not sweet or nice most times, it is driven by lust, by power, by money, and by revenge. Love is complex and dynamic, and this novel explores this theme with beautiful writing and complex characters.

There are a few other themes throughout the book, such as religion and spirituality, gender equality, sexuality, the opportunities that Native American people have in this country, their rights and their culture. If you are interested in any of these topics do read this book because it will give you a very unique point of view.

I leave you with my favorite image from this book, one that I wish I could transport myself to every time I read:

“One night, in a moon drift, the late August air billowing and succulent, in the lush scents of turned dirt and growing plants and ancient skunk musk and the sweet pink rugosa roses, the screen door unlatched, Eleanor read in a pool of lamplight by the citronella candle.”

Final rating: 5/5 stars