Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

The inauguration of the newly elected president of America is upon us. Racism has shownimg_3313 to be very alive and well  in the United States, contrary to popular belief. People are all questioning how we could go from President Barak Obama to what was elected on November 7, 2016.  Deep down I think we all know why and aren’t really surprised, but in essence most of us don’t want to admit what the problem really is.  Tears We Cannot Stop : A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson delves profoundly and with precision into the murky racist history America keeps holding on to, as it seems, for dear life.   Do YOU really want to know what the problem is? Or, do you prefer to keep pretending you don’t see color and that racism doesn’t exist?

Dyson opens Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America showing the reader that we are all different, living and seeing the world from our own points of view.  However similar that is, black people’s experiences are being minimized and ignored.   The realization that black people are still viewed today as inferior and the struggle for white people to acknowledge their white privilege are only two of the many problems Dyson analyzes in Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America.  Dyson chose to structure this novel to resemble a church service, henceforth giving the book a very heart-felt, sincere tone.  Instead of being separated into simple numbered chapters, they are each labeled with a part of a full church service, Chapter I. Call to Worship, Chapter II. Hymns of Praise, Chapter III.  Invocation,  Chapter IV. Scripture Reading, Chapter V. Sermon, VI. Benediction, VII. Offering Plate, and finally VIII. Closing Prayer.

Written in only 188 pages, Dyson incisively takes “beloved” (white people) through the 360° lesson on race and understanding it from a black person’s point of view.  He leaves no stone unturned.  He demystifies whiteness in exactitude and with unflinching truth.  Yes it’s uncomfortable, which he states right from the beginning, but it’s necessary.  Dyson utilizes pop culture, expressions, lyrics, tv shows, famous people, and most of all real examples from his own life.  He uses all of this to demonstrate white America’s inability  to accept their part in racism still exiting so strongly today.  Despite sounding negative, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America is not all gloom and doom.

I don’t want to give anything more away, but EVERYONE white, black, hispanic, asian, or other NEEDS to read this book, as well as those of you who aren’t American but want to understand America’s race struggle better.  Dyson’s writing is truthful and informative, while being equally interesting.  It will be hard to avoid understanding some of the problems of racism in America today, after reading this book.  Those who read it won’t have any excuses.  This book isn’t a cry for help or a plea for pity, it’s a demand for REAL respect, understanding, and action.

You may not know who Michael Eric Dyson is but every black American does and you should too.  He is an author, radio host, and professor of Sociology.  He teaches Sociology at Georgetown University.  He became an ordained Baptist minister at 19.  He’s obtained various degrees from Knoxville College, Carson-Newman College, and Princeton University. Dyson definitely has his finger on the pulse of America’s race problem because  he’s written many books discussing race and related topics, such as Why I Love Black WomenKnow What I Mean? Reflections On Hip Hop,   Debating Race: with Michael Eric DysonHoller If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, among many others and Tears  We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America  is his nineteenth.

*I was sent this book for an honest review from St. Martin’s Press.

Tears We Cannot Stop A Sermon to White America, 188 pages  – St. Martin’s Press

My rating: 5 stars

Recommended to: Readers interested in reading about race relations in the United States

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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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Festival America

 

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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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