Ayiti

 

imageHaving read but one short collection this entire year, I’m ending 2014 with a really good one. I was gifted this signed copy by a friend and I am so grateful. Ayiti is Roxane Gay’s debut novel of short stories. It confronts the reader with Haiti, the good and the bad. It consists of fifteen short stories all carrying different themes about Haiti and the  Haitian diaspora.

All the stories have a flavor of island living that is hard to ignore. The first four stories recount fitting in in the United States as an immigrant, being different because one has an accent, and people’s reactions to those differences. The other stories relate Haitians’ desires to leave their country for a better life in the United States. Gay depicts the difficulty from both sides – the Haitian that emigrates and the Haitian that stays back home, very well. Each story details aspects that we the reader may not be prepared to read. We are confronted with the dark side of life in Haiti and immigrant life in the United States.  At times, her stories take on an erotic tone, but it isn’t at all gratuitous.

Kidnapping and prostitution are two of the darkest subjects in this collection. The fifth story Things I Know About Fairy Tales speaks specifically about being kidnapped. It is the short story that became An Untamed State. I haven’t read it yet but even as a short story it was dark, menacing, and heightened the senses.  I’m curious to see how this short story develops into An Untamed State.

Haiti is a country that seems to get under its citizens’ skin and is difficult to leave. The idea of leaving for good seems to be impossible for some and a necessity for others. Haiti’s breezy beaches, gritty cities, simple lifestyle yet fearful, dangerous, and imminent violence are haunting. Ayiti is definitely a short story collection worth checking out. It gives an excellent view of Roxane Gay’s poignant and refreshing writing style. I just love the way she adds pop culture references into her storytelling. It helps the reader understand even better what she’s trying to say and gives particular life to her short stories.

Author Interview: Dwayne Alexander Smith talks about Forty Acres

I picked up IMG_0494Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith, while browsing on Amazon.  After reading the premise of the novel I was immediately intrigued and wanted to know more about it.  So September started with a bang!

I definitely made the right decision.  Forty Acres, is about a young upcoming African-American Civil Rights lawyer who gets involved with a secret organisation of affluent African-American businessmen.  Little does he know, they are resolute in the idea of  preserving slavery where they are the masters and white people are their slaves.

The novel is extremely engrossing, a real page turner, and very difficult to put down.  Smith’s writing is fully descriptive and his clever way of telling the story explains the legacy of slavery in details that the average person may not be ready to read, but tells the cold hard history that is never told in history class.  Martin Grey, the main character, is intelligent and a bit of an idealist and at times does things that we as the reader know are a bit reckless but we can’t help but like him and root for him, all the same.

The reverse racism is presented as a way for these African-American men to “even the score” as they put it.  Smith incorporates many important themes in this novel that make it a thriller with substance, although some critics may have felt that he could have and should have gone deeper.  I was surprised at the length and depth Smith’s story went to exposing the problems of race in the United States.  He covers the details of slavery but most of all he delves into the way African-Americans feel at times in society today.    We haven’t had many contemporary novels of late get into the details of race the way  it’s dealt with in Forty Acres.  It’s a novel that will make you reflect, question your ideas of race and racism, and at times cringe.  After I finished Forty Acres I kept asking myself,  “Could this happen today?”

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Dwayne Alexander Smith. Check out the interview below to learn more about this budding novelist.

1.  I really enjoyed reading Forty Acres. Could you tell us how you came up with the idea for this story?

Forty Acres started out as a sci-fi story, believe it or not. A black astronaut crash lands on earth, but in the past, during the period of American slavery. Unable to speak due to an injury, he is captured an held captive on a plantation with African slaves. I loved the idea for this story because it would give us a modern black man’s view of slavery. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the story work the way I wanted. After lots of rethinking Forty Acres took on the form it has now.

2.  With all that’s been going on racially in the United States at the moment, how has your book been received?

I think that the book has been received well considering the tough and uncomfortable subject matter. Slavery is a touchy subject in the United States. Many readers who are looking for something entertaining to read, won’t easily select a thriller centered around such a sensitive topic. Surprisingly, the book has been better received in Europe.

3.  I can say being a black American that I was very proud to see your book placed on the new releases wall at WH Smith in Paris. How have you been accepting the attention?

The attention from readers around the world has been the best part of having Forty Acres published. Right before sitting down to answer these questions I read an email from a gentleman in the UK who loved the book and just wanted to let me know that. Also, a week ago I found out that I have been nominated for a NAACP Image Award. I was blown away by this news. The attention is great and very addictive.

4.  I heard that Forty Acres started as a movie script. Could you tell us a bit about the process of adapting a movie script to a novel?

Well, Forty Acres was never actually a script, it was an idea for a script. I’ve never actually adapted a book into a screenplay, but I hope to have that problem if and when the Forty Acres movie rights are acquired.

5.  Martin Grey is an interesting character, but most of all Dr. Kasim, who is one hell of a villain. Will there be a sequel to 40 Acres or other novels with Martin Grey as the central character?

Yes there will be a sequel. Will that sequel be published by a major publisher or self-published by me is the only unknown. Book sales will be the deciding factor. Regardless of how it reaches the public I do plan to write a sequeI. I have the story figured out and yes Martin will play a central role. Also, I think a lot of women will be happy to know that Martin’s wife Anna will have a much larger role.

6.  Forty Acres is centralized primarily around black men. What were you trying to accomplish with that dynamic?

From the very beginning, when Forty Acres was a sci-fi tale, I just wanted to find a new way to tell a story that involved American slavery. It’s amazing that more movies aren’t made about slavery, considering its lasting impact on American culture.

7.  Are there plans for Forty Acres to be adapted to film?

No plans as of yet but there’s a small army of people in my corner, agents, managers, and lawyers, trying to make that happen. The truth is that Forty Acres scares a lot of producers. It’s controversial and very in your face and that projects like that tend to make the powers that be in Hollywood queasy. It’s going to take a producer with vision and courage to bring Forty Acres to the screen. It will happen, it’s just a matter of when.

8.  Are you working on a second novel? If so when will it be released?

I am working on another thriller called White Widow. No one has seen it yet so there’s no publishing deal or release date in place. Right now I’m just laser focused on making it as good as possible. Forty Acres has a lot of fans, many of which have stated in reviews that they are eager to read my next book. The last thing I want to do is let my newly found fan base down. For that reason I’m working really hard to get White Widow right.

9.  What advice can you give to other black writers that are trying to write, to get published, and recognised?

I get this question a lot. The advice I give doesn’t just apply to black writers but to all writers who are trying to break into a writing career. I firmly believe that the best way to grab the attention of publishers and readers is to have an amazing idea for a book. Dozens of thrillers about cops chasing bad guys cross the desks of editors everyday. What’s going to make yours stand out? I’ve wanted to write a novel for a very long time but I knew that when I did I had to have a killer idea, an idea that would demand attention and interest. When I came up with the idea for Forty Acres I had a great time telling people because I loved to see their stunned expressions. That’s how I knew I had a solid concept. So my advice to writers is simple. Before you sit down to write, spend as long as it takes dreaming up an idea that will set mouths agape and widen eyes. When you nail that you’ll know that you’re on the right track.

Big thanks again to you Dwayne Alexander Smith for taking the time out of your extremely busy schedule to answer these questions.  Good luck with your future writing!

 

Ruby

IMG_1147I hate expecting great things from a novel but as every page gets turned I feel a little let down.  Ruby, not at all what I expected,  is Cynthia Bond’s debut novel that explores the life of an African-American woman called Ruby Bell, who has mentally and physically broken down from plenty of neglect and abuse past and present.  Ephram Jennings is the man who loves her and has done so since they were children.  He’s described as being a simple man.  He has never forgotten her.  And so the story begins…..

The first 60-70 pages seemed to be fairly uneventful and many characters were being introduced into the story, at times I thought too many.  Then things started to happen but it all felt too over the top.  Everything seemed to be too intense and at times I questioned some scenes in the novel that I felt were unnecessary.  Reading about sexual abuse is hard enough but when it involves children it’s insupportable.  There were scenes in Ruby that pushed me to some extremely uncomfortable moments, so uncomfortable that they made me physically ill.  I really do question if one scene in particular absolutely needed to be written in the way that it was.  After much thought, I’m not convinced it was.  Some scenes could have been written in a way that would be more suggestive and I’m sure that would have passed better and given a greater effect to the novel.

Magical realism is used throughout the novel which almost symbolises her insanity from all the abuse Ruby’s been through.  At least that was what I thought.  There is constant mention of the Obeah and the Dyboù.  The Obeah is Igbo religious practice, folk magic, and sorcery.  The novel being deep-rooted in religion and voodoo, the magic realism seemed to work really well.  Until it seemed that Ruby was actually being possessed by the Dyboù.  That’s when I really started to not take that part of the story line as seriously.  Not to mention, I couldn’t understand how in such a small town more people didn’t know about this group of prominent church men participating in these voodoo rituals. That was not realistic at all.

The symbolism in the story is strong and consistent.  It is the underlying thread that Bond runs through the story as a common denominator.  For example one of the most obvious symbols is the name of the town where the story takes place, Liberty.  It is a town of total contradiction.  It’s a place where no one is really free,  They are all locked up slaves to their demons – religion, sex, voodoo, social/racial condition, etc.  The colour red is always mentioned – red dust, Red bus, red velvet pouch, red rope, red roses, red beacon,…  Red brings text and images to the foreground.  It is a colour that intensifies and exudes strength.  It also symbolises love.  It’s unbelievable  but this novel is more a love story than anything else, while at the same time being the story of a woman coming to grips with her demons.  (apparently real and metaphorical)  The crow can symbolise many things but in Ruby, I felt it symbolised  personal transformation and destiny, which refers to both Ruby and Ephram.  In order to be able to love Ephram, Ruby must overcome her demons and return to a somewhat normal life, even though it’s clear that Ephram is willing to wait for her.  Ephram must break away from his sister/mother to become a real man.

Lastly, the structure of Ruby is overly complex at times and misleading.  The main characters’ backstories are narrated towards the second half of the book.  They are told as a succession of erratic scenes jumping from past to present, and in the end I felt that took away from the power of the book.  It just made things more difficult to piece together.  The reader is faced with having to put all of those puzzle pieces together in order for better understanding.  For example it took me a while to figure out how much time actually passed in the novel.  What tipped me off that the story took place over about twenty years was when I heard Ephram played Killing me Softly for Ruby. I knew that song was sung by Roberta Flack in the early seventies, maybe 1973 and earlier in the novel we know that Ruby goes to New York in the 1950s.  Nevertheless, I’m still not sure of Ruby’s age.  In spite of everything I disliked about this novel, Bond’s writing is very good, containing some excellent, creative one liners and at times rich descriptions.  I rated Ruby 3 stars on Goodreads.  It will be interesting to see where Bond moves this poignant, complex love story, which is to be a multigenerational trilogy.

 

 

A Month of Favorites: 5 Faves by Theme

amonthoffaves

 

2 – 5 Faves by a Theme {eg. Audiobooks, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mysteries, Books with Surprise Twists, Surprise Endings, Non-Fiction, Books That Made You Cry, Laugh Out Loud, Cringe, Book Boyfriends That Stole Your Heart, Apocalypse, Dystopian, Best books with kick ass girls, favorite siblings, couples, friends, most hated and loved villains} – link-up hosted at Estella’s Revenge.

 

5 Fave Graphic novels/Comics:

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1.  Chroniques de Jérusalem is an excellent way to become better acquainted with the complexities of Israel through the eyes of Guy Delisle.  He and his family move to Jerusalem because his wife is working for Médecins sans Frontière (Doctors without Borders).  There he finds out things up close and personal in this true account. It’s frustrating, shocking, funny, and informative.  The schematic black and white artwork contains loads of detail and is more and more endearing as the story develops.  You can read it in English too. The title is called Chronicles of Jerusalem.

 

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2.  Storm is a comic which recounts her life and the beginning of her powers.  I enjoyed this one but I didn’t love it.  Storm is drawn as a twenty something when in fact through most of the book she’s about thirteen years old.  That was a bit strange.  Otherwise the artwork is well done with beautiful colours. I mostly picked it up because I wanted to see how Eric Jerome Dickey was going to handle writing a comic. Not too bad Dickey.

 

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3.  Saga is one of the most popular comics read this year.  This fantasy/science-fiction comic follows two soldiers from two different races and planets that fall in love and betray the expectations of their people by having a baby and trying to make a solid family.  Interesting commentary on society while dazzling the eyes with creative colourful beings and monsters from the two worlds.  Who won’t like Saga?  Those who prefer linear stories with normal looking people doing normal things and without too much sex. Personally I loved it!

 

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4.  Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth was picked up on a whim.  I had heard a few people mention it and decided to try it out.  I was surprised by Chris Ware’s ability to convey so much sensitivity through the artwork, the graphics, and the mise en page.  It’s an autobiography about an ordinary man who one day has the possibility of meeting his father who abandoned him so many years before.  Every centimetre of this graphic novel has been thought out methodically to convey the emotions and themes of the story.  This is a really worthwhile graphic novel to pick up, especially if you haven’t yet found the style of graphic novel that speaks to you.  The cover and book size are very original.  This one is definitely a keeper.

 

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5.  L’Arabe du Futur (The Arab of the Future) is an autobiographical graphic novel that follows the life of the author Riad Sattouf.  The reader follows Riad and his parents (Syrian father and French mother) as they move from living in Libya under Khadaffi’s rule to the countryside of Syria in Homs.  It’s edifying seeing what it was like to live in Libya and Syria from 1978-1984.  I read this one in French, however it is available in English.  Those who have read this one can’t wait for part 2.

 

5 Fave Non-fiction:

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1.  Buck is the memoir of MK Asante.  He writes his story with a lot of passion and lyricism.  It’s like reading music.  If you’re interested in reading how someone who was spiralling downward manages to take control of his life and discover art, music, and the desire to create you should check this one out.  I liked it and I’m not always a fan of reading memoirs.

 

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2.  Red Dust Road is Jackie Kay’s search for her biological parents (her father a Nigerian and her mother a Scottish woman from the Highlands).  It’s poignant, sensitive, and uncomfortable in places.  It’s beautifully written and we as readers are really along for the ride as she searches for her parents. This was my first full length novel by Jackie Kay.  I first learned about her from Claire over at Word by Word.  She spoke to me about Kay’s poetry.  If you don’t know Jackie Kay you should definitely check her out because she’s a wonderful writer of color from Scotland. I can’t wait to read Trumpet and Reality Reality.  You can read her poetry online free of charge.

 

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3.  The Hare with Amber Eyes wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be but it is an interesting story of an extremely wealth Jewish family’s journey through Europe, and their netsake collection from Japan.  This is a story full of plush architectural descriptions to the idiosyncrasies of Edmund De Waal’s family.  From Russia to France to Austria and the United Kingdom, this story will teach you many things.  If you’re a history and art lover and appreciate intricate storytelling about real people and historical happenings you’ll love this one.

 

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4.  In the shadow of the Banyan is the stunning fictionalised true story of Vaddey Ratner’s years in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. This story is so well written it really took me aback.  The emotion described in this book was phenomenal!  All told through the eyes of a child and it’s this aspect that makes the story so special.  It will shock you and break your heart but this book is definitely a must read for those that want to know more about this dark period of Cambodia.

 

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5.  March is the first volume of the life of Congressman John Lewis.  This comic details the budding years of the Civil Rights Movement. March could be used as a teaching tool and is an excellent tribute to a great African-American.  The artwork is well done and has a unique style of mise en page.  I can’t wait to read volume 2!

A Month of Faves: Faves Month Introduction

 

 

 

 

Hello All and welcome to my blog! My name’s Didi and I hope you’ll learn more about my reading likes and dislikes but most of all about my 2014 reading results.  I’m currently two books behind on my fifty-five book challenge. Honestly I’m not worried.  For me, pressure and reading don’t go together.  It’s all about the enjoyment.   Besides, I know I’ll be able to catch up with the interesting books I’ve put on a mini TBR list to see me through to the 31st.

If you’re new to my blog, you’re probably wondering what I like to read most.  Well, my ultimate love is literary fiction, with a special love for works by authors of color.  This year I’ve read so many interesting novels that fall mostly in that category.  However, I have dabbled in graphic novels/comics, historical fiction, a few non-fiction, and poetry.  Poetry has been a real highlight for me this year that I hope to be able to read more of next year.  Genres that I just can’t get into are science-fiction and fantasy. I don’t know why but I would just rather watch those on television or the big screen.

Am I physical or electronic?  What do you think?  Physical!!!  I’m a book nerd.  I can’t help it.  Reading on paper speaks to all of my senses.  It’s an integral part of the reading experience for me.  I’m not hating on those that prefer electronic but it just isn’t the same thing.  Nevertheless, I picked up two electronic books this year. (Forty Acres – really good! and The Rainy Day Killer- a bomb!)  It’s possible that I’ll pick up more in the coming year. I own a Kindle, which contains many unread books.  I also picked up my first audiobook that I listened to while reading along, which I thoroughly appreciated.  I decided to read NW by Zadie Smith this way, since I wanted to experience the authenticity of the range of accents (North West London) there would be in the novel.  I know I did the right thing because the audiobook really added something to the reading and the understanding.  I can’t listen to audiobooks while driving because I’ll go off the road from concentrating too hard, nor can I do cleaning around the house.  It seems I’m mentally challenged by all of that.  I look forward to reading along with another audiobook again.

Let’s see what’s left to talk about in this introduction… Oh yes prolific author on my reading list this year and favourite book of the year.  Well if you checked out my Goodreads Reading Challenge 2014  list of read books you would probably have no problem guessing who it is.  Here are a few hints – He was African-American, highly insightful, and an eloquent speaker.  He said “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  He grew up in Harlem and spent some time living in Paris.  He went to Paris so that he could write freely.  Another Country and The Fire Next Time are two of his most iconic works.  Of course, it’s James Baldwin!

As for my favourite book – I won’t officially know until the 31st.  For the moment, it’s a book where the setting is 1950s New York and the characters are a group of artist “friends” and their vague interactions with each other always seem to result in suffering and heartache.  Can you guess what it is?