American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin – Terrance Hayes

When I heard about the release of this American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, I knew I had to read it.  I don’t often read poetry but when I do it’s because I’m sure the collection is going to move me.  And this one did that and more.

This collection was savvy, intelligent, angry, creative, and has its pages and words on the pulse of what’s wrong with America.  How does a poet cope with the election of a new president?  Lyrical and rhythmic, Hayes let’s us know what the deal is.  So you need to be ready.  He’s angry. Every sonnet in the collection has the same title, ‘American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin’.  One of the coolest things about this collection is that there is a sonnet index at the back.  The first line of each sonnet with its page number moreover when you read each line in the index it makes another poem.

In this collection, Hayes is the assassin but so are we if we feel as angry as he does.  He makes it clear that we are all linked and that we need to realize that and act like it.  He also reiterates that we’re in the shit! He uses everything from police brutality to pop culture to express his thoughts so if you aren’t up on the news, music, literature, tv, shows, movies, etc., it might be difficult to understand the meaning behind these sonnets.  I personally found them excellent and would recommend them to everyone, especially to Americans.  I’ve already read it twice.  Finding new meaning throughout the collection and I will surely pick it up again.  We are going through a difficult and unprecedented period in the United States that needs to change for the better!  All I can say is read American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin for some consolation and most of all vote!  Check out the video below where Terrance Hayes talks about his writing and reads a few of his poems.  He’s brilliant!

“AMERICAN SONNET FOR MY PAST AND FUTURE ASSASSIN

The umpteenth thump on the rump of a badunkadunk
Stumps us. The link, the chump, the hunk of plunder.
The umpteenth horny, honky stump speech pumps
A funky rumble over air. The umpteenth slump
In our humming democracy, a bumble bureaucracy
With teeny tiny wings too small for its rumpled,
Dumpling of a body. Humpty-Dumpy. Frumpy
Suit. The umpteenth honk of hollow thunder.
The umpteenth Believe me. The umpteenth grumpy,
Jumpy retort. Chump change, casino game, tuxedo,
Teeth bleach, stump speech. Junk science. Junk bond.
Junk country, sum speech. The umpteenth boast
Stumps our toe. The umpteenth falsehood stumps
Our elbows & eyeballs, our Nos, Whoahs, wows, woes.”

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins, p. 48 – Terrance Hayes  (Penguin Books) 89 pages, paperback

Rating: 5 stars

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No Place To Call Home – JJ Bola

JJ Bola’s, debut novel, No Place To Call Home attentively develops the themes expected in a novel about refugees surviving in a strange new country. Bola touches on language, community, parent-child relationships, specifically father-son and father-daughter relationships, expectations of first generation African children, religion, moeurs, and most of all home. All of these subjects are catalysts for developing each of the main characters.

The personable third person voice of No Place To Call Home tells the story of Papa, Mami, Jean, and Marie. The ingenuity of the narrator’s voice gently pulls us into the complex life of this family. Refugees from the Congo living in London, we follow the difficulty of Papa and Mami to survive while waiting to get their papers, which will allow them to stay in the UK legally. They are fleeing political horrors of the dictator Le Maréchal.

The story quickly focuses mostly on their family life. Jean is about 11 years old, trying to fit in and master the English language. This comes with many tests, from fitting in with the boys to making excellent grades to pleasing his exigent father. Jean’s sister Marie is the model child and student. She is younger and not the first-born boy so she doesn’t have the same expectations placed upon her as, her brother, Jean.

Bola does an excellent comparison of Papa and Jean by starting out developing Jean’s character at school in the UK and then later paralleling that with Papa’s adaptation to École Polytechinique in Brussels. They are two different ages in these scenes but it depicts similar difficulties they have, how they deal with them and how they develop and reinforce their personalities. This also depicts the way Bola has chosen to talk about African societal expectations for African men and women. The roles of men are incorporated in the story and juxtaposed with those of women. For example, there is Tonton, the lazy womanizer, Pastor Kaddi the dishonest evangelical priest, and Koko Patrice, Papa’s manipulative, elusive father, and Koko Mobali, Mami’s domineering father.

I strongly urge you to pick up No Place To Call Home.  Its touching characters and well-developed story lines will have you completely submerged.  I read this book in two sittings. I couldn’t put it down.  However the only thing that disappointed me about this book was the ending.  I was hoping for something a bit more concrete.

“JJ Bola is a Kinshasa-born, London-raised writer, poet, educator, and workshop facilitator. He has published two books of poetry, Elevate and Word, and performs regularly at shows and festivals.  In 2015-2016, Bola performed on a US poetry slam tour that took him to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Toronto, and more.  He lives in London.” (back cover of No Place To Call home)

No Place to Call Home, 286 pages, Arcade Publishing

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended to: Readers looking for interesting fiction novels about refugees in the UK

Book quote:  “If you are lucky, you will never have to remember home through your mother’s tears or the rage in your father’s voice when it shakes. Home will be somewhere you run to, never away from. It will never chase you away; a rabid dog hot on your heels with teeth like a shark, teeth so sharp you can already feel it cutting into you.” (No Place to Call Home, p. 285)

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The Unkind Hours – Dwayne Alexander Smith

The Unkind Hours is the latest exciting thriller from Dwayne Alexander Smith, the author of terribly underrated Forty Acres. (You need to read Forty Acres if you haven’t already!)  We meet an ex-baseball player Steven who’s married to Nichole. They are happily married and have a little girl named Luna who is four years old.   She’s the apple of her father’s eye.  Steven and Nichole work together in their successful home decorating business.  It seems as if they have the ideal life, as if nothing can touch them, until something tragic happens that will alter their lives and make Steven do the unthinkable.  Smith explores the difficulty of doing the right thing by placing Steve in a moral predicament the reader is not likely to forget.  Is there real justice out there or should we take matters into our own hands.

Everything about this books screams excellent thriller for summer. Steven is the main character and is written in a fairly realistic manner. The story turns mostly around two characters so all the other characters are secondary.  However, that doesn’t make the story boring.  The strong dynamic between these two characters is what makes The Unkind Hours so suspenseful.  The pacing of the book is fast-moving enough with its short chapters and twists and turns.  The plot is interesting and Smith throws in enough surprises to keep the reader not only occupied with the story, but keeping us guessing on what’s to come.  Smith has even added a little surprise touch towards the end of the book that made me grin from ear-to-ear.  Can’t tell you what it is because that wouldn’t be fair to you. You’ll get it as soon as you read it.

Sadly this book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger because I was expecting the story to be tied up at the end.  This being said the villain in this novel is going to be an excellent character for Smith to play around with in future novels.  We’ll have to stay tuned to see when and if a part 2 comes out of The Unkind Hours.

The Unkind Hours, 340 pages, Damn Good Books

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended to: lovers of thrillers, readers who enjoyed Forty Acres, summer beach read!

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Born on a Tuesday

Born on a Tuesday opens following a gang of street boys, who are hanging in the streets and getting up to no good. They spend time smoking wee wee, pillaging, committing random acts of violence and even murder. We are introduced to the main character, Dantala, “born on a Tuesday”, alias Ahmad. His poignant first person voice recounts his coming of age story in northern Nigeria.

This poignant novel takes us through friendships, political strife, islamic extremism, and death. We as readers learn more about the real life difficulties of growing up a boy in northern Nigeria. Dantala is a boy who has seen a lot already from the beginning of the novel. In spite of this, he is still not enough street smart. He is away from his home and is supposed to be studying the Koran, Arabic, Hausa, and Math. He’s an excellent student but a horrific incident sends him running for his life from Bayan Layi. We have no idea how old he is but it’s quite clear he can’t be more than 15 years old. He finds himself weak and sick in a town called Sokoto. This is where the growth of Dantala and Born on a Tuesday continues.

I have to say I was excited to buddy read this novel with The African Book Addict. We both owned Born on a Tuesday and were anxious to get to it.  This book touches on many typical themes as most coming of age stories but this one goes much further. It explores political power, religion, and how religious extremism starts and can envelop a community and the innocent.  This novel depicts all the complexities that we can’t think of.  The writing style and the author’s capacity to make the reader feel so many different emotions in so few pages are the best things about Born on a Tuesday.  I was engrossed immediately and liked Dantala’s personality. At times I found myself mentally rooting for him and urging him not to make bad choices.

The structure of the novel was cleverly done.  It is separated into five parts ranging from 2003-2010. Part 3 begins with a chapter called Words. It’s from here where we read Dantala’s English word journal. These sections, written in italics, explore words that he had learned in English and through his journal we go deeper into his thoughts about what is going on in his life through them.  It is a diary of sorts disguised as a simple word journal. Some of the words he writes about are obsess, anthropology, terrify, discovery shrug, etc.  These passages are some of the more vulnerable moments of Dantala’s thoughts. It’s a clever device that Elnathan John uses for us to see what Dantala really thinks and feels about things.  Despite this being a first person narrative, we are immediately sucked in and believe everything he recounts. He’s a pretty reliable narrator too since he doesn’t try to lie about his feelings or actions when he is embarrassed (and there are quite a few embarrassing moments) or wrong.  I know usually readers feel first person narratives get a little too close for comfort but I can’t explain exactly why but this one could only work in that point of view.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Elnathan John and I can’t wait to get to another one. His writing is unfaltering and informative. Born on a Tuesday was shortlisted for the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2016. After reading this one I’d like to know which title won.  Elnathan John is a writer and novelist and is one of Nigeria’s most well-known satirist.  If you’d like to read more of Elnathan John’s writing check out his blog Elnathan’s Dark Corner.

My copy:  Born on a Tuesday, Elnathan John (Cassava Republic), paperback 261 pages

My rating:  * * * * *

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The Book of Harlan

 

My copy: The Book of Harlan – hardcover, 346 pages

Rating: *****

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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!