REVIEW: ‘The People in the Trees’ by Hanya Yanagihara

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TW: Child abuse, sexual abuse

A few months ago, a friend of mine gave me the book A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and I’ll admit the size intimidated me. I researched the author and was immediately interested in reading more from her. I found out that A Little Life was actually her second novel and that she had written The People in the Trees before but the novel did not gather as attention as A Little Life. So for my 21st birthday, when my flatmate asked what I wanted, I asked for The People in the Trees. The book is roughly based on the life of Dr D. Carleton Gajdusek, a Nobel Prize winning scientist who discovered a disease among a tribe in Papua New Guinea. However, later on in his life, he was found guilty of sexually abusing many of the children he adopted, these children were from Papua New Guinea. Yanagihara, takes this story and gives it life in her novel. The novel’s protagonist, Dr Norton Perina, a Nobel Prize winning doctor, discovered Selene syndrome, a medical condition that alters aging among the people of Ivu’ivu in the Micronesian country of U’ivu. Perina discovered that the reason a few people on the island lived for decades longer than the average life-expectancy on the island was because of their consumption of the Opa’ivu’eke, a rare turtle. Perina found that even though their bodies stopped ageing, their minds slowly regressed making some of them infantile. After decades of success, and after he adopted more than 40 children from the island, one of his children accused him of sexual abuse leading to his imprisonment. The novel takes the form of a memoir written by Perina and edited by Dr Ronald Kubodera, a close friend and colleague. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘The People in the Trees’ by Hanya Yanagihara”

REVIEW: ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge

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TW: Racism, Violence and Misogyny

First things first, Reni Eddo-Lodge has done the work for us. She’s made a book that people of colour can readily give to all well-meaning white friends and colleagues that want to have a ‘discussion’ about racism. She’s put in all the mental and emotional labour to create a book that covers topics like structural racism, racism within feminism, racial bias in the criminal justice system, white privilege, class, gentrification and police brutality and when you read the book, you’ll see that there are many more themes and issues she discusses that I won’t bother listing for you. I say this book is for well-meaning white people because many people of colour, especially those of us who concern ourselves with race, gender and class, will find that they already know the argument she presents in this book. Even though there were some things discussed that I wasn’t aware of, by and large reading this book was reading and agreeing with what I already knew. However, this is not a weakness. This book is a powerful tool that draws from cultural, political and economic history as well as current affairs in order to show that structural racism is alive and thriving in Britain.

The book is divided into seven chapters: ‘Histories’, ‘The System’, ‘What is White Privilege?’, ‘Fear of a Black Planet’, ‘The Feminist Question’, ‘Race and Class’ and ‘There’s No Justice, There’s Just Us’. Honestly, I found some of these chapters boring and had to plough through them but that is not because of a failure of her writing, but instead because as I said before, I don’t need to be told what white privilege is. At the same time, some chapters really stood out to me. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge”

REVIEW: ‘African Psycho’ by Alain Mabanckou

 

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To kill – a verb I have worshipped since coming of age. Fundamentally, all the small jobs I carried out were done in the hope of later being able to conjugate this verb in its most immediate and fully realized form. 

TW: Rape, Misogyny and Violence

I love a good cover and I’ll admit that a good cover is enough to make me read a book and a bad cover is enough to steer me away from a book no matter how critically acclaimed it is. I came across African Psycho at Africa Writes, an African literature festival, where Mabanckou was scheduled to speak. I had heard about Mabanckou but was always distracted by other books so I thought it was only appropriate to buy one of his novels while at the festival. I decided to buy African Psycho because of the beautiful cover and familiar title. My friend had recommended American Psycho but because I’ve focused my reading on people of colour, I was in a bind.

From what I’ve heard about American Psycho I’ve gathered that it’s about a young, wealthy investment banker cum murderer. Throughout the novel, his murders become progressively more complex and gruesome and by the end of the novel, the reader isn’t sure whether these murders are delusions or real. Mabanckou takes this idea and flips it on its head. Mabanckou’s psycho, Grégoire Nakobomayo, is a poor mechanic who doesn’t give a fuck about the way he looks openly admitting that he’s ugly. He does not actually commit a murder due to his obsessive planning even though, all he wants is to live up to his idol, Angoualima a famous serial killer. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘African Psycho’ by Alain Mabanckou”

THOUGHTS: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ from texts by James Baldwin

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I stumbled on this book while I was handing out flyers for an event in Shoreditch. I spent 15 minutes in Libreria, an independent bookshop in Shoreditch that really is a feast for the eyes. With mirrors on the ceiling and the wall as well as sitting areas built into the bookshelves, you get the illusion that the space goes on forever. I nearly walked into the mirror thinking the bookshop went on into infinity when I saw I Am Not Your Negro from the corner of my eye. I watched the documentary in a small cinema in Edinburgh a few months ago and I was in awe. I had read Baldwin but the documentary of the same name made his work come to life for me. Even though Baldwin was writing decades before now, his ideas and observations are as relevant as ever. Director Raoul Peck explains that the book and the film came as a result of his attempts to make a documentary about Baldwin’s life but when given access to Baldwin’s unpublished works by Gloria Karefa-Smart (Baldwin’s sister) as well as her support and guidance, I Am Not Your Negro was born.

After the deaths of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Baldwin was inspired to write Remember This House but never went beyond 30 pages of notes due to his death. The documentary and this book build from Baldwin’s notes. From the start of the book, Peck builds your trust by explaining the process of creating the book. Before I even started reading it, I felt that I could trust his choice of texts as well as his motives and this allowed me to immerse myself in the book without any fear or scepticism. I don’t feel that I, or anyone else for that matter, is worthy to review the James Baldwin because everyone should read Baldwin – his is 5 out of 5 stars in Goodreads speak. Instead, all I can do is give you my thoughts and highlight excerpts that made me think and I must admit, some were just so beautiful to read and I’m not sure I fully understand the complexity found within them. Continue reading “THOUGHTS: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ from texts by James Baldwin”

REVIEW: ‘Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun’ by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Processed with VSCO with c6 preset Dr Morayo Da Silva is, for lack of a better phrase, ageing disgracefully. She spent most of her savings on a vintage Porshe, has an emotional attachment to her books and wants to get a tattoo for her 75th birthday. In 118 pages, Manyika is able to create characters so vibrant I feel like I know them. Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to The Sun is the story of Dr Morayo Da Silva, a retired professor in English Literature who is fiercely independent, shamelessly single and who has lived many lives; she has been a diplomat’s wife and has built a career in academia. However, her independence is threatened when she trips and falls in her bathroom and has to stay in an old-age home for a few days to recover. While at the home, she is forced to confront her age, her limitations and the dangers that come with old age.

The strength of this small novel isn’t in the story, it’s in Manyika’s writing. Each chapter changes in perspective allowing the reader to get a better understanding of the world around Dr Morayo. Set in San Francisco, the different characters, explore themes like being an immigrant in the US, motherhood, age, mental health and independence. The two characters that stood out the most to me are Sunshine, an Indian-American who cares too much for the people around her and not enough for herself and Reggie whose wife Pearl suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and dementia. Other more minor characters are Toussaint, the substitute chef in the Home, a young homeless woman who dreams of going back to university to finish her degree programme and Dawud, the owner of a flower and cake shop Dr Morayo goes to frequently. Manyika’s writing reminds me of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth because of her ability to create stories and histories for every character in her novel. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun’ by Sarah Ladipo Manyika”

REVIEW: ‘Stay with Me’ by Ayobami Adebayo

 

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Caution: Spoilers

Stay With Me is not revolutionary in style or content but when my mother stayed up until 2am reading it, I knew it would be a good story and in deed it was. Stay With Me tells the story of a young couple, Yejide and Akin, who struggle to have children. After four years of marriage, Yejide is yet to fall pregnant even after several interventions by the woman she calls Moomi, Akin’s mother. Eventually, Akin is ‘forced’ to take a second wife and this marks the beginning of the saga.

The first thing that struck me about the novel is Adebayo’s beautiful, lyrical writing. Stay With Me is one of those books where I found myself underlining sentences on every page because of how beautiful they sounded. The opening sentences: ‘I must leave this city today and come to you. My bags are packed and the empty rooms remind me that I should have left a week ago’, are a perfect example of Adebayo’s stripped back yet effective writing. Personally, I have a notoriously short attention span and enjoy novels most when writers are able to convey what they mean with the least amount of words. Adebayo knows when to extent descriptions and scenes and when to cut them short. In the opening chapter, she allows Yejide to wallow in her suffering but only for two pages, enough to introduce the reader to Yejide’s pain yet keep the integrity and strength of the character.  The novel continues this way, with chapters of different lengths and certain periods during the couple’s relationship repeated. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Stay with Me’ by Ayobami Adebayo”