A unique and sometimes frightening story with a surprising ending, this is another tale of the lengths to which people of color will go to pass for white to gain the benefits of whiteness. For one New England family this has succeeded quite well by sending a too dark daughter back South to live with relatives and never allowing her to come to the town where the rest of the family lives. It fails when a too dark child is born and the parents keep her with them. It is also a tale of gender identity and how rape and abuse can destroy and deform and of resilience in the face of endless obstacles. This is not an ordinary novel.
One Book a Week-19: “The Round House”, Louise Erdrich
Winner of the National Book Award in 2012, and narrated by the 12-13 year old son of a tribal judge and a professional, tribal woman, this novel details the story of a family nearly destroyed by the brutal attack on the boy’s mother. Even after the identity of the attacker is known, he is set free because she will not tell or cannot recall where the attack occurred, whether on tribal land or just outside its boundary. This leads to the boy’s determined quest to obtain justice for his mother. This page turner perfectly illustrates the continual problem of justice for indigenous women who are 2-3 times more likely to be raped (and often killed in the process) than white women and with no one ever charged.
Given the seriousness of the novel, it is surprisingly funny at times with the antics of teen boys and other characters, including some colorful and interesting older tribal members and an ex-Marine priest. The reader will also learn a lot about Ojibwa culture. Once you start, you have to keep going in hopes that somehow justice will prevail in the end.
One Book a Week-16, “The Promise”, Damon Galgut
Winner of the 2021 Booker Prize, this novel illustrates the dismal consequences of colonialism and racism. South Africa before and after apartheid comes alive in this story about an Afrikaner family whose matriarch dies young enough to leave her husband with three children, only one of whom is old enough to be on his own. In her dying, she returns to her Jewish roots much to the horror of her husband and many others. Her youngest daughter overhears her dying wish which her husband promises to fulfill even though he has no intention of doing so. This remains an underlying thread, the promise which this daughter never forgets.
The difficult, often prejudiced and unequal, relations between the races underpins the actions of most of the characters, leading a few to greater humanity and kindness, but most into lives of loss, disappointment, and anger.
One Book a Week-12: The Sweetness of Water, Nathan Harris
The immeasurable horrors of slavery and the immediate years after come excruciatingly alive in this novel. Decent white people help recently freed brothers but at a terrible price. A “forbidden” romance between two Confederate soldiers highlights the destructiveness of class and hatred. Yet, in spite of the despair and cruelty, resilience, decency, and tenderness prevail in the end. Long listed for the Booker Prize, this detailed and beautifully written novel remains true to some of the most painful parts of US history.
One Book a Week-11: The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
This unusual novel features identical twin sisters, inseparable as children, living in a small town in rural Louisiana. The town’s founder, a light skinned Black man, insisted on maintaining a certain character for the town–only light skinned Black people should live there. At sixteen the sisters run away to New Orleans where they ultimately choose diametrically opposed lives, one passing as white, marrying a wealthy white man who knows nothing of her true past. In spite of the deception and lies, years later their lives become intertwined in unexpected ways. The novel not only addresses themes of race but also sexual identity and who we are as individuals and a country.
One Book a Week-8:”The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida”, Shehan Karunatilaka
The Booker (previously Mann-Booker) Prize winner in 2022, this book is filled with gruesome events and dark, graveyard humor. Since if takes place in Sri Lanka, if you know little about Sri Lanka history in the last 50 years, you might want to do a quick review so you know about the civil unrest and the various Sri Lankan ethnicities, e.g. Tamil, Sinhalese, Burgher. Written from the viewpoint of the title character, a war photographer, after being murdered, he resides in a sort of celestial purgatory while he tries to save his two best friends and male lover who are still alive and discover the identity of his murderer. He is given seven moons in which to accomplish this task. Not a book for the faint of heart, it contains gruesome war and torture details but frequently is also quite funny and filled with “truths”. In an interview the author explained, “Sri Lankans specialize in gallows humor; it is our coping mechanism.” As I read, I underlined passages I found especially meaningful, profound, or fascinating. Here are some of them:
“-There are only two gods worth worshipping. Chance and electricity.
-Hell is all around us and it is in session as we speak.
-Evil is not what we should fear. Creatures with power acting in their own best interests; that is what should make us shudder.
-There has never been an era of peace in all recorded history.
-Interest in fair play and democracy are not always the same thing.
-I have a superb name for God. Whoever.
-Laws are needed because made-up religions are not enough.
-The universe is nothing but mathematics and probabilities…we are nothing more than accidents of our births.
-They say the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
-Your race, your school, your family will dictate how the dice of life will fall for you.
-All religions keep the poor docile and the rich in their castles.
-People are ok if bad things happen to people who are not them.
-Do not be afraid of demons; it is the living we should fear.
-I have thought long and there are no answers. There is only this. There is only now.
-We must all find a pointless cause to fight for, or why bother with breath?
-The kindest thing you can say about life. It’s not for nothing.
-I cannot understand why humans destroy when they can create. Such a waste.”
One Book a Week-7: “Memorial Drive, A Daughter’s Memoir” by Natasha Trethewey
Published in 2020, and a must read for anyone who cares about abused women, their rights, and how law enforcement often fails them, this book by Trethewey, 2007 Pulitzer Poetry Price winner for “Native Guard”, voices her struggle to deal with her mother’s untimely death. When Trethewey was nineteen and in college, her mother was shot and killed by her step-father after the police officer assigned to protect her mother left his post early. Additionally, the memoir details the effects of the racism she experienced as the child of a white father and black mother (married when it was illegal where they lived) in Mississippi and later in Atlanta in the 1970s and 80s before her mother’s murder in 1985. The book gets its title from the street on which her mother lived when she was murdered. Through this memoir Trethewey discusses how her parent’s divorce, her mother’s remarriage to an angry, abusive man, and her mother’s murder has informed her life and affected the enduring love she holds for her mother.
Prophetic Passages from Octavia Butler
In my last blog post about reading, I promised to address the prophecies of Octavia Butler in my next post. The best way is to quote some passages from Parable of the Talents which was published in 1998. This book is the sequel to Parable of the Sowers. In that book the main character creates a new religion with CHANGE as a major focus. In fact, one of the main tenants of that religion forms the words on Octavia Butler’s tombstone which I quoted in an earlier post. Here are some passages from Parable of the Talents:
I couldn’t help wondering, though, whether these people with their crosses, had some connection with my current least favorite presidential candidate, Texas Senator Andrew Steele Jarrett. It sounds like the sort of thing his people might do—a revival of some nasty out of the past….So now we have another group that uses crosses and slaughters people. Jarrett’s people could be behind it. He insists on being a throwback to some earlier ‘simpler’ time. Now does not suit him. Religious tolerance does not suit him. He wants to take us back to some magical time when everyone believed in the same God, worshipped Him in the same way, and understood that their safety in the universe depended on completing the same religious rituals and stomping anyone who is different.
Jarrett’s supporters have been known to burn people at the stake for being witches….a Moslem, a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or in some parts of the country, a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, or even a Catholic. A witch may also be an atheist or an eccentric…anyone who does not fit into Jarrett’s version of Christianity. He condemns the burnings but in very mild language.
He has a simple answer: ‘Join us! Our doors are open to every nationality, every race.! Leave your sinful past behind, and become one of us. Help us make American great again.”
Note: If you are interested in Octavia Butler books, the stack at the right bottom of the photo are mostly her books. Some are series and need to be read in a certain order.
An Afternoon at the Cheech Museum – 2
The second floor of the Cheech contains even more astonishing art including more multidimensional pieces except smaller than the giant one you see when you enter the building.
Depending where you stand in front, to either side, what you see is quite different. I kept thinking some old Flemish art or Hieronymus Bosch meets modern technology.
Much of the art makes a social or political statement especially about colonization, culture, poverty.
Some of the art is reminiscent of Mayan and Aztec calendars.
Hearts appear in many of the paintings.
And of course Frida.
This is a space ship with changing eyes. If you walk around the back there is a creature inside watching everything with monitors.
Reflections–Old Year, New Year
Most 2020 goodbyes ring with epithets on the horrors of 2020. I object. 2020 brought bad, yes, mainly due to Covid 19’s effects on the lives of masses. It also enlightened us:
-staying home makes cleaner air.
-staying home increases home gardening and thus healthier eating.
-staying home leads to a slower, more thoughtful life, to extra time with family.
-staying home reconnects us with ourselves.
2020 lead to positives that have nothing to do with Covid 19:
-increased awareness and concern for the lives of others different from ourselves.
-increased awareness that discrimination and brutality among our police exists and we need to fix it.
-increased awareness of the ever growing income gaps in our society.
Covid 19 did bring:
-an increased awareness of the impacts of any pandemic and that we must prepare ourselves because there will be more.
-an increased appreciation of essential workers and their roles in our everyday lives.
-an increased appreciation for nurses and doctors and other health care workers.
Spring will come,
flowers will bloom,
birds will sing.
Yesterday, I heard Bishop Michael Curry speak on national news. I will close with one sentence which remains with me:
“Love is a commitment to the Common Good.”