142 Exit West

exitwestby Mohsin Hamid, 2017

“…for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

So writes Mohsin Hamid, as his characters prepare to embark on a journey from their war ravaged home to an unknown land, leaving behind those whom they love. It is a fitting, and sometimes literal, description of the emigration experience that is at the heart of Exit West. When their unnamed country – though we can guess that they hail from somewhere in the Middle East – falls into the chaos of war, young lovers Saeed and Nadia cling to each other in their effort for survival. All across their city, mysterious doors are opening up, allowing citizens to step through, Narnia-like, to another land. Walking through one of those doors will be the hardest, but most necessary, decision they will make.

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141 The Souls of Black Folk

soulsofblackfolkby W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903

There is a certain sense of wonder – or is it chagrin? – when reading a hundred-year-old book that exemplifies the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Such is the case with W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays published at the turn of the 20th century that are, sadly, as poignant today as they were a mere 40 years post-Emancipation. Race relations have no doubt improved greatly since then, yet not so much as to prevent the reader from sitting slack-jawed and wondering if Du Bois were writing these words today. He and his ideas are far from obsolete.

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140 Caramelo

carameloby Sandra Cisneros, 2002

I know I’ve said it before, that sweeping, multi-generational narratives is an odd literary niche to love, but it’s one I can’t get enough of. From Roots to The House of the Spirits to Middlesex and now Caramelo, I’m a huge fan of novels that delve into the past to reveal both cultural and personal identities. Told by Celaya “Lala” Reyes, the youngest of the Reyes clan, Caramelo explores the meanings of family, motherhood, fatherhood, pride, and love, as well as what it means to be a Mexican, an American, and something in between. It is a beautifully written story that I loved reading.

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139 Tar Baby

tar babyby Toni Morrison, 1981

I think this is my favorite Toni Morrison yet. While I’ve found every book of hers completely engaging, there’s something about the lyrical quality of her prose in Tar Baby that I find particularly appealing. I also continue to be impressed by how effortlessly Morrison weaves not just the conflict between white and black into her stories, but also that between varying shades of black. Each book has spoken volumes about intraracial conflict that only someone who has personally experienced that tension can fully appreciate.

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138 Uncle Tom’s Cabin

uncletomby Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852

And so continues my education of reading books that I should have read, but haven’t. I was particularly interested in reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin to learn exactly where the term “Uncle Tom” originated. For the unaware, an Uncle Tom is a black person who is exceedingly deferential to whites. That’s the polite way of putting it; for a more piquant definition, watch Django Unchained. Samuel L. Jackson’s character? He’s an Uncle Tom through and through. But where does the term come from? Surprisingly, not directly from this book.

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137 The Mis-Education of the Negro

woodsonby Carter G. Woodson, 1933

Carter G. Woodson is one of those names I’ve heard bandied about for quite some time, thanks largely in part to the fact that one of the three huge regional libraries in Chicago is named for the writer. As such, I’ve always had him in my mind as someone I ought to read, but, as is often the case, I never got around to it. With the Read Harder Challenge’s task to read a book published between 1900-1950, this 1933 tome jumped to the forefront. It’s a fairly short book, coming in at around 100 pages, but it’s packed with some interesting ideas regarding education and race that not only were applicable to its time, but continue to be relevant today.

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136 La sombra del viento

 sombradelvientode Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2001

[Scroll down for English.]

He oído mucho de este libro, un libro sobre un misterio de libros. Intenté leerlo el año pasado, pero cuando la elección pasó, ya no tenía ganas de descifrar un misterio en español. Pero estaba determinada leerlo y por fin he terminado con ello. ¿Valía la pena? Desafortunadamente, no estoy segura. Sí, disfruté algunas partes del libro y a veces lo encontré encantador, pero aunque la trama me interesaba, el cuento no tomó forma al fin.

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