Hidden Figures

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Read 07/04/2017-10/04/2017

Rating: 4 stars

What I wanted was for them to have the grand, sweeping narrative that they deserved, the kind of American history that belongs to the Wright Brothers and the astronauts, to Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr. Not told as a separate history, but as a part of the story we all know. Not at the margins, but at the very center, the protagonists of the drama. And not just because they are black, or because they are women, but because they are part of the American epic.

So says Margot Lee Shetterly in the prologue to her history of the black female mathematicians working at NASA from the 1940s onwards. Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia. Her father was an engineer at Langley, working for NASA. She grew up among the women who worked alongside her father as human computers. Until a chance remark made by her father on a visit Shetterly made with her husband in 2010, she had no idea about the pioneering work these black women carried out, or about just how many black women worked at NASA. And so began her research into the subject. Continue reading

Homegoing

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Read 01/04/2017-07/04/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room March Madness Challenge

Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel is an ambitious one. It charts the lives of two half-sisters from Ghana who have very different experiences of slavery. The book sets off in the 18th century and follows the descendants of each sister to see how slavery impacted on African women depending on the form their slavery took. Continue reading

We Should All Be Feminists

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Read 26/02/2017

Rating: 4 stars

This is an essay in book form, a modified version of a TED talk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in 2012. It’s less than 50 pages long, but it packs a punch.

The event at which Adichie was speaking in 2012 aimed to challenge and inspire Africans and friends of Africa to think differently. In Nigerian culture, Adichie’s culture, being a strong independent woman is frowned upon. In her talk, Adichie identifies the different ways in which women are kept down in Nigerian society. I recognised some of those ways in my own culture, despite the fact that women were supposedly emancipated a century ago in Britain. Continue reading

Between the World and Me

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Read 20/07/2016-21/07/2016

Rating: 4 stars

This was a compelling read that hooked me in and made me concentrate. Coates’s logic is lucid, his argument articulate. His analysis of his own experience as a black man and a full history of black experience since slavery began amplified things that I, in my whiteness, think about how black people are treated.

It starts with an incredible declaration. Continue reading

Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Read 01/05/2016-02/05/2016

Rating: 4 stars

Read as a May BOTM for the Goodreads 1001 Books group

LibraryThing review

Shame on me, but I hadn’t heard of Zora Neale Hurston or Their Eyes Were Watching God before it was voted to be a May BOTM for the Shelfari 1001 Books Group on Goodreads. Hurston led quite a life, and there are elements of her self-awareness and unconventionality in the novel’s main character, Janie.

I really enjoyed this book. It was unlike the African-American literature I’ve read before. It felt more honest, grittier, and as much about being a human struggling to be true to yourself as it was about being black. Continue reading