BRIT(ish)

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Read 17/01/2019-26/01/2019

Rating 4 stars

In BRIT(ish), Afua Hirsch has written a sort of memoir, sort of political appraisal, sort of social history of race and racism in the UK. There’s a bit of travelog in there as well. I struggled to get to grips with it at first, finding it a little piecemeal in its approach, jumping from personal experience peppered with historical context to historiography peppered with personal experience to journalistic investigation of specific aspects of racism in Britain. Each piece had its merits, but for me they didn’t always hang together as a whole. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. It’s articulate, it draws out different strands of the issue, there were lots of things that I learnt from reading it. Hirsch clearly has something she wants to say, and has struggled to understand her own existence, and there is value in what she extracts and shares from that personal struggle. Continue reading

Washington Black

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Read 21/10/2018-10/11/2018

Rating: 3.5 stars

I was itching to read Washington Black as soon as it made the long list for the 2018 Booker Prize. Its strapline “Escape is only the beginning” carried an air of intrigue and adventure with it, and the premise of a young black slave plucked from the horrors of plantation life to assist an inventor in his flights of fancy promised something a little different in approach to the usual telling of the story of slavery. The book mostly hits its mark and is worthy of its place on the Booker short list, the thing that prompted me to pick the book off the New Stock Just In shelves at the library. Continue reading

Black and British

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Read 27/05/2018-02/09/2018 (with breaks!)

Rating: 4 stars

It took me a while to read this history of Black people in Britain, mainly because it’s an in-depth piece of research that warranted a slow read to absorb the multi-layered stories, but also because the majority of those stories are necessarily hard going. I needed to take a number of breaks to read books that were lighter in tone or pure fiction.

I watched David Olusoga’s BBC TV show Black and British last year and have been meaning to read the accompanying book for a while. I enjoyed his presenting style and the way he made a difficult subject accessible without diluting the message of white culpability in the enslavement and continued denigration of people of colour that is central to this history. Continue reading

The Hate U Give

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Read 05/05/2018-08/05/2018

Rating: 3 stars

Angie Thomas’s teen drama The Hate U Give hadn’t crossed my radar until it was included in the Reader’s Room March Madness Reading Challenge. When we were voting on which books we thought we’d be likely to read, I scored it low because I’m not big on reading Young Adult literature. A couple of bookish friends recommended it, though, after I finished Sing, Unburied, Sing.

I feel a little mean, only rating it 3 stars. It’s a good book, but there were things about it that annoyed me, because I’m not a teenager and no longer care about the things that matter to teenagers. I’m glad that I read it, though. Continue reading

Sing, Unburied, Sing

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Read 03/04/2018-08/04/2018

Rating: 5 stars

Sing, Unburied, Sing is Jesmyn Ward’s third novel. It’s the first I’ve heard of, thanks to the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It’s also the book I chose to win in the Reader’s Room March Madness Reading Challenge. It didn’t win, but so what? It’s a book that is more than a reading challenge target.

It’s a book that is full of life. A book that will enrich the life of anyone who reads it. This book is vital. Continue reading

Negroland: A Memoir

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Read 14/03/2018-21/03/2018

Rating: 5 stars

I can’t remember where I found out about Margo Jefferson’s memoir Negroland. I thought I’d read a review on one of the book blogs I follow, but a search threw nothing up. Maybe I found it when I was searching for more to read about black experience in a white-dominated society. Maybe I saw it on someone’s Instagram. However it crossed my radar, I’m glad it did. Continue reading

The Secret River

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Read 09/01/2018-21/01/2018

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve had The Secret River on my library wishlist since the Olympics Reading Challenge on the Reader’s Room in 2016. Weezelle reminded me of it when she mentioned that she’d received it as a gift recently. That spurred me on to reserve it at the library.

Kate Grenville has written just the sort of book I love. Think Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, or Shirley Barrett’s Rush Oh!, or even Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda. It’s historical fiction that records the painful lives of the poor in all its sorrowing detail, but which manages to also capture the indomitable spirit and resourcefulness of some when faced with adversity. More than that, it examines how humans judge each other by the colour of their skin, and how brutally the British treated the indigenous people of Australia. Continue reading

Ruby

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Read 22/07/2017-28/07/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

I bought Ruby a while ago, when it was in the running for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. When I hit Texas in the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge, its turn to be read finally came.

It’s a story about love and hate, a tale about trying to escape the memories of a place steeped in wrong-doing, where things that happened in childhood form who people are as adults. The place is called Liberty, but there is little that is free about it.

Ruby Bell returns to Liberty from New York City in 1963. She is a glamorous and self-confident woman who attracts the attention of the men who sit and smoke and talk outside the P & K Market. She becomes the subject of ribald gossip and cautionary tales about the dangers of travel and the consequences of sin. Over time she descends into madness. Her appearance changes, she is distracted and reclusive, and most of the people in Liberty avoid her. Apart from one man, Ephram Jennings. Nobody in Liberty looks at Ephram. Nobody notices him except for Ruby.

There will be mild spoilers in this review, but it was difficult to describe it without referring to key plot points. Continue reading