The Shadow King

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Read 18/04/2021-04/05/2021

Rating 4 stars

Hirut, a woman with a long scar “that puckers at the base of her neck and trails over her shoulder like a broken necklace”, waits in Addis Ababa station for a man she hasn’t seen in almost 40 years. They are connected by a secret, one from history, involving Mussolini and Emperor Haile Selassie. Continue reading

Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya

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Read 26/06/2020-11/07/2020

Rating 5 stars

Book 4 in my 10 Books of Summer reading challenge, a substitution in the original list.

Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya is the US edition of Caroline Elkins’ book published in Britain as Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya. It documents a particularly atrocious period in Britain’s history – the brutal suppression of the Kikuyu people in Kenya in the 1950s, through the use of detention camps and forced labour, and the subsequent attempts by British government to cover it up. Continue reading

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House

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Read 03/06/2020-07/06/2020

Rating 5 stars

Book 1 in my 10 Books of Summer reading challenge.

I put The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House on my list of books for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge because I’ve owned it since November 2018 and made a couple of attempts to read it, both times putting it down after a couple of pages because it felt too much. The current protests against the brutal treatment of black people by police and society in general made me get over myself.

This pocket sized volume of 50 pages packs a punch. It brings together five essays by Audre Lorde that are a call to dig deep, find our passion, harness our anger and make a permanent, radical change to the assumptions that underpin the world we live in. These essays highlight sexism, racism and homophobia and underline their intersectionality. Continue reading

Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime

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Read 06/07/2019-16/07/2019

Rating 4 stars

Read as part of the 20 Books of Summer readathon.

I read Hold Tight as someone who isn’t strictly a fan but who likes the Grime I’ve heard and wanted to know more about its artists and evolution. I’m aware that this review might not be of interest to most of the readers who regularly follow my meandering thoughts on what I’m reading. However, if you’re even vaguely interested in the sociology of working class culture and the music genres that emerge from it, then give this review and the book it’s about a chance. For anyone black, urban and millennial dropping by, please be aware that this review is going to be a bit like the bromance between Michael Buerke and Tinchy Stryder on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Continue reading

Kintu

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Read 25/06/2019-05/07/2019

Rating 5 stars

I went to see Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi speak about her new book, a collection of short stories called Manchester Happened, not too long ago. At the event, she also spoke about her novel Kintu and the struggle she’d had to get it published. She talked about the lack of interest from British publishers and how it took the novel being published in the USA and being a success there for it to be picked up in the UK. It was an eye-opener to hear her say that the reason no publisher in Britain would take a chance on the book was because they didn’t believe that there was enough of an audience for the work.

Kintu is a masterpiece. A sprawling epic, it’s divided into six Books, each focusing on a different descendant of the first Kintu. Continue reading

The Confessions of Frannie Langton

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Read 24/06/2019-25/06/2019

Rating 3 stars

A friend recommended The Confessions of Frannie Langton to me ages ago, so I reserved it at the library. Everyone else in Manchester wanted to read it, apparently, so it took weeks and weeks and arrived just when I already had an armful of library books to read. When I finally got to it, I only had two days left in which to read it. Fortunately, it’s a page turner, and I managed to whip through it.

The story of Frannie Langton is a feisty one. She begins her tale as a prisoner on trial for murder, but not even she is sure whether she did it or not. Her lawyer asks her to write down anything she remembers that will help her case, and so she writes her life story.

Continue reading

Black Tudors: The untold story

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Read 25/01/2019-03/02/2019

Rating 3 stars

Miranda Kaufmann’s re-examination of Tudor society in relation to the place black people occupied in it is described on the cover, in a quote from David Olusoga, as cutting edge as well as accessible and human.

I didn’t get off to a great start with it. It certainly had an edge to it that threatened to cut my willingness to engage with it, as well as an aspect of accessibility that grated. I considered abandoning it after the first chapter and again 60 pages from the end, when it sent me to sleep three times in as many paragraphs. I did finish it, but not soon enough. Continue reading

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