Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (Ngugi wa Thiong'o)

  "Africa enriches Europe: but Africa is made to believe that it needs Europe to rescue it from poverty."

"Africa enriches Europe: but Africa is made to believe that it needs Europe to rescue it from poverty."

Kenya / 1986

If you’re interested in the way language can be used as a weapon and as a tool of liberation, this is required reading! Thiong’o offers his critiques within the Kenyan context, but his ideas are still very applicable globally. I even found myself relating to his ideas, particularly as they relate to language and schooling. People should be taught in their native languages! And people shouldn’t be criminalized for speaking their home languages at school. Thiong’o mentioned how in the colonial era Kenyan pupils were punished when they spoke Gikuyu or Swahili, etc at school. Today there are schools in South Africa (and I’m sure many other countries) where teachers punish students for speaking their languages. Crazy thing is this happened at my elementary/ middle school. I went to an all black school, with all white teachers (10/10 do not recommend). The teacher literally used to punish and yell at us when we said “man” (you know the way it’s said after smacking your lips), “salty,” “y’all,” *insert any other black saying.* I remember there was one Mexican girl in our class, and one time she got in trouble for speaking Spanish. These white people really be mad at us for speaking how we wanna speak. Please read this book. It's required reading. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Wretched of the Earth (Frantz Fanon)

  “There are no clean hands, no innocent bystanders. We are all in the process of dirtying our hands in the quagmire of our soil and the terrifying void of our minds. Any bystander is a coward or a traitor."

“There are no clean hands, no innocent bystanders. We are all in the process of dirtying our hands in the quagmire of our soil and the terrifying void of our minds. Any bystander is a coward or a traitor."

Martinique / 1961

It took me THREE weeks to get through Fanon! Not sure if that is a testament to my poor intellect, or to Fanon's genius. This book says the same thing a thousand different ways. If you feel inclined to read it, I recommend definitely reading Sartre's preface, and then go up to page 100. Then skim the rest, and then read the conclusion. I promise you'll be good. This book is commonly referred to as "the handbook on decolonization." Yes, I'll give it that. Fanon describes the different mechanisms and class anxieties surrounding nation-building. He ultimately says that Africa must totally depart from Europe, in terms of everything: culture. economics, politics, etc. Fanon advises new African nations to plan their futures with a blank-slate mindset, instead of relying on outdated colonial methods of ruling (which has unfortunately sprouted dictators and corrupt leaders). This book made me think of how coloniasm in Africa not only crippled many nations' pasts and presents, but also their futures.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Alex Haley)

  "The American Negro has been entirely brainwashed from ever seeing or thinking of himself, as he should, as part of the non-white peoples of the world. The American Negro has no conception of the hundreds of millions of other non-whites' concern for him: he has no conception of their feeling of brotherhood for and with him."

"The American Negro has been entirely brainwashed from ever seeing or thinking of himself, as he should, as part of the non-white peoples of the world. The American Negro has no conception of the hundreds of millions of other non-whites' concern for him: he has no conception of their feeling of brotherhood for and with him."

U.S.A. / 1965

This should be required reading for all Black kids. I thought I “knew” Malcolm X, but reading this made me realize that I actually knew very, very little about the sum of his life, work, and ideas. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him as a radical trailblazer. Even in grade school I wondered why we couldn’t study him instead of MLK. (Hmm I wonder why 🤔). But this book really contextualized why he thought the way he did - and exactly how courageous he was for thinking that way. I’m not very religious, so the pages and pages on Islam and Black Muslims was not really my cup of tea. But it was still interesting to see how religion was what really catalyzed his work. And obviously his views of women were terrible, at best. But I think of him as a figurehead, or really as an usher for subsequent movements of Black power and pride. We have to really respect him in that regard. I finished this book feeling so inspired and energized. And thankful. I felt a deep sense of appreciation for all he did and all the sacrifices he made. I’ll never forget this book. 5/5 stars. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. 

Another Country (James Baldwin)

  "If you don't forgive yourself you'll never be able to forgive anybody else and you'll go on committing the same crimes forever."

"If you don't forgive yourself you'll never be able to forgive anybody else and you'll go on committing the same crimes forever."

U.S.A. / 1962

This novel about the affairs and chaos between a group of New Yorkers is a rollercoaster ride. It's nice to see Baldwin's depiction of NYC in the late 50s - early 60s. The city has changed so much since then. Apparently you could get a room in the YMCA for less than $5 a night! And the West Village was affordable. But overall, I found Another Country to be a bit overdone, over-detailed, and just unnecessarily long. Around the half way mark, I found myself just wanting it to be over. I can understand how this novel is important—with its discussion of the then (1960s) super-taboo topics of affairs, and interracial and bisexual couples. And I appreciated how each character was unique. But the lengthy descriptions of every single moment just turned me off. It worked in Baldwin's shorter novels, Giovanni's Room and Go Tell it On the Mountain, but when stretched out into 436 pages, it just felt like too much. I'm still glad I read this book. So I still recommend it. All I'll say is you should be very patient.

Giovanni's Room (James Baldwin)

  "Sometimes, when he was not near me, I thought, I will never let him touch me again. Then, when he touched me, I thought, it doesn't matter, it is only the body, it will soon be over."

"Sometimes, when he was not near me, I thought, I will never let him touch me again. Then, when he touched me, I thought, it doesn't matter, it is only the body, it will soon be over."

U.S.A. / 1956

I read this tale about a scandalous same-sex love affair in Paris in just a few sittings. It is utterly gripping and draws you into a world of intimacy, tension, and passion like no other. What I love most about this novel is Baldwin's ability to render the subtle nuances of social interaction — whether they be intimate, platonic, etc. He puts into words those casual glances, secret thoughts, shifts in tone, slight sighs and body language that color our real-life encounters with others. I felt so close to the protagonists, Giovanni and David. I felt as if I was looking at their relationship through a magnifying glass. Read my full review of Giovanni's Room here.

NW (Zadie Smith)

  "There is a connection between boredom and the desire for chaos."

"There is a connection between boredom and the desire for chaos."

United Kingdom / 2012

NW is my third Zadie Smith novel. I read White Teeth in August, then On Beauty in October. I've been told by many that NW is her best work. I have to disagree. I still think White Teeth is the best of the three. At it's core, NW is the story of a place: Northwest London. More specifically, some projects called Caldwell and the four residents who come in and out of age there, trying to navigate the pitfalls of adulthood. Some leave the projects and feel guilty, some stay and feel the same way.

SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT BELOW:

Not much happens in this book. Smith dedicates most of the novel to explaining what "type" of person each character is. These characters are explained to death, and it becomes painfully obvious that Smith has a very specific idea of who she wants these people to be. Just like in On Beauty, these otherwise interesting characters become vessels for typecast ideologies. There's no breathing room. They're boxed in, predictable. I wish Smith would just let these otherwise lovely characters BE. Not think and overthink but just be.

This book's greatest strength is its authentic and nuanced portrayal of modern London. Smith built this fantastic world that makes you feel transported. You can hear the accents, smell the smells, and imagine the passing pedestrians and trains on the page. What she's accomplished here is really fantastic. Another great strength is its take on adulthood: how we technically are "adults" but don't really feel that way. And how it can be difficult to assume these prescribed roles of wife, mother, etc, when we don't really feel too whole ourselves. After I finished NW, I did what I always do after finishing a book: read the reviews on GoodReads. One review stood out to me: Zadie Smith is great locally, but not globally. I thought, "Ding ding ding!" On the level of sentences, intelligence, and metaphor, her work is astounding. That's why I couldn't put this book down even though parts of it annoyed me. But when you stick it all together, it doesn't quite work super well. Even though it's not perfect, it's still worth a read. 3.5/5.

So Much Blue (Percival Everett)

 “And though I missed my lover, I was not sad. I was satisfied. I was different.”

“And though I missed my lover, I was not sad. I was satisfied. I was different.”

U.S.A./ 2017/

"Kevin Pace is working on a painting that he won’t allow anyone to see: not his children; not his best friend, Richard; not even his wife, Linda. The painting is a canvas of twelve feet by twenty-one feet (and three inches) that is covered entirely in shades of blue. It may be his masterpiece or it may not; he doesn’t know or, more accurately, doesn’t care.

What Kevin does care about are the events of the past. Ten years ago he had an affair with a young watercolorist in Paris. Kevin relates this event with a dispassionate air, even a bit of puzzlement. It’s not clear to him why he had the affair, but he can’t let it go. In the more distant past of the late seventies, Kevin and Richard traveled to El Salvador on the verge of war to retrieve Richard’s drug-dealing brother, who had gone missing without explanation. As the events of the past intersect with the present, Kevin struggles to justify the sacrifices he’s made for his art and the secrets he’s kept from his wife." — GoodReads.

Solibo Magnificent (Patrick Chamoiseau)

 “...from the word you build the village, but from silence you construct the world."

“...from the word you build the village, but from silence you construct the world."

Martinique / 1988

One of the customers of the coffee shop where I used to work randomly gave me this book one day. Like 95% of my books, it is currently sitting in a storage facility on the outskirts of Brooklyn (a long, sad story 😪). Hopefully I can get my books back soon and give this a read. Here's a synopsis from GoodReads:

"In Fort-de-France, Martinique, a colorful group of musicians, street vendors, and hopeless disciples, including the author, gather under a tamarind tree to listen to legendary bard Solibo Magnificent spin tales. Suddenly, in the middle of a raucously entertaining story, Solibo drops dead. So entranced and drunken are his friends, they initially fail to realize that their hero has spoken his last word. One hysterical listener runs to find the doctor and inadvertently returns with the overly eager, sinister chief sergeant, who holds Solibo's friends under suspicion for murder. At turns a madcap murder mystery, a political satire, and a lament on the death of a treasured tradition, Solibo Magnificent is wildly imaginative and exuberantly lyrical."

The Prey of Gods (Nicky Drayden)

  "Just because it happened in a dream didn't mean it didn't happen."

"Just because it happened in a dream didn't mean it didn't happen."

U.S.A. / 2017

This novel about robots, genetic engineering, and ancestral revenge in a future South Africa is like the book form of one of my favorite films: 2009's District 9 - an allegorical tale that portrays a future South Africa where subjugated aliens bear the brunt of a new apartheid. I really, really love this movie. If you haven't seen it before, I highly recommend it. This book goes hard, too.