Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A (Danielle Allen)

  "In the end, none of us knew him and, only now, I realize that neither did he know himself."

"In the end, none of us knew him and, only now, I realize that neither did he know himself."

U.S.A. / 2018

Danielle Allen investigates the life of her cousin Michael- who was sentenced to 13 years in prison at the tender age of 15. After Michael gets out, Danielle tries her hardest to help him readjust to society. But there’s only so much she can do. I like how this book injects pieces of reason into the struggle of trying to make sense of having a loved one incarcerated. Allen gives a play by play of Michael's turbulent life and simultaneously breaks down the "double helix" of drugs and gangs in L.A. from the 1970s onward. She does a great job at balancing emotion with logic. I just wish there could have been more of an analysis on why she and her branch of the family turned out so differently. This book is very touching and worth a read. I'm sure Michael is very proud.

A Moonless, Starless Sky (Alexis Okeowo)

  “Nobody rescued them. I want you to stress this point. Nobody rescued them. They escaped on their own accord. This is painful, you know?”

“Nobody rescued them. I want you to stress this point. Nobody rescued them. They escaped on their own accord. This is painful, you know?”

U.S.A. / 2017

These words were spoken by a Nigerian government official who monitored the 276 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. His plea reveals the urgency of journalist Alexis Okeowo’s work in A Moonless, Starless Sky. This quote stuck with me. I truly loved this book. Read my full review of A Moonless, Starless Sky here.

Feel Free (Zadie Smith)

  “I’m one of those people who have come to believe writing is a kind of psychological condition, forged in childhood, with a strong element of compulsion.”

“I’m one of those people who have come to believe writing is a kind of psychological condition, forged in childhood, with a strong element of compulsion.”

U.K. / 2018

Finished Feel Free. This round-up of Zadie Smith's best published essays was kind of a mixed bag. But I did find quite a few essays and insights I loved. This was my first time reading ZS’s nonfiction, and I do enjoy it slightly more than her fiction. My favorite essays, in no particular order were: Northwest London Blues, Brother from Another Mother, Dance Lessons for Writers, The I Who Is Not Me and The Bathroom. I thought the book reviews section could have been left out. Lots of great tidbits of knowledge in here.

Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

  “The rule of Western journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person."

“The rule of Western journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person."

Nigeria / 2006

What starts as an "exposé" of the inner-lives of Nigeria's upper class ends as a harrowing reminder of the ways that the political can trickle down into the personal. As war looms outside Olanna and Odenigbo's luxurious compound, they insist that nothing will happen. Slowly and painfully, they are forced to accept the political reality of late 1960s Nigeria, in which brutal assassinations spark ethnic violence, secession, war, and deadly famine.

One of my favorite parts about Half of a Yellow Sun was the way that tragedy brought people closer together. When the threat of death loomed nearer and nearer, people tended to shed their grudges and resentments because they suddenly no longer mattered. This novel showed how looking at the "bigger picture" and forgiving past transgressions can lead to more sustained joy - and can make us more merciful. Reading-wise, I could not put this book down. Adichie has a way of carrying a story so thoroughly that you just have to know what happens next. I loved the characters - although I wasn't really here for using Harrison as comic relief. I connected most with Ugwu. It seemed his desires and values were portrayed the most clearly. His character was more fluid than many of the others, who sometimes seemed to be playing roles. I really felt like this was his story, so it would have been nice to get more of his perspective. This book is a gem both for its educational and literary value. I had little knowledge about the Biafran War before this, so reading about it from this intimate perspective and through the eyes of Nigerians was incredibly useful. Overall, I really loved this book and I think any and everyone should read it. While it sometimes falters at the local level (unresolved plot points, Olanna and Kainene’s strange relationship, Ugwu’s entire family), it really captures the "big picture" in such a tender, wonderful way. 5/5 stars.

Meet Behind Mars (Renee Simms)

  "You can't change your situation and dwell on how bad it is at the same time."

"You can't change your situation and dwell on how bad it is at the same time."

U.S.A. / 2018

Finally finished Meet Behind Mars. This story collection took me a while to get through. I felt a lot of these stories would work really well as novels. My favorite stories were "Rebel Airplanes" (a story about a woman with late-stage lung cancer who becomes obsessed with flying model airplanes) and "The Body When Buoyant" (a story about a woman who struggles to find a sense of normalcy after Hurricane Katrina). There was also a fascinating story about automotive crash test monkeys...which apparently were a thing. These stories were longer than your average "short story" — which I actually liked. They were refreshing to read. Very unique, although the pacing was sometimes on the slower side. I recommend giving this a read.

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. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.