Category Archives: 2020 Women Writers Reading Project

White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color by Ruby Hamad

 

White Tears:Brown Scars

Title: White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color
Author: Ruby Hamad
Publisher: Catapult
ISBN: 978-1948226745
Genre: Cultural Anthropology, Essays, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

This book is much-needed for the times we live in. Actually for any time – past or present or even the future sadly, given how situations play themselves out over and over again. Situations where white people have set certain standards of humanity and how to live and even love for the rest of the world. Situations where they do not give any agency to people of colour, more so to women of colour, and even if what is perceived as agency isn’t really that. Ruby Hamad’s explosive and very important book “White Tears/Brown Scars” brings to fore and speaks of how white women use their tears to avoid speaking of and mainly confronting their racism.

This book is an off-shoot from Hamad’s article on the same topic that came out in The Guardian in the year 2018, and how that further led to Hamad being contacted by various women of colour with their stories of being betrayed by white women and their tears.

This book is extremely well-researched and an account of the white woman’s role in colonialism, in racism, and in oppressing the people of colour. It doesn’t restrict itself only to the women. It goes beyond that , to men of colour as well. Ruby’s book is global in nature and we all can see how we sometimes behave around white people. We who were once colonised, still carry that burden and remain forever apologetic. This is exactly what happens when a women of colour confronts a white women about her racism – she is apologetic to the white woman, as though it wasn’t her place to call out casual racism.

White Tears/Brown Scars should make people uncomfortable, more so the white people and make them realize what they are doing or have been doing over the years. It is necessarily uncomfortable. Hamad doesn’t write only about the US of A. She ropes in other countries as well – whether it is about the history of Aboriginal women in Australia and how they are treated or the Arab women at large in the world – these are perspectives and stories that must be heard, read, and internalised.

Hamad’s book is a revelation to me (I think it would also be the same for most people). The writing is razor-sharp and she doesn’t hesitate from calling a spade, a spade. It delves into performative victimhood and the truths aren’t palpable. In some cases the book reads like an oral history and maybe that’s what it is – experiences of women of colour with White women’s defensiveness and gas lighting in personal and professional settings.

“White Tears/Brown Scars” is a book that should be required reading for anyone interested in intersectional feminism. It is about the imbalance of power, and how it affects feminism. She takes a view of all of it – history, culture, research, and ultimately the lives of women to make us understand the role of white supremacy in all of it. Please read it.

Principles of Prediction by Anushka Jasraj

Title: Principles of Prediction
Author: Anushka Jasraj
Publisher: Context Books
ISBN: 978-9389648713
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If you have to read one short-story collection this year (of whatever is left of the year), make it this one. Jasraj’s prose sets you free. Her characters expose their wounds and are proud of them. Her characters love and hate in equal measure. They read Tolstoy and kidnap elephants. They mourn. They celebrate the mundane. Some run away from their husbands, with lion tamers in search of a better life. A storm is coming and there’s inner turmoil, and then the question of sadness.

Anushka Jasraj’s collection of short stories are bewildering, fantastical, ordinary, and always connect with the reader in strange ways. Her writing is as though a hand is reaching out to you and taking you places you’ve only dreamed of. You give in and you’re in for a ride. Her characters tip-toe around life – some waiting for a dead mother’s list to be read, while others are caught between politics and love, with violence always in the distance.

Principles of Prediction is to be savoured at various points of time in the day, with copious amount of cups of tea. There is melancholy tinged with wit. There is the observation of day-to-day coupled living with technicolor dreams. There are men, women, and children caught in relationships that don’t make any sense and here they are, merely living. Read this collection for all of this and more. You won’t regret it.

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

The RevisionersTitle: The Revisioners
Author: Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Publisher: Counterpoint
ISBN: 978-1640094260
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was stunned after reading The Revisioners. I still am. There were times I put down the book because I was scared of turning the page, wondering what will happen to characters I fell in love with, mainly the protagonists. This story is about two African-American women connected by blood, and divided by time. The story moves from 2017 to 1924, and also taking place in 1855. There is a lot going on in the book. It is a tale of generations, legacies, healing, motherhood, racism, prejudice, and old-age traditions.

The book starts in New Orleans in the year 2017, when Ava, a biracial mom and her teenage son King move in with Ava’s white, wealthy grandmother Martha. Ava becomes her caretaker, as she is recently laid off and could do with some money and rent-free accommodation. She does all of this so she can finally buy a place of her own after saving some money. Little does she know what’s in store for her and her son – Martha starts behaving erratically and things start to change.

Josephine, Ava’s ancestor’s story is set in 1924 when she is a free woman with her own plantation and house, alternating in the year 1855 when she was a young slave girl on the Wildwood plantation. Josephine befriends a white, lonely, younger woman Charlotte and an uneasy friendship is formed between the two. Josephine has learned the hard way and strived to find her voice and Charlotte has her own past to deal with. The question then is: Can a black woman and a white woman ever be friends?

The power dynamics between the white and the marginalised black are neatly laid out. Sexton speaks up and makes you realize with every scene and conversation about the privilege, the distance, and the promise and audacity of hope between the white and black women as their paths cross. Sexton’s writing is raw and grabs you from the first page. And might I add that it is not a slave narrative. It is about hope, courage, and how to stand your own ground when it comes to identity and the connections of ancestry. It is about how two black women a century apart experience racism, and how things perhaps haven’t changed all that much. The stories of Ava and Josephine are ground in reality, though sometimes they take on a mythical quality, lending them the magic realism tone.

The Revisioners is a book that is needed. It is needed for people to not only check privilege but also make an effort to reduce gaps, to cross bridges, and examine their relationships with people around them. It is a reminder of blood relationships and also relationships that go beyond blood, and expand into a community, and last forever.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki

Title: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me 
Author: Mariko Tamaki 
Illustrated by Rosemary Valero O-‘Connell 
Publisher: First Second 
ISBN: 978-1626722590
Genre: Graphic Novels, LGBT
Pages: 304 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

Just as the title goes, the book is about Laura Dean, the popular girl at school who keeps breaking up with her girlfriend, Freddy Riley. Well, in a nutshell, this is what the book is about, but there is so much more to it. This graphic novel goes to the heart of teenage dating, sexual orientation, and how does one cope with all of it and more growing up.

This is about a toxic relationship and what it takes to get out of it, or to even understand oneself better while in it or not. Mariko Tamaki does an amazing job of depicting the on and off, and off and on cycle – so amazing that it hits home too hard. At one point, the reader can see themselves in the book, because of course relationships are the same – well almost, and so is the toxicity sometimes that comes with it. At the same time, though the protagonists are teenagers, this book will resonate with readers of any age. We have all been down that road, after all, in one way or the other.

Rosemary Valero O-‘Connell’s illustrations in pink and grey are gentle, grounded in angst and romance. The LGBT cast so to say in the book is diverse, and the plot makes you turn the page faster.  The narrative is sometimes quirky but it all fits in beautifully at the end.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me is about realising your worth in relationships – be it any kind and told with great sensitivity. I wish this book was written when I was younger – basically in my teenage years and needed to know so much more about loving oneself and how sometimes the one you love the most will keep breaking your heart, over and over again. Till you put a stop to it.

The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories by Gayatri Gill

The Day Before Today

Title: The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories
Author: Gayatri Gill
Illustrations: Niyati Singh
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books 
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This had to happen sooner or later. It happened sooner. The Corona virus is still in the air and we have about four to five (maybe more) books already about the virus, stories of people – the privileged and not-so-privileged, stories of lust and liaisons – the list goes on, I think. And in all of this, I bit the bullet and read, “The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories” by Gayatri Gill, illustrated beautifully by Niyati Singh.

“The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories” as the title suggests is a collection of lockdown stories – of people losing their mental faculties, some gaining them, some about the have-nots, and all of them about how our world has changed so drastically, and yet somehow some things still seem the same.

Of children not going to school, of couples bickering and it leading to something more, of mental health issues getting triggered, and taking a life of its own – veering in a direction that could be calamitous – all these stories have the human condition at the heart of them – the condition in times such as these. What happens to people in containment zones, a love story of a ghost, Zoom parties, and in all of this what happens of the essential services workers, Gill lays it all out for the reader in a witty, sharp, and biting manner.

And of course, in such a collection, as you move from story to story it might seem repetitive, but I think even in that, each story emerges as unique and thrilling. Gill’s writing is precise, exercising great brevity, and not using words for the sake of them. Her observations are point-on and make you a part of the story, without realising it. “The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories” is a melancholic goodbye to the time gone by and what’s to come, whatever it might be. It is about the uncertain future, present, and reminiscing about the past – intermingling all of it in this unique collection of stories.