Tag Archives: African American

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

The Source of Self-Regard Title: The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525521037
Genre: Literary Speeches, Anthologies
Pages: 386
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Toni Morrison’s collection of essays don’t follow a timeline, neither it is linear, nor it is set in an order to make it easy for the reader. At first glance, it might even seem just a random collection of essays, speeches and meditations put together, however, it isn’t that. The book, “The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations” is actually a book that speaks directly to the contemporary reader, and hence the order of essays. It goes headlong into speaking about issues at hand and whoelse better to address and them and show us the mirror than the queen herself, Ms. Morrison.

The book is divided into two parts, with an interlude. The first part is titled, “The Foreigner’s Home”, the second, “God’s Language” and in-between is the interlude aptly titled, “Black Matter(s)”. This is the structure of the book – it is Ms. Morrison’s essays, speeches, and meditations on living, race, gender, language, and the current role of politics in America and in effect its relation to the world. It is also about the duty of the press and media and what is the role of the artist in all of this. As a reader, please be prepared to face harsh realities, question the world around you and ponder over issues you never thought of earlier.

Morrison doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. The candour is not just for the sake of it. This collection is deeply personal as well. From why she became a writer (Faulkner and Women) to her thoughts on Beloved. At the same time, this collection as every reader will know is about race and what it means to be black in America, not only today but for decades and centuries and how have that played out for the black person.

Toni Morrison writes with such elegance and dignity that you get caught up in her words, and then focus on the ideas, going back to the power of her prose. The interlude piece on Martin Luther King Jr. is not only searching but also mirrors the contemporary times. In the essay, Voyagers to the West, she speaks of the Scottish pioneer William Dunbar, and how he managed to build a fortune trading slave, and how ironically his achievements are extoled till date. This is the kind of voice Morrison is all about – she knows exactly when to make the impact felt through her words and how deep.

Morrison also speaks of writers and how they impact the mindset of readers. She speaks of how jazz brought American blacks a different kind of legitimacy. She also talks about why American and English writers could not speak for people of colour, hence the onus was only on black writers to do that. Literature then took a different form altogether, and its voice wasn’t restricted in a way is what I could make out of it. In her most poignant tribute to James Baldwin, the eulogy she delivered at Baldwin’s funeral on December 8, 1987, she honours his literature, his voice, and how he used language so tenderly. Morrison’s heart is almost laid bare in this – this tribute of sorts to a dear friend. It is almost as if you start becoming her friend, piece by piece.

“Jimmy, there is too much to think about you, and much too much to feel,” she begins. “The difficulty is your life refuses summation—it always did—and invites contemplation instead. Like many of us left here, I thought I knew you. Now I discover that, in your company, it is myself I know. That is the astonishing gift of your art and your friendship: You gave us ourselves to think about, to cherish.”

Toni Morrison’s writing is not only simple, but elegant to the bone. It is as though you are speaking with a friend, an elder, a teacher of sorts who is telling you about life and its ways. Throughout the book, Morrison speaks of the personal and the political and how they are intertwined. The first section, The Foreigner’s Home deals not only with race, but also with the question: What is Home? Where do you find it? What does it mean? At the same time, the section has essays wide ranging from “Literature and Public Life” and also her Nobel lecture.

The third section of the book is my most favourite – the one where she speaks of language, authors, and the power of words. The essay on Beloved – how she came to write it and what it means to her, almost made me cry. Toni Morrison’s commentary on her own work – The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Beloved, and Paradise are honest, and she understands the time and space she wrote them in and how they might be read differently today.

Morrison’s works – fiction and nonfiction are always relatable. One doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but the heart of the matter is the writing – from conception of plot to the way her sentences are constructed, every step is well-thought of and crafted.

I am convinced that there is nothing Ms. Morrison cannot write about. It is almost as if she has to just enter the space and something extraordinary emerges out of her pen. Her voice we all know is unique and original, but that’s not what makes an impact. I think it is the emotional intensity attached to it that makes all the difference, every single time.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations as a collection of essays couldn’t have been compiled and published at a better time. We inhabit a world where people are extremely conflicted about issues of race, language, colour, and above all what entails to be human. I also would strongly recommend this book to every person who wants to understand home, race, the black person’s struggle, the place of literature in the world, and how it impacts us all. The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations is illuminating, thought-provoking, and above all every piece has just been written from the heart.

 

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March:​ Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Art by Nate Powell

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell Title: March:​ Book One
Authors: John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Art by Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
ISBN: 978-1603093002
Genre: Graphic Novels, Biographies and History Graphic Novels, African-American and Black
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

History is shameful. Events occurred that shouldn’t have. Things happened that shouldn’t have in a million years. People lost lives. History for the most part is cruel and perhaps (for sure I think) we need constant reminders of what it was like, so we do not make the same mistakes. And, yet we continue to make them, as though they never happened, or we never learned from them. Part of this is the unjust trials and tribulations forced upon Black Americans by White Americans in a time not so long ago. “March: Book One” is a graphic memoir of United States Congressmen John Lewis. It also goes beyond being just a memoir. It becomes an account of “The United States Civil Rights Movement” as seen through the lens of John Lewis.

“March: Book One” is the first part of a trilogy of the events that unfolded in the life of John Lewis – who was born in Alabama, from childhood to facing segregation every step of life, to his very humble family beginnings to how he so desperately wanted to study, and he did to eventually his fight for basic human rights not given to Blacks due to racial discrimination. He is of course in the present-time, a Congressman, but the journey to there hasn’t been easy and “March” documents that through three volumes intermingling it very closely with racial biases and American History.

I also think that “March” isn’t just about America or one man. It is about what is going on around the world – in terms of collective injustice and discrimination. Because this is the truth – John’s story that is, you somehow feel anger and empathy hundred times over. His interactions with Dr. Martin Luther King were to me the highlight of the graphic memoir. Powell’s illustrations therefore are enchanting – taking us through every interaction, idea, indicating the tension filled atmosphere with some brilliant brushstrokes, when it comes to marches and travelling between past and present. Also, for those who haven’t read ant graphic memoir before, this is a perfect entry into that genre.

“March: Book One” should be read by all – irrespective of what race, caste or colour you are bracketed under. The attempt is to document injustices, and lives of people who lived through those times and to ensure that the mistakes made as I said earlier, should not be made again and this to my mind fits for every country in the world.

P.S: I cannot wait to pick up the second and third volumes.

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Amazon: https://amzn.to/2ora8EC

 

 

 

 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

the-underground-railroad-by-colson-whitehead Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Fleet Books, Hachette
ISBN: 978-0708898390
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love the choices made by Oprah for her book club. She does a brilliant job of it. I also think that single-handedly she has had a huge role to play in getting America to read. I remember it was 2000 or something like that I when I was first introduced to her book club. Internet was in the very nascent stages in India and we had Star Plus though (it had not become Star World yet I think) and there was the Oprah Winfrey Show that would air every morning at 6 am and I would watch it religiously. That is when I was introduced to her book club and since then I have been a fan. From what is been told, Oprah actually got the publishers of this selection to sort of push the date of publishing right back so she could announce it on her network. I am mighty impressed and she is one of the few people who can pull this off.

The latest book (not Love, Warrior) that I have read from the stable is “The Underground Railroad” and I must say that I was mesmerized by this book. I have not read any other work of Colson Whitehead and always wanted to start with Sag Harbor but I am glad that it was this book that started it for me. “The Underground Railroad” is brutal. It is fictitious but I am sure that most of it has happened – and perhaps it is easy to talk about suffering in fiction than it is in the form of a memoir or biography. I honestly believe in this. I think that when you speak of human redemption, suffering or something that is so heartbreaking, fiction will get more people to connect to it.
So what is the book all about? Why am I raving about it?

The book is the story of Cora, the young runaway slave from Georgia. It is also about Caesar and how they both flee the Randall plantation and head north via an actual underground railroad. The story is set in 1812 and must I say that this book is not for the weak-hearted. There is a lot of violence and emotional torture but it had to be told because there is no escaping it. You cannot and must not sugar-coat sorrow. So Cora and Caesar are on the run and while that happens, Cora manages to kill a white boy who tries to capture her. From there on they are hunted endlessly and how they manage to do what they want to makes for the rest of the story.

Colson’s writing reminds me of Morrison. There are passages and sentences that will leave you breathless and you will reach out for that glass of water. It will happen. You will get angry because slavery is just not what should ever exist. You will also cheer for Cora and for some people she meets along the way. You will mainly hoot for the perseverance and courage of the protagonist and want to change things in your life. “The Underground Railroad” is not just a book about slavery, it is also a book about humanity and how there is always a way out. A must read this year and it will not disappoint you at all.

Nejma by Nayyirah Waheed

Nejma by Nayyirah Waheed Title: Nejma
Author: Nayyirah Waheed
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN: 978-1494493325
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 178
Source: Kindle Unlimited Library
Rating: 4 Stars

Another glorious read by Nayyirah Waheed and she manages to strike yet another chord with me. I mean one book after the other and I just want to lap and take everything she has to offer. Her words are deliciously bitter, lonely and angst-ridden. All they want is an audience – ears that will take it all in and reflect. Souls that will be moved and perhaps prompted to do something about the atrocities of the world.

“Nejma” by Nayyirah Waheed is a poetry collection which is kinda overlooked in the shadow of “salt” but you will definitely not be disappointed when you give this one a go. The poems come from a place of suffering, of introspection and then they sweep you to places of the heart and mind that you never thought you’d venture.

Waheed’s writing is so lucid that it seeps into your soul and I am not even exaggerating about this. I think every poem was so different and unique that it had me wondering – that she can go on and on and on and I would love to turn the pages and soak it all in. The poems are structured again like they were in “salt” – the poem, followed by a word – so it seems that the poem describes the word – which it really does.

“Nejma” is a collection of poems that range from the extremely angry to the tiredly gracious to the most subtle that breaks your heart – over and over again. Might I also add that it is because of independent publishers such as Create Space, we get to read these gems. The poetry that sticks is the kind you always go back to – reliving those words and wanting more. Three cheers to them and to the power of words that keep us alive – day by day.

Book Review: The Street Sweeper by Elliot Pearlman

Title: The Street Sweeper
Author: Elliot Pearlman
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0-571-23684-8
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 554
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Street Sweeper is one of those books that you cannot stop thinking about once you have finished reading it. Elliot Pearlman has done it again and you cannot help but wonder how. He mixes emotion with brutality in a manner that according to me very few authors manage to. It is not easy to do that, to sometimes cut the tension and then get the reader back on track. Having said that, the book The Street Sweeper is a tour de force which I will recommend to everyone even before starting with the review.

The Street Sweeper just makes you see things differently. It makes you realize that how closely inter-connected life is and what its mysteries are. The story is a bit of a task to get into, however once you have, then you do not want it to end. The book is multilayered to a large extent and that is one this is also not a one-time sit-down read.

The book deals with the American struggle for Civil Rights on one side and on the other it deals with the Holocaust. Lamont Williams, an ex-con African American is trying to live his life all over again, after being at the wrong place in the wrong time. He gets a job at a hospital as a janitor and befriends a cancer patient who is also a World War II survivor. Through the patient he learns about the horrors of the war, the Holocaust, the camps and the Nazis. The other spectrum of the tale is about Adam Zignelik who is a Columbian historian whose career and relationships are falling apart. Adam on the other hand is pursuing a research topic of African Americans being a part of the concentration camp, and this is where the two stories merge.

The book is very well written and magnificent in its approach. Elliot Pearlman is empathetic, however does not allow his writing to get sentimental, which is the best approach when writing such a story. The human sense of the book shines in its pages. The unique rhythm of the book and its voice is what keeps the reader going wanting to know more and more as the story progresses. The questions of Holocaust and the Civil Movement are brilliantly answered, without complicating anything.

A lot has been written about both these events; however this book is one of its kind that combines the two seamlessly. While memory is at the core of the book, there is also love, loss, longing and the fact that at the end of it all, we are all humans no matter what. The book is splendidly written, keeping the facts in mind and suiting the reader’s taste as well. I highly recommend this one.