Book Review: An Untamed State-Roxane Gay

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Fear. What will it do to you when you are pushed to your limit?  Will you grow, will you shrink? Do you become more of the human you were meant to be, or do you retreat into yourself? Fear tests the best of us; when we’re not looking, its unveiled face reveals its truth. Roxane Gay is no stranger to gritty writing. When she created this story of a women dealing with the mass of fear, her pages turned quickly from a literary novel into an almost real-to-life first hand account of the brutality of fear and all its monsters.  If you know Roxane Gay’s writing, then you know that she can encompass many things in her writing at once This book is layered, texturized, has dimensions. It’s so much more then what is written on the page. There is only one way to read this book: with a deep inhale of breath.

Mireille Duval-Jameson didn’t think her life would change so drastically. She is young, successful, a wife, a mother, and daughter to a rich Haitian father who owns most of the construction industry in Haiti. As an American born to Haitian immigrants she learned to love her land of Haiti and appreciate the beauty it had to offer. However, the very land that made her, betrayed her as she is kidnapped from her family and held at a high ransom. The brutality, the torture she endures for thirteen days is incomprehensible. Mireille loses all sense of who she is as fear and lost hope swallow her whole. Roxane recounts the gruesome details and makes the reader feel Mireille’s pain. A love story webs throughout the novel as we also see the depth of her and her husband’s, Michael, love for one another.  The crimes that are committed against a woman and her body are not sugar coated or glossed over. Gay makes sure we understand the severity of what is happening, not only physically but mentally. If fear were a thick blanket, this novel would be buried in it.

There is so much about this book that makes it incredible. When I finally finished it, I shivered all over, engulfed in both anger and anguish for Mireille’s life. This book isn’t just about a kidnapping, and Gay challenges the reader to look beyond that. Her writing is absolutely riveting, I was hooked on page 1. Roxane Gay wants you to feel every hit and stab and prod that Mireille and women face when brutalized. The author depicts the psychological aftermath of kidnapping quite well too. It was raw and painful when we see the damage that is created inside Mireille. Amidst the grit and grime, there is a sweetness when the dynamic of a loving husband is intertwined between the chains of sadism. Even then, the fear and damage that is brought upon by men leaves the protagonist and maybe even you, the reader, to question women’s trust with men. Sexual abuse is real and happens everywhere, not just in Haiti. On character development alone, Gay deserves all the praise. The dynamics and relationships between the people are amazing, even the most inhumane characters.  I would highly recommended this book, but it is absolutely an adult book with a lot of mature subjects that are hard to handle. This book can’t help but be seared into your brain, so before you read it, just be prepared to feel everything.

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Book Review: The Color Purple-Alice Walker

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Many things come to mind when you think of The Color Purple. Some may think of the film, the famous lines the book has produced, the characters, the relationship between two sisters. Whatever it may be, The Color Purple has left you with some sort of impact. With this month being all about black history, what better way to ring it in with Alice Walker’s most notable novel. Walker’s book had created waves in many platforms and will forever remain a classic read among our bookshelves. She takes the relationships of black African American families, places them in a time that is post slavery yet pre-integration, and awakens the voices that are often unheard. This story is inspiring as a particular woman named Celie discovers her value, her independence, and religious freedom. Walker doesn’t stray from highlighting the paramount issues black women faced during this time. As a way to express an enlightenment of women and of sexuality, Walker writes in way that defines being a “womanist.” The Color Purple without a doubt strikes many cords and resonates deep within.

“Dear God,” Celie writes. The book is divided into letters that are between two sisters, Celie and Nellie. Most of the letters are written from Celie’s point of view.  Celie is a poor black women living the in the South; Georgia to be exact. Celie faces oppression and abuse from her father, husband, and the many people around her. Her only hope is in her younger sister, Nellie.  When Celie is forced to marry and her sister forced to abandon her, Celie loses all faith in men and women alike. Throughout the letters, we see Celie living a life of servitude and Nellie dedicated to missionary work in Africa. Walker explores the time lapse between the two sisters as they both face life’s adversaries. Throughout the novel, we can see the transformation  that takes places in Celie as she is introduced to a woman named Shug-a strong, and outspoken singer and performer. All throughout Celie’s life, she is referred to as ugly, poor, stupid, and many other lowly names. As the novel moves forward, we see Celie’s transformation and recognition of herself and rejection of the patriarchal system.   The Color Purple is a story that harbors love, death, being black, and being a woman. Alice Walker created a masterpiece as well as a think piece for all those seeking answers from God, nature, or whatever we worship.

Writing a review about this novel is not easy. Mainly because despite some of the contemptible characters and muddled plot lines, this novel is a classic and a stand alone novel. I love how Walker writes in dialect, making the time and setting more authentic.  Her writing and language are gritty, holding no bars. Walker is unapologetic and makes no excuses. This explores so many avenues about race, religion, and gender. It’s liberal and guttural, planting its feet beneath your ribs. It’s not a difficult read, however the subject matter is weighty. At times, the plot completely lost me and dragged on, but it echoes the time lost between the two sisters. I’m happy I decided to pick up the novel after so many years of hearing about the literary and cultural phenomenon. The Color Purple is a classic that will forever be cherished as one of the many great African American novels.

 

 

Black History Month Reading

Happy Black History Month! This time of year always inspires me to increase my reading selection to include more people of color (which surprisingly I already do).  I love going to bookstores and libraries and seeing their selection for Black History Month.  Although I firmly believe learning about black history shouldn’t be limited to just one month, February is a time to celebrate all of the accomplishments and progress the black community has made. Diversifying your reading is extremely important as it widens your mind and reading horizons. Also there are some incredible books out there that are written by people color that are overlooked all the time! Schools, libraries, and bookstores are starting to include more of a deeper reading selection of black authors. This is a time to celebrate and learn about black people from all over the world and I encourage all of you to participate. Black lives matter in ALL platforms and that includes your reading. I’m not saying you have to pick up Roots, but push yourself to learn about the history and advancement of black people. This world is diverse, so your reading should reflect our multicultural world. If you aren’t well versed in black history, don’t fear! I’ve included some great books that are written by people of color. Enjoy this time to diversify your reading and learn more about the community around you! Here are my picks:

  1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley-Malcolm X, Alex Haley51EtMw-KbmL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
  2. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness-Michelle Alexander

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3. Between the World and Me-Ta-Nehisi Coates

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4. Their Eyes Were Watching God-Zora Neale Hurston

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5. Beloved-Toni Morrison

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6. Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America-Andrea Davis Pinkney

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7. I, Too, Am America– Langston Hughes

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8.  Through My Eyes-Ruby Bridges

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9. Women, Race and Class-Angela Y. Davis

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10.  Assasta-An Autobiography-Assasta Shakur

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Of course the reading material is limitless of black authors and story, so make sure you continue to do your research! Enjoy the selection and Happy Black History Month! What’re some of your favorite reads for the month?

Book Review: Norwegian Wood-Haruki Murakami

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What do you get when you mix melancholy steeped in alcohol, sex, and a large dose of sadness? If you’re thinking a Friday night gone wrong, then you’re partly right. Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood swept the best seller’s list in Japan and is now an international sensation. Murakami is known for his unique writing, targeting a certain emotion in all of us. This one was my first Murakami read (shocking I know) and I have to say, my head still feels like I came out of a lingering hangover. As I write this review, I feel impelled to take a swig of whatever drink is next me, put on shaded glasses, and pound out my feels on a typewriter (all for dramatics of course). Settling for my laptop keyboard instead, shall we dive into the caliginous pool that is Norwegian Wood?

The quiet and pensive Toru Watanabe is a young college student who begins his life at the doorstep of his dorm in Tokyo. Shouldering an already harboring sadness over the death of his best friend Kizuki, and a blossoming love for his dead best friend’s girl friend Naoko, Toru is left to retreat into the caverns of his own mind.  The book spins and wheels through his relationships, both sexual and platonic, as his adolescence grows into a peaking adult. Set in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, we see the times reflected in the characters as Murakami includes riots, sexual exploration and liberation, and political craftiness. Toru’s love for Naoko is prevalent throughout the entire novel; it is when our protagonist meets the eccentric Midori that the heaviness that lies inside him form into an even deeper emotion. The “manic pixie” girl Midori plays her role exactly as labeled. She is liberal, outspoken, emotionally sporadic and lovable by the quiet Toru. Norwegian Wood explores many elements of sadness, death, depression, and sex. However, it does it in a way that is melodic and slow, processing it one bite at a time. Murakami takes his time with the novel, savoring each emotion and character.

My feelings still stands as stated above: this book feels like a hangover. I know there are many fans of Murakmi out there, and perhaps I should give his other novels a go, but Norwegian Wood wasn’t a favorite for me. Maybe because everything was processed so slow in this novel, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. The characters were so-so and sometimes I couldn’t stand them. It was a good read, just not a favorite. It took me a bit to get into, but once I did, I enjoyed it a little more. I wasn’t “wowed” and it wasn’t as sad as many thought. Call me stone cold, but that’s just the way I felt about it. I do like the questions Murakami brings up about death and life itself. One particular quote is my favorite: “You try too hard to make life it your way of doings things…So stop what you’re doing this minute and get happy. Work at making yourself happy!” The novel really speaks for living your life and pursuing the things that make you happy-not wading in fear or sadness. Although it wasn’t a favorite for me, there are elements to the novel that were really enjoyable.  I do like the author’s writing style, and he has some intriguing prose in the mix. This one gets three stars from me. I’m curious to explore some more Murakami! Any recommendations?