Since I’ll be traveling to Kenya later this month, I’ve tried to make it priority to read more about the country before I leave. I brought home the thSince I’ll be traveling to Kenya later this month, I’ve tried to make it priority to read more about the country before I leave. I brought home the three nonfiction books on Kenya available at my public library as well as three fictional accounts by white and non-white authors. At the top of that stack was Gatheru’s slim volume on the history of the country from colonization to independence (1888-1970).
The book concludes with the results of the Mau Mau Rebellion (also known as the Mau Mau Uprising or the Kenya Emergency) between members of one African tribe (the Kikuyu), white settlers, and segments of the British Army in Kenya from 1952 to 1956. Roughly 12,000 people were killed in the conflict while another 1,900 native Kenyans and 30+ white European civilians were killed. (Official numbers are still disputed.) Although the rebellion ended in British victory, the conflict officially concluded with the First Lancaster House Conference in January 1960, the establishment of a government reflective of the native Kenyan majority, and the decline of British colonial rule in the country.
I bring up the conclusion of the book not to spoiling the ending, but because the central thesis of Gatheru’s writings is that British colonial policies — the allocation of land, the suppressed wages of the majority black population, the denial of representation or education, the divisions by race and tribal identification — culminated in the Mau Mau uprising. If, like me, you have never heard of the Mau Mau Rebellion, then the book can begin to feel like a running list of grievances rather than the cause-and-effect explanation that Gatheru was hoping to achieve.
Nineteen-year-old Aya lives in working-class city of Yopougon (also known as Yop City) of the Ivory Coast in 1978. Aya's father works for Solibra, a bNineteen-year-old Aya lives in working-class city of Yopougon (also known as Yop City) of the Ivory Coast in 1978. Aya's father works for Solibra, a beer company, and is determined to establish a match between the young son of his boss and his daughter.
As a studious young woman determined to become a doctor, Aya is neither interested in this match nor in the cousin of one of her closest friends. As such, much of the novel is devoted to the antics of Aya's two closest friends, Adjoua and Bintou, who enjoy dancing, sneaking out to the tables in the city center known as the Thousand Star Hotel to meet boys, and generally having a good time.
Focusing on Aya's friends and their lives rather than Aya herself seems like an odd choice given that Aya is the title character, and I'm curious to see if this changes in the subsequent volumes. But certainly focusing on Adjoua and Bintou helped the stress the differences between Aya and her friends. And as someone who grew up in a society where my female friends expected to go to college, get married, and become stay-at-home moms, I certainly connected with Aya and how different she is from her friends. And the street harassment Aya and her friends are subjected to repeatedly? What happens in Yop City also happens in Boston and other cities throughout America.
The color palette Oubrerie used to bring to life Abouet's words beautifully brings to life the warmth of Yop City and the Ivory Coast. While some of the characters appeared rather cartoonist in appearance, I loved how Oubrerie focused on utilizing three colors -- red, yellow and orange, or blue, green, and purple -- for the panels of a certain chapter or page.
The two sections of this novel that should not be missed are the introduction and the glossary at the end. The glossary explains the slang interspersed throughout the story as well as the particular way Ivorian women dress. The discussion on how to roll a tassaba in order to make the men fall at your feet read like a humorous lesson being given by Adjoua and Bintou.
The introduction, which was written by an economist, discusses the setting of the novel -- the Ivory Coast in the 1970s -- and how the country was considered an example of how countries in Africa could develop. The spectacular economic growth the country experienced from the conversion of forests to cropland and from investments from French nationals in the country was dubbed the "Ivorian miracle" and explains why Abouet and Oubrerie's novel does present a version of Africa that does not include lions, child soldiers, and AIDS. It's such a refreshing view, and I am now wondering why this "miracle" was not discussed in my courses on economic development in university. ...more
Subtitled “The Saga of an American Family”, Haley’s book begins in the eighteenth century with the story of Kunta Kinte, a young African male of the MSubtitled “The Saga of an American Family”, Haley’s book begins in the eighteenth century with the story of Kunta Kinte, a young African male of the Mandinka people captured from present-day Gambia and sold into slavery in 1767. The story progresses through the lives of seven generations of Kunta Kinte’s descendants and is largely based upon the stories passed down to Haley by his Grandmother Cynthia, whose father was emancipated from slavery in 1865.
There is some debate whether or not Haley’s book should be shelved as fiction or nonfiction but, regardless of genre, it is clear why this sweeping saga won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1977. The beauty of this story lies in its presentation of people — their emotions, the intimacy of their relationships, the horrors of their situations — and the way these characters are determined to keep their family together in memory when slavery kept them physically separated.
It is difficult to image these characters were singularly created by Haley; they seem to mirror real people in a way not always found in a novel. What happened to the characters may appear to be overused tropes in literature, but the characters themselves are so beautifully written that they transcend this charge.
I listened to the audiobook and so I cannot back this statement up with page numbers, but it felt as though much of the story was focused on Kunta Kinte’s life with his grandson, Chicken George, receiving a fair amount of attention compared to Kunta Kinte’s daughter, Kizzy. It felt very much as though she was the medium between the two man who interested Haley the most, and this feeling as well as the rushed presentation of the connection between Chicken George and the author would be my only complaints about the novel as a whole.
That said, the time spent detailing Kunta Kinte’s life in present-day Gambia — his culture, his family, his traditions — and his adjustment (for lack of a better word) to slavery in the United States contained some of the most emotionally evocative passages in the book. At no time did I feel impassive as I listened to the seemingly indescribable fear and sense of loss Kunta Kinte experienced as he was transported across the ocean in chains, renamed “Toby”, or forced to abandon his religion and his language.
Admittedly, I avoided this book for so long because of its sheer size — 729 pages in paperback — and I am glad I turned to the audiobook, which is a little over thirty hours in length, narrated by Avery Brooks to help me overcome my timidity towards the novel. Brooks’ voice is just lovely — deep, warm, infused with emotion as just the right moment — and his narration added to my love of the characters and the story they reside in....more
Entangled in the political juggernaut of reproductive rights, adoption is championed as a “win-win” compromise to a woman’s right to choice — abortionEntangled in the political juggernaut of reproductive rights, adoption is championed as a “win-win” compromise to a woman’s right to choice — abortion opponents “win” as the woman has not had an abortion, pregnant women “win” because they do not have to raise the fetus in question, and couples struggling with infertility “win” because they can finally become parents. Yet adoption is also entangled with serious moral and ethical dilemmas — as suggested by the subtitle of Joyce’s novel, “Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption” — that are only exacerbated as the demand for adoptable orphans far outpaces supply.
According to Joyce, the demand is rising because evangelical Christians are being encouraged to adopt en masse as a way to both raise up those Christian armies Joyce mentions in her previous book on the quiverfull movement and to answer the charge that anti-choice proponents care only for the fetus rather than the children already in this world. These evangelical Christians often control much of the adoption industry from the “crisis pregnancy centers” that lie to women about their rights to the political lobbying groups advocating for the mass evacuation of children from Haiti following the Port-a-Prince earthquake to adoption agencies operating overseas in countries where hefty adoption fees paid by Western couples provide an economic incentive to increase the “supply” of adoptable children.
“The Western understanding of adoption, as a total transfer of parental rights, is not a universal concept, and in many developing nations the closest analogues are traditional systems of temporary care, in which children stay with family members after a parent dies or are sent to richer acquaintances as a means of furthering their education and prospects. When international adopters come to regions that have only ever experienced these traditional forms of adoption, relinquishing parents often mistake the new adoption process for a chance for their children to get educated abroad and return better able to help the family or as a way for the family to make a connection with potential financials sponsors in the United States.” (pg. 133)
Thus, anyone seeking to adoption — of whatever faith and however well-meaning — is affected by the evangelical adoption movement because the movement shapes the way adoption is perceived, the language used to discuss it, the places where children are adopted from, and the laws governing the process. Rather than focusing on sustainable development or working to keep families in developing countries intact, Europeans, Americans, and Canadians channel their efforts into opening up countries to international adoptions and view themselves as heroic parents saving children from a life in poverty.
Despite its rather suggestive subtitle, I found the novel to be balanced and thought-provoking examination of the adoption industry, mainly those occurring between countries rather than intra-country. Joyce masterfully argues that “Western parents are not so uniquely qualified for parenthood that any untrained couple can take on three or six or ten new adoptees and make the children’s lives better than they had been before” (pg. 28) through a series of case studies amidst a big picture examination of the entire adoption industry. She explains how some parents are not equipped to raise children from another culture who may be traumatized from war, being institutionalized, abuse, or other causes that brought them into adoption and thus “rehome” their adopted children either by finding them another family or returning them to their birth country.
This problem is not tracked by any organization in the United States, but it is the stated reason as to why Russia closed their international adoption program. Other countries like the Ukraine and Rwanda shut down their adoption programs following a string of abuses, mainly children being presented as orphans when they have parents or families willing to care for them. The Ukraine launched a program to encourage domestic adoption and saw the number of international adoptions plummet as a result. The only children remaining within the orphanages were those with birth defects or other special needs that are at the bottom of the adoption “wish list” creating an issue where demand far exceeds supply, although I hate to apply such terms to children.
The only way to increase the supply is to take advantage of uneducated parents, to move onto a newly opened country before regulations can be established, and to advocate for the United States and other governments to remain pro-adoption despite documented abuses and problems. The complexity of these issues are well-research and presented in such a way that I never became lost or bogged down in the intricacies of an international issue. Joyce’s book is, frankly, a terrifyingly sobering read and one I would encourage anyone considering adoption — or, to be honest, anyone who cares about children, period — to read....more
In order to prosecute perpetrators for genocide and crimes against humanity, bodies must be exhumed and their condition as well as the mass graves theIn order to prosecute perpetrators for genocide and crimes against humanity, bodies must be exhumed and their condition as well as the mass graves they are found in must be documented. It is not enough to say people of particular ethnic or religious groups have disappeared and are presumed dead as perpetrators can claim these missing individuals were casualties of war or are undocumented refugees in neighboring lands.
Koff’s memoir recounts her experiences as a twenty-three year old exhuming and identifying bodies for the United Nations International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Rwanda and, later, her five missions with the ICT throughout the former Yugoslavia. The work itself was grueling and difficult, and Koff’s years of schooling and training left her unprepared to deal with the realities of working in worn torn regions under an cumbersome bureaucracy.
The missions lacked the necessary tarps to keep out the rain, which added in decomposition and washed away important evidence, and the guards hired to protect the forensic anthropologists were ineffective when the Congolese military opened fire on people swimming across Lac Kivu mere feet from where Koff and her coworkers were working. The last section of the book focuses less on her work and more on her difficulties with her coworkers and the UN bureaucracy. A clear sign of burnout, although Koff never calls it this, and so the book ends on a less interesting note than the one it began on.
In the United States, where Koff received her training, victims would be identified through dental records or medical procedures performed on their person when they were alive. Of course, in war torn nations like the former Yugoslavia or poorer nations like Rwanda, dental and medical records were not available to aid in identification. Instead, Koff had to rely on clothing to identify people, which can be unreliable as people trade and steal clothing as needed during times of war. In places like Kosovo where the populace was confined to their homes for years, however, the widows and mothers of the genocide victims were able to identify their husbands and sons based on stitching and patches on their clothing.
The sections of the novel detailing the days where Koff would clean these clothes and lay them out for the local populace to come identify carried the most emotional impact. Koff’s distance from her subject matter — necessary in order to do the kind of work she does — would breakdown on these days because she would begin to imagine the skeleton as a person with hopes, dreams, and aspirations (“double vision” as she calls it). At one point, Koff uncovered the body of a young boy with marbles in his pockets. His family was being persecuted for their ethnic background and fleeing for their lives, but this little boy brought his marbles with him because they were an important possession to him. Koff had to leave the grave; I had to set the book down and cry.
Koff ruminates quite a bit on the necessary of emotional distance when doing this kind of work and how she had to fight against “double vision” in order to keep going. Does maintaining such distance leave her cold, heartless, and unable to connect with people? Or does it serve humanity because she is able to do this kind of work? Able to bear witness to the unspeakable crimes committed against these people and be a voice when so many other’s have been silenced? Her introspection on these questions was briefer than I would have liked, but it is clear Koff believes in her work and knows the distance she personally needs to maintain in order to carry out this work. Her story is pretty extraordinary and inspiring. I’m sure if I had read this one back in college, I would have turned the final page and then headed down to the registrar’s office to change my major....more
Orphaned at birth by the death of their mother, an Indian Carmelite nun, and the subsequent disappearance of their father, a British surgeon, Marion aOrphaned at birth by the death of their mother, an Indian Carmelite nun, and the subsequent disappearance of their father, a British surgeon, Marion and Shiva Stone grow up at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, during the overthrow of the emperor. Raised by an Indian obstetrician and an Indian general surgeon along with the Mother Superior of the mission, the twins grow to love medicine and are given a largely idyllic lifestyle until the revolution begins.
Shiva eventually decides not to attend medical school yet still become a pioneer in the surgical correction of vesicovaginal fistulas while Marion throws himself into an intern at an underfunded hospital in the Bronx. The internship was not Marion’s original plan; Marion is forced to leave due to his brother’s betrayal with the woman Marion loves, who positions him as an enemy of the state, but coincidence leads him to finally meet the man who abandoned him at birth.
I attempted to read Verghese’s novel in June 2011, but could not lose myself into the story or follow the prose of the narrator. I set the book aside about 25 percent of the way through intending to abandon the novel for good. Yet the image of conjoined twins separated at birth from each other and their biological parents in Ethiopia during the 1960s never let me, and three years after my first attempt I plucked the audiobook version of the novel off the library shelf and tried for a second time.
Although I was familiar with the beginning of the novel, I still had to adjust to the style of the narration. Marion is an adult reflecting on his life, and he utilized adult prose and medical jargon to explain his thoughts and feelings at every age and stage of his life, including in utero and during a lengthy coma. He narrates events to which he is not privy — namely, how his parents met and Hema’s time in India before his birth — and often interrupts the most emotionally intense moments of the story to provide a back story for a secondary character. That said, I began to lose myself in the story once I grew accustomed to Marion’s use of language and suspended my disbelief that he would not know the details of others’ lives to the degree he presumes.
At the heart of this story exists a critique of the medical system in America and the donations used to keep the mission hospital open as well as an introduction into the history and culture of Ethiopia. During his internship, Marion learns about the differences in the quality of care between “Mecca” hospitals where the wealthy are cared for and hospitals like his own where money is tight and organs are harvested for patients at “Mecca” hospitals. In the days following Marion’s birth, the reader learns about the misguided donation of Bibles and nameplates over antibiotics and medical supplies by religious people in the United States. It is surprisingly easy to follow and understand the medical jargon, which becomes a character in its own right, as the novel progresses.
And throughout the novel, Marion and the reader learn about how Ethiopia was the only country not colonized by the Europeans, how the emperor attempted to thwart a revolution by encouraging infighting amongst the military, how the doctors and the people they serve fine the fine line between advocacy and treason. Verghese does an amazing job of conveying the passion his characters have for their country to the reader, possibly because this aspect of the novel is autobiographical in nature, and understanding this passion and the history of Ethiopia was easily my favorite aspect of the novel.
The narration of the audiobook by Sunil Malhotra was, quite simply, amazing. He manages to maintain a distinct accent for all the characters indicative of where they were born, including a Texas twang for a Baptist visitor to the mission, without the trace of an underlying accent. I know I would not have been able to finish this book without Malhotra’s excellent narration.
My singular uneasiness about the novel — the reason why I’m not shouting praises from the rooftop — is the treatment of Genet, the supposed love of Marion’s life. The child of a married general and the domestic help of the Stone family, Genet struggles to find an identity for herself and a place in a world where she is educated as though she is Marion and Shiva’s sister but treated with disdain for her illegitimacy and, later, her father’s participation in the revolution. Her mother, Rosina, desperately attempts to hold onto Genet’s paternal ancestry allowing her daughter’s face to be cut so Genet will bare the marks of her father’s people over Hema’s objections. Meanwhile, Marion attempts to cast her as the mother of his future children clinging to the idea that they are soulmates with the rights to each other’s virginity.
When Genet has sex for the first time with someone other than Marion, he throws Genet out of his life and Rosina hires a woman to perform genital mutational on her daughter . Marion’s reaction to Genet, particularly during their reunion later in the novel, is difficult to understand or tolerate, and I am terribly troubled by the implication for the reader that Genet caused the ending of the novel....more
Subtitled “Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation”, Khalil provides his first-person insights into the 2011 Egyptian Revolution frSubtitled “Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation”, Khalil provides his first-person insights into the 2011 Egyptian Revolution from his home base of Cairo where he serves as a journalist for an English-language paper in the country. Contrary to what was originally reported in the American news media, the revolution was more than a spontaneous uprising.
The problem was not just Hosni Mubarak but the way his reign turned Egypt into, according to Khalil, a country full of cynical people who believe nothing can change. But small events, particularly the murder of a young man who was seen as everyone’s son by the general public, helped contribute to years of mounting tension brought on by a state that shamelessly abused its authority rigging elections, silencing opposition, and violently attacking its citizens.
Introducing readers to these small events help to foster a better understanding of why the revolution occurred the way it did. Painting a bigger, clear picture of the country suddenly thrust into the spotlight in the American news media would certainly go a long way in helping readers understand the country Khalil is from and covers. In many ways, I felt like I was right there in Tahrir Square with Khalil as he interviewed the participants, as he was mobbed by pro-Mubark protestors.
I can appreciate this insight and wish it had been available as events were unfolding, but I can’t help think this isn’t a definitive account. It relies so much on seeing events as participant that the background as to how Mubark came into power, how he consolidated that power and created the Interior department that terrorized the Egyptian people is fairly glossed over. I found myself reaching the final page and wishing for a more detailed historical analysis, and I guess I will have to wait a few more years for that book to be published. This one, after all, was published in the same year as the revolution....more
Eggers’ novel is actually the biography of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee and member of the Lost Boys of Sudan program. Due to his young ageEggers’ novel is actually the biography of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee and member of the Lost Boys of Sudan program. Due to his young age at some of the story’s more pivotal moments, Deng and Eggers had to pronounce his story a novel. However, as Deng explains in his preface to the book, the book is historically accurate and the events detailed are as he remembers them to be. I wasn’t expecting this novel to be a biography when I picked up the book; I actually thought this “preface” was a part of the narrative until I reached the end of the book and learned more about the Valentine Achak Deng Foundation.
The novel begins with Deng being robbed and assaulted in his own home in the United States. The events and the presence of one of his attackers in his home over a period of time causes Deng to recount the carnage of his life in Sundan, a country where between May 16, 1983 and January 9, 2005 over two and a half million people died of war and war-related causes, over four million were internally displaced in southern Sudan, and two million southern Sudanese took refuge in foreign countries (pg. xiv). The region at the center of this book became an independent state on July 9, 2011 known as the Republic of South Sudan, and the rebel political movement that dominated so much of his life, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) became the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, a political party in South Sudan.
The book continues with Valentino narrating his journey to Ethiopia and Kenya, where he was attacked by armies and wild animals and stricken by hunger, and his life after he is settled in United States through flashbacks. There were moments when I wasn’t sure how much longer I would continue with this chunkster of a book, but I would turn the page and be thrown back – mouth agape – at Deng recounts his life.
Next week, my class on trafficking will be discussing the militarization of refugee camps. I was particularly intrigued by Deng’s time in a refugee camp administered by the United Nations. The divergence of materials to support the SPLA, the script the boys were taught to say and all the insights into the workings of the camp were masterfully explained and I’m excited to discuss this issue in my class next Friday. The politics of the Lost Boys “escape” to America, viewed largely as a “failed experiment” is also a fascinating topic that I hope we will be able to discuss.
At over 500 pages, this book took me awhile to read and there were many moments were I was bogged down by so much information. It’s easy to get lost, and I’m still not completely sure I have the timeline down correctly. Still, there are moments of absolute fascination and I do feel like Eggers and Deng managed to communicate more deeply about the realities of life in Sudan....more
The narration of this novel shifts from third person point of view to the first person point of view of Bolanle to the first person point of view of IThe narration of this novel shifts from third person point of view to the first person point of view of Bolanle to the first person point of view of Iya Tope to third person to first person. Sound confusing? It was. Other than marriage, there really wasn’t much stringing these characters and their narratives together. The voices and characters of Baba Segi and the first three wives left much to be desired. Part of my frustration with the narration stemmed from the fact that their was nothing to make the three other women stand out from one another. There were several chapters where I could not tell who was narrating until the end of the chapter or the character I thought was narrating was not. The only woman who stood out was Bolanle, and I think the story would have worked better had she been the sole narrator.