No book is perfect, but I think this one comes close. I hate to start a review with negatives, but it will probably be easiest that way. Aminata DiallNo book is perfect, but I think this one comes close. I hate to start a review with negatives, but it will probably be easiest that way. Aminata Diallo is exceptional, and so is her story. That's the only thing that nagged about the story. Was she too exceptional? Were some of the circumstances just too unbelievable in terms of miraculous good timing and good connections and just plain historically? More uncomfortably, why was it that Aminata's keen mind was always referred to with such incredulity? Why was the spark of intelligence in her eyes so uncommon as to get her different treatment? I can remember only once that a white man in the book does wonder out loud that perhaps with opportunity the other Africans could be just as intelligent as Aminata. It's simply a point that I would have like to have seen more forcefully made.
The thing is, though, Aminata was stolen at age 11 and lived a very long life. It should not need to be said, but slavery was a brutal and vicious system of human oppression. In order for anyone to survive that, it would require exceptional circumstances. Every one who did survive that was uncommon in some way. The sheer numbers of lives extinguished boggles the mind and somehow, it is miraculous that there were not more. So, I am grateful to go Mr. Hill for writing of this particular set of uncommon circumstances in order to illuminate these pivotal but not well known moments of history.
Aminata is the readers's guide through history. She shows us the trek to the coast of Africa, the middle passage, an indigo plantation on South Carolina's Gullah Islands, slavery in the city of Charlestown, the Revolutionary War as experienced by slaves, race relations in Nova Scotia, ex/re-patriotism to Sierra Leone, and the fight for abolition in London. Through all of this, we are shown the pain, love, and even humor of a human life lived in bondage and freedom. Her tragedies become ours and her victories feel sweet.
As suspenseful, tragic, and painful as many of these events were, you don't want to put the book down and abandon Aminata. Her spirit of triumph and courage propel her to freedom and propel us through these pages.
At one point, Aminata muses that while she thought her migrations were extraordinary, the other former slaves she meets while helping with The Book of Negroes have traveled just as far and wide. That was what is so precious about this novel. Yes, she is fiction, but Aminata represents giving a voice to all those people who did live at least parts of her journey. She is a constant reminder to us not to forget the exceptional people who were the victims of slavery. And to always honor our ancestors who survive through us....more
The writing was undeniably beautiful, and the story deeply affecting and heartbreaking. The protagonist's voice is haunting and real. However, it wasThe writing was undeniably beautiful, and the story deeply affecting and heartbreaking. The protagonist's voice is haunting and real. However, it was also frustrating to read through the whole thing wanting to reach into the pages, grab her by the shoulders, shake her, and scream, "stand up for yourself!" ...more
I finished this book because I can't stand not finishing one. The point where I was tempted to end was only about 2 chapters to go- the twist that hapI finished this book because I can't stand not finishing one. The point where I was tempted to end was only about 2 chapters to go- the twist that happens at the point was just too unbelievable and much too over the top. It took away from the powerful subtlety of what Atwood had accomplished thus far. The things that saved it from being one star: Atwood does write some beautiful, multilayered phrases and I think that part of the book just doesn't translate well 30 years after it was written. I get that Atwood was criticizing lots of modern life, and it was a worthy goal. I never really identified with the protagonist, though, even when she was expressing opinions that I fully agree with. Ultimately, I ended up being annoyed by what seemed a whiny victim-hood fixation and preachy condescension, when this book should have been a powerful indictment of the damages caused by society's exploitation of both women and the natural environment....more
This book brought me back to reading after going through years in school where extra curricular books were not an option. I remember being utterly traThis book brought me back to reading after going through years in school where extra curricular books were not an option. I remember being utterly transported and engrossed. The writing is so lovely, yet dark. It was at turns frightening and others exhilarating. This was a great example of how a writer can write about sad things without depressing the reader, while still allowing us to feel so deeply for the characters we are getting to know....more
My only quibble is with the title. Were this called A Short History of (Rich, White) Women, I would probably be giving it 5 stars. That said, I lovedMy only quibble is with the title. Were this called A Short History of (Rich, White) Women, I would probably be giving it 5 stars. That said, I loved the brevity of this book, and the way it signaled to me that Walbert knows she can't answer "The Woman Question," no matter how long the tome. What she does do, is paint deep portraits of multiple women of one family from before the first World War right up to our modern times and facebook. I did feel a connection to these women, despite the demographic differences, and I think that is worth a lot. I just pick at the title for being overbroad in telegraphing itself onto the struggles and triumphs of all women. In truth, though, Walbert does acknowledge the need to include all women in our history, and in the end I appreciate her restraint on not taking on more than she feels competent to tell. This could have been a quick read, but I lingered over it, enjoying the imagery and ideas that played with each other throughout these pages....more
What a pleasantly disturbing little tale. I don't think the point of dystopian fables such as this are to necessarily say to us, "ooh, watch out, or eWhat a pleasantly disturbing little tale. I don't think the point of dystopian fables such as this are to necessarily say to us, "ooh, watch out, or else we all end up here." Rather, I think the point is to get us uncomfortable about how close we already are. Would a democratic populace get to the point where people who are not married with kids or otherwise famous are sent to organ banks where they are experimented on and slowly dismembered for the physical value of their bodies to society? eh, probably not. Or at the least, if the measure did get passed, wouldn't the first wave of organ bankers rise up in revolution and the entire system topple down. One would hope. But, I doubt Holmqvist wants us to believe this system is right around our future corners. As an aside, it is interesting to me the desire to point out the sheer ridiculousness of the dystopian vision. Why? Why are we so convinced this isn't possible? Hasn't humanity done some horrid things to itself?
Rather, I think Holmqvist wants us to question our current priorities and policies and question them thoroughly. Given the woman protagonist, this seems to be specifically centered around some key feminist questions- is equality of gender roles in relationships really what we want? what about that choice to go for self and career over procreation? and working mothers, do we all have to be that? So, yes, it gets uncomfortable. I don't like feeling like anyone is at all hinting that maybe women should be barefoot, pregnant, submissive, and all the things that go along with that. (Interestingly, being set in Sweden? [can't remember, it's a cold, nordic type place:] the most pressing feminist question for me doesn't really rise at all- how women's experiences differ and equalize across our different demographics, particularly race.] But, again, I have a hard time believing that is the point here. Really, let's just take a look back in this third wave of feminism, (are we at fourth yet?) and see what are choices are, what are values are, how does society value family vs. individual, and the roles of men and women within that. Where are our priorities leading us? Can we live with that?
The story itself presents me with the age old question- do we want a happy ending for our protagonists or not. I'm not going to spoil and say which this ends with, but I will say that Holmqvist stayed true to her narrative while simultaneously making me threaten to throw the book out the opening train doors in disgust before during the denouement.
So, yes, it takes a leap of faith. Yes, it gets hairy and uncomfortable as we wonder about the moral being hinted at in these pages. But it feels good to ask new (old?) questions, and this writer leads us gently through the corridors of this humane yet cruel unit....more
This was an enchanting novel, and I am astounded that it is a debut effort. It presented a kaleidoscope of experiences, each one ringing true and striThis was an enchanting novel, and I am astounded that it is a debut effort. It presented a kaleidoscope of experiences, each one ringing true and striking a different emotional color. What was real was the frustration you felt at the characters' shortcomings and the relief you felt at their triumphs. Remarkably, Yunis avoided the saccharine sweet and trite confections of happy endings that I was afraid was coming, but instead gave us something that felt both real (well, maybe a bit stretched for entertainment's sake) and wholesome. This novel left laughing at times, and sitting in contemplative quiet of the gentle ache evoked by the scenes of still tragedy. I can't wait for Yunis to write again....more
A truly beautiful novel. I picked up what I thought was a simple mother/daughter tale and got so much more. It seems as though nothing much happens inA truly beautiful novel. I picked up what I thought was a simple mother/daughter tale and got so much more. It seems as though nothing much happens in 350 or so pages, but a tremendous amount does transpire. Without ostentation or whiz-bang melodrama, we witness the inner workings of tremendously realized and authentic characters. When I say authentic, I mean that I could imagine each of these folks being someone in my office or the coffee shop next door. And in getting to know these characters, there are thoughts and ideas expounded that go so much further than the relationship between one mother and daughter. Everything from colonial legacies, the impact of slavery, intra- and inter- race relations in the US, and some critical insight into the publishing industry's view of writers and communities of color gets dragged into the light here. Nunez has done a fine job, and I would recommend this book highly....more