This book starts off with an interesting mystery and travels through territories of African-American experiences of racism, class stratification, AfriThis book starts off with an interesting mystery and travels through territories of African-American experiences of racism, class stratification, African politics, poverty, law enforcement policies and politics, and international aid industrial complexes. The book offers a slice of the internal workings of an African-American cop in Madison, WI (where the KKK is still active) and his ambivalence about going to Kenya to explore a mystery that his gut indicates is more complicated than the surface appears. Somewhere about midway through the book it turns into a more direct crime thriller with blazing guns, car chases, and surprises in the dark. This is compelling and an entertaining, cinematic read - but what I appreciated more was the beginning with the internal voice of the cop exploring the complex racial and class politics of the US and Africa....more
I liked the movie, and I was surprised at how different - how much more subtle - the book is. This is a wonderful memoir about the power and punishmentI liked the movie, and I was surprised at how different - how much more subtle - the book is. This is a wonderful memoir about the power and punishment of evangelical Christianity. In my circles, it's rare to read the positive truth of belonging and love and worthiness that comes with connection to a like-minded group of people - yet also to read about the struggles and ultimate damage that such belonging can do. In this quiet, lovely book, Carolyn Briggs tells us her life story, unflinchingly and honestly. She describes how the social circumstances of her childhood readied her for the beauty of her new faith, and she builds slowly through a series of moments of truth when her selfhood bumps up against the selfhood imposed from outside. It is painful to read about her marriage - when they were too young to understand what they had taken on - and I found a part of myself wanting to hold her back while I cheered her on toward going to college and discovering herself. The first 3/4 of the book, in which she grows up, joins the church, and begins to question, are rich and revealing. The final chapters, in which she allows herself to question and begin to move on, seem a bit rushed - as if she assumes that this is familiar territory for the reader. I imagine she is right, but I wish she treated her emergence from the church with the same emotional depth and richness as she describes what it felt like to pray in her prayer language, or to attend a healing service in the midst of a difficult pregnancy. There are glimpses - such as when she visits Ireland and tastes a new world of possibility - but it felt almost rushed to the end. I wish I could get more atheists and anti-church people to read this, because in the world I live in now, it is too easy to dismiss evangelical Christianity as primitive or simplistic. Instead, as Carolyn Briggs shows us, it is rich, deep, comforting, and even beautiful even as it can be crushing, punishing, vindictive, and deadening....more
Andrew Lam, one of my favorite writers, has often demonstrated his journalist's ability to see the broad themes in the most particular of situations.Andrew Lam, one of my favorite writers, has often demonstrated his journalist's ability to see the broad themes in the most particular of situations. He is one of the few writers I've read who can articulate the spaces that straddle cultures of all kinds, firmly planted in multiple and conflicting perspectives. This time, he turns to fiction, where he is able to create the people and worlds instead of reporting them to us.
I have said before that in a very small way, I relate to Mr. Lam's writing as a Midwestern transplant on the West coast with my own love-hate relationship with my rural culture of origin and my new urban California life. And I see Lam's themes written broadly in the experiences of my husband's family - political asylees from Kenya. That's the magic of his writing, given an extra dimension in this book by the array of characters he brings to life.
Andrew Lam's characters are most often those who cross lines, usually back and forth several times, and represent the complicated nature of identity, belonging, translation, and memory. His characters have vivid interior landscapes, and as a writer who clearly loves language, Lam's gift is to describe the movements of feelings that can't even be articulated with language. He describes this beautifully in a story about a 7th grader who finds an interior reserve of bravery and brilliance when he is assigned to befriend a recent immigrant who barely speaks English. And again, Lam describes it in the story of a successful, wealthy couple who may or may not have left behind the past when they happen upon an estate sale.
The role of grief and missed opportunities, what is said & unsaid, also threads significantly through the stories. Sometimes the results are expected - in several stories of childhood actions (often motivated by the desire to fit in) that lead to regret - and other times unexpected ways - when a restaurant owner's new customer is the man whom she saw kill her husband in Vietnam. And of course there is family, the complicated knot of expectations and belonging that shift significantly between countries, cultures, and generations. The children, mostly sons, who embarrass their fathers through public disagreement and private rebellion. The formerly wealthy elites of Vietnam who scrape by in their new, bewildering adopted country - or the formerly poor farmers who passed through refugee camps and become successful in their new, bewildering adopted country.
There are a few stories that seem to strike awkwardly against Lam's smooth, rich storytelling style - particularly when he adopts a teenage vernacular - yet there is something even in those stories where you can read between the lines of the awkward tone and see the themes of fitting in, striving for acceptance, and desperately trying to erase differences. Andrew Lam is at his absolute best when he juxtaposes and overlaps worlds in surprising ways: Hunger, The Palmist, and (my favorite) Love Leather.
I am pleased to see Andrew Lam branching out more fully into fiction, and I look forward to more of his writing. Even when he is writing about people who are very different in some ways, you will probably recognize yourself in at least a few of his stories - if you have ever tried to fit in but fell short; if you have ever moved far away from home but found that you couldn't completely loosen the moorings of family; if you have ever felt haunted by something or someone from your past....more
Lately I've taken an interest in the ways that sexuality, gender, and culture are constructed to seem timeless, and this book promises to further my uLately I've taken an interest in the ways that sexuality, gender, and culture are constructed to seem timeless, and this book promises to further my understanding of this. I'm reading it in conjunction with African Sexualities, ed. by Sylvia Tamale, for a really exciting two-part primer in understanding sexuality broadly. This book provides a great overview of the history of a (false) idea and how it serves the people in power - from colonial ethnographers and missionaries to dictators who have inherited many of their values. It also provides a nice education on post-colonial studies and queer studies - following how colonialism affected interpersonal and internal self-understandings, and how sexuality is culturally understood. The author has sifted through a lot of material, both current and historical, and come up with a convincing argument to avoid being blinded by unquestioned ideology and to consider sexuality differently....more
This book came along at the right time. Rather than proposing a template to follow to "fix" people who wade into any kind of difficult work that can lThis book came along at the right time. Rather than proposing a template to follow to "fix" people who wade into any kind of difficult work that can leave you feeling hopeless, the authors provide a meditation on the personal stories, life experiences, and broad themes of those working with trauma.
I like the mix of personal anecdotes, interviews, cartoons, and exploration of spirituality, and the format lends itself to being a workbook rather than a read-and-think-about book. The author is able to hold compelling honesty, urgency, and commitment to justice while maintaining a nurturing tone. She encourages compassion and tenderness without looking away from the underbelly of trauma work that comes from burnout, fatigue, and messiah complex. I have already given a copy to a friend who is a kindergarten teacher for kids with difficult home lives....more
I was privileged to hear Dr. Tamale speak about sexuality and gender rights, and I am excited to jump into this book. It holds the line, mostly, to beI was privileged to hear Dr. Tamale speak about sexuality and gender rights, and I am excited to jump into this book. It holds the line, mostly, to being accessible to non-academic folks, while remaining honest about the complexities of the subjects it discusses....more
Reading this book is a real privilege. As a white guy, I don't get much of a chance to hear conversations about what it means to be Black. This book hReading this book is a real privilege. As a white guy, I don't get much of a chance to hear conversations about what it means to be Black. This book highlights many brilliant and amazing people from across the spectrum of arts, politics, religion, cultural theory, academia, music, sports, etc., celebrating the way that racism and white supremacy has affected Black identity, and the ways that Black people respond creatively. I really appreciate Toure's frank exploration of the complications of today's racial dynamics - for example, that the struggle is no longer clearly defined by racist laws, but by cultural attitudes that may have deeper effects on Black identity but are more difficult to guard against....more
This is an interesting story that touches on a specific time and culture of gay history. It touched a few raw nerves for me, because my family was inThis is an interesting story that touches on a specific time and culture of gay history. It touched a few raw nerves for me, because my family was in a similar situation. The story is well told, somehow a little magical, yet emotionally true. I can imagine this was quite challenging when it was published, and it's exciting that such a great story-teller was brave enough to tell it. There is a story-within-a-story about the Maori gay man who chose to go back into a heterosexual marriage in order to preserve his role in his community, and I hope someday that will be told in a full-length novel....more
I read this for work, and it provides an intriguing theory about the effects of shame on gay men. While the childhood stuff about fathers, etc. may riI read this for work, and it provides an intriguing theory about the effects of shame on gay men. While the childhood stuff about fathers, etc. may ring true for a specific number of gay men who grew up in a specific culture-and-time period, I think the author's description of the ways that we internalize and run from shame is a great template for considering a pathway toward more authentic way of life. I'm using it as part of training the interns I work with. What I'd love to know is how much this also applies to lesbian women....more
This is a great book - engaging, readable, informative, and even-handed in its discussion of how Western mental health professionals and drug companieThis is a great book - engaging, readable, informative, and even-handed in its discussion of how Western mental health professionals and drug companies engage in cultural colonialism. While this happens often under the guise of helping, the author exposes some of the underlying assumptions that cause well-meaning (and occasionally crassly capitalist) people to trample other ways of viewing selfhood and mental health. In comparing mental health diversity to biodiversity, the author strives not to condemn Western points of view, but rather to improve sensitivity and consciousness around the cultural diversity that is fast-disappearing in the world, under pressure of globalization, commercialism, and mistaken notions of evolution and advancement. To me, there are a lot of comparisons to be made here in the activities of Christian missionaries who exported religion without regard for the impact of the message, nor the often unintended results. It makes the case for cultural humility by showing how much human experience of selfhood, grouphood, and mental illness varies across cultures and time....more
Despite the cover (which looks like it's about Left Behind / Christian Armageddon), this guide leads you through Andrew Harvey's vision for a world trDespite the cover (which looks like it's about Left Behind / Christian Armageddon), this guide leads you through Andrew Harvey's vision for a world transformed by spirituality in action - internally and externally. He raises alarms about the state of the world - ecologically, economically, emotionally, culturally, and all - and then critiques the way that spirituality often neglects outward/global action and the way activist movements often neglect the spiritual dimensions of changing the world. Drawing on (and translating) ancient wisdom from a variety of spiritual strands, the author proposes a step-by-step model for activating the spiritual fire and faith that sustains social change and for turning on the spigot of action that arises from sustained spirituality that engages the world. He also draws significantly on his own experience (often the difficult sides of his own journey in spirituality and activism) and the stories of others (famous and neglected) who inspire him. I hope to see more of this in the future, and I am inspired to make small steps on my own toward this goal: I am trying to start a spirituality group for people working in social services (Oakland, CA). Join me!...more
Wow. An honest, heart-felt, wrenching story about AIDS in the country. I couldn't help but imagine my own Midwestern hometown in this story of an "outWow. An honest, heart-felt, wrenching story about AIDS in the country. I couldn't help but imagine my own Midwestern hometown in this story of an "outsider" doctor who follows his heart and his medical interest to work with people living with HIV/AIDS. He grapples honestly with the stimga, shame, and equivocation that comes in working with such a devastating disease at a time when little was known and even less could be done to halt its progression. Dr. Verghese's strengths are in remembering the details that made his adopted home and community so distinctive - and in honestly confronting the negative impacts and ugly misperceptions within himself. Despite many times when I cried while reading this book, it is uplifting to know that despite the terrible effects of AIDS, especially among gay/bi men and their families, there was someone out there caring for them, even in this little "corner" where people thought they would remain unaffected....more