Literary Fiction by People of Color discussion

Time of the Locust
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message 1: by Michael (last edited Jul 31, 2014 08:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Michael | 432 comments Hello everyone! Columbus has asked me to be the guest discussion leader for our August reading of Time of the Locust by Morowa Yejide. So here we go!

If you've been watching the Member Writings/Book Readings threads, you'll know that this month's selection is the debut novel of one of our very own group members, Morowa Yejide (pronounced: Moe-roe-wah Yay-gee-day). Very exciting! Time of the Locust was a 2012 finalist for the national PEN/Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction, and the author is also the recipient of the Norris Church Mailer Scholarship from Wilkes University.

Lucky for us, not only is Ms. Yejide a group member, she has also agreed to participate in a group Q&A about her book later in the month! Wow! I will come back with more details as the date approaches (hopefully on August 24th).

If you visit Morowa Yejide's webpage you can find some snippets of some very exciting reviews, links to a Home Slice Magazine interview and an Akashic interview, and links to some articles about subject matter relevant to the book.

I found a nice review at At The Inkwell - beware: I'm 15% through the book and the review had some spoilers for me. The review page includes a video of the author reading an excerpt from the book. According to the interview, it took a long time for Ms. Yejide to find a publisher for the book, despite its winning accolades as early as 2011. So congratulations on being published!

So...who has started, finished, still reading or waiting on a copy? It wasn't at my local library so I went ahead and purchased a copy in ebook format. Is everyone able to find a copy of the book?


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I have read it and loved it - there's a lot to discuss here!


message 3: by jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

jo | 1031 comments hi michael. i have a copy and will start reading in a few days!


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
Michael wrote: "Hello everyone! Columbus has asked me to be the guest discussion leader for our August reading of Time of the Locust by Morowa Yejide. So here we go!

If you've b..."


Thanks for the info.
I will look at the reviews/information once I have read the book as I like to get my own impressions first then see how it compares to others/author.

Of course sometimes I do peek at the info - if I am not quite understanding the book.

Glad the author can join us.

I have read quite a few of the PEN/Bellwether Prize winners and have been curious about those who were finalists and if they were able to get their stories published.


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
I have the book (from library) and should be able to start reading tonight.


Hope (ebonyreader) | 9 comments I just finished the book this week. Great read.


Rebecca | 386 comments Wonderful. Michael always does a great job. I downloaded the book for my kindle. I should be able to start tonight.


Michael | 432 comments Great to hear so many people reading/have read it! (Thanks, Rebecca, I will do my best!)

Beverly, interesting comment about the PEN/Bellwether finalists. I was unfamiliar with how the prize worked and am reading about it now on the PEN website. Sounds like a great process for supporting unpublished works, and also would make a great reading list!


Sarah Weathersby (saraphen) | 261 comments I started reading yesterday.


message 10: by Jean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jean | 140 comments Ordered mine, hope to get started next week.


Michael | 432 comments Glad to have you, Sarah and Jean!

I noticed that the book is divided into three sections of basically equal length, which makes my job easier! As some people are just starting, maybe we can discuss Part 1 on August 7, Part 2 on August 14, and the whole thing on August 21. Feel free to propose other ideas if you have an alternative you think would work better.

As I mentioned, Ms. Yejide has accepted my invitation to do an author Question & Answer, and we are thinking that would be on August 24. For the Q&A, I think a separate thread would work best, and folks could post questions there starting August 17, which she could then answer as time permits on the 24th. Again, let me know if you have alternatives or friendly amendments to that idea.

Until then, maybe we can post first impressions (with no spoilers) of Time of the Locust? Also, I know Morowa Yejide has written a number of short stories, has anyone read any of those and care to comment or recommend?


Louise | 138 comments Interesting that she has written short stories; I didn't know that. I may be in the minority here, but this novel didn't work for me. She is a fine writer to be sure, but the development of the novel was weak. She goes into detail on the background of various characters who play a very minor role and nothing ever happens with these characters. She was introducing them as a build up (or so I thought) for the story, but then fails to deliver. I can see how she might be a very strong short story writer though and I will definitely seek those out.


message 13: by Wilhelmina (last edited Aug 02, 2014 07:48PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments A review of this book by J. Michael Lennon that I read on Amazon said that this book examined "seven kinds of imprisonment—autism, gluttony, self-hate, inanition, racism, vengefulness, and ...incarceration." For me, the minor characters were not a build-up to a climax, but showed the layers upon layers of imprisonment in which the characters find themselves. Imprisonment, the great - even magical - power of love, and the generational cost of standing up to oppression were the themes that captured me.

Her short fiction can be found on her website: http://www.morowayejide.com/short_sto...


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I'm wondering how others feel about magical realism in novels in general. For me, it's something that has to be done very well and in small doses.


Louise | 138 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "For me, the minor characters were not a build-up to a climax, but showed the layers upon layers of imprisonment in which the characters find themselves. "

Good point but I think that would work better in a short story. I don't know. I just kept waiting for something to happen with these characters whom I had invested some time in, so that when I reached the end I was disappointed. It felt like the novel wasn't finished.

Thanks for the link! I did enjoy her writing.


George | 759 comments back in the US. ordered mine yesterday. should be in by mid-week.


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
I am on page 61 - almost at the end of Part One.

My initial thoughts at this point are:
Dark, compelling, thought-provoking


Michael | 432 comments Glad to have you whenever you are able to join, George and Sara!


Michael | 432 comments Beverly wrote: "I am on page 61 - almost at the end of Part One.

My initial thoughts at this point are:
Dark, compelling, thought-provoking"


Good words, Beverly! I would add fascinating and layered. Maybe fascinating is the same as compelling, but I pick that word for Sephiri, whose inner world fascinates me and I find myself wishing for more pages from his perspective.

"Layered" applies to all the characters, and may address Louise and Mina's comments; I am enjoying going down the twisty passages that are their lives/choices/neuroses, not sure I am seeking a payoff or not, I'll judge my reaction at the end.

Don't want to go into too much spoiler territory - at the end of Part One it is not even clear this book has magical realism in it, though there are hints. But I agree with your thought in general, Wilhelmina; I like the idea of magical elements being subtle metaphors, and Ms. Yejide seems to be using a lot of things as metaphors in this one already (fat, for example) so anything magical would fit right in if it was subtle enough.


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Sorry, Michael! I didn't think that mentioning magical realism would be a spoiler. I'll defer the question until later and I'll remove it if you want.


Angela Tyler | 10 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "I'm wondering how others feel about magical realism in novels in general. For me, it's something that has to be done very well and in small doses."

I LOVE when authors use magical realism. I used it in my own book. One of the reasons why I enjoy reading about magical realism is that I find it exists in "regular life" but we gloss over it/ ignore it. Of course, I have been told that I have a vivid imagination.


Angela Tyler | 10 comments Still reading. I will say that there are some SERIOUSLY messed up men in this book. I have had nightmares about that warden.


J.Mohawk | 5 comments I am only about 40 pages in but as the parent of a 7 year old non-verbal autistic child I caught myself nodding my head affirmatively to many of the observations the author makes about Sephiri. The Water vs. Air dynamic is fascinating. Very much looking forward to how this story proceeds...


message 24: by jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

jo | 1031 comments i'm almost at the end of part I. i don't know if others feel this way too, but (and this will be a generalization) these days i'm noticing an existential crisis in the novel of white american authors and exactly the opposite (an existential flourishing) in the novels of writers of color. this seems to me to be very much a time for the literature of writers of color. a second renaissance, if you will.

one element of it is the urgency writers of color feel to tell their history. let's face it, these stories have not been told nearly enough. stories of assassinations, stories of revenge, stories of racial violence, stories of families like the goodwins and the thompsons (they relation to whiteness defines a lot of who they are, as presented in the book). so i get that even as she tells the story of saphiri, yejide feels the need to root it in family history, in ancestor history, in race history.

truly, we haven't heard these stories nearly enough. not even close.


Michael | 432 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "Sorry, Michael! I didn't think that mentioning magical realism would be a spoiler. I'll defer the question until later and I'll remove it if you want."

I don't think you need to retract your question, Mina, I just wanted to raise the flag before too much is revealed. And I think I had seen the story described that way before but had forgotten about it in my "just plain realism" reading autopilot. (Albeit the "realism" in Part One is definitely tempered by what Sephiri considers reality to be; and of course the other characters (and we ourselves) all bend reality to some degree to suit our own needs, I think...)


Michael | 432 comments Great comments, everyone! Keep imagining, Angela! (It's funny how you mention nightmares, since I suppose that is the down side to our imaginations...) Thanks for connecting Sephiri to your own experiences, Jeremy.

jo, I haven't read enough to comment on your comparisons, but I agree it is important and affirming that we are seeing so many of these stories from authors of color. As I read Time of the Locust, the phrase "the personal is political" keeps popping into my head; I like how Ms. Yejide names the connections between characters experiences and the larger societal context. And, for the most part, in a way that is not distracting to the telling of the story.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3770 comments Mod
Wilhelmina wrote: "I'm wondering how others feel about magical realism in novels in general. For me, it's something that has to be done very well and in small doses."


Would magical realism fall under the Speculative Fiction umbrella and placed with fantasy books and maybe sci-fi? These types of books have never appealed to me at all, but there appears to be quite a bit of interest in it from LFPC members. An author such as Nalo Hopkinson, who seem to have a large following here, is that magical realism, fantasy, sci-fi or all three?

But, it's different for me when the Magical Realism or Fantasy is in a dream or you fantasize about these things (which I hope is the case with Time of the Locust) versus them coming to life in some alternate reality sort of thing - Murakami and Okorafor quickly comes to mind on the latter.


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
Columbus wrote: "Wilhelmina wrote: "I'm wondering how others feel about magical realism in novels in general. For me, it's something that has to be done very well and in small doses."


Would magical realism fall u..."


For me magical realism is the existence of some fantasy type element that exists in the real world or the world like we know it. It does not necessarily dominate the story but I consider it more a literary technique. When I hear magical realism the author who comes to mind is Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez. So for me magical realism does not fall until the speculative fiction category (though experts may disagree with me). I do not mind magical realism in stories. Also for me the magical realism does not have rules/laws that all obey/know/observe about.

Fantasy for me is where there is magic/supernatural stuff are the main driver of the story - and for it is set somewhere other than what I consider the real world. The setting could have real world elements. But this setting will have rules that are known/obeyed regarding the magic/supernatural stuff in the fantasy book.


Michael | 432 comments I'm also trying to differentiate in my head between "magical realism" and "urban fantasy". Wasn't Sister Mine considered "urban fantasy", where (slightly spoilerish Sister Mine description follows) (view spoiler). That seems more in-your-face fantasy whereas I think of magical realism as blurring the lines between magic and reality.

It is clear this topic is interesting as a general question; I think it would also be interesting to revisit the question later in the month once people have read the book and we are freer to talk specifics.


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I agree completely with Beverly's description. Much more Toni Morrison than Nalo Hopkinson.


Rebecca | 386 comments I find myself enjoying Brenda. There are so many things she uncovers when we she is talking about her life regarding Horus's prison sentence. I was really fascinated with her putting her life events according to her body size.


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
Michael wrote: "I'm also trying to differentiate in my head between "magical realism" and "urban fantasy". Wasn't Sister Mine considered "urban fantasy", where (slightly spoilerish Sister Mine des..."

Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy. The main characteristic/element is that the setting is urban (in other words a city). This is a fairly "new term" that was coined to help market the rash and popularity of books with paranormal elements set in the city. A lot times there is confusion on what is the differences between paranormal romance and urban fantasy. The difference is that paranormal romance has a relationship/love interest as part of the storyline and while urban fantasy might have a relationship/love component it does not have one.

These are mainly useful and often coined for marketing purposes - to help target books to a specific audience and for readers to find books especially if a certain type of book is selling/trending at a specific time.

Also book blurbs are written to sell books - catch the attention of readers - so sometimes "popular" terms are used. After the popularity of "The Help" just about every book that had a southern flair and dealt with women or racial issues or anything close had in their book blurb - like The Help, will appeal to fans of The Help.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3770 comments Mod
Thanks, Beverly. You've provided a rather thorough explanation of that genre for me. In some circles you would think they are all-encompassing but that is not the case at all.


Sarah Weathersby (saraphen) | 261 comments I just finished page 80, almost the end of Part I.
As a parent of a son diagnosed with Schizophrenia, I am seeing the stuff inside Sephiri's head in the context of delusions. It's amazing to me how the author has captured the voice of Sephiri who does not verbalize the magic in his head.


Michael | 432 comments Beverly wrote: "Michael wrote: "I'm also trying to differentiate in my head between "magical realism" and "urban fantasy". Wasn't Sister Mine considered "urban fantasy", where (slightly spoilerish..."

Thanks for the breakdown, Beverly. I'm thinking this is all a continuum of what we think is "real" and what we think is "fiction". (One person's science fiction is another person's fantasy, etc.) Different people may have different comfort levels of what appeals to them along the spectrum. For example, I prefer science fiction to fantasy, because it seems just like fiction to me; space ships and aliens - why not? Unicorns on the other hand... I don't know why I have a problem going there. But I still like fantastical elements, like fairy tales and the idea of magical realism we are talking about, when they are used to teach lessons or explain something about the "real" world.


Michael | 432 comments Sarah wrote: "I just finished page 80, almost the end of Part I.
As a parent of a son diagnosed with Schizophrenia, I am seeing the stuff inside Sephiri's head in the context of delusions. It's amazing to me how..."


Thanks for the update and for sharing, Sarah. You have reminded me that tomorrow is the 7th when I had planned on discussing Part One. It sounds like people are reading along and will be ready to start so I will continue with that plan unless there are objections...


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Sounds good!


Rebecca | 386 comments Great.


Michael | 432 comments Okay, I feel like there is a lot to discuss here, why don't we start off with the character of Brenda Thompson and see where that goes. Rebecca has already given some initial impressions about her, what do you all think? Do you find yourself upset with her for endangering her health, or are you feeling amazed she has been able to survive everything that's been thrown at her so far?

I thought the review reference that Wilhelmina shared was interesting, how Time of the Locust examined "seven kinds of imprisonment — autism, gluttony, self-hate, inanition*, racism, vengefulness, and ...incarceration." Which of those apply to Brenda? How does she deal with her imprisonment, how does it affect her?

*inanition = lack of mental or spiritual vigor and enthusiasm. (I had to look it up!)


Michael | 432 comments And I should make a note here: spoilers for Part One allowed from this point forward!


message 41: by jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

jo | 1031 comments hi michael. i can't find the bit where rebecca expresses upset over brenda's endangering of her health. i think that yejide's description of the financial, time-management, and day-to-day ordeals of a single mom who works full time, has a lowish income (and we know from many studies that incomes, while staying the same or perhaps even going up a little, are getting lower every year), and has a special-need kid is absolutely fantastic. this is the best description of contemporary poverty i've seen. make no mistake, brenda can put three square meals on the table; she might even be considered middle-class. but she can't move, can't hire a baby sitter or anyone who will give her any measure of respite, can't take days off, can't catch a break.

at the same time, yejide manages a near-perfect and def. loving, i think, approach to fatness. there is not a jot of fat shaming. no one, i think, can read these long narrations of how brenda got to be and to stay fat (and, in fact, get fatter) and feel that the solution to the problem is right there for the taking, and it's her fault if she doesn't do it. 30 mins walks? impossible. a gym? impossible. proper nutritious meals? impossible. going to nutritionist? impossible. and food is her sole source of comfort. think of your no. 1 source of comfort. think hard. then think about going without it while life is raining fire of you. impossible. awesome writing, morowa.


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
I am a believer that it takes a village to raise a child and Brenda Thompson has no one to help. She is so isolated by society who does not want to be bothered by her. I read how she gained weight as Sephiri got older and yes, this was bad for her health and in the end would affect Sephiri as where would he end up. But I also thought that she needed the weight to physically handle her son. And eating the fast foods was easier because she could go through the fast-food aisle. I do not know if she refused help that was offered but either way she is living in isolation.

So yes, she is suffering from inanition.


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments jo wrote: "hi michael. i can't find the bit where rebecca expresses upset over brenda's endangering of her health. i think that yejide's description of the financial, time-management, and day-to-day ordeals o..."


I can't say it better than jo has. I love Brenda - she is doing the best she can with an incredibly difficult situation. She is so alone in all of this that it breaks my heart. She pours all that she has into Sephiri with no feedback and no support. I love the contrast between the external world in which Brenda struggles and Sephiri's internal world which she can not reach. The scene at the doctor's office was right on point, from the happy pictures on the diabetes brochure to the doctor's warnings about what could happen in the future. Brenda is trying desperately to drag herself from day to day, eating what she can grab and what Sephiri refuses to eat, unable to get a peaceful night's sleep or a peaceful moment. She knows how to eat healthfully, she knows she's obese, but she doesn't have anything left over after dealing with her child to handle anything else. She can't "put herself first" - as she says, "Putting herself first meant letting everything else fall."


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
jo wrote: "hi michael. i can't find the bit where rebecca expresses upset over brenda's endangering of her health. i think that yejide's description of the financial, time-management, and day-to-day ordeals o..."

I agree that was some awesome writing in Part One. My heart was breaking when reading about Brenda. The emotional intensity was so real.


message 45: by Hope (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hope (ebonyreader) | 9 comments Part One definitely drew me into the story. Learning about Brenda and her struggles to single parent a special needs child was heartbreaking. Finding out about how she came to be a single parent, and her own lackluster childhood, only caused me to sympathize with her more.


message 46: by jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

jo | 1031 comments Beverly wrote: "I am a believer that it takes a village to raise a child and Brenda Thompson has no one to help. She is so isolated by society who does not want to be bothered by her. I read how she gained weight ..."

beverly, i don't remember if it's said at some point (it may have been) but certainly if brenda had been offered help we would know. yejide doesn't leave out stuff like this. we definitely get a very good picture of the disapproval she invariably gets from neighbors and strangers for her appearance and her (presumed) handling of her kid. i mean, we know how fat people get looked at, and we know how mothers with uncontrollable kids get looked at. it can't be a really comfortable combo.


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments The only help she seems to get, reluctantly, is from her brother-in-law Manden who certainly has his own issues. jo mentioned Brenda's poverty, which is especially painful because she tried so hard to do everything right - college, a government job, marriage to someone she thought was a stable partner. But Horus' incarceration and Sephiri's special needs completely destroy any hope of an ordinary, productive life. She's hanging on by her fingernails with a little help from Manden. She falls through that thin line between a comfortable, middle class life and barely making it, as so many people do, through no fault of their own.


message 48: by jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

jo | 1031 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "She falls through that thin line between a comfortable, middle class life and barely making it, as so many people do, through no fault of their own."

well said. i cannot tell you how happy i am that yejide deals with this increasingly prevalent social plague, and does it so eloquently and powerfully.


Sarah Weathersby (saraphen) | 261 comments Wilhelmina wrote: " She falls through that thin line between a comfortable, middle class life and barely making it, as so many people do, through no fault of their own. "

Ditto what jo said. And it's what the 1% would blame Brenda for "making poor choices."


J.Mohawk | 5 comments Brenda's story is indeed heartbreaking. Husband with a life sentence in prison, on the brink of poverty, depression, lack of support from the outside world, etc... What makes this story stand out for me is her son. We have heard many stories over the years with all of the above but to delve into the challenges parents face (especially a single parent) with special needs children adds a layer to capture something we don't see as often. While her plight is difficult and at times it is frustrating to manage her sons needs, the portrayal of how her life is affected by her son's autism is well done.


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