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This topic is about Counternarratives
2018 Book Discussions > Counternarratives - Book I (Jun 2018)

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
Limit discussion in this thread to the first 5 stories.

Some questions to consider:
What were your initial impressions?
How do you see the stories relating to one another thus far?
Are there themes or ideas you see developing early on?

Feel free to post your own comments and questions--the ones above are just to get things rolling.

Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
For those who are reading along as the discussion ensues, I'm thinking we'll talk about each of the stories possibly every two days or so (depending on how the discussion evolves and given that some stories will naturally inspire more discussion than others).

That being said, any particular thoughts on the opening story, "Mannahatta"? It's a brief "story" at only 4 pages but it seems rather evocative in terms of scenery and sort of dropping us into history (unspecified exactly, but we have a rough idea given the use of canoes, the notion of purchasing one's freedom, the names being used).

Speaking of names, Mannahatta is a Lenni Lenape name for Manhattan meaning "land of many hills." And Lusitania refers to what is now modern Portugal and part of Spain. And there's a considerable half page of this story dedicated to the changing names by which Jan goes by. For me, at least, all this set a strong connection between history and naming with naming being both a form of identity and a mark of ownership.

Beverly | 142 comments Marc wrote: "For those who are reading along as the discussion ensues, I'm thinking we'll talk about each of the stories possibly every two days or so (depending on how the discussion evolves and given that som..."

Thanks for the info.

Here is some additional information to help put a timeline for this story.

The narrator is Jan Rodriguez. He was the first documented non-Native American to live on Manhattan Island. As he was born in Santo Domingo (now in the Dominican Republic) to a Portuguese sailor and an African woman, he is also considered the first immigrant, the first person of African heritage, the first person of European heritage, the first merchant, the first Latino, and the first Dominican to settle in Manhattan.

The timing about 1613 but before the Dutch settled there.
Because of his linguistic talents he was hired by a Dutch captain to accompany his ship to Mannahatta.

Beverly | 142 comments I have finished "Mannahatta".

Despite the story being only 4 pages, I thought it said a lot and was a little dense/heavy (to me).

I thought one of the themes was resistance - Jan was aware of his situation and his talents/worth. When exploring on Mannahatta - he saw it has a place that could/would offer a window to change his life and he ensure that he "understood the window, climb through it" (p.5)

I also thought that yes, the different names for the narrator also connects with identity and a mark of ownership. But I also thought that it showed the diverse world Jan inhabited (and by extension other black/bi-racial people) and the fluidity they were in different settings.
I also liked that his African mother also gave him a name and then told he must never reveal to others. So even if others did not know him by that specific name, Jan was aware of his African heritage - indication that identity/history could be passed down through generations even if not known by the dominant culture.

I enjoyed the detailed description of Mannahatta - it gave me a visual of what the island looked like before the Dutch setters and others came.

Beverly | 142 comments What did you think of the quotes by James Baldwin, Fred Moten, and Audre Lorde on the title page for Part 1 - Counternarratives?

Did it give a hint to what the stories would be about in this section?

The person of the three that I am least familiar with is Fred Moten.

But this quote from a Harvard Magazine article on Fred Moten helped to connect the quotes for me:

"For Moten, this flight of ideas begins in the flight of bodies: in the experience of slavery and the Middle Passage, which plays a crucial role in his thinking. “Who is more cosmopolitan than Equiano?” he asks rhetorically, citing the Igbo sailor and merchant who purchased his own freedom, joined the abolitionist movement in England, and published his famous autobiography in 1789. “People think cosmopolitanism is about having a business-class seat. The hold of the ship, among other things, produces a kind of cosmopolitanism, and it’s not just about contact with Europeans and transatlantic travel. When you put Fulani and Igbo together and they have to learn how to speak to each other, that’s also a language lab. The historical production of blackness is cosmopolitanism.” "

When I finished reading Mannahatta, I thought about the reputation of NYC (Manhattan) and how others perceive Manhattan, the first non-native was an "African".

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2835 comments Mod
Thanks Beverly. The first story is so short that without the background knowledge it could almost be forgotten particularly after reading the longer pieces later in the book. I like Marc's idea of discussing each story in turn but they do vary a lot in length, complexity and style.

Beverly | 142 comments Hugh wrote: "Thanks Beverly. The first story is so short that without the background knowledge it could almost be forgotten particularly after reading the longer pieces later in the book. I like Marc's idea of ..."

Hugh -

As several friends have told me, I need to pay attention when reading John Keene.
I realized this first story is short and yes, I wondered why this short and what is he doing.

It spoke to me because I knew some of the background before reading - thanks to a friend sending me information about the re-naming of a street in my old neighborhood - yes it was re-named for Jan Rodriguez.

But after reading your comment - it reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a book buddy regarding the author's obligation to provide the necessary background information to be fully informed about the storyline's subtleties.

While I like books where I am informed and/or learn something new and so most times I do not mind researching information to understand what the story is about.

But at times I am also a lazy reader and just do not want to do research and just read a story.

But I also understand that we all have different life experiences, opinions, reading experiences and that we can be at different places when reading a specific book but despite this can still have the same appreciation of a story.

But I am on to the 2nd story in this collection and see what happens.

Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
I like the notion of secret history/identity you pulled out, Beverly. It will be interesting to see if and how that plays out in the rest of the book. And thank you for that wonderful background on Jan Rodriguez and Fred Moten. Suddenly, the Mannahatta story is much, much bigger than it first appears!

Seems worthwhile sharing the quotes you mentioned, as well (the ones that kick off Book I as a whole):
Perhaps, then, after all, we have no idea of what history is: or are in flight from the demon we have summoned. - James Baldwin

The social situation of philosophy is slavery. - Fred Moten

So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive. - Audre Lorde

Let's return to these as we go through the stories and see if they take on different meanings. In addition to not knowing anything about Moten, his quote is the one that made the least sense to me.

I'll post my thoughts on the next story tomorrow, but feel free to beat me to it, any of you who are so moved!

Beverly | 142 comments After reading the first two stories - I find the writing to be deliberate - the author seems to be aware of what he is writing and why. I am not sure if I know all of the reasons and have caught all that he is trying to say and what he is being deliberate about.

"Mannahatta" is four pages long and the main character of the story is not necessarily one in power and thus not necessary to know his full story though he played an important role in the beginning of "colonization" of Mannahatta.

The second story "On Brazil..." is much longer and detailed about the family/lineage of the Londonias-Figueiras family. It felt like a documentary. But they were powerful/important in the society/development of Brazil - so it was written down what happened to each offspring.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2444 comments So glad we are reading this book together. It has been on my shelf for awhile but am glad I did not read before now. My first impression, influenced in part by the quotes and by a couple of books the group has recently read is that this is the history of those who did not win - and it is just as important as the history we learned in school. As per Hugh's comment, I had completely forgotten this story after reading the longer "stories," especially the last one. Thank you Beverly for the background, which was all new to me.

Beverly | 142 comments My thoughts on the 2nd story - "On Brazil, Or Denouncement: The Londonias-Figueiras:

- I found this story pretty straight-forward and read more like a documentary
- I did think "what goes around, comes around" even if it happens generations later - as in the beheading in contemporary time of the Figueiras heirs and the act done generations earlier by one of the same family.

As I live in the US, this sentence has stuck with me:
"...how quickly we forget the repellent aspects of personality in moments of crisis, which permit the illusion of unity against more dangerous foes." (p.14)

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
Beverly, you mentioned about the "Mannahatta" story that it takes place before the Dutch settlers arrived. And then, in this second story, we're also dealing with the colonialist struggle of the Dutch and Portugal as it plays out in Brazil amidst a system of wealth dependent on sugar cane plantations run by slaves.

All this got me to start thinking about just what a "counternarrative" is--it's most basic definition would be a story set against another story. These first two seem like efforts to tell a more truthful history, or, at least in part, to look at the power struggles and exploitation inherent from the beginning (versus some of the more mythic and romantic notions we have about discovery, trade, exploration). I found some interesting links related to "counter narratives" (which I'll eventually post on the general thread--I'mdealing with a busier week than planned; son's camp pickup/drive-off is several hours of driving per day and father-in-law just got admitted to the hospital yesterday).

I highlighted that same wonderful quote as you from pg. 14!

Did that opening newspaper clip about the murder feel like it was supposed to be present day to others? It did to me, and then Keene takes us 400 years back in history, outlines the kind of violence and exploitation that seems to have eventually--by many different roads--led to today's favelas (where the opening murder takes place). And the story ends with a paragraph on how these places have no name (further playing with the notion of naming and its importance). I wrote a note to myself asking if naming implies identity and/or ownership, what does it mean to have no name at all?

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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2835 comments Mod
The newspaper clip did set the expectation that the story would reach the present day, and it does cover a longer time span than any of the other stories in the book (I hope that doesn't count as a spoiler!). It did show that there was nothing very civilised about the early settlers...

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2444 comments I am in awe of what this author knows about the history of the Americas (North and South) that I don't know, including the story about the first man to live in Manhattan. I find the thoughts posted by all of you help me to think about these stories in a more productive manner. The second story that provides some Brazilian history is quite fascinating, but must admit that I had completely forgotten it.

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
Very much agree with you, LindaJ^--Keene did his homework and then some for this book.

I didn't have too many notes for the third story, "An Outtake from the Ideological Origins of the American Revolutions," but I did come across a rather fascinating snippet from an interview with the author:
KEENE:... One of the things that, clearly, is so fundamental to our existence in the U.S. is a certain idea of freedom. Freedom and liberty are two words that are bandied about all the time. The new World Trade Center is the Freedom Tower. Newark Airport is Newark Liberty Airport. All these new names that come into being after, for example, 9/11. So, a while ago, when I was actually still in graduate school, I thought it would be really interesting to try to write a story about a character that I’d encountered in an historical work who was, in one way, an embodiment of freedom, but in another way, the exact counterexample or the antithesis of what was possible at the moment of the country’s coming into being.

Thinking about the dawn of modernity, the dawn of ideas, the dawn of all these systems that have really kind of locked in. So often, I think we disaggregate systems of knowledge from systems of power. Often when we talk in a general sense, for right or wrong reasons, we disaggregate these things, so they lead us to always have to ask, “How did we get to this place?” or, “What happened?”

So, I thought about that. And I also wanted to try to think in broader terms than just the U.S., but to keep race, and Blackness, in particular, at the center of these stories. So that led me to go beyond the usual approach, to expand it a bit, but also to try to go in different directions. I feel like, so often, in the English speaking world, for obvious reasons, we think of the anglophone world. So the anglophone Caribbean, anglophone Africa. So I wanted to expand that a bit and to look at, for example, the Spanish speaking world, a little bit. Brazil is an interesting analog. I think it was George Williams, the great historian at Stanford, who did those comparative studies of the U.S. and Brazil. But to mix it up a bit.

So, as a way of, again, thinking about a trajectory, but not a smooth trajectory, something more complicated, more jagged, more rhizomatic, and to see if it worked. Built into a project like Counternarratives is the possibility of failure, or various kinds of failures. I was interested in that as well. So, that was my overarching process. Then, of course a key component of that is the colonial and the postcolonial. The dawn of empire and the decline of empire, but I mean empire in another way.

INTERVIEWER: You’re describing this project as a kind of theoretical, conceptual, political whole. You’re using the book as a way to, as you say, engage the history of ideas, or certain ideas. I think normally when people engage with those things, they think about doing it in a way that is explicitly theoretical or explicitly through historical work, through archival work. You deal with all of that stuff through fiction. So I’m wondering about the technical research process that undergirds that conceptual engagement animating the project. How do you go from the research to the writing?

KEENE: One other way of approaching all this is in a scholarly sense. [In scholarship,] you really do have to make sure that whatever approach you’re taking, it’s very clear. You know, there’s the rationale. With fiction, I feel, almost sort of along the lines of theory, you have a lot of leeway. All this to say that another component of this is not so much the history of forms, but the ways in which various forms themselves might be deployed to tell these stories. I just wanted to add that to the mix.

So, in certain cases, I had an idea. The challenge then, was to figure out how to tell the story. Sometimes there was research where I came across something id read and I thought, “Oh, my God. I really wanna try and dramatize it. What would it look like if this were a short story?” In other cases, it wasn’t something I ran across, but it was an idea I had.

So, to take two examples, with “An Outtake from the Ideological Origins of the American Revolution,” just the nub of that was based on a character in Lorenzo Johnston Greene’s The Negro in Colonial New England, which is such a fascinating book. It’s pretty much forgotten. And I was motivated to read that book because I was so curious: “Why is there so little about slavery in the North?”

I was born and grew up in a border state. It was a northern state, but also a western state, Missouri. So, reading Greene, he’s got all these nuggets, and just wonderful stuff in there. It’s a narrative history. There was this larger than life character and he’s focused on the character in talking about slavery. But I thought, that was what motivated me to then say, “Wait a minute. There are all these interesting things happening at the very moment.” Which isn’t to say that Greene doesn’t acknowledge all that, but that’s not his interest. His interest is writing about slavery, giving you this slick scholarly breakdown about slavery in New England, particularly in Massachusetts.

So, I had in the back of my mind, that story about a character. But from that, I then decided to try to tell that story. So I figured that one way to tell the story might be to take an episodic approach and to be able to put [historical] documents in there. Part of what I also wanted to do was to, on the one hand, use the authoritative, historical voice, but also have that voice be unstable. Have things undermining that voice, because part of what the entire collection is also trying to do is to think about what does it mean to speak with authority about U.S. history, or the history of the western hemisphere, or about race, etc. So that was one approach.

(The entire interview is here: Outtakes: More from John Keene)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2444 comments Thanks Mark for identifying that interview portion. Keene's thinking is certainly on a pretty high level. I can see what he did, now that I know what he intended!

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
His comment about how we disaggregate things struck a chord with me. As I was reading many of these stories, it struck me that many of the individuals (whether in power or not) were caught up in much larger historical forces (trade, war, colonialism, etc.). I'm not sure how I think some of these stories would hold up individually, but together I think they definitely form something greater than each part.

Beverly | 142 comments Marc wrote: "Very much agree with you, LindaJ^--Keene did his homework and then some for this book.

I didn't have too many notes for the third story, "An Outtake from the Ideological Origins of the American Re..."

Thanks Marc for sharing this article.
It is helpful to understanding what the author wants us to take away from the stories and especially helpful in how he approached writing the stories.

Beverly | 142 comments Marc wrote: "His comment about how we disaggregate things struck a chord with me. As I was reading many of these stories, it struck me that many of the individuals (whether in power or not) were caught up in mu..."

While I do think we at times disaggregate, I also think it is about how we learn and how we assimilate all the information that is out there coming at us all of the time.

I am glad that I am a reader as I feel that this keeps learning as learning in many ways to me is the layering on information to the information you already know.

Beverly | 142 comments I too did not have many notes for the third story - "An Outtake From The Ideological Origins Of The American Revolution".

- Once again there is reference to the Dutch. A Dutch woman untied Zion's binding to allow him to escape. Until reading these last couple of stories I had forgotten about Dutch.

- When reading this story, I had to keep reminding myself this story was set in the Northeast as so use to stories that speak to slavery and escapes are usually set in the South.

- I noted this line - ".. so it is said that one's sense of the law, like one's concept of morality, originates in the home". (p.28)

- And at the end because Zion was not in his cell, so another Negro was hanged to keep up the appearances that law and order was being served.

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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2835 comments Mod
To be honest I don't have much to say about the third story, though despite Zion's lack of prospects it did manage to be quite funny. Are we ready to move on to the next one yet? At this rate by the time we get to the later parts of Book 2 I will have forgotten some of the shorter ones...

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
I found a lot of twists and turns in "A Letter On the Counterreformation in New Lisbon." This is our first epistolary story strictly being told in the form of one long letter. That always raises the question of whose viewpoint we're getting. We think we're hearing from a Portuguese priest sent to Brazil to shape up the monastery only to find it eventually taken over the by the slaves whom the priests seemed to be sexually abusing at some point, yes? It has to be hidden in a book to avoid the Dutch and it would appear that this "missionary" work of spreading the good word is more about fomenting a resistance among the natives to the Dutch than merely bringing new lambs into the flock. But in the end it is signed by Burunbana (a name he insists on reclaiming and being called before continuing his overthrow). The natives return to their own spiritual ways with no single leader and no marked or named place on a map awaiting the Dutch to try and make the same oppressive measures in due time.

I read in one of the reviews that Keene takes stereotypes about blackness (like having mystical powers or practicing dark arts/religion) and makes them sort of two-fold in some of these stories. His characters exhibit almost mystic abilities (often in the form of seeing the future), but that these really amount to a kind of ability to see the truth of what is going on.

I think Keene does manage to inject a fair amount of humor throughout the book, as Hugh mentioned for the last story, despite dealing with some pretty serious tales. I keep wondering how others are reacting to these as individual pieces... ? Do they feel whole? How do they compare to what you'd normally expect from a single short story?

Beverly | 142 comments Yes, humor is being used in these stories, sometimes slyly, sometimes outright. I think it helps us to pay attention to the stories & words, as at times when writing in the tone of the past times, it can feel a little dry. But I do not mean that as a negative. I think Keene is doing a very good job in keeping me in the time and place - so many words just make the visual scenes for me.

And I had to chuckle when I saw the Audre Lorde quote was part of the letter (p.83) as Burunbana is knows the past and the future.

I am liking the stories as individuals. I have finished the stories in Book 1 and have not yet the other stories so I am waiting to see how Books 2 & 3 stories contribute to their specific parts and how it contributes to the whole.

But yes, see the stories countering the stereotypes of blackness and of course, having black characters being the narratives of the stories and telling the stories in their own words is counter to what was written in the time period.

And, yes as you read the stories about this time period - there are thoughts that just gave me pause as it can relate to the present. In this story it was this sentence:

" Is knowledge not always a form of power that taken too far, cannot be turned against itself?" p. 60

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
I forgot all about the Lourde quote, not to mention glossing over the fact of his writing about something in the future!

So many wonderful quotes from this story and points that do indeed resonate with today's world. That whole paragraph from pg. 60 was a powerful one:
"Long hours spent in the study of any text will reveal inner, unseen contours, an abstract architecture. This is as true of sacred books as of those poems written in pursuit of courtly or earthly love, or even of language itself. The ancient Mosaic law had accommodated this insight to the disadvantage of the surface layer, of images, while the Roman Catholic Church, akin to the preliterate cultural forms from which it in part arose, allows for the existence of a mystical understanding and experience of these abstractions. The careful scholar cannot but help but become aware of the conflict: when one speaks of the word, or Word, what is one truly speaking of? Who is the architect, man, and---or---a---God? Attempts to apprehend this new reality, these tensions, went initially by the names of philosophy, theology, science. What is it to know deeply? Is knowledge not always a form of power that, taken too far, cannot be turned against itself?”

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments I'm sorry that I've been AWOL on this discussion, but after reading about 25 pages, it's just not the right book at the right time for me. It takes a kind of patience that I don't have at the moment, but I strongly suspect I will have in the future. It remains on my TBR list :)

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
Nadine wrote: "I'm sorry that I've been AWOL on this discussion, but after reading about 25 pages, it's just not the right book at the right time for me. It takes a kind of patience that I don't have at the momen..."

No need to apologize, Nadine, but thanks for checking in. Hope you find a better reading fit for now if you haven't already!

Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
I finished Book I yesterday - it's taken me a bit to get through these! Like the rest of you, I am impressed with the amount of history that appears here, especially with aspects of history I don't know much about.

I don't remember the specifics of each story but will try to re-join this thread when we get to Carmel - I think the last one probably was my favorite of Book I - though I really liked Zion's story too.

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
The Carmel story was my favorite of the whole book, Caroline. And that's the last one in Book I:
"Gloss on a History of Roman Catholics in the Early American Republic, 1790-1825; Or the Strange History of Our Lady of Sorrows"

I loved that Keene used the word "gloss" in the title. My immediate reaction was: What a strange word to use! It starts off sounding like we're going to get this erudite history and then it veers off into an extended footnote (an approach that always reminds me of John Barth, simply because he's the first writer I encountered who turned footnotes into substantive vehicles for story/meaning). So, already we're beneath the artificial veneer of history and dealing with something seemingly less, a footnote in history, which ends up being the tale of Carmel, an artistically gifted slave able to see the future through her creations and quite adept at navigating a world that holds dangers for her at every turn. She and her owner's daughter, Eugénie, flee the French to end up in Our Lady of Sorrows convent. From there, we get everything from diary entries, to snippets of the convent rules, to an excerpted report.

Salient points this story made for you or overall impressions it left?

How is Keene's playing with prose format and source impacting these stories for you?

(I'll go ahead and start things going with the 1st story in the Book II thread after I post this one.)

Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
I was thrown off by the extended footnote approach! Looking back, I think it's a pretty cool way of inserting this story. Back when I was in grad school for history, some of my classmates and I would talk about how the side stories we'd uncover while doing our main research were often the most exciting to read about. I remember getting sidetracked looking through microfilm of old newspapers time and time again by these glimpses into what was going on other than the "main event!"

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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2835 comments Mod
Yes, the Carmel story was very strong, and definitely the best of the first half, though the comparison seems a little unfair given that it is much longer than the others. I wonder whether Keene sees America's Roman Catholic history as something largely hidden too.

I am not an expert on American history so I can't really comment on Keene's handling of his sources.

Beverly | 142 comments For me also my favorite story of this section.
I am not surprised for it was longer which for me is usually better with short stories, especially if interested in the subject matter.

One of the things that struck me is the level of detail for things such as what was packed, details of the rooms, etc. It helped to give me a visual of the time/place and yet I did not feel bogged down in specifics as I got anxious on the outcome.

I too usually "enjoy" the footnotes and how they often led to be doing more research on what I learned in the footnotes - so the idea/format of Gloss worked for me.

I also thought that not only with story but others in the section showed the value/importance of the oral stories that get passed usually among the oppressed/discriminated people that lived at the particular time. And usually those stories had a magical/mystical elements to them which I think made the stories easier to remember and for listeners to pay more attention to them. Also it allowed storytellers to show off their skills and a little embellishment allowed these stories to compete with the stories told to support dogma from the Roman Catholics.

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carissa I finished the second story a few days ago and I'm finding so much to think about after each chapter that I have to read another book between them...so it may take me awhile to finish!

The second chapter has led me to learn more about the history of music and racism in Brazil...fascinating to find out my beloved Astrud is viewed as another attempt to whiten Brazil's shown face to the world...wonder how she feels about that?!

After finishing each chapter I've jotted down a sort of personal synopsis in my progress. So far I've got:
Mannahatta: staking a claim when you find where you belong.
On Brazil, Or Dénouement: The Londonias-Figueiras: Innocent looking-flat affect-psychopaths through history learning that hearing the berimbau signals the ever-reaching arm of karma or what goes around come around.

Anyhow...what a BOOK! Can't be hasty about such mind-candy.

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Sue Just finished the story about Carmel. It's definitely my favorite so far, but I've enjoyed all the stories and I'm looking forward to the rest of the book.

Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments I finished Book I this past weekend, what a ride! I feel the book for me started to grow better and better in the last 3 stories. Zion, Burunbana and Carmel were great characters.
Carmel's is also my favorite, I liked the take of doing it as a footnote, also the inclusion of the diary notes was interesting, threw me off at first but I liked the way it shows how she perceive the world.
Even though these are short stories it definitely feels like small parts of a whole, which is the history and colonization of America.

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
Glad to hear everyone is enjoying these stories. Keene seems like a pretty amazing writer and I've loved how ambitious this collection is.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2444 comments Oh Carmen - definitely my favorite of the first book. She was such a well-developed character, starting as the mute servant and ending as the strong woman rescuing Eugenia. For me, she is the epitome of what it takes to pull oneself up by one's own shoestrings!

Kristina | 66 comments I have just finished the third story and slowly I am getting more into the book. I have some difficulties with reading short stories and Manhattana was so dense, that for me it had ended before I had grasped what it was about.

The second story was better to read for me and more interesting, it read like a documentary -as some of you have also noted - and I got confused with all the names.

Zion's story was the one I liked best so far. It drew a picture of how his life as a slave was, without describing every little detail.

It takes some time to get into Keene's writing and it feels a bit of work reading it, since he has so many background information in his story that you have to read it slowly to miss nothing.

Kristina | 66 comments Now, I have finished Book I and appreciate his writing more and more. I liked that Carmel kept referring to the girls in the monastery as "the white girls" while not naming the other slaves as "black girls". It empasizes her perspective since normally people tend to define white people as the norm and describe others as the back man, the Latin girl, etc. It's interesting to see how Keene turns this around

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
Glad to hear you're enjoying the book. The pieces really do seem to build on one another in a way. He does a wonderful job of subverting that "norm" you aptly point out. You've reminded me of the numerous criticism I've seen about how minorities often don't exist in consumer culture (e.g., no haircare products or appropriately skin-colored band-aids in the store; magazine covers that never reflect anyone that looks like them; movies and books whose central characters are never minorities; etc.). All this is starting to change, but those changes are still relatively new in many areas. Looking forward to hearing what you think of Book II!

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