52 Weeks of Women of Color

This year I have taken on the challenge of reading 52 books by women of color. Simple enough – every week pick a book written by a woman of color from any genre, any time period, any place in the world. I have taken on many challenges but this one has been the most rewarding. Over this past year I have been introduced to many new authors and new perspectives.

As I have not been posting my challenge as I went along I decided to recap my year with women of color thus far. Each Friday from now through January 1st I will showcase a few of the books I have completed during this challenge.

Book #1: Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“A powerful and taut novel about racial tensions in LA, following two families—one Korean-American, one African-American—grappling with the effects of a decades-old crime”

Book #2: The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house’s entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the “Big Easy” of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.”

Book #3: Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Rich with hard-won wisdom and humanity, set in locales from Miami and Port-au-Prince to a small unnamed country in the Caribbean and beyond, Everything Inside is at once wide in scope and intimate, as it explores the forces that pull us together, or drive us apart, sometimes in the same searing instant.”

Book #4: Sabrina and Corina: Stories

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The stories in this collection speak to the indigenous Latina’s experience. Dark, yet luminous, Sabrina and Corina are heart aching stories. The common thread – a glimmer of hope in the face of loss and violence.

This review originally appeared on my GoodReads page.

Book #5: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This critically acclaimed novel deals with racism, classism, the patriarchy and elitism in academia. Loosely based on Howards EndOn Beauty pays homage to one of Smith’s favorite authors, E. M. Forster. Although there are parallels between the two novels, Smith’s aim was more so to emulate Forster’s style of writing. In an interview with Thalia Book Club, Smith said that what she admired most about Forster was how he did not pick sides in an argument. In On Beauty the opposite sides of the coin are represented by the Kipps and Belsey families.

Monty Kipps and Howard Belsey are arch nemeses. Revered in their field, their rivalry is protracted and well known. The Kipps are an affluent West Indian family living in Britain. They are deeply religious. Their political viewpoints are ultra-conservative and right wing. The Belseys are an interracial couple who are left leaning and decidedly atheist. Howard comes from a fairly modest background. He knows what it means to go without. A “pull yourself up from the bootstraps” type of guy, he is the first in his family to get a college degree.

Smith is very descriptive in painting well developed pictures of this dichotomy. And yes, she manages to remain impartial, exposing both sides as morally flawed.

Although Smith incorporates the aesthetic as a measure of beauty with cultural references to music, art and the physical form, her emphasis is on character. The world that she paints is not black and white but a kaleidoscope of colors.

One painting mentioned in the novel that spoke to me was that of the Maitresse Erzulie. The Haitian spirit of beauty, Erzulie may take the form of a woman or a man. Their character is a two-edged sword. On one hand they are representative of love, goodwill and fortune. On the other they bring about jealousy, vengeance and discord. The warning here is clear: we cannot be so binary in our thinking. The world is not a collection of opposites but is populated by people who are both good and evil. Our focus therefore should not be on harboring grudges based off of our differences, but be on cultivating that goodness that is within each of us.

This review originally appeared on my GoodReads page.

Book #6: Saudade by Suneeta Peres da Costa

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Saudade is a feeling of melancholy brought on by the sense of absence and a longing to return to what was lost and can never be regained.

This sense of yearning ripples throughout this novella as a young Goan emigre struggles to find her self and her place during the Angolan Civil War. A daughter of Portuguese sympathizers she comes to realize that their existence, albeit of a privileged class, is that of outsiders. Yet they no more belong in Goa than they do in Angola. She does not recall her ancestral home and her parents cannot fathom how to return to a “life they have forgotten”. Peres da Costa eloquently captures this feeling of displacement across characters and experiences. Saudade is applied not only to the immigrant experience but to intimacy and coming of age.

This review originally appeared on my GoodReads page.

Book #7: Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I fell under Schweblin’s spell when I read Fever Dream for the Tournament of Books. I remember being haunted by her prose. This story collection has that same eery quality. Although Schweblin uses magical realism in her stories there’s something about the way she conveys her message that makes her plots ring frighteningly true. My favorites from this collection include tales about deserted women who grasp a chance at freedom, children who are transformed into butterflies and an old storyteller in a bar.

This review originally appeared on my GoodReads page.

Book #8 Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book had me raging. Medical Apartheid is a detailed account of the atrocities that African Americans have faced at the hands of the medical profession and the scientific community. Most of us are familiar with the government funded Tuskegee Syphilis experiment but many do not realize how extensive and pervasive these egregious practices are currently. In today’s world children of color are more likely to be targeted for studies of a non-therapeutic nature. Men of color are rounded up for random DNA fingerprinting, infringing upon their legal and personal rights. The poor are exploited as a free resource for experimentation when they enter emergency rooms for care. Black employees are unknowingly tested for hereditary and social diseases. Their DNA profiles are then used to discriminate against them.

This does not even touch upon all that is covered in this book. Although Ron Butler does a fantastic job narrating this book, I would behoove you to get a physical copy. There was so much information here that I felt I should be highlighting and taking notes on. I found this hard to do in the audio format. For me Medical Apartheid is a book that I need to own. It is the type of book that you come back to time and again, each time gleaning more information.

This review originally appeared on my GoodReads page.

Book #9: Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons by Ashli St. Armant

Rating: 10 out of 10.

Even when I told her that the most stars she could give this book was 5 stars, my baby insisted it get all the stars! 100 stars from my little princess. (She thinks 100 is the highest number.😃)

If you would like to discover a new author check out my original post on the Mocha Girls Read blog: Debut Novels by Women of Color.

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