5 Books about the Black Experience

As I have said before, I find literature, particularly fiction, the most natural way of understanding the human experience. A number of people have reached out to me for suggestions on reading black authors, black books – so here’s a little pile that will take you comfortably through summer. This is in no particular order.

1. Gone With the Wind

A timeless classic, this book lays bare truly and honestly, the black peoples’ contribution to building the USA. There are many ways of approaching this book and picking apart its depiction of slavery. But I think it is a seminal read to see the relationships of slave owners and their slaves, the extent of reach civil war, and the motivations of people on both sides. It also shows how changing laws is the beginning of change, not the end. I would say if you can’t be bothered, watch the movie, but at 4.5 hrs runtime that’s no mean feat either!


2. The Color Purple

I had to read this novel for my degree, and that certainly took some pleasure out of it for me. But regardless, this Pulitzer prize winning book is fine literature. What is particularly devastating about this book is the amount of abuse it doesn’t shy away from depicting. A pregnant black woman is probably bottom of this world’s foodchain in some ways, and even if you ignore the colour of her skin, she gets trampled upon for her gender. This book made me come to terms with the fact that I will never truly grok the experience, and made me uniquely aware of my privilege.

3. Praise Song for the Butterflies

This is a shorter book, almost a novella, and what a fantastic book. This is a fictional story based on real life inspirations. If you have been feeling overwhelmed by the protests and would like to start easy, this would be your best best. The author’s style is lighter on the psyche, although continuing to deal with the hefty weight of its content. A young protagonist always provides some sense of hope, and eventual redemption.


4. The Secret Life of Bees

I am always surprised that this book is not better known. Set in Carolina, this is the story of a white girl, her black nanny, and their combined fight against the world. This book is more centered around interpersonal relationships than the wider experience. This makes it enlightening, because the author sees the differences in race through the eyes of the protagonist. This book does have a happy ending, so perhaps one for these tough times!


5. The Bluest Eye

This book depressed me when I read it. It genuinely brought me down because of the utter helplessness of its characters. I think it also comes closest to the ‘Indian – experience’, of young girls and women wishing for fairer skins. This book is the only thing you need to read to understand why Toni Morrison won the Nobel and why the Obama couple regard her so highly. Read at your own peril, it’s gut-wrenching.



I like reading topical books. And so I have borrowed ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’. I didn’t include it on the list because it is autobiographical. But A recommended it highly when he read it a few years ago and so I am sure I will enjoy it.

Remember to keep educating yourselves, and support black authors where you can.

One Day … a review

I read this book over two long haul flights. It was a recommedation from a friend who knows I enjoy books set in Edinburgh. This one starts off in Edinburgh but then is based in some other places, depending on where the characters are.

The year is 1988. Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have woken up from having spent the night together in Emma’s flat in Edinburgh. It is the day after their graduation. As the book progresses, the story follows the lives of Em and Dex, on that day, every day, for twenty years. The characters meet, unmeet, and then go their separate ways. Life goes on, as do their individual trajectories.The book weaves in and out of their lives with each other and with other people. Many characters come and go, some stay.

There are a couple of things very good about this book. First of all, it is an unusual way to write a book. It is evident that the narrator is witness to these two peoples’ lives and that in itself is like someone has held a lens to their eyes. The other thing is that the ending is extremely believeable. It is not a rom-com ending, and it is not a typical ending. I will not spoil the ending by saying any more but I very strongly recommend the book, it is like reading the story of you or I. It is one of the very best I have read of modern fiction and I thoroughly enoyed it.

Twenty Four Shadows … a review

A very long time ago (over ten years now), I read ‘Tell Me Your Dreams’ by Sidney Sheldon. It is based on DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) previously also known as MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder). At the time, it blew my mind. It is still a book I recommend to folks. Since Tanya’s marketeer got in touch about her latest work, I have been engrossed in her latest novel based on DID.

Like her previous novels, Leave of Absence and My Life in a Nutshell, Peterson takes up a cause of sorts and through fiction, brings it to life in both an educated and poignant way. While Sheldon is a writer writing about mental illness, Peterson is a mental illness counsellor writing about it. It makes a difference. Instead of a fast paced thriller with strange twists and turns, in Twenty Four Shadows we see the simple and tight-knit world of Isaac Bittman fall to pieces slowly as he comes to terms with his illness. There is no excitement, just the terrible reality of friends and loved ones learning to deal with what is most peoples’ unthinkable. They watch Isaac slip away, change, become angry, sad, upset, and violent and remain helpless.

With every mental illness patient also comes their carer, the person, or people, whose lives are ruined in hanging on with the people they care about, and whose illnesses become their own. The story of Isaac’s wife Reese is also beautifully brought out as she struggles with her own needs and wants along with those of their child Dominic’s. The family’s dynamics are brought to life in a masterful way. And we feel as though we are part family as we get on the long and painful road to recovery with the Bittmans.

Peterson writes a well-spun tale, one that brings out the vulnerability of the patients, the perseverance of their carers, and the reactions of society. Having suffered from PTSD herself and spent time in therapy, she has been on both sides of the table, a certified counselor. It shows. I would recommend it as a great book to pick up if you are interested in the themes of DID, parenting, or inspirational reads.

My Life In A Nutshell … a review



Tanya J Peterson was kind to invite me to be part of her blog tour and I was more than happy to take her up on the offer. After over a year since I reviewed Leave of Absence, I was prepared to be sucked into another tale of agonising and debilitating mental illness. ‘Nutshell’ is the state in which our central characters live – Brian and Abigail. Brian in in his early thirties and suffers from a chronic anxiety disorder He stays away from everyone and everything and has an ordinary job as a handyman at a local school. On the outside, he is a normal young man, who loved cycling to work, hiking in the woods, gardening and growing fresh produce, and animals. But on the inside, Brian is troubled and lost. Everyday actions like picking out a set of clothes, grocery shopping, and pleasant interaction pushes him towards severe panic attacks.

Life conspires and he meets Abigail Harris at school. A little girl of seven, she throws tantrums, behaves badly, and brings hell down if anyone tries to cross her. She lives with her Aunt and Uncle, who are at their wits’ end already. Brian and Abigail strike up a very likely friendship. It was clear to me as a reader that they both were dealing with similar issues. I also felt that Brian was the unfortunate result of an Abigail growing up in neglect.

This is the story of a beautiful friendship and a careful clutch of people who make this possible. One of the nice things about this book is that all the secondary characters are very well thought-out. They’re each indispensible to the story. The Harrises, Brian’s colleague Roger, the principal of the school, Brian’s counsellor, and Abigail’s teachers. Each of the characters is heartwarming in their efforts to ensure that both flourish.

While I enjoyed this book thoroughly, I felt, at times, that Brian’s ‘episodes’ were long drawn out and seemingly endless. But when I came to the bits where he was on the verge of receiving help, it made me want it so bad too, on his behalf. The author has managed to instill that yearning in the reader as well, which is pretty impressive! Worth a read!

The Electric Michaelangelo … a review

I bought this book at the book fair because it was an old edition and was selling cheaply. I also read the blurb and saw that it was about the art of tattooing. Since it was something I had never read about before, I picked it up. Right at the onset, I was aware that the style of writing was very very different from ones I’d encountered in the recent past. This was the story of a young boy, who grows up in a seaside town in Northeast England.

You know the deal with Northeast England? It’s very grey… the sky, the waves, the wind, sometimes even the sand… it’s all grey. And this coast it very beautiful in this colour, it looks sad, beautiful, and mysterious. So, at this seaside town where people frequently come to spend their summers, our protagonist grows up. He is used to death from an early age too, the inn that his mother runs is a haven for people with sickly pulmonary diseases, who come to spend their last days here by the sea.

When the protagonist becomes a tattoo artist and later travels to America, what follows is a tale of art, emotion, love, and despair. What is the story of tattoos, who gets them done, who inks them in, who, why, what’re their thoughts… What is everyone thinking? How does art transcend an ocean? Is love like art? Is art love? The writing of Sarah Hall is beautiful, and it took me into tattoo parlours and hearts. I expected this book to end badly… but it didn’t. It just ended.

The only slight drawback is that there isn’t much in the way of action for the longest time and then a set of very action-packed pages! But it worked well for me because I enjoyed the descriptions as much as the events! If anyone has any other recommendations of books that are set against the backdrop of tattoos, I’d love to hear them…

Quote: “By midsummer of 1940 there were one hundred and nine tattoos on Grace’s form, from the soles of her feet to the base of her neck, so that she looked like a most extraordinary tree of eyes. And in retrospect, when Cy would try to relive his journey across her body and remember the revolution of its archaic landscape under his unyielding bevelled brush, perhaps those were the times he was making love to her after all.”

Happy Birthday, Gabriel García Márquez!

One from last year…

5 things about one of my favourite authors:

1. He is known affectionately as Gabo throughout Latin America.

2. Won the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature, and is the earliest remaining living recipient.

3. He practically invented ‘magic realism’, a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment. It was probably a result of being in close touch with his grandmother. This is undoubtedly my favourite genre of fiction.

4. He began his career as a journalist while studying law at the National University of Colombia. Needless to say, both journalism and law went for a toss later!

5. Solitude and melancholy are two emotions that you will feel deeply if you read any of his works. So deeply, that they will stir out of your depths, out of those years of repressed feelings, that you may have let dust gather upon…

Teaser Tuesday (November 12)

My teaser:

Why am I hided away like the chocolates?
I just don’t want him looking at you. Even when you were a baby, I always wrapped you up in Blanket before he came in.”

From page 32 (Picador 2010) of Room.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


The Book Thief … a review

I have heard so so much about this book since the longest time and so, when I picked it up, I was sure I’d love it. I didn’t know then that the book had been on the New York Times Bestseller list, not did I know that there was a movie, due to hit screens on 15th November. All of this I found out while I was reading the book. All I knew was that it had received rave reviews, that it was narrated by Death, and it was Nazi Germany.

Liesel Meminger, the book thief, is taken in by the Hubermanns who live on Himmel Street. In a novel that symbolises everyday objects, books, an accordion, a window, a street, different characters come alive. All of them battling a fear – fear of the world, fear of getting caught, fear of showing compassion, and fear of living and loving. As Liesel adjusts to life on Himmel Street, she must slowly grow up, she must face up to a cruel world, that will eventually take everything away from her.

Google the book for reasons why it is a must read. However, read on to find out why i didn’t like it. This is not to say that I wouldn’t recommend it; I would, but it is not one of the best ever books as people have made it out to be.

1. It is narrated by Death. Okay, innovative, I agree. But it is only ‘cool’ for the first ten chapters or so, after that, it just becomes normal narration. The Death signature sort of disappears through large parts of the book and then reappears in other bits.

2. I do not like the amount of swearing in the book. It is a way for Rosa Hubermann to demonstrate her acceptance, affection, fear, grief, everything. It put me off. It made me want to skip scenes where she was speaking any sentences riddled with abuses and slangs. She is a brilliant woman, kind and caring, but her verbosity was just annoying.

3. It felt like a very long book. For a large part in the middle, I felt like nothing was happening. I loved the bits where the family hides a Jew, but anything surrounding it was just faff.

For a lovely father-daughter relationship book, read it. For a general everyday life during the war account, read it. So, as far as Nazi Germany themed books are concerned, I will stick to Anne Frank or even Between Shades of Grey.

The Cone Gatherers … a review

Two brothers, Neil and Calum, are gathering cones from the wooded area of a large estate. The cones have seeds in them which will be used later to plant new forests. The time is during the world war and the scene is Scotland. The brothers have not had to enlist as Calum is a hunchback and a simpleton, and as his only relation Neil is his guardian. The estate’s owner is at war and in his absence, the figure of authority is his wife, the Lady. Other characters include the gamekeeper Duror and the Lady’s young son and heir, Roderick.

Duror’s wife is an invalid. And he has a problem with Calum, who, in his opinion is a cripple, and therefore evil. During the course of the novel, Duror progressively becomes obsessed with hatred, his health quickly fails, and he turns into an incoherent bumbling man twisted by his notions of Christianity, good, and right. These events lead to a brilliant climax that brings together all the characters at a tranquil spot, by a loch, in the pines; each engaged in a struggle with himself and his maker. According to Wiki,

“The novel is filled with heavy symbolism, including some of the following:

  • The woods, representing the Garden of Eden. While the outside world is filled with the death and destruction of the ongoing war, the woods are filled with life and colour.
  • Calum, embodying innocence and purity.
  • Duror, embodying darkness, and a parallel for the serpent in the Garden of Eden
  • Roderick, demonstrating social equality
  • Lady Runcie-Campbell & Neil, both epitomising their polarised views of the social class division
  • The cones – symbolising renewal, regeneration”

Now, I picked up this book only because it is set in Scotland and it was available at the library. I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a tale dripping with rich prose and symbolism. A story, that just like massively popular classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Animal Farm, makes us question our faith in forced goodness and inherent evil in men. Concepts of class, superiority, and constant internal wars are delivered in a matter-of-fact way, just as they always are, in everyday life. It is every individual engaging in his/her own personal battles against the dogma fed to us by religion and history. I do not know why I had never heard of the book or the author, Robin Jenkins, but this book should be on the reading lists in schools everywhere. I found out then, that it is, in Scotland. I highly recommend this book, especially for 15 – 20 year olds. Good Christmas present for those kids, nieces, nephews!

Teaser Tuesday (October 22)

My teaser:

“Duror saw all that he was doing with a strange clear neutrality: his ignoring of Peggy, his lying to Mrs Morton, and above al his resolution to torment the cone-gatherers and destroy them, if he could. Seated in his chair, with his cap respectfully on his knee, and his hands laid upon it so calmly, without a twitch, he thought it incredible that all that villainy should be schemed by him; but then, he did not wish to be there, the part of his life associated with this bright room and this beautiful woman was over, and if he was where he wished to be, close to the hut in the darkness, under the cypress tree, he would not only understand and approve of what he had done, but would find in it his only possible consolation and release.

From 27% (Canongate Books 2012) of The Cone Gatherers.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!