The Week in Books #97

5/14 ✅

The week in books! I’ve continued reading from this stack of books for Black History Month, and made it through 4 this week (including one extra I didn’t originally photograph). Two fiction, two non-fiction. Here we go:

1. The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia. Cheluchi is a Nigerian-Canadian author. This book was shortlisted for the Giller Prize last year. It tells the story of two women from different classes with an unknown connection. First we learn about Nwabulu’s life, then Julie’s. The flow of the novel is good through Nwabulu’s story, but stalls a bit at the beginning of Julie’s, I found. Just when I was getting into N’s narrative it switched and it felt like starting a new book. Once I got into Julie’s section it switches again to the both of them together which was something I was really looking forward to, but the ending was very abrupt! It could have benefited from an Epilogue to really wrap things up. Otherwise a very readable story that highlights the inequalities between genders and classes in Nigeria. Having just had a baby boy myself, N’s story totally horrified me.

The lives of two Nigerian women divided by class and social inequality intersect when they’re kidnapped, held captive, and forced to await their fate together.

In the Nigerian city of Enugu, young Nwabulu, a housemaid since the age of ten, dreams of becoming a typist as she endures her employers’ endless chores. She is tall and beautiful and in love with a rich man’s son.

Educated and privileged, Julie is a modern woman. Living on her own, she is happy to collect the gold jewellery lovestruck Eugene brings her, but has no intention of becoming his second wife.

When a kidnapping forces Nwabulu and Julie into a dank room years later, the two women relate the stories of their lives as they await their fate.

Pulsing with vitality and intense human drama, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s debut is set against four decades of vibrant Nigeria, celebrating the resilience of women as they navigate and transform what remains a man’s world.

Dundurn Press

2. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson. Carol is an American historian. This book was extremely well researched, as you should expect from an accomplished professor of African American studies. Taken from her website: “At the core of her research agenda is how policy is made and unmade, how racial inequality and racism affect that process and outcome, and how those who have taken the brunt of those laws, executive orders, and directives have worked to shape, counter, undermine, reframe, and, when necessary, dismantle the legal and political edifice used to limit their rights and their humanity.”

This is an incredible source of information on how policy in America has worked tirelessly to block progress of African American communities and limit their civil rights. Starting in the slavery era Anderson covers the civil war, emancipation, the great migration, segregated schools, the civil rights movement, the election of Obama, voter suppression, the war on drugs and more. Essential reading. For reals.

From the end of the Civil War to our combustible present, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America.

As Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in August 2014, and media commentators across the ideological spectrum referred to the angry response of African Americans as “black rage,” historian Carol Anderson wrote a remarkable op-ed in the Washington Post showing that this was, instead, “white rage at work. With so much attention on the flames,” she writes, “everyone had ignored the kindling.”

Since 1865 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, every time African Americans have made advances towards full participation in our democracy, white reaction has fueled a deliberate, relentless rollback of their gains. The end of the Civil War and Reconstruction was greeted with the Black Codes and Jim Crow; the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision was met with the shutting down of public schools throughout the South; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 triggered a coded response, the so-called Southern Strategy and the War on Drugs that disenfranchised millions of African Americans.

Carefully linking these and other historical flashpoints, Anderson pulls back the veil that has long covered actions made in the name of democracy, fiscal responsibility, or protection against fraud, rendering visible the long lineage of white rage. Compelling and dramatic in the unimpeachable history it relates, White Rage will add an important new dimension to the national conversation about race in America.

3. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. Nnedi is a Nigerian-American. This is a fun young adult fantasy book about an Albino Nigerian American who discovers she has magical abilities. I really enjoyed the world building, the magic and the characters. Sunny becomes friends with three other Jaguars (magical beings) and they form a quartet that embarks on a journey to study magic and ultimately take down a child murderer. Did it make sense to send a bunch of children in to fight against a powerful man who was murdering other children to summon an even more powerful entity? Not totally sure about that but regardless I enjoyed this story.

Affectionately dubbed “the Nigerian Harry Potter,” Akata Witch weaves together a heart-pounding tale of magic, mystery, and finding one’s place in the world. Perfect for fans of Children of Blood and Bone!

Sunny Nwazue lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. Her features are West African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. And she has a lot of catching up to do.

Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But as she’s finding her footing, Sunny and her friends are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a career criminal who knows magic, too. Will their training be enough to help them combat a threat whose powers greatly outnumber theirs?

Penguin Randomhouse

4. They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up by Eternity Martis. Eternity is a Canadian writer of Pakistani and Jamaican heritage. Eternity writes about the racism she experienced as one of only a handful of Black/South Asian students at Western University in London, Ontario. This book serves as a stark reminder that we above the border are not as innocent of the racism that runs rampant in the USA as we like to think we are. Some of the stories Eternity shares are shocking and truly offensive. She has researched this book extremely well and it is a very important read, particularly for Canadians!

A powerful, moving memoir about what it’s like to be a student of colour on a predominantly white campus.

A booksmart kid from Toronto, Eternity Martis was excited to move away to Western University for her undergraduate degree. But as one of the few Black students there, she soon discovered that the campus experiences she’d seen in movies were far more complex in reality. Over the next four years, Eternity learned more about what someone like her brought out in other people than she did about herself. She was confronted by white students in blackface at parties, dealt with being the only person of colour in class and was tokenized by her romantic partners. She heard racial slurs in bars, on the street, and during lectures. And she gathered labels she never asked for: Abuse survivor. Token. Bad feminist. But, by graduation, she found an unshakeable sense of self–and a support network of other women of colour.

Using her award-winning reporting skills, Eternity connects her own experience to the systemic issues plaguing students today. It’s a memoir of pain, but also resilience.

Penguin Randomhouse

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