As many of us are stuck at home due to COVID-19 induced social distancing and lockdowns, reading is a great way to pass time while still feeling productive. It can also help take your mind away from the anxieties of our present situation, even if only for a moment. Hence I have compiled a list of 6 books I read recently that drew me into their world and were difficult to put down.
Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah was ‘Born a Crime’ because during apartheid it was a punishable offence for a Black person and a White person to have sexual relations. In this memoir, he shares stories from his childhood in South Africa while giving mini-lessons on the architecture of apartheid through each story. He was born in 1984, towards the end of apartheid, but had to navigate life in a country ridden with deep scars of its recent history. He provides insight into the legacy of apartheid, it’s stupidity and pettiness. This was my first read of 2020 and I still think about it till today. The mere concept that a child was born a crime is incredibly saddening. The story was well pace, vivid, hilarious and heartbreaking all at once.
The book is also a love letter to his mother, who tried her best to create a new world for him. One where he does not grow up paying what she called “the black tax” — “because the generation who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero.”
I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is educational, it is funny, it is captivating.
“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”
Queenie by Candice Carty- Williams
Queenie is a year in the life of a 25-year-old Black woman of Jamaican heritage living in London. At the start everything is okay. She’s living with her white boyfriend and has a job she worked hard to get. But then he wants to go on a break, so Queenie has to move out. And let’s just say she did not handle the break well. She starts doing badly at work and having unprotected sex with various guys that showed her no respect. As the story goes on we learn that she experienced some childhood trauma that destroyed her self-esteem and self-regard. And because of that, her default is self-sabotage. I was really rooting for Queenie, but I couldn’t help but be annoyed by a lot of her actions. She is also such a contradictory and flawed character, but that made it even more realistic.
The book touches on so many heavy topics including micro-aggressions in the workplace, complicated family dynamics, the fetishization of the Black woman’s body and mental health issues. I think it did a good job in portraying the stigma surrounding going to therapy in the Black community. The story flowed so smoothly, and it was written so vividly. I couldn’t put it down.
“The road to recovery is not linear. It’s not straight. It’s a bumpy path, with lots of twists and turns. But you’re on the right track.”
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Evelyn Hugo is a Hollywood icon of the 1950s to 1980s and at the age of 79, she is finally ready to let people in on who she really is. She chooses an unknown reporter, Monique Grant, to write about her life and no one understands why. During their time together Evelyn Hugo reveals the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life, her seven husbands, and the people in her life that she truly loved. She has spent her entire life being two people and she now wants to be seen for who she truly is.
It was interesting to dive into the Hollywood of the 1950s to 80s. There was so much drama and scandals in her life and she did some very questionable things, but you also start to feel bad for her because her life is quite miserable. Reading about her life just goes to show that things are not always as they seem and that choosing money and fame over people is the wrong choice.
In between her sessions with Evelyn, the reader also experiences Monique’s perspective. We learn about her life, but I felt like there wasn’t enough of Monique’s story for me to be interested in her. There is also this mystery of why Evelyn chose to give Monique her story, but I didn’t feel like it added to the story.
If you enjoy drama, scandals and life in old Hollywood I think you will enjoy the book. It’s very easy to read and deals with some important topics.
“After she died, I would cry only in the shower, where no one could see me or hear me, where I couldn’t tell what were my tears and what was the water.”
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing is a trans-generational story that centres around two half-sisters in 18th century Ghana that never knew about each other’s existence. Effia marries a white slave trader and lives in Cape Coast Castle, while Esi is captured and kept in a dungeon at the castle before being sent to America to become a slave. Each chapter of the book follows one of their descendant and alternates between those that stayed in Ghana and those that ended up in America finally drawing to a close back in Ghana 250 years later.
Through the portrait of each character the author explores life in 18th century Ghana, the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, the effects of British colonisation and the slave trade on Ghanian society, life as a slave in the American South in the 19th century, the barbarism of the Fugitive Slave Act and Jim Crow segregation, racism in supposedly-liberal New York in the 20th century and the innate desire to have a place where you call home.
This was a fantastic read. I’m incredibly impressed by the author’s ability to tell such a captivating, yet painful story filled with so much history and richly developed characters in only 300 pages. The structure of the book made it read almost like a collection of short stories, but one where each story is connected, and I really enjoyed that. The writing was just phenomenal. I particularly enjoyed the early chapters. They were so vivid and immersive so you can imagine life in precolonial Ghana. They were also longer than later chapters, so you really get to connect to the characters and their story.
“There should be no room in your life for regret. If in the moment of doing, you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?”
The Legacy of Orisha series by Tomi Adeyemi
The Orisha trilogy is currently up to two books titled, ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ and ‘Children of Virtue and Vengeance’. This is a young adult fantasy with incredible world-building and character development that is perfect for readers looking for a fantastical world to escape into.
Orïsha, a fictional world heavily inspired by Nigeria, was once filled with magic with different Maji clans wielding different powers. The gods choose who can and can’t perform magic. Those chosen by the gods to perform magic are marked by their white coils, but they can’t do magic before they turned thirteen. So until their power manifested they were called diviners. Everything changed the night the King of Orïsha ordered that anyone with magic is killed. He let the children of the fallen maji live but they are treated like second-class citizens. Zelie is one such diviner. When an unexpected encounter ignites Zelie’s magic, she has a chance to bring magic back to Orïsha.
“You crushed us to build your monarchy on the backs of our blood and bone. Your mistake wasn’t keeping us alive. it was thinking we’d never fight back”
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Purple Hibiscus, Adichie’s debut novel, is set in post-colonial Nigeria and is written from the perspective of Kambili, the protagonist. She is a shy 15-year-old girl who lives with her mother, brother and wealthy devout Catholic father. Although her father has an authoritative and repressive nature at home, in the community he is incredibly generous. When Kambili and her brother are unexpectedly allowed to visit Aunty Ifeoma and her three children they finally get to experience a liberal environment, and everything begins to change. The book touches on religious extremism, domestic abuse, child abuse and freedom and it reveals the complexities of religion and family through the eyes of a young girl.
I finished the book in a day and a half because it was just that captivating. Highly recommend!
“Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.”
Reading is a great way to limit the amount of news you consume. I hope books will help keep your mind busy during these uncertain times.
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