The title to this work of nonfiction is from the famous words spoken by Sojourner Truth at the 1851 Women's Rights Convention in Akron, OH. Those words, "And arn't I a woman?", were a direct attack on the very ideas that men used to support their discrimination of women. She challenges the mere notion of fragility by stating that even though she bore thirteen children and cried a mother's grief when most of them were sold into slavery, that no one cared that she was woman. Why not? It mattered just as much that she was also Black.
"Black in a white society, slave in a free society, woman in a society ruled by men, female slaves had the least formal power and were perhaps the most vulnerable group of antebellum America."
White's book explores the state of the female slave in the American south. Again, slave women disproved the reasons-weakness, vulnerability, aptitude- to marginalize women as there was no chance for survival possessing any of those characteristics. This short work is broken down into six chapters that include topics like the female slave network and their life cycle. What I found to be the most prolific chapter is the first on the "Jezebel" and "Mammy" images. I came into this book already quite familiar with those stereotypes, but not well versed on their exact origins. White's research felt thorough and left me feeling more knowledgeable.
Besides those into nonfiction and scholarly works, it seems that it would also work well as a companion piece for those reading historical fiction from the same period and wanting to gain more insight into how black female slaves are depicted. Even though the focus is on southern slave women, many of the negative images and problems discussed have followed black women to all parts of the country and well into the twenty-first century.Challenges:
Neesha Meminger's debut YA novel sheds light on life for a teenage girl of Indian heritage in post-9/11 America. 17 year old Samar has been very assimilated into American culture by her mother who has severed all ties to her family due to religious and philosophical differences stemming from her own childhood. Samar and her mother have a pretty good bond until a long lost uncle appears on their doorstep and awakens a strong desire in Samar- aka Sammy- to know more about about the family and Sikh heritage that her mother has done everything she can to keep hidden from her. What unfolds is the story of a 3rd generation brown skinned girl who is as American as they come but while coming to terms with her heritage she also has to do the same with the profound ignorance of which she finds herself a target.
Meminger's teenage characters have clear, authentic voices. The boys are all pretty immature and the girls think they're more mature than they really are. I really appreciated her attention to such small details like including a model of color as one Sammy and her white best friend, Molly admire. Also, their school seems to be a real microcosm in terms of the socioeconomic and multicultural/multi-ethnic backgrounds represented. The adults are also written with relevancy and clarity. Especially Sammy's mother, Sharanjit, and her uncle, Sandeep. In spite of their differing ideas and the many years since their separation, the love between this brother and sister is evident.
One of my favorite moments is when Sammy, in spite of her mother's adverse opinion of "religion", has a meaningful experience at a local gurdwara
(Sikh temple). This really speaks volumes to the difference between religion and spirituality and how the latter is often overshadowed by the former.
Shine Coconut Moon is a great story that I believe all teens could identify with and those a bit older who were teens during the events of 9/11. This novel exposes the realities of identity becoming more prevalent for many who were at once Americans then suddenly found themselves under unfair scrutiny. Also, it should speak to all ages in general on knowing and treasuring family and heritage.
South Asian Author
Me Dying Trial
was the first novel published by Jamaican-born author, Patricia Powell. Powell presents the life of rural Jamaican schoolteacher, Gwennie Glaspole. She's married to an often abusive man and has six children, one of whom is the product of an affair with her parents' boarder. Gwennie simply wants a stable, peaceful life for her and her children. She takes an opportunity to get her teacher's certificate as a means to also leave her husband. Gwennie finds more trials in her life as she immigrates to the U.S. without her children in order to work and save money for a home.
The story is told in an omniscient voice which fully reveals the colorful setting and dialect of Jamaica. This voice also helps create a number of layers to the novel like the plight of women being juxtaposed against that of gay men. You have a few strong women like Gwennie who was often silenced by her husband and physically abused, she was never completely submissive and afraid of him. And her Aunt Cora is a woman who had a rare relationship with her deceased husband as he treated her as his equal as they worked side by side in a store she continued to run on her own after his death. Though being a gay man in Jamaica is extremely taboo, it's very interesting that most of the women took no issue with homosexuality because there was an apparent empathy with this other oppressed group. As for Gwennie's children, most of the focus was on her son Rudi and daughter Peppy. As they were the two most disconnected from the other siblings, it's natural that they form a bond. These two characters along with Aunt Cora and the abusive husband Walter are where Powell's writing shines. It's where she explores the complexities of family life, how women survive, and every other type of human experience. Peppy's story is one that I think a follow up novel would be appropriate. I enjoyed how invested I felt mostly in her and Gwennie as they have stayed with me after turning the final page.Challenges:
The Joys of Motherhood
tells the story of Nnu Ego born in a village in colonial Nigeria to a note Ibo chief and his mistress. Her mother was not allowed to marry as her father felt she should not "stoop to any man" but could have a lover. Nnu Ego would eventually be raised solely by her father and he would raise her to be just as independent and stubborn as her mother. However, the pressure to become a mother, especially of sons, was prevalent in her tribe as it was supposed to proved a woman's worth.
A failed first marriage because she did not bear any children leads to a second with a man she does not like or respect because of his looks and his occupation. It does eventually yield many children to whom Nnu Ego selflessly devotes her life. Her selflessness is supposed to reap her the joys of motherhood. A mother can give and give until her life ends in a most despicable way and her children may never bestow her with the things she may have given up or simply support her in old age. Once into the meat of the story, it becomes evident that joy is also supposed to come simply from the act of giving to her children. Even this is troublesome as she often had very little to give them. Often what she had to give went to her eldest son to further his education much to the frustration and anger of the second son and their father. Nnu Ego's struggle are compounded by her conflict with maintaining a traditional role which includes being a financial contributor and the modern role in this urban setting that calls for her to just focus on being a mother.
I'm an instant fan of Buchi Emecheta. Her writing is so vivid and crisp. Perhaps I'm biased being a mother and this is my first impression of her writing, but I feel she nailed it. The joys of motherhood are something that don't just necessarily manifest as tangible or, even, emotional rewards. They are just random moments and, sometimes, the good doesn't outweigh the bad. But once you're a mother you have to just surrender to it and come what may. For Nnu Ego, her joy came from the superficial outlook others had on her as a mother of seven and their individual success. Emecheta's use of chi
, or personal spirit, and a number of other cultural references often relating to spirituality and death make this a very enriching read. The constant presence of death- be it that of a newborn, and old chief, or an attempted suicide- adds a profundity to this book on motherhood.
I also own and hope to read Emecheta's novel, Slave Girl
, in the near future.Challenges:
is a well-noted Nigerian born novelist whose writing often has feminist themes. Her novels include The Joys of Motherhood
, Slave Girl
, and Second Class Citizen