Books reviews: For those looking to read a specific kind of author, and in this case, black authors. So, here’s the list I have compiled of books written by black authors that I read.
1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.
“A black man, in the wrong place at the wrong time, will find retribution meted out swiftly and unquestioningly.”
Someone tweeted this book as the winner of the Women’s prize for fiction, and I had to get it. This story pulled at my heartstrings. Celestial and Roy, a newly-married couple, are on the verge of realising their American dream when it is cruelly snuffed away when Roy is wrongly accused of rape by a white woman and ends up incarcerated. Heartrending and, unfortunately, a poignant reflection of the plight of the black family and our society in general. Bound by their love, the newly-married couple is determined to make things work. They send letters back and forth to each other, and this is how the writer tells the story. Through the characters' correspondences, which I thought were quite creative, we delve into each character's head and glimpse into their feelings, attitudes, fears and motivations. The book delivers themes that spark passionate conversations about the black family, love, betrayal, abortion, the relationship between the black man and America’s police force and more. As one can expect, there is always conflict, a twist or two in every story worth telling, but I did not anticipate the ending. Being an idealist and a hopeless romantic, I imagined the couple making it despite the challenges of being pulled apart by time and distance. Such is life, I guess. *sigh*
2. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Another gripping, emotional read. A story about marriage. Love and lies. There is a lot of pain in this book. But then again, many great books draw from pain, tragedy and deceit. A lot draws from the African experience. The desperation that comes with wanting a child. The need to uphold certain expectations while sacrificing one's happiness along the way. Not just an African account, but a story that transcends culture, race and geography, for the themes are just that - a pure human experience. This had everyone buzzing when it was released, so I had to discover what the fuss was about. I’m glad I did.
3. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I saw this on my Twitter timeline and found myself on Amazon, clicking buy. Homegoing is a story of slavery. Of broken relationships. Societal prejudices. And more. A simple read. The author seems fast-paced, cramming a few generations into one book. An emotional read, I find, but then again, who isn’t touched by the evil of slavery? I have to say, though, that the ending was rather abrupt for me. I was left wanting more, hoping for more. I needed closure, perhaps. Oh, well. *sighs*
4. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
I could identify with most themes in this book. The hope that all economic migrants carry when they move to another country. They face disappointment when they realise that emigrating is not what it’s cracked up to be. In the end, most long for home. Home is where the heart is. The immigrant realises they do not have to be scared to return home. If they try hard enough, they can dream again and make it in their own country. The main character in this book does just that. They eventually return home after years of trying to make it in America. I wanted the protagonists to dream big. To have more ambition. To swing for the fence. I wanted more conflict and drama and for the stakes to rise higher.
5. Under the Udala Trees by Chimelo Okparanta
It is possible this book would have eventually found its way into my hands had a friend not recommended it to me. A story about two girls who fall for each other. Unheard of during the time and place the author describes. I finished the book as it addresses some fundamental issues in today's society— mother-daughter relationships, sexuality, sacrifice, religion and love. I usually gravitate toward themes that tug at my emotions. For example, the book talks about sacrificing your happiness or changing who you are to please others, which is always a bad idea. In the book, the regret will haunt you until you develop the courage and resilience to go after what you want.
6. Slay in Your Lane: The Journal by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene
The book delivers exactly what it says it is: The Black Girl Bible. Black women and girls do face a lot of challenges. We are misunderstood, labelled as angry, and find ourselves at the bottom of the food chain in some, if not most, areas of life. So if you are a black woman needing some motivation, this is the book you want to read.
The book impressed me because it is an #ownvoices book, which contains real-life accounts and testimonies of those who have ‘made it’ despite all odds. To me, nothing beats hearing an account from the horse's mouth. There is also a practical demonstration of how to navigate societal prejudices in a classy way, attain the right level of education for you, get employment, and get ahead in life. A great read but difficult to swallow in some parts as I had to relieve some of the harsh realities of my life as a black woman living in Britain.
7. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Dubbed by some as the black Bridget Jones, I found this book funny, gripping and a compelling read. The writer uses light-hearted language to depict serious issues. She explores her Caribbean family, and even though I am from Zimbabwe, I can identify with her experience in matters of life in general, love, race, relationship break-ups, disappointments, societal attitudes and misconceptions about certain groups of people and family. Told in simple language, humorous and yet compelling way. I believe the writer aims to enlighten, teach, inform, and entertain, and Candice did just that.
8. Washing Black by Esi Edugyan
I was drawn to this book because it was nominated for the Booker Prize, and most people were raving about it. In the opening pages, Washington Black launches slavery at sugar plantations in Barbados. But he does not dwell on slavery. Instead, the author drifts towards the experiences of the free young slave who is chosen to be the helper of his master’s brother. As they explore their relationship and adventures together, Washington Black discovers he is talented. He soon embraces life as a free man. A man who is perhaps seen as an ‘equal’ to the white man. I do not know what to make of this story, as the ending left me craving for more, wishing it was more. Something else. Oh, well.
9. The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
I listened on audible as Chipo Chung narrated it. What a lovely voice. The book of Memory is well-written and fast-paced. This book, of course, was written by a Zimbabwean. A story about Memory, who is rotting in prison, accused of the murder of Lloyd, her guardian. Despite the sad themes, the book filled me with nostalgia. As I read every chapter and every word, I could see parts of myself, recalling my own childhood through some of her memories. I saw myself growing up in the townships of my hometown, playing in the school playground and being tormented by 'Nhau', a character in the book. What I love about the book is the author's ability to capture the Zimbabwean experience. A must-read.