Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

10BOOK-blog427-v2 Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

It’s hard to summarize this book and do it any measure of justice.  Written by the author, a journalist who has written such raw, articulate articles as The Good, Racist People and The Case for Reparations, as a long letter to his teenaged son, this is one man’s account of what it means to be black in America.  To be black in America means carrying the scars and weight of history, to carry a fear and the knowledge that being black means being expected to try twice as hard, be twice as good, and settle for half as much.  It means navigating the world of white privilege among white people (or as Coates says, “people who believe themselves to be white”) who seem oblivious to their own privilege and the fact that it – and, indeed, America itself – was built on black bodies – disposable then, disposable now.

Toni Morrison said it right: this is required reading.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

51U9ALbZXjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

I thought I had read this many years ago, but rereading it recently seemed like reading it for the first time.  Maybe I’m remembering the movie and thinking I had read the book before.

In any case, I’m glad I picked it up and read it recently.  The Color Purple, so titled because the color purple, according to one of the novel’s characters, is representative of the beauty in the world in the midst of horrible circumstances, is the story of Celie, a black woman living in rural Georgia in the early part of the twentieth century.  The story spans several decades; it opens when Celie is fourteen and describes her rape and impregnation by her father.  The opening scene and subsequent scenes depicting repeated rapes and another impregnation at the hands of her father called to mind Sapphire’s novel Push.

After giving birth to two children by her father and believing them both to have been drowned by him, Celie is sold by her father to a local farmer – a man much older than Celie whose wife has recently died.  He is looking for a mother for his children.  However, as it turns out, he is an abusive, lazy man who beats Celie, treats her like a servant, and allows his children to do the same.  At some point shortly after Celie is married off to “Mister,” her younger sister Nettie runs away from their father and goes to Celie, but when Nettie refuses the advances of Celie’s husband, he kicks her out.  Celie is heartbroken and spends the next several decades pining for her beloved sister.

Meanwhile, Mister’s mistress Shug shows up.  Shug is a singer and lives by her own rules.  Celie falls in love with her, and the two women begin an affair and a deep friendship that lasts many years.

This Pulitzer Prize winning novel addresses numerous issues, including racism, poverty, incest, domestic abuse, feminism, and homosexuality to name a few.  It’s probably not surprising that it’s one of the most banned or challenged novels of all time.  Despite its grim subject matter, the story manages to not be despairing.  In fact, it’s beautifully told and full of hope.  The characters come to life on the pages, and you can’t help but be deeply moved – and to cheer for Celie.

Highly recommend.


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

51mSJNECGyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Americanah

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

I read this novel on the heels of Things Fall Apart, which is set in late nineteenth century Nigeria.  Americanah is set in both modern-day Nigeria and America, and it was interesting to read something else about Nigeria, written by a native Nigerian.

Americanah is about Ifemelu and Obinze, a young woman and man who grow up in Nigeria, meet and fall in love in high school there.  They both begin college, and Ifemelu has an opportunity to emigrate to America to finish college.  The two plan for Obinze to follow her to America in a year or two, but political turmoil in Nigeria ultimately prevents him from doing so.

Upon her arrival in America, Ifemelu is bewildered.  For the first time in her life, she must confront what it means to be black in a white nation.  She has great difficulty finding a job, and resorts to making money by sordid means to pay her rent and college tuition.  Although it is a single incident, that and her feelings of homesickness and alienation result in depression and in her cutting ties with Obinze back in Nigeria.  He is heartbroken and mystified by Ifemelu’s sudden silence, which ends up spanning many years.  Eventually, Ifemelu secures a position as a nanny to a white family and begins to find her way in this strange country.  She starts a blog the centers around her observations of what it means to be a black American from her perspective as a black non-American.

Meanwhile, Obinze tries unsuccessfully to get to America.  He spends some time in England, arranging for a sham marriage to an English citizen in order to gain citizenship for himself, but is deported back to Nigeria, where he eventually marries and begins to accumulate wealth through questionable means.  Through all of this – which spans about fifteen years – Ifemelu and Obinze are never far from each other’s thoughts.

A lot of the novel takes place in a hair salon specializing in black hair, as Ifemelu recounts her time in American and plans to return to Nigeria.  I never realized how much a part of black culture black hair is until I saw Chris Rock’s Good Hair several years back, and a lot of the hair salon scenes in this book called to mind that documentary.

I really enjoyed this novel.  It’s very well written and tells an interesting story, as well as offering a slew of observations about race and racism in America.  The only criticism I have is that there were a number of holes in the story – relationships and incidents that seemed important but suddenly evaporated without resolution.

Still, a very good book.