incredible-- one of the best memoirs I've read.
I’ve seen enough to know that you can be a human with a mountain of resources and you can be a human with nothing, and you can be a monster either way. Everywhere, and especially at both extremes, you can find monsters. It’s at the extremes that people are most scared.
Clemantine Wamariya fled Kigali in the early years of the Rwandan genocide. She was six years old. Over the next six years, Clemantine migrated through seven different African countries with her older sister Claire. They survived off little besides dirty water, bugs, and tough grain. In 1994, at age twelve, Clementine was granted refugee status in the United States (800,000 people died in Rwanda that year// some counts have this number as closer to 1 million). Separated from her parents and most of her siblings, she moved in with a white couple, attended New Trier High School, Hotchkiss, then Yale. Some of the most thoughtful parts of this book describe Clemantine’s transition to these elite PWIs. Reading about her experience at Hotchkiss and Yale made me want to rip my skin off (I’m not sure what I mean by that–or if that’s even okay to say–but that’s how I felt).
In 2004, Clemantine entered and won a high school writing contest. Her prize was an opportunity to appear on Oprah and discuss the Rwandan genocide in front of hundreds of thousands of American viewers. At the end of the (live/televised) episode, Oprah announced that Clemantine’s family was actually backstage, waiting to see her for the first time in a decade! In her memoir, Clemantine offers an honest depiction of the panic she felt at this moment. With all of America watching, she was forced to perform as if this was the greatest moment of her life. In reality, Clemantine barely recognized these people. She hadn’t even met the youngest two siblings and did not want this moment to be for public consumption. There’s so much more to the story than you see in this 90 second clip from Oprah.
cool book. really cool cover.
"Dieting is the most potent political sedative in history. A quietly mad population is a tractable one" --Naomi Wolf
Sonya Renee Taylor did a reading for Magers and Quinn in late March (s/o to Magers and Quinn for hosting so many great events). Though I wasn’t able to attend Taylor’s talk, I recently got my hands on a copy of her most new book (The Body is Not an Apology). It’s great. In 120 pages (this does not take long to read), Taylor describes the culture of body shaming in the United States and argues that “radical self love” is the only effective antidote to a culture that has normalized body hatred. For those of you who have read Hunger (Roxane Gay), Taylor’s book is less personal narrative and more “self help” directive. Parts of the book read like a more traditional academic paper (with sections from Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth etc).
The whole section on the “Body-Shame Profit Complex” is great. Taylor posits that we must better connect the way we spend our money to what we really want in life. She suggests that women make too many purchases that serve as band aids for feelings of deficiency/ inadequacy. Consider the fact that the average American woman spends $3,770 on mascara over her lifetime (and the average American woman spends almost $20,000 on beauty products in her lifetime): “We humans are masters of distraction, using makeup, weight loss, and a finely curated self image to avoid being present to our fears…We are not bad or frivolous people for buying beauty products…I am proposing that reflecting on our purchases gives us an opportunity to investigate whether we are in alignment with out own unapologetic truth. Are we being manipulated by capitalism and the Body-Shame Profit Complex?”(42)THANK YOU, SONYA !! I feel like I’ve been trying to find the right words to say this for the last two decades.
a defense of the body.
When I am walking down the street, men lean out of their car windows and shout vulgar things at me about my body, how they see it, and how it upsets them that I'm not catering to their gaze and their preferences. I try not to take these men seriously because what they are really saying is 'I am not attracted to you. I do not want to fuck you, and this confuses my understanding of my masculinity, entitlement, and place in this world.' It is not my job to please them with my body.
At the grocery store, other shoppers remove “junk food” from Roxane’s cart. During a book signing, women give her unsolicited exercise advice. On airplanes, flight attendants loudly proclaim that Roxane “should’ve bought two seats” (though when she does purchase two seats for the same name on one flight, flight attendants balk). This is daily life for Roxane Gay. In her memoir Hunger, she bravely describes all of these situations and more.
Roxane Gay was raped when she was 12. Scared that she may be punished or “go to hell,” she did not tell her parents. Just a few years later, Roxane left home to study at Phillips Exeter. In the first few months at Exeter, she gained 30 pounds. Unable to tell anyone about the trauma she had experienced, Roxane “ate and ate and ate to build [her] body into a fortress.” Hoping that the extra layers of fat would protect her from the unwanted male gaze, Roxane felt safer when she was bigger.
I’m grateful that Roxane Gay is willing to share these stories. Unlike other books focused on body image/ food, this memoir does not have a sappy, treacly ending in which the main character loses lots of weight, stands in one leg of her “fat pants,” and then finds true love. Rather, this book is a defense of the body and a proclamation that “bodies are not a problem to be solved.” I liked this book a lot. I admire her so much.
peculiar fantasy. not great.
I lost Ruth Hogan around the mid-point. The plot starts off simple enough: Anthony Peardew (note the not so subtle similarity to French word “perdu”–lost) collects other people’s misplaced items. He labels and cares for each item until it can be reunited with its rightful owner. This part is fine– I get it. After about 100 pages, the novel erupts into a peculiar fantasy in which a ghost haunts the Peardew mansion and a girl with Down Syndrome has extrasensory perception. There are also about 100 sub-stories bubbling beneath the main plot here. It’s pretty trippy. Best to read this book without a beer if you want to keep track of all the story lines. Alternatively, you could admit that none of the story lines are interesting enough to stay sober for, sip your IPA, and just hope it will end soon.
if you haven't read this, you should.
Okay, we didn’t work, and all
memories to tell you the truth aren’t good.
But sometimes there were good times.
Love was good. I loved your crooked sleep
beside me and never dreamed afraid.
There should be stars for great wars
Diaz starts This is How You Lose Her with one of my favorite Sandra Cisneros poems. It’s a great intro. I like this book even more than Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize winning Oscar Wao (I really liked Oscar Wao). I’d be interested in speaking with others about how the books compare. I’m going to do a quote dump here, just because I think it’s more useful than a bland summary of Diaz’s NOT BLAND creation. If you haven’t read this, you should. It goes quick.
“She’s sensitive. Takes to hurt the way water takes to paper” (6).
“Casa de Campo has got beaches the way the rest of the Island has got problems…Every fifty feet there’s at least one Eurofuck beached out on a towel like some scary pale monster that the sea’s vomited up. They look like philosophy professors, like budget Foucaults…” (15).
“After a year of us, together, this was where we were at. Our relationship wasn’t the sun, the moon, and the stars, but it wasn’t bullshit either” (19).
“I think about the first time me and Magda talked. Back at Rutgers. We were waiting for an E bus together on George Street and she was wearing purple. All sorts of purple. And that’s when I know it’s over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end” (24).
“Ana Iris once asked me if I loved him and I told her about the lights in my old home in the capital, how they flickered and you never knew if they would go out or not. You put down your things and you waited and couldn’t do anything really until the lights decided. This, I told her, is how I feel” (68).
“You’re the only person I’ve ever met who can stand a bookstore as long as I can. A smarty-pants, the kind you don’t find every day. When I come back to you again you have kicked off your shoes and are picking at the running calluses on your feet, while reading a children’s book” (85).
“His hair was a frightening no-color. His sister had green eyes and her freckled face was cowled in a hood of pink fur. We had on the same brand of mittens. The world was ice and the ice burned with sunlight. This was my first interaction with Americans” (137).
terrible book. fascinating topic.
Before We Were Yours has 84,000 ratings, with an average rating of 4.38 stars (this is very, very strong). It also won Goodreads “Best Book of 2017” for historical fiction. Jackie Cooper from Huff Post declared the book, “a near perfect novel.” I am very puzzled by all this hype. I have no idea why readers give this book 3 stars. I really have no idea why readers give this book 4 or 5 stars. The writing is unbelievably simplistic and super corny/cringy/cheesy. There is only one reason why I won’t let this rubbish wallow in the gutter with 1 star books: the stories of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home are ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING. Tann used this “orphanage” as a front for a black market adoption ring. From 1920-1950, Tann duped low income parents into signing over their babies for adoption. Hundreds of babies were illegally removed from their birth parents and at least 19 children died of abuse/neglect while in the care of the Tennessee Children’s Home. Tann even planned kidnappings from nursery schools. I look forward to reading more about this whole scandal (just definitely not from Lisa Wingate).