Category Archives: books

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Books on Letters between Friends

Image resultImage result for dear ijeawele

About So Long a Letter

About Dear Ijeawele

In March and April I read these two letters between female friends. Both of them touch of womanhood and issues of feminism which although books are written almost four decades apart, are still so relevant and applicable to the plight of women. All in all, they are both great books so I will talk about the common themes that struck a note with me.

  1. Maintain your identity that is separate from your role as a mother, a wife, a sister-in-law. Maintain that single identity and I would even venture to say, keep pursuing those interests you have and love to do.
  2. Make your partner a full partner. From Dear Ijeawele, this is quite obvious and self-explanatory. From So Long …. it’s not quite obvious but I like Aissatou (the friend)’s response when her husband married a second wife, she held him immediately accountable and  left the marriage. Many called her names and wished something else of her but she held him accountable and did what she had to do.
  3. Both authors talk about centering marriage in the right place as a nice to have/do but not the penultimate accomplishment. Marriage is neither good nor bad, but how we aspire to it could be.
  4. Both writers caution each other against assigning certain roles to male or female children and the assumptions we make or impute. The future is not one where boys (girls) can do certain things that girls (boys) cannot. Also the language that we use when we explain the roles and responsibilities to kids also matters a lot.

The entire letter is an ode to female friendship which I totally loved and would therefore recommend both books. You can easily get through both in a single sitting or weekend.

Small Thursday Challenge

The finalists for the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing were announced earlier this week. The Caine Prize for African Writing is a registered charity whose aim is to bring African writing to a wider audience using our annual literary award. The finalists hail from Kenya :), South Africa and Nigeria and here are their short stories:

I wanna challenge myself to read them all and then guess which one will win. Join me?

 

Book Review: Always Another Country – Sisonke Msimang

Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home by [Msimang, Sisonke]
 Buy here

I read this book over the December holidays and was sooo excited, I am not sure what happened and it’s almost four months later that I am here gushing about it. Urgggh!! Please see below my thoughts under the different themes, page numbers are provided in brackets for you to follow.

General

  •  This is a book for us women, refugees, blacks (6) and I totally totally agree.
  • I love that our time in Nairobi overlap – when she returns from Canada. I know all the landmarks she mentions of Nairobi. It felt so good to read a book about a place that I knew and know of so intimately. Double yay!!
  • I thought it was odd that she kept referring to her folks as Mummy and Baba??? So odd coz those are two different languages in my head and I would have gone with either Mummy and Daddy or Mama and Baba.
  • I wondered also why she protects the names of her own kids but not Simon’s eldest two. Not sure what that’s about is it maybe that they are adults and the other two are minors?
  • The things said to them about a male child being preferred to daughters. And how this is often blamed on the mother in a way that gives the husband carte blanche to stray in the name of looking for a son (pp 7 – 27). I know this reality all too well and all I think is Biology lessons are important for all.
  • It’s so subtle but her talking about not participating in the street games and fights as much as the local kids do coz it could turn on you:

“I had to choose how I would distinguish myself and I knew that it had to be safe.”(9)

  • The plight of house girls and domestic workers – all too relatable ( 50).
  • Having read Pumla’s Rape, it resonated with me how she spoke about the incident of being sexually attacked: her response and that of the adults around her (52 -55). Also, in the light of #MeToo, I thought it quite bold that she opened up about this incident.
  • The urgency for them to receive their citizenship. Yeah, I get that (67 – 68).
  • I remember the following events but was probably too young to consider their true impact on history: Chris Hani, Mandelas release, the IFP-sponsored murders and the election.

Growing up Foreign

  • Being called an African monkey. While that did not happen to me, I know about being called a refugee almost as though it was a dirty swear word.
  • And the rules that their mom had them follow because growing up in another country with parents working full time, there is not a big social infrastructure to support the parents. So rules are key or in young people speak, rules are bae.

“… the immigrant child knows that outside is one thing but home is another country.” (83)

“The immigrant child knows that the key to survival is in the inflection points. … The key to survival is in blending in first, in learning how to be just like else as a first step to freedom. You have to know how the inside works before you can stand outside and make everybody laugh.” (90)

“The immigrant child doesn’t make any noise. … She is preparing for the day when she will have mastered the art of being normal so that she can stand out.” (90)

Sisterhood

  • How she always talks of her sisters, so beautiful and in some way the story is as much about them as it is her. Yay sisterhood.

Race

  •  I understand when she talks of her discovery of her race in the States. The same thing happened to me in RSA.
  • Being foreign in South Africa has shown me that White ones are still preferred to Black ones. Sad but fact!

Moms: 

  • On discovering that your mom is not just a role – mom, wife, friend, daughter – but actually a woman with dreams, feelings and thoughts quite apart from me even. GASP, SHOCKING.
  • How their mom almost became like an older fourth sister but their dad remained a dad. I find this to be the truth with us too.

“To know your mother as an adult is to finally see that she has lived many more years as a woman than you have been alive. To be a grown woman who loves her mother is to understand that it is no easy thing to raise children so beautifully that they don’t worry about you until they are grown up and ready to carry the complex burden of that anxiety.” (304)

  • Class: I enjoyed reading about her relationship with her nanny especially when they were both pregnant. I thought it was the most honest tale by a middle class Black woman that I could totally relate to.

So please go out, buy the book read, it, share it and enjoy it.

Now, to make friends with her in real life?

Belated Sunday Reads

Where are you going. You cannot leave with so many pieces of me still inside you. How will I ever put myself back together again.

Nikita Gill

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15 Best Reads in 2017

I read some really interesting books in 2017.

  • On Black Sisters Street: Chika Unigwe – I read it in the context of the current mass migration tales and I helped me imagine the kind of backstories that some of the migrants are fleeing from.
  • The Woman Next Door: Yewande Omotoso – Great read. As I read it I kept thinking it would make for a great TV mini-series.
  • Rape: Pumla Dineo Gqola– Eye opening. Educative. Informative. Heavy topic, well written.
  • When Breath Becomes Air: Paul Kalanithi – I cried after reading this one. It made me think of legacies and the things that drive me.
  • Small Great Acts: Jodi Piccoult – I love her writing and as usual, there was a deep ethical question to ponder.
  • An Elegy for Easterly: Pettinah Gappah – I am not a big short stories fan but I love the author and the stories did not disappoint. Must admit to the fact that I kept thinking back to these stories during Mugabe’s exit.
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City: Matthew Desmond – I love these kinds of books that delve into one deep topic. It was interesting to also see how eviction has interlinkages with so many other issues: unemployment, poverty, crime, food shortages.
  • The Mothers: Brit Bennett – I enjoyed this read, it was an easy read but raised so many questions for me – especially on the role of faith in our lives.
  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Pearce: Jeff Hobbs – Forgetting whether it is the author’s story to tell, this book broke my heart. For anyone that wants to read Hillbilly Elegy, I would rather recommend this one.
  • Stay With Me: Ayobami Adebayo – Loved, loved, loved this one. Definitely recommending it to one and all.
  • Who Will Catch Us As We Fall: Iman Verjee – Great story on Kenya post-2007. Faultless.
  • Lyrics Alley: Leila Aboulela – This book made me dream of visiting Khartoum and The Sudan.
  • Beneath the Lion’s Gaze: Maaza Mengiste – It helped me understand so much about Ethiopia. Definitely a must read.
  • Kintu: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi – A book from home. I initially thought it would be too ambitious and then under deliver but no, it was a great book to read. Get it.
  • Pachinko: Min Jin Lee – I have a thing for dynastic reads and this delivered exactly what I love: joy, sadness, tears, laughter and triumph.

Sunday Reads

Recipes

Sunday Reads

This definition of her: to go from her father to her husband, to be pretty, docile – a man made tragedy. Her soul was made of larger, more powerful things, things that create or desecrate armies and galaxies. This is why when she loves she changes kingdoms, and when she hates she destroys legacies.  Nikita Gill, Jasmine, A Princess That Belonged To Herself First

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Books Based in New York City

I love New York, I just love it and so I wanted to share a couple of books that remind me of the Big Apple.

 

  • I have shared before that I did not really like Open City and I thought he was just showing off.
  • I LOVED Behold the Dreamers. I felt it was more relateable.
  • Everyone is raving about the Leavers but I felt it would have been a better short story but it gave me a glimpse of Upstate New York.

Do you love the Big Apple and have you read any books based on this city?

Mini- December (Reading) Goal

So I recently had occasion to reflect on the past year and to start planning for 2018 and decided to close out the year by reading ten books until the end of coming February. SO here is my reading list (the ones struck off are already complete):

  1. Kintu – Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
  2. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doer
  3. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
  4. Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado
  5. The Leavers – Lisa Ko
  6. Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
  7. A Column of Fire – Ken Follett
  8. Negroland: A Memoir – Margo Jefferson
  9. Dear Ijeawele or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  10. The Warmth of Other Suns – Isabel Wilkerson

Bonus

  1. Their Eyes were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
  2. Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
  3. The Gene: An Intimate History – Siddhartha Mukherjee
  4. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Harari
  5. Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home – Sisonke Msimang

Sunday Reads

Fill your life with women that empower you, that help you believe in your magic and aid them to believe in their own exceptional power and their incredible magic too. Women that believe in each other can survive anything. Women who believe in each other create armies that will win kingdoms and wars. Nikita Gill

Recipes

Sunday Reads

 

What’s in a Bag

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So this is my current handbag that I bought at Maasai Market in Nairobi, Kenya

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Handbag contents

  • Brown notebook and a pen
  • Black kindle / novel
  • Tissues
  • Contacts lenses
  • Lip something or other
  • A pair of sunglasses
  • Ear phones and obviously phone
  • Pink Wallet
  • White power bank
  • Spectacles Case
  • Green scarf

So, what’s in your handbag????

 

Sunday Reads

“Silence is often a woman-flavoured thing. It is guilty of holding countless women’s names and voices hostage inside of its spine and its ribcage.” Nikita Gill 

 

Book Review: Who Will Catch Us As We Fall

Against the backdrop of the political shenanigans in Kenya, I read this very interesting book on Kenya by a Kenyan Indian author.

About the Book.
Haunted by a past that has kept her from Nairobi for over three years, Leena returns home to discover her family unchanged: her father is still a staunch patriot dreaming of a better country; her mother is still unwilling or unable to let go of the past; and her brother spends his days provoking the establishment as a political activist. When Leena meets a local Kikuyu artist whose past is linked to her own, the two begin a secret affair—one that forces Leena to again question her place in a country she once called home.

 

Interlinked with Leena’s story is that of Jeffery: a corrupt policeman burdened with his own angers and regrets, and whose questionable actions have unexpected and catastrophic consequences for those closest to him. Who Will Catch Us As We Fall is an epic look at the politics and people of Kenya.

So my general thoughts:

  • The book had quite a slow start, I mean you could tell she is hinting at something that happened in the past but she wasn’t going to give away anything quite so quickly.
  • I thought it was a good attempt for the author to include Kiswahili phrases but it probably needed an editor who also spoke Kiswahili as in the absence of that the book had basic editorial mistakes like the police moto: Utumishi kwa wote, not utamishi kwa wote; Jogoo House not Jogo House.
  • I thought that the city of Nairobi could have been more prominent unless the narrow lens through which it was presented was necessary to present how insular the Indian community in Kenya is?

The book had a few major themes that were particularly meaningful to me.

Race/ Tribe

  • Love that she talks about the race/tribe relations between Indians and Africans in Kenya. How there is a sense of mistrust and almost antagonistic hate or resentment. This was best played out by the employer – employee relations by the Indian mama and her Kikuyu/ African maid.
  • I thought the discussion between Jai and Ivy at the SONU meeting about what makes a Kenyan Kenyan quite insightful. It made me wonder whether by the same reckoning I would be classified as one because though by birth and upbringing I am one, then again, am I actually one? Will Indians ever be viewed as Kenyan?
  • My surprise at Jai choosing to study at UoN instead of going to England which as the mom confirms is the better option and generally the done thing among this sub population.
  • It was interesting to read about Pio Gama Pinto because he is one person who history has not represented very well even all these years later.

Gender

  • Jai could play outside but Leena couldn’t.
  • Jeffrey just “took over” his friends wife like she was a spare item and no one questioned that.
  • Also the fact that the wife just rolled over and adjusted to this new reality.

Power

  • The dynamics between a maid and her employer were very startling and playing into the perception of race and/or tribe in the book is the difference in treatment for a maid between a white and Indian employer.
  • Jeffrey wielded significant power and that was how over time he was able to become as corrupt as he was.
  • Who really ran the home between Jai’s parents, the mom or the dad?

Home

  • Leena’s characterisation of being in Nairobi vs being in London and how one can reimagine / build it up into something bigger than it really is. (p. 335)
  • I loved the following quotes that best typified Nairobi.

“I love this country but I must accept it for what it is. A place where thieves are celebrated and good men die unremarkable deaths.” (p. 357)

“Nairobi is a sly town. It is so small that run-ins with people one is trying to avoid are a common occurrence, yet it is segmented enough to keep two searching individuals apart. (p. 384)

Not as ambitious as Dust but for a contemporary book, it was a great effort and I would certainly recommend it to anyone.

Sunday Reads

What Home Feels Like

My City is Better than Yours

When I moved to Cape Town, I did not expect to like, or GASP love it, as much as I did Johannesburg. Two years on, I feel like I am cheating on my first love but here goes a list of things I love about the city.

  • Franschhoek and the annual literary festival
  • The Book Lounge
  • The Mountain View
  • Camps Bay – I don’t do this often because it gets touristy and it’s a big contrast to the daily inequality but occasionally, I do note its’ beauty and appreciate that.
  • Wine Farms
  • Unstuffy Markets – Mojo Market, Old Biscuit Mill and Oranjezicht. For some reason in Joburg, peeople need to dress up and then get to markets and look like they just walk up like that, URGGGH!!
  • An Evening BSF Class
  • The Promenade
  • Being able to walk around to most places
  • A main street that means not having to get into a mall unless you want to, Yay!!!
  • Off-street Parking
  • Kalk Bay
  • A gorgeous CBD
  • Love the pace of drivers and their general chill
  • It’s a very outdoors and family-oriented place

Podcast Love

I have spoken about podcasts and how much I love them here so many times before. Here are some of my favourites and as an added bonus recent episodes I have listened to that I just loved (please click on the image to get the episode that I loved).

Ear hustle

Hidden Brain

Fresh Air

CYG

 

Sunday Reads

Internaive

The state of ignorance towards popular internet memes; the description of a person who does not recognise 90% of internet jokes. origins: internet + naive

 

Travelling through Africa / To- Read Books

I recently noticed that I have been reading a lot of Nigerian/ Ghanaian authored books and so I set myself a challenge to diversify my reading to other parts of Africa. Here are some of the books on my to-read list.

  1. Lyrics Alley – Leila Aboulela (Sudan)
  2. So Long a Letter – Mariam Ba (Senegal)
  3. Beneath the Lion’s Gaze – Maaza Mengiste ( Ethiopia)
  4. Flame and Song – Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa (Uganda)

Enjoy!