Category Archives: african american women

Silver Sparrow…keeps it real.

One devoted man to two families, two daughters born months apart by two separate wives living in the same city.  One daughter, who is the secret, knows about the other daughter all while growing up.  Imagine that for a minute…going through all the changes and stages growing up girl and you know this story is filled with dramas…not way out there dramas for the entertainment of the community (i.e. reader or community inside the story), but deeply personal ones that show them wrestling, questioning, fumbling, seeking in earnest.

The first half of Silver Sparrow is narrated by the secret daughter Dana Lynn…whose formative years are deeply marked by the loss of a full fledged but loving father and his “other family” and her mother’s determination to ensure Dana Lynn has a better life than her “husband’s” other daughter who is only a few months younger than Dana Lynn.  The second half of the book belongs to Chaurisse…whose formative years are marked by the lack of “specialness” which she refers to as “silver” and no sense of achievement and loneliness.

This is now the 3rd book I’m reading consecutively by Jones and what I’m loving is how well she pulls back the layers on personal agonies and dramas.  She takes very few glossing overs or global leaps, opting instead to isolate circumstances, events, and thoughts into specific moments without burdening the story with a straight, flat linear style filled with unnecessary descriptions.  The story has history, rooted in the lives of the parents and their parents and what occurs even before we arrive on earth shows up as baggage in our lives.

In all three novels, there is a strong theme that the unknown is way more powerful in our lives than the known…whether it is a future we can’t foresee or the weight of living with untruths, half-stories and lies.  What also appeals to me is that the main characters grow and do not languish in some self-defacing pity.  I’ll be keeping my eye out for future work by Tayari Jones.

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Filed under African American, african american women, Fiction, Kindle, Library book, Silver Sparrow

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, Crown Publishers, New York, 2010, 369 pages

This blog was not intended to be just a basic review of books but more of a documentation of my relationship with the content of what I read.  This book reminded me of my mission.

I started this book on the first day of Kwanzaa.  But less than 60 pages into it and I must have cried on nearly every page.  Not solely due to the story as it laid on the pages but because of where the story landed and continued to expand in my head.  This true accounting for how one simple, poverty-strickened, African American Woman’s ill health impacts science and the lives of millions around the globe is a forceful spinning of just about every major and minor areas of life as we know it became too much for me and I didn’t want the ending of one year and the beginning of another find me covered in grief.

The book continued to lay on my bedside table until a few days ago when I took it with me to the hospital while sitting with my 10 month old grand-daughter who was born with chronic lung disease.   When I took a break from reading I intentionally laid it so that any staff who entered the room could see it and although I intentionally chose not to bring it up, I waited to see who would be curious enough to want to know what I was reading or either for someone to recognize the book from their own reading.  In this case it was a good thing my expectations were not high because no one asked or recognized.

In trying to find a way to discuss or even summarize it with my daughter, the story is still overwhelming.  Do I start with the injustice and inequality of health care, or ignorance, the impact of slavery, or misogyny and abuse, racism, capitalism???  Why isn’t there a word that conveys all of this and yet explains it clearly????  The story is omni-present and burdening as it should be.   What keeps crossing my mind is how it makes me “smell” history.  “Smell” history? What is that?  If I figure it out before I end the book, I’ll write more about it.

To give a brief summary since this is my first post about the book, it is the story of HeLa Cells.  The first human cells that scientist found that could grow outside the body and how it impacted disease research and cures.  It is not a dry story at all but Skloot does a superb job of keeping humanity central to the accounting.   Also, if you can, purchase the book!  Some % of the proceeds go into a foundation Skloot started for the descendants of Henrietta Lacks.  You can read more about it on the author’s link.

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Filed under african american women, Author Links, economics, history, Medical, Multi-racial, Science, sociology

Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa, completed

This is the first multi-generational novel I read that was set in Puerto Rico.  The author condensed a lot into her characters and at times I felt it was rushed in order to cover a lot of ground and at times I thought she relied on the familiarities of broad history to create the personalities of her characters.  But overall, I enjoyed being swept across time and the magic of their lives and gifts.  It is a coming of age story for each of the 5 generations of women.  It starts somewhere in West Africa with a village raid in 1800’s  and sweeps across to Puerto Rico to New York and back to Puerto Rico and coming full circle to West Africa.  It is a story of the responsibilities of the gifts we inherit and the victories and consequences of using them.  I recommended it to my 21 year old daughter to read during Kwanzaa.  She, however, selected a book by Walter Mosely.

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Filed under african american women, African Diaspora reading challenge, Daughters of the Stone, Embroidery, Immigrant Experience, Library book, plantation life, Puerto Rico, Spiritual Life, Story Telling

Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

(Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2009)

I started reading this a few months ago and was enjoying the story but family matters with my parents and children overshadowed everything.  I started re-reading a few days ago and hope to return to posting as I go along rather than when I complete the book.

The opening sentence: A gray braid falling over each shoulder, Tia Josefa stuck her head out of the window of Las Agujas, the embroiderers’ cabin located just behind the main plantation house.

Visually, I loved the gray braids over each shoulder, and the fact that there is an embroiderers’ cabin appealed to my love of just about all things involving cloth and stitch.   I’m looking forward to seeing how the novel unfolds.

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Filed under african american women, African Diaspora reading challenge, Daughters of the Stone, Fiction, matriarchy, plantation life, Puerto Rico

A Mercy, by Toni Morrison, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2008

This has to be the shortest novel that Toni Morrison has ever published at 167 pages.  After just completing my first read of it, I’m wondering if the shortness of it had to do more with Morrison rushing it to print for contractual reasons.  Let me explain further.  Just short of reaching the middle, the writing read more like very well written and sophisticated character sketches.  I was feeling a sense of being let down.  The feelings of intensity and gripping edge anticipation of the story unfolding or the actions and thoughts of the characters just wasn’t there for me. 

A little past midway of the book I begin to see the characters in physical form, performing monologues on a stage.  The stage props minimum, their voices slow (except for Mistress) and resounding reaching into the heart of the audience.  Could Ms Morrison have experienced some afterglow from Beloved being performed as an opera and this was intended to be a stage performance of which she adpated into novel form?

By the end of the book, I thought what a straight-forward story…that is until the end, the last chapter when the mother (minha mae) of Sorrow speaks.  The preceding chapters minha mae only speaks through the remembrance of her daughter, the one who is called Sorrow.  Bringing the presence of Spirit as a guiding force, the mother speaks in her own voice and ties the knot with the opening chapter.

It was in the end chapter that I came across the line that made the reading the most integrated and encompassing for me:  To be female in this place is to be an open wound that cannot heal.  Haunting, isn’t it?  At least it is for me.  The line that comes after, reads, Even if scars form, the festering is ever below.   

Memory.  No one uses it better as a literary device than Ms Morrison!   That always trying to recall and make sense of our world is where Toni Morrison reaches out to me and keeps me wanting to dig deeper and know what it is I don’t know…what it is she is trying to help me know and ponder further.  If only I could make this happen with my quilts?!

Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed is how she made the american landscape more real to me…the american landscape prior to america becoming America…when it was still territoriesand the dominion of overseas governments and the determined as much by the wilderness of what was untamed.  It was the first time I read a novel that made that historical period come alive as much as it did for me. 

I would recommend reading this book as a companion to the 2 previous books I wrote about in the posts below.

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Filed under african american women, Fiction, history, Immigrants, The Middle Passage

Exquisite Heats, continued

I have a secret to share…I’m almost never out and about without a book of poetry.  Poetry is comforting and fills the spaces when I find myself waiting…also, when I’m out running about and fatigue or mental lethargy wants to creep in, poetry is my talisman to ward it off and all manners of evil.  Exquisite Heats is my new talisman.

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Filed under african american women, Poetry

Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power by Psyche A. Williams-Forson, The University of North Carolina Press, 2006

I just picked this up from the library today but haven’t cracked it…the image on the cover is well suited for the title of the book! 

http://www.amazon.com/Building-Houses-out-Chicken-Legs/dp/080785686X/ref=reader_req_dp

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Filed under african american women, culture, economics, history, sociology