Category Archives: Immigrant Experience

The Warmth of Other Suns, (continued)

Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed my sadness when I come to the last chapter of a book that deeply touches my heart.  I don’t want to say goodbye.  I did this with this book.  Wilkerson’s is a superb narrator.  Ida Mae, Robert, and George are the 3 people from over 1200 that she selected to tell their story alternating from their lives to a larger historical perspective and I found myself so immersed in their lives and the history and reflecting on my own family that I just didn’t want to stop.  Back in the 80’s I set out to do genealogy and oral interviews with family members which would become the basis for poems.  This book sent me back to that mindset and my mind spiraling about future projects in quilts.

I was so immersed in the 3 lives Wilkerson focused on that I didn’t want their stories to end.  I wanted to know even more…I wanted more historical revelations…not because the narrations or histories where inadequate, but because the lives of African Americans is so full and rich and yet so little known beyond generalizations by the larger public regardless of race.

Wilkerson also treats history as a fluid, living, breathing body of knowledge.  I take the view that there are artifacts, letters, data that have yet to be dusted off, studied, and revealed and we need to be gingerly about clamping down on fixed notions, ideas as if they will never change.

This book along with The Grace of Silence will be on my lips for years to come and will become re-reads in the future.

Henry Louis Gates video interview with Isabel Wilkerson

Charlie Rose interviewing Isabel Wilkerson

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Filed under African American, Author Links, Immigrant Experience, The Warmth of Other Suns

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

The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, (hardcover), Knopf Publisher, first ed., 240 pages.

A book of short stories from a young Nigerian.  I don’t read many short stories…with J. California Cooper and ZZ Packer being the most memorable of the few I’ve read. 

captured from amazon.com

In looking for patterns in the writing that unite all the stories, it seemed to me that the stories lean on themes of identity and personal values and expectations thread the stories.  The author juxtaposes contemporary life in Nigeria and life in America  to explore these themes.  The stories are situational narratives of individuals but with very little focus on character development and more on observation and experiences that unfold mostly through “a telling” than dialogue. 

The ending of the stories seemed abrupt but maybe that is the nature of the short stories.  It was if the characters just seem to suddenly get up and make their exit which left me uneasy.  Without much character development, I can’t say that I became drawn into  the stories and when I did it was in the stories where Adichie increased her use of dialogue between characters. 

Overall I found the stories a little formulaic and predictable.  My favorites from the collection of 12 were A Private Experience about 2 women in Nigeria from seperate ethnicities/religions/class who find themselves taking overnight shelter together during a violent uprising; Ghosts, about a retired university professor observing the downfallen state of his country compared the hope and vigor of his younger years and who finds comfort in the visitations by his deceased wife; The American Embassy, about a Nigerian woman seeking to apply for a visa through the Nigerian lottery system and the indifferences she experiences with the process.  The Shivering, about the becoming of friends between two Nigerian students at Princeton. 

The most intense stories where Ndichie used less diaglogue and more situational telling are Tomorrow is Too Far (about sibling rivalry and secrets kept) and The Headstrong Historian (about parental sacrifice and love, wayward children and how spirits will find their way back home).  Her use of narrative is the most intriguing and better developed.

Because nothing in this book compelled me to say “keep it”, I’m debating whether to bookcross it…something I haven’t done in a very long while.  Maybe I’ll donate it to a local senior citizen group or youth group.

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Filed under Immigrant Experience, Nigeria, short stories

The Beautiful things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu, Riverhead Books (Penguin Grp), 2007

After discovering the title was taken from a line in Dante’s Inferno I googled it and found the passage:

My guide and i went into that hidden tunnel; and following its path, we took no care to rest, but climbed: he first, then I—So far, through a round aperture I saw appear some of the beautiful things that heaven bears; where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.

Sepha Stephanos, the main character is an immigrant from Ethiopia who owns a convenient store (thats most inconvenient) a few blocks from his apartment in a neighborhood of people living below the poverty line in Washington, D.C.  He has been in the states 19 years but has held “tunnel vision” of his life. 

The story is about his emotional travels toward a resolution of his own identity that has been clouded by his past.  Stephanos did not willingly come to the states for a “better life”.  He was the oldest son of two sons of an upper middle class family…during a coup his father was killed and Stephanos was forced to flee. 

The novel introduces us to 2 other African immigrants who are the closest to friends as Stephanos has who often are his drinking buddies and companions with each varied ideas for what it means to be in the U.S.  The daily life of Stephanos is interrupted by a new neighbor and her young school age daughter, Judith and Naomi, who have gentrified the delipadated Victorian house next to his apartment.

Through their awkard and developing friendship Stephanos past, present, and future collide and enter the forefront of his conscious.

It was a slow relaxing read.  Midway through the book I felt the only outcome for Stephanos would be tragic…I anticipated that he would commit suicide.  He didn’t.  The resolve of the book seemed as temporary and superficial as his thoughts where most of the story takes place.  The most interesting passages however are in the dialogues. 

I purchased this book and will be keeping it on my shelf instead of bookcrossing it which has seen even less activity than this blog.

Michele sent be a book by Anne Lamont which I’m going to start today.

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Filed under Fiction, Immigrant Experience