Advertisements

Archive for the ‘racism’ Tag

Love and Espionage   Leave a comment

40274582

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson addresses a shopping list of timely topics: sexism, racism, politics and the meaning of family.

The story begins with a bang: the attempted murder of Marie Mitchell, an intelligence officer with the FBI. Marie’s story is told via a journal she writes to her young twin sons. She addresses them frequently, which reminds readers they’re privy to what a mother wants her children to know. As the novel progresses, the phrase in case anything happens could be added to most sentences.

Marie kills the would-be assassin who invades her Connecticut home, takes her kids and family dog to Martinique to hide in her estranged mother’s home. Marie’s narrative recounts her youth, including that she, her older sister and their father were left in New York City by their mother who returned to her island country.

Marie is intelligent and likeable, but her sister, Helene, has more personality as portrayed through Marie’s memories. The sisters are close. Helene decides she wants to be an FBI agent when she grows up; Marie follows suit after Helene mysteriously dies. However, because of gender and race, Marie’s given little opportunity for advancement.

Then, she’s approached to help undermine the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso Thomas Sankara.

Wilkinson takes the reader back to the 1960s, mid-1980s and early 1992 when the novel begins. At times fast-paced, at others more deliberate, Marie wonders about the role she’s assigned as she gets to know Sankara. Why she’s a target is the over-riding question.

American Spy
Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2018
292 pages

Advertisements

Not So Neighborly   Leave a comment

The Woman Next Door

The title of Yewande Omotoso’s novel The Woman Next Door is pleasantly ambiguous. There are actually two women living next door to one another with much more than a property line separating them.

Both women are older widows, had impressive careers; one is white and the other black. The setting is suburban Cape Town, South Africa. Neither is happy and each covets something the other has. Despite these similarities they are barely civil to one another.

Of the two, Hortensia is the most acerbic, although Marion is only slightly less prickly. The interactions between them are exercises in seeing who can sling the deepest barb. Marion is not Hortensia’s only victim; her caustic manner assumes an equal opportunity approach. Hortensia might as well wear a t-short with a warning label: stay out of my way.

In a well-paced style, the author reveals the women’s past which helps explain their attitudes toward each other and the world. An accident forces the pair together, but the situation is far from amicable. Even though it is Hortensia who offers the first semblance of a peace offering, it’s evident the gesture has ulterior motives. Meanwhile, Marion’s efforts to extend an olive branch appear more genuine.

Omotoso’s writing is vivid and engaging. The story begs an answer to the questions of Hortensia’s universal dislike of people and Marion’s general unhappiness.

At the risk of needing a spoiler alert, the ending is the weakest element of the narrative. However, overall it’s poignant on many levels.

The Woman Next Door
Four Bookmarks
Picador, 2016
278 pages

Sharing the Bookshelf   Leave a comment

Although it’s only been in the hands of the general public for little more than a month, the reviews for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman have been mixed. Now I see why, it’s difficult to know whether this is because long-standing images have been shattered, if the story is less engaging or if the writing simply isn’t as strong as To Kill a Mockingbird: an integral part of American culture since its publication 55 years ago. The 1961 Pulitzer Prize winning novel is still taught in classrooms, and Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in the movie adaptation remains iconic.

Jean Louise Finch, aka Scout, returns to Maycomb, Ala., from New York City. Atticus is ailing and many of the familiar characters from Mockingbird reappear to remind Scout, and readers, how some things change and some never do.

Scout’s memories are mixed with her current day events as she begins to see her hometown and, especially, her father in a new, unflattering light.

My take is that the story, albeit worth reading, is less engrossing due to lackluster prose. In fact, I found it easy to put down and had to remind myself of its imminent library due date.

Racism and human imperfection are looming themes. Given what’s happening across the country, the former continues needing to be more openly addressed. Perhaps it takes seeing Atticus Finch as a racist, despite his efforts at justification, for us to see the deep-rooted problem. As for the latter, that’s something we just have to accept.

Go Set a Watchman
Three-and-three-quarter-bookmarks
Harper-Collins, 2015
278 pages

Sweeping Under the Rug   Leave a comment

sweepingglass

I’m very close to my mother, so I’m usually drawn to novels with strong, happy mother/daughter relationships. Carolyn Wall’s Sweeping Up Glass doesn’t fit this description, at least not the happy part. Nonetheless, this is an engaging, albeit flawed, story about family, community and racism in rural Kentucky.

Narrator Olivia Harker Cross has lived in Pope County all her life. She recounts her seemingly-idyllic childhood where her best friends are Pap, her beloved father, and Love Alice, a child-bride of color. Olivia’s mother is in a mental hospital for much of Olivia’s early life. But, tranquil accounts can get boring, which is why Wall provides conflict just when things seem to be just a little too blissful.

Ida, Olivia’s mother, returns home from the mental institute and life for the young girl loses much of its carefree charm. This single event slowly instigates an avalanche of challenges. Mother and daughter have a hellish relationship that continues into Olivia’s adulthood.

The narrative moves from Olivia’s youth to her life as a grown woman, left to care for the mother she despises and for Will’m, the grandson she cherishes. The poverty Wall describes is tangible, as is the harsh winter weather. Less, this sound completely joyless, be assured there are moments of hope and happiness. There are also vivid images of hatred and bigotry. These play against a long-held secret that once revealed shatters everything Olivia thought she knew about herself and those she loves. The problem is that all the pieces don’t quite fit.

The few missteps raise questions that trip up an otherwise compelling tale.

Sweeping Up Glass
Almost Four Bookmarks
Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2009
319 pages