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review 2019-01-16 02:06
WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF THE INCREDIBLE JOSEPHINE BAKER
Josephine Baker's Last Dance - Sherry Jones

Josephine Baker is someone I had known about since my elementary school days in the mid-1970s, when I first saw her profile in a calendar celebrating what was then Black History Month. I was fascinated to learn that she had gone to Paris in 1925 and made herself into a superstar in France and across the world. 

"JOSEPHINE BAKER'S LAST DANCE" was given to me last month as a Christmas gift. The essence of the novel has as a centerpiece, what was Josephine Baker's last great stage performance in Paris in April 1975. The author uses it as a springboard to take the reader back to Josephine's early years in St. Louis, where she was born in poverty in 1906. I very much enjoyed seeing Josephine as she grew and matured. Hers was not an easy life. There is much in the novel that conveys the struggles and abuse that she endured. America was then an unwelcoming and at times, brutal and dispiriting place for its black citizens. Baker gets into vaudeville as a dancer in her mid-teens and eventually, the gateway to stardom opens and Josephine arrives in Paris with La Revue Nègre . 

The only part of the novel I found fault was its description of Josephine Baker's service in World War II as an intelligence agent and member of the French Resistance. The time sequences which covered the early war years seemed at times nebulous and compressed. If the reader had little or no knowledge of how the French defeat to Nazi Germany impacted the country in June 1940, he/she would be led to think that the resistance movement to the Germans developed overnight. That was not true at all. There was, initially disillusionment and fear when the Germans entered Paris - which had been declared an open city by the French government - on June 14, 1940 - and compelled the French to sign an armistice 8 days later. It would be several months to a year before an incipient resistance movement began to take shape in France as the Germans solidified their power and authority there. 

There was also a mention in the novel which indicated that Josephine Baker made the acquaintance of the courageous British spy Krystna Skarbek, a Pole (aka 'Christine Granville') during the early days of the German Occupation. That is simply untrue. (I read a book in 2015 about Krystyna Skabek's wartime service --- 'Christine: SOE Agent & Churchill's Favourite Spy'. Krystyna Shabek did not get to France until the summer of 1944. Earlier, she had been engaged in espionage work since late 1939 in German-occupied Poland, the Balkans, and Egypt.) That is why I am taking away 1 star and giving "JOSEPHINE BAKER'S LAST DANCE" 3 stars.  Outside of that glaring, historical inaccuracy, it is a very good novel which brought out the real Josephine Baker in so many interesting ways.

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review 2018-09-27 03:17
ONE MAN'S STRUGGLE AGAINST A NATION SET ON OPPRESSING & DEBASING HIM
Black Boy - Richard Wright,Edward P. Jones

TODAY (September 26th, 2018) I finished re-reading "BLACK BOY." I first read it when I was in high school many, many years ago. At the time I read it, the book left a big impression on me. Yet, as time went on, I gave Richard Wright's autobiography little more than a second thought. So, when one of the Goodreads clubs to which I belonged chose "BLACK BOY" as the Book of the Month, I was eager to see what I might find or discover from re-reading it. From the moment I plunged into the first paragraph, I felt like I was reading it for the first time, with fresh eyes.

Wright brought to me, as a reader, his fears, hopes, and dreams that he had while growing up in the South - be it in Mississippi (where he was born), Arkansas, and Tennessee. He lived with hunger, fears of running afoul of white Southerners (which required that he'd learn fast how to act, think, and be among them -- otherwise, he could end up dead, as had happened with one of his uncles who had a thriving business that whites resented him for having), and his own desire to lead a freer, independent existence within the larger society. That is, the U.S. as he knew it to be during the 1910s and 1920s.

After some effort and a lot of determination, Wright eventually was able to save enough money to go live in the North, where one of his aunts lived. Upon arriving there, in his own words: "Chicago seemed an unreal city whose mythical houses were built of slabs of black coal wreathed in palls of gray smoke, houses whose foundations were sinking slowly into the dank prairie. Flashes of steam showed intermittently on the wide horizon, ... The din of the city entered my consciousness, entered to remain for years to come. The year was 1927." 

Wright would go on to work a variety of odd jobs (including work with the post office) and join the Communist Party in the early 1930s, which gave him invaluable lessons in human psychology that he would later carry over into his writing. 

This is a book that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone seeking to understand the effects of man's inhumanity to man, as well as the redemptive power of the spirit that refuses to submit to degradation and oppression imposed upon it, seeking a newer world and better life.

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review 2018-09-24 16:51
Confusing Characters & Timelines
The opposite house. - Helen Oyeyemi

I was left with mostly confusion about this one. I think that Oyeyemi is a good writer, but since the timelines kept jumping around with Maja's remembrances I could never be sure of things. Towards the end of the book things got more simplified with Maja focusing on her pregnancy, her relationship with Aaron, and her poisoned one with her friend Amy Eleni. The book just abruptly ends leaving you with a severe case of what just happened. At least it left me with that.

 

I loved hearing about the African Cuban experience in Cuba as well as in London after Maja's family immigrates to Britain. However, Oyeyemi breaks up Maja's narrative by also including her mother's involvement with Santeria and also an Orisha named Yemaya Saramagua (an Orisha is a minor God in Santeria and Nigeria).  house” between Cuba and Lagos. Orishas are the human form of the spirits (called Irunmoles) sent by Olorun. The Irunmọlẹ are meant to guide creation and particularly humanity on how to live and succeed on Earth Ayé. I spent most of the book confused anytime we left Maja for glimpses/looks at Yemaya Saramangua. I also spent a lot of time with Google and Wikipedia looking things up. 

 

I realized after doing some research that Yemaya I think is also known as Yemoja who is an Orisha and the mother of all Orishas, having given birth to the 14 Yoruba gods and goddesses. She is often syncretized with either Our Lady of Regla in the Afro-Cuban or seen as various other Virgin Mary figures of the Catholic Church. Yemoja is motherly and strongly protective, and cares deeply for all her children, comforting them and cleansing them of sorrow. She is said to be able to cure infertility in women, and cowrie shells represent her wealth. So I can see why this is the Orisha that ping pongs between chapters of us readers following Maja through her first pregnancy. 

 

I didn't really care for Maja though. She was a confusing character and I don't really know what she wanted. Throughout the book she talks of her son and having ownership of him more than the father of the baby. However, at times she doesn't seem to be interested in things related to her pregnancy (eating well or visiting the doctor). She seems fixated on returning to Cuba and I just don't know what she was looking to find there. I am not an immigrant, so I am sure that I am missing something from this book that others would be able to get a fix on. To me it just seemed her character was confused from beginning to end. And I honestly couldn't get a fix on other characters. 


Maja's brother Tomas who is known throughout as the London baby (since he was not born in Cuba like Maja was) reads as half a person in this book. Tomas is not seen as Cuban since he is African and he is not seen as African since he is also Cuban. Tomas is not home sick for Cuba like Maja proclaims to be, but just wants to be somewhere that he belongs.  


Maja's relationship with Aaron was also confusing. We know that Aaron is white, but was born and raised in Ghana. So he feels as if he can explain what it is to be black to Maja's father at times or take exception for not really getting what it is to be black/Ghanian. Just by the color of his skin, Aaron is privileged and doesn't really get it. We see this again and again throughout the book. Especially when he mentors three of Amy Eleni's students. I don't get her attraction to him since she doesn't seem to like him much.

 

Maja's messed up friendship with Amy Eleni was confusing to me too. Amy Eleni was not a good friend. She talks about Maja's pregnancy like it's not happening or seems to hope she miscarries at times. Amy Eleni has been friends with Maja since they were young, but her mother (Maja's) hasn't trusted her since she is white. And Amy Eleni also seems to have feelings for Maja that she is ignoring. 

 

The writing was lyrical and beautiful. I just wish I could get a good sense of rhythm will reading. I think the chapters alternating from Maja and back again after a look at Yemaya Saramagua didn't really work for me at all. I started to skim most of Yemaya's chapters after a while since I kept having to look up words or people named. 

 

The ending of the book was abrupt with us not knowing what Maja is going to do next. 

 

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text 2018-09-23 20:51
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The opposite house. - Helen Oyeyemi

I am so confused. I feel like I’m missing a book or pages. Maja’s insistence to go back to Cuba while pregnant is baffling to me. Also her friendship with Amy Eleni was disturbing. I just spent most of this book feeling confused.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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text 2018-09-23 18:34
Reading progress update: I've read 39%.
The opposite house. - Helen Oyeyemi

I am so confused. The book keeps jumping around and you get introduced to new characters than circle back to older ones.

 

At least I finally figured out the main character’s name is Maja.

 

Shes grown up now and singing in a band. I do like her talking about being a black Cuban and the other black people she meets who don’t fit what most people think of when describing Cubans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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