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review 2019-01-16 02:06
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
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 2015-11-07 15:43
The Garden of Unfortunate Souls by Eddie Mark
The Garden of Unfortunate Souls - Eddie Mark

Full review on my blog.

The Garden of Unfortunate Souls is American author Eddie Mark’s debut novel. It is a dark story about Shadrack and Audwin, two African American boys, who grew up in opposite ends of society in Buffalo, NY in the 80’s. One of them grew up in an environment that you could say gave him everything he needed to make it in life. The other grew up in an environment that made the act of surviving life a real quest. Despite their opposite backgrounds, they share a common ground, which is that they both face from a young age: neglect, violence and all sort of negative situations that mold them and make them become the men they do in the end.

I must say that this is not a sweet coming of age story. It is a serious and obscure story for adults. It deals with religion, crime, corruption, violence, mental illness, sibling rivalry, rape, drugs, and all sorts of abuse: physical, emotional, verbal, economical, domestic, sexual, etc.

Despite the somber topics this story touches, it is written in a way that keeps you wanting to read the story until the end.

If you’re looking for a feel good fuzzy wuzzy coming of age story, this is not the book for you. If you’re looking for a story that takes you into the minds of deeply troubled people and follow them as they overcome or not their life’s tribulations, this is the book for you. If your book club is looking for a book that will generate deep and serious discussions on the effect of religion, neighborhood or surroundings and parenting, this is the book for you.

The Garden of Unfortunate Souls is a timeless and current story. It is set in the 80’s but as sad as it sounds, it is a story that could be happening in our times regardless of race, creed or gender. It is a book about fortune; it will make you ponder on it. Good or bad fortune, does it matter?

Full review on my blog.







I received an Electronic copy of this book but was not financially compensated in any way nor obliged to review. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my personal experience while reading it. This post contains affiliate links as stated in my disclosure policy.


Source: bloggeretterized.wordpress.com/2015/11/07/read-reviewed-72-the-garden-of-unfortunate-souls-by-eddie-mark/review
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review 2014-10-30 01:45

Homemade Love by J. California Cooper

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review 2014-08-01 02:22
Not Only War: A Story of Two Great Conflicts - Victor Daly,David Davis

This book is composed of a novella set during the First World War ("NOT ONLY WAR" - originally published in 1932), 3 short stories, and an interview that the author Victor Daly had given in 1985, 1 year before his death at age 90.

The greatest value of "NOT ONLY WAR" is that it is the only published story written by an African American First World War combat veteran that dealt specifically with the service of African American soldiers in France in 1918. The main character is Montgomery Jason, an African American college graduate (a rarity for that era), who, full of patriotic fervor, joins the Army in hopes of gaining admittance to the only officers' training school at Fort Des Moines set up for African Americans and earning his commission. Sadly, Jason is left disillusioned by a number of experiences during his Army service. For instance, he is denied the opportunity to attend Fort Des Moines, and while on a short leave from frontline duty, he is sharply upbraided by a white racist officer (a Southerner) who chanced upon him with his French girlfriend in the house she shared with her grandmother. Jason, until then a sergeant, is reduced in rank and soon sent back to the Front. "NOT ONLY WAR" reads as a cautionary tale on the viciousness of Jim Crow segregation --- both in the U.S. and in wartime France --- and the brutal dehumanization African Americans had to endure from an overtly racist America 100 years ago.

As for the 3 short stories, one is set in the Civil War, and the remaining 2 during the First World War. I didn't find them to be particularly compelling works. Notwithstanding that, I was glad to read this book which serves as a reminder of the African American combat experience in the First World War, which remains largely unknown today. Therein lies the singular value of "NOT ONLY WAR".

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