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Search tags: books-i-ve-mentioned-but-not-read
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review 2017-06-15 20:38
Black White Jewish
Black White & Jewish - Rebecca Walker

Never before has a book so completely spoken to my heart. I originally found this last year when I was looking around for around for women's memoirs to be put into my Diverse Books Tag focused on that genre (a book with a biracial protagonist). I recommended it to my library but got quickly absorbed in a number of other books while I waited for it to be available or for the right time to pop up. At last, my library purchased it and I was the first one to get it when it came out.

I have to say that waiting for the right time worked out fantastically. Some books just seem to know when you need them. As I said, this one just spoke right to my heart. That's not to suggest that I "know" what it was like for Rebecca Walker to navigate her life or what it's like to be black and white and Jewish all at the same time. What I do know is that I am quite familiar with that sense of not quite belonging to anyone, but maybe belonging enough to be claimed here and there for this or that trait. I have drifted from one home to another within my family or neighborhood or group of friends and felt that change that Walker describes as "switching radio stations". I've felt the sting of being in one group while people denigrate the other part of you, the part that they don't claim, while they insist that it's not you but you know that it is, even if only in part. I've felt it on both sides of me.

We've lived vastly different lives in different times within this country and I couldn't possibly relate to all of Walker's experiences, but I had never known anyone to describe this being and not being so well, so beautifully. The idea of being a "movement baby" sounds terrifying, like for too much to live up to. Later, I found it far easier to relate to what happened when the ideas of the movement were gone and she was treated like her existence was half-oppressor and half-oppressed, when people asked her navigate those waters and explain what it felt like. I was never able to explain what it was like to be fragmented this way and now I have someone to turn to for that.

I loved Walker's style of writing and relating everything back to memory and the way that memory shifts, that way that it can be wrong and right at the same time and the way it shapes us and perceptions of us without ever asking for permission. I loved the poetic feel that accompanies most of the book. I peaked at some other reviews and it's not the kind of book that everyone loves, but I still find it an important book to read and discuss. Perhaps it would make a great book club memoir because it does bring in questions of race on several fronts and it could open conversations about sex in adolescence, the effect of divorce and/or neglect on a child's upbringing and other important issues that Walker goes through that still plague us.

The downside to that, of course, is that using the book that way invites criticism of Walker and her parents as people who were theoretically doing the best they could. I don't mean to sound like I doubt that anyone was doing their best but I also don't want to make it sound like I'm making assumptions about what could/should have been done. The point is simply that getting judgey about someone's life and story like this would miss the point of reading the book.

Despite what others might think, I found this book engaging, even at it's lowest moments. I appreciated the way it was a little episodic, moving through periods in her life and only stopping to fit in the moments that best sums up the time-frame for her rather than dwelling on incidentals. As mentioned above, what I loved the most was the way she relates what it is like to not fit succinctly into any single category of race, to be a part of something and not a part of it at the same time, close and yet removed from it. I have felt these things so many times in life when I am in Hispanic or not Hispanic depending on the way whoever I'm talking to feels about it and it rarely seems up to me to let them know who I am and how I fit into these categories and whether or not I even want to.

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review 2016-08-22 18:00
Morning Sea by Margaret Mazzantini, translated by Ann Gagliardi
Morning Sea - Ann S. Gagliardi,Margaret Mazzantini

This was one of those books that I should have read the back cover on before picking it up. Don't get me wrong, I hope I still would have read it, particularly for WIT Month, but I would have had a better idea what I was getting myself into. Here's the back cover information from Goodreads: 


When Farid’s beautiful young mother Jamila tries to escape Libya by boat, it is the first time that Farid will see the sea. This is the same sea into which Vito stares from a beach on the opposite side — Farid and Jamila’s destination. But unfortunately, the Mediterranean does not fulfill its promise of a new life for the two young refugees. Instead, it becomes their prison.

A tale of moving intensity, Morning Sea is about human migration. It is about the fate of those exiled from their houses, relatives, and roots; about the violence of nature and war; and about the strength of women compelled by injustice to defend their children’s futures. With terse and astute language, Mazzantini captures perfectly the dark, uncertain quality of our times. She asks: when must we commit ourselves to the right of all humans to live with dignity and respect?


It's a sad and realistic human strife story that still manages to have a beautiful end. It wasn't the end I wanted for the characters, just like it's not what I would wish on real people going through these events, but surprisingly beautiful once I had a chance to sit with it. Sitting with the end was crucial to enjoying it though because it hit me a little hard that things didn't go a certain way, but I don't want to spoil it. 

The writing style is a big part of what I enjoyed about it. It feels like a daydream, and to a certain extent, it is. It took a few pages for me to get used to the way it drifted between memories and backstory and present circumstances, but it flowed eloquently and gave a full picture of the lives of the characters. It had a wistful quality that didn't impede upon the strife the characters are going through or had gone through. 

I enjoyed reading it, and feel like these are the kinds of stories that American literature is severely lacking. We have a tendency to romanticize human strife and stories about migrating so that they are always about getting rich and rarely about basic survival. We tend to lose focus on the fact that there are people out there dying for food and the privilege of not to becoming terrorists. The things that happen to these people are the topics that we don't like to talk about and we try to pretend aren't real, that they somehow brought their plight upon themselves.

This is only one view, but a vital one that we miss in the US. This is one example among many that are the type of stories that we need to be reading more of. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to understand the world a little better. 

And again, the end caught me by surprise, not because it left reality and did the thing that I wanted it to, but because it stayed in reality and was still beautiful. Sad, but beautiful in an ethereal or tenuous sort of way that will haunt me anyway because I had to remember that this was the way of things and at least something beautiful could be made of it in this story, even though it doesn't come near the way I wish it could. 

It's a tragic reminder that there are people out there who we could we help but don't. If you're looking for a way to help, there are some groups and organizations mentioned in my reading that I have links to on the Beyond the Books page. 

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