For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net Championing Books by Women Fri, 24 Apr 2015 09:00:09 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives by Chloe Combi http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/24/generation-z-their-voices-their-lives-by-chloe-combi/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/24/generation-z-their-voices-their-lives-by-chloe-combi/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 09:00:09 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28319 Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives is an unflinching, enlightening, funny and often disturbing exploration into the minds of today's teenagers; told in their own words.

Generation Z
Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives is an unflinching, enlightening,…

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Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives is an unflinching, enlightening, funny and often disturbing exploration into the minds of today's teenagers; told in their own words.

Generation Z

Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives is a unique non-fiction title. The book is a compilation of verbatim excerpts taken from interviews with hundreds of teenagers born between 1995 and 2001, the so-called Generation Z. Former school teacher and first time author Chloe Combi is necessarily absent from the book, leaving the teenagers to talk, one after another, each only divided from the next by a dotted line. On paper the format might sound clunky and the appeal of such a book limited but Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives is both compulsive and illuminating.

The stories are grouped into chapters, based on recurring topics that, Combi states, emerged organically from the interviews. Much of the book’s brilliance lies in the way that different voices (people whose worlds will probably, in some cases definitely, never meet in reality) are brought together into a dialogue. In the chapter about family we hear from a 16-year-old girl from Cambridge: ‘I have my own credit card, which Dad pays off for me. He gets mock-annoyed at the bill and only put his foot down once when I spent £31,000 in one day at Gucci.’ You’re still reeling with disbelief as you move onto the next story, a 15-year-old girl from Exeter: ‘Things have got a bit better since the food banks. We get a lot of stuff from there and since we have been saving on food, we have managed to pay off part of three bills that were threatening to send bailiffs.’

Combi’s book is a unique exploration of the contemporary landscape of equality and youth in the UK. The stories build upon each other and, slowly, uncomfortable patterns emerge. We hear from an ‘award-winning mathematics student’ of Jamaican descent that he has been ‘stopped and searched by the police forty-one times’ since he was 12 years old (he’s only 16 years old now).

‘I don’t think I know a single boy my age, younger or older, who hasn’t watched a porn film with some sort of rape in it.’However, Combi’s unflinching exploration of gender relations is the highlight of the book – albeit a worrying one. Like when a 15-year-old boy candidly says: ‘I don’t think I know a single boy my age, younger or older, who hasn’t watched a porn film with some sort of rape in it.’ There is an entire chapter dedicated to gender and the book includes a shocking barrage of testimonies to online sexual abuse, rape and threats of rape, extreme bullying, pornography addiction and anorexia.

Luckily, the stories are also deeply funny, moving and humane. It’s a sign of how well curated the interviews have been that the book never repulses the reader. Many of the teenagers are brilliant storytellers and there is genuine fun to be had in hearing the range of voices and language presented here. There’s an appendix of Generation Z terms at the end, just in case you haven’t kept up (Moist = Horrible or bad).

It’s clear that Combi spent a lot of time finding people to interview that she believes are representative of teenagers in the UK, in all of their diversities. It isn’t always easy reading but Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives is hugely important. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. Most importantly, it will make you angry. It’s an effortless political manifesto. This book will challenge everything you thought you knew about growing up as part of Generation Z.

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Don’t Try This at Home by Angela Readman http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/23/dont-try-this-at-home-by-angela-readman/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/23/dont-try-this-at-home-by-angela-readman/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 09:00:49 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28314 With an eclectic cast of characters featuring Catwoman, Elvis, conceptual artists, saints and sentient toys (not to mention the dog-faced girl or the keeper of the jackalopes), Don't Try This at Home was always going to be fantastic - in all possible senses of the word.

Don't Try This at Home by Angela Readman
Short stories featuring saints, sentient toys, weirdos and witches...

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With an eclectic cast of characters featuring Catwoman, Elvis, conceptual artists, saints and sentient toys (not to mention the dog-faced girl or the keeper of the jackalopes), Don't Try This at Home was always going to be fantastic - in all possible senses of the word.

Don't Try This at Home by Angela Readman

The debut collection from author and poet Angela Readman, Don’t Try This at Home contains twelve short stories, including the beautifully weird and heartwarming tale of The Keeper of the Jackalopes, which won the 2013 Costa Short Story Prize.

As a poet, Angela Readman has won both accolades and awards for her vivid, innovative imagery and authentic perspective.

Her work has been described as “a carefully stitched embroidery of the familiar and the often overlooked,” and that’s certainly true of the stories collection in Don’t Try This at Home.

Angela Readman is a talented and original voice, bringing an unsettling and strange magic to her sharply observed stories of the everyday.

From the opening sentence (“I cut my boyfriend in half; it was what we both wanted”), we’re in odd and unchartered territory, made all the more poignant and powerful for the fact it feels so familiar.

From the boyfriend in the title story, cut in half with a spade because “he said he could be twice as productive” to the narrator of Everywhere You Don’t Want to Be, preoccupied with a complicated relationship until she encounters “the other me,” an almost-identical homeless woman, the characters in Readman’s stories have recognisable frustrations and fears.

This is a particular skill of Angela Readman; deftly drawing characters who are alienated, isolated and in pain, then introducing an entire other element of otherworldly oddity.

More than anything, Don’t Try This at Home is a collection of survival strategies; of humanity in a harsh world and characters finding brave but sometimes bizarre ways to cope with the odds stacked against them, their own unique heartbreaks and hurts.

In any collection like Don’t Try This at Home, they’ll always be some standouts. For me, those included Conceptual, which features a family of conceptual artists (“on special occasions, my family cut their clothes from paintings. Mum wore Botticelli. My sister wore Ophelia’s drowning dress, and Dad was the king some woman in a medieval painting swept around,” and When We Were Witches, where a young girl is sent to live in a forest with a woman rumoured to be able to turn things to stone.

The award-winning story The Keeper of The Jackalopes is an obvious highlight, featuring a defiant father and daughter fighting the system by putting antlers on stuffed rabbits.

In There’s a Woman Works Down the Chip Shop, a working-class mother turns into Elvis, while Dog Years is a brief but bittersweet look into life as a dog-faced girl, a character whose “birth certificate is a sideshow flyer,” although she says it’s not so bad because of her love for Archie, the lobster boy.

The rich atmosphere and curious characters are reminiscent of authors like Angela Carter and Katherine Dunn, while the knife-sharp observation and tight storytelling reminded me in places of Mary Gaitskill, with the melancholy mood of Banana Yoshimoto‘s work.

And although the short story form inevitably means that – on occasion – we don’t always get the in-depth character development we might want, the stories are all conceptually fearless and bold, by turns brutal and tender but always making an impact.

Published in May by And Other Stories, this is an evocative, memorable collection sure to stay with you long past the last page. Definitely do try at home.

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For Books’ Sake talks to: Jill Alexander Essbaum http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/23/for-books-sake-talks-to-jill-alexander-essbaum/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/23/for-books-sake-talks-to-jill-alexander-essbaum/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 09:00:02 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28340 Despite being described by The Sun as ‘a Swiss romp that is the new Fifty Shades of Grey’, 'Hausfrau' has had an excellent critical reception from the rest of the press. Ellie Broughton talks to Jill Alexander Essbaum about her acclaimed debut novel.

For Books’ Sake talks to: Jill Alexander Essbaum
Ellie Broughton talks to Hausfrau's Jill Alexander Essbaum

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Despite being described by The Sun as ‘a Swiss romp that is the new Fifty Shades of Grey’, 'Hausfrau' has had an excellent critical reception from the rest of the press. Ellie Broughton talks to Jill Alexander Essbaum about her acclaimed debut novel.

For Books’ Sake talks to: Jill Alexander Essbaum

Essbaum drew on her own experience of living in Switzerland to tell the story of Anna, a depressed housewife whose adulterous trysts ultimately fail to protect her from depression, boredom and loneliness. The protagonist has been compared to Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina – 150-year-old heroines whose stories seem far removed from the experience of 21st-century wives.

However, the author says that her own experience of expatriate life was much like Anna’s: 

‘My own alienation, the sadness and loneliness that I lived through during my time in Switzerland very much informed the shape of the novel,’ Essbaum admits. ‘I really did not have very many friends, nor did I have much to do with my time.  I wandered the grocery store aisles, walked in the woods, rode the trains, just like Anna.’

Her character begins the novel by acknowledging how isolated she is. She joins a German language class, but instead of seeking or even accepting friendship and relief from her loneliness, Anna starts to reject intimacy with everyone around her – with disastrous consequences.

Essbaum explains: ‘She’s grown wise to “help” – by that I mean to say if you let someone help you, you must let them come close to you. She can almost not bear to have another person near her, truly near her, near enough to recognise the true “her”.’

Given its comparisons to Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, Hausfrau has to be repeatedly defended against the charge of being a morality tale.

Essbaum even jokes: ‘The challenge was to present it that way without making it come off as a morality tale! Kidding – to a degree.’

It’s not Anna’s morality that’s brought up on charges, she explains, but her consciousness: ‘She walks through life with her eyes closed, her ears plugged.

‘Do this and you’ll wander into oncoming traffic or step off ledges or, as in the case of Anna, make poor choice upon poor choice – it’s simple cause and effect. It’s in her hands– as it is in all our hands. It’s her responsibility, her imperative. She knows better but does not do better. 

‘We have, for the most part (noting well there are, of course, exceptions), freedom to choose. To be a feminist means to allow a woman freedom to choose what to make of her life.’ ‘This is not true only for wives and women. Husbands and firemen and bank officers and writers and cats and children– if you sleepwalk through your days, you are far more likely to run into trouble. The Doktor [Anna’s psychiatrist] reminds us and Anna of this constantly.’

I ask Essbaum if she considers herself a feminist writer. She dodges the label, instead couching her politics in her own terms.

‘I believe that all people have unalienable rights,’ she replies.  ‘As a modern woman in the western world I have a responsibility to my sisters who live in places where freedoms come at greater costs to take nothing for granted. As modern, western women we have opportunities our foremothers couldn’t even fathom.  

‘We have, for the most part (noting well there are, of course, exceptions), freedom to choose. To be a feminist means to allow a woman freedom to choose what to make of her life.’

Poetry and literature have an important role to play in that particular political movement, she adds: ‘Literature and art are ways to experience parts of the world we otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience. They teach us empathy. Empathy will save the world. We must learn to feel what other people feel. That sparks change. It is most certainly a political act.’

So what’s happening after Hausfrau?

‘It’s made me want to write more prose! I have been bitten by the beast!’ she replies.

Hausfrau is out now at Foyles, Mantle (Pan Macmillan) or from your local bookshop.


Jill Alexander Essbaum is currently finishing a collection of poems and about to start writing her second novel.

Ellie Broughton is a freelance writer and features editor for Pulse. She tweets at @___ellie.

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Publisher Spotlight: Mother’s Milk Books http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/21/publisher-spotlight-mothers-milk-books/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/21/publisher-spotlight-mothers-milk-books/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 09:04:55 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28262 Mother’s Milk Books was founded in 2011 by at-home mother, Dr Teika Bellamy, with the aim to publish high-quality books that normalise breastfeeding, celebrate femininity and empathy. Having focussed mainly on publishing poetry so far, the press is expanding its scope and will soon be publishing fiction for a variety of ages and tastes.

Mother's Milk Feature
A publisher exclusively focused on the experiences of motherhood? Yes, please!

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Mother’s Milk Books was founded in 2011 by at-home mother, Dr Teika Bellamy, with the aim to publish high-quality books that normalise breastfeeding, celebrate femininity and empathy. Having focussed mainly on publishing poetry so far, the press is expanding its scope and will soon be publishing fiction for a variety of ages and tastes.

Mother's Milk Feature

The annual Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize, which runs from September to mid-January, generates a lot of interest from writers, who have the chance to not only win a cash prize and JUNO magazine goodies, but to see their work published in the annual writing prize anthology. The press is currently accepting short story submissions for their next in the series of The Forgotten and the Fantastical. They are also open to general submissions.

So, without further ado, scroll down for five of their fantastic titles… and your chance to win!

Musings on Mothering

Musings on Mothering

The first title published by the press, charity anthology Musings on Mothering, sold more than 300 copies in the first fortnight after publication – quite an achievement for a book on an apparently ‘niche’ topic! The book, which has received much critical acclaim, has gone on to raise close to £1000 from royalties for the breastfeeding support charity La Leche League Great Britain.

With a foreword by the author of the bestselling What Mothers Do, Naomi Stadlen, Musings on Mothering includes a diverse range of poetry, prose and artwork by both well-known and emerging writers and artists. Professor Alice Roberts recommended it to “anyone at home with a new baby” and the editor of the parenting magazine JUNO, Saffia Farr wrote: “This is an amazing book. It is possible to become entirely lost in it.”

Letting Go

Letting Go Cover

In this single-author collection, well-loved poet Angela Topping explores what it means to ‘let go’ – of childhood, of virginity, of parents, of young children and of material possessions. Angela’s poetry is eminently quotable – her poems are often shared and published in anthologies – as they seem to somehow distil the very essence of what it means to be a mother. Our very own Hannah Goddard commented that: “Reading Letting Go is something like looking through a treasure trove of family history, discovering lost letters and photographs of never-known relatives and in so doing understanding something more of who you are.”

Letting Go

First you hold them like a secret
you only suspect is true.
Then soft knockings from within
tap out messages for you.
Slowly the body allows escape,
you hold them in your arms,
dazed and milky, full of love,
pledged to defend from harm.
Then you hold them to your heart
and put them to the breast.
But they learn to walk away
like any other guest.

Look At All The Women

Look at All the Women

Cathy, who shares in her author bio that she “writes whenever she can” albeit “around her disabilities and health problems”, is a multi-award winning poet who also edits the popular Best of Manchester Poets anthologies.

In Look At All The Women, her second collection, which is split into three sections: The Lovers, The Mothers, and The Eclectic Others, Cathy explores what it means to be a woman through the use of both formal and free verse. Sometimes outraged, sometimes amused, Cathy’s empathy shines throughout the collection. She also has a particular talent for paying gentle (and sometimes wry) homage to other poets, as in this poem, addressed to the poet William Carlos Williams.

Dear William

It’s not just the plums.
You are so plainly
a selfish man

living in the moment
the personal moment
all for yourself.

The divorce papers
are in the post.
This feels so sweet
and deliciously cold

The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2013: PARENTING

MM Writing Prize Anthology 2013

This, the first collection of the winning and commended poetry and prose of the 2013 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize, is a compact book full of stunning writing on the theme of parenting. The pieces, chosen by the judges Angela Topping and Susan Last, display a range of styles on this perennial theme, with Luschka van Onselen of The Mother Magazine writing that: “Any mother can pick up this book and read the same lines I have read and be touched…”, although fathers have clearly found it moving too, with father/writer Garreth Wilcock recently blogging that it moved him to tears.

 

The Forgotten and the Fantastical

The Forgotten & The Fantastical

In this collection of ‘modern’ fairy tales for adults there are reinterpretations of classic fairy tales – the huntsman in ‘Red Riding Hood’ is a lesbian veterinary surgeon, Cinderella’s prince is an American rich kid and Gepetto is an android called Darius. There are also original, ‘new’, tales included in the book and each one seems fresh and vibrant, although – as is the way of fairytales – they successfully pull off the trick of feeling reassuringly familiar. Short story writer and poet, Alison Lock has said it is: “Enchanting, fascinating, alchemical…” Well worth a read.

 

Competition Time!

To win one of the five fantastic titles featured in this Publisher Spotlight piece, simply email hello@forbookssake.net with the subject line ‘Publisher Spotlight’ plus your full name and address to go into the draw. Winners will be selected at random and the competition closes at midnight on Tuesday 5th May 2015. Good luck!

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Ghettoside: Investigating a Homicide Epidemic by Jill Leovy http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/20/ghettoside-investigating-a-homicide-epidemic-by-jill-leovy/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/20/ghettoside-investigating-a-homicide-epidemic-by-jill-leovy/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 09:00:33 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28152 Journalist Jill Leovy examines the mounting issues surrounding police and race on the LA streets through a mix of intimate first-hand reports and shocking statistics.

Ghettoside
Journalist Jill Leovy examines the mounting issues surrounding police and…

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Journalist Jill Leovy examines the mounting issues surrounding police and race on the LA streets through a mix of intimate first-hand reports and shocking statistics.

Ghettoside

The issue of the relationship between America’s black communities and its police force is, at the moment, where it should be: in the spotlight. Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson last year led to months of protest and unrest in the Missouri town, and launched a new mass movement to draw attention to the issue. Only last month, another black man – so unarmed he was naked – was shot dead by police in Atlanta.

Thanks to the efforts of campaigners to direct attention to the issue, there has been plenty of justifiable outrage in recent months, but little considered journalistic response. Ghettoside, the début of LA Times journalist Jill Leovy, who details every homicide in the city for the paper’s “Homicide Report” blog, is a determined attempt to give context to the decades-old problem, to look for the reasons behind it and to point to where a solution may be found.

She does this by dealing, not with the killings of black people by police, but by looking at an issue often pointed to by those dismissive of the Black Lives Matter protests: the killings of black people by black people. “In modern-day Los Angeles”, Leovy writes, “young black men are murdered two to four times more frequently than young Hispanic men, though blacks and Hispanics live in the same neighborhoods”.

“In modern-day Los Angeles”, Leovy writes, “young black men are murdered two to four times more frequently than young Hispanic men..."This is explored by focusing on one murder in particular, that of policeman’s son Bryant Tenelle, who was shot the head whilst out walking with a friend; and on one area: LA’s 77th Division in the South Central district. This is split into two communities which Leovy examines in parallel, the black residents under almost constant fear that their sons and brothers will be killed, and the police detectives going to varying degrees of effort to prevent or solve the killings.

One in particular, John Skaggs, is the hero of the tale. A Californian who looks like “someone right out of GQ magazine”, Leovy tells how “his whole working life was devoted to one end: making black lives expensive… and worth answering for.” He is drawn in fine detail, from his bewilderment at his colleagues’ antipathy to black murders to the cleft in his chin. The vast array of other people who populate her study get the same treatment: homeless men, abused women who testify despite being “maimed by gunshots to the mouth”, mothers hysterical with grief and fathers wordless with it.

These intimate pen portraits are seemingly a speciality of Leovy’s, and balance well the large chunks of stats and journalistic examination necessary to give the detail needed. No fingers are pointed – incompetent police chiefs are at least well-meaning and gang members the victim of chaotic circumstance – but Leovy doesn’t shy away from drawing a firm conclusion about what is causing the huge problems. Her contention is Skaggs’s: that the huge disparity between white and black homicide rates is due to lack of effective police presence, not a surfeit of it.

She pours her energy particularly into showing how cuts to the police service, which first made them understaffed and then made overtime impossible, directly impact on their ability to get results for the victims of crime, particularly those from black neighbourhoods when police have to work harder to get witnesses to come forward. Historical police indifference to black citizens is also pointed out: Leovy shows how this has led to young black people forming gangs as a way to misguidedly protect themselves, creating communities impenetrable to police as well as their parents.

Her argument is put together so neatly and the evidence presented so well that it is difficult to disagree with it. However, by focusing so directly on one community she misses the bigger problems, common across the entire western world, which exacerbate and fuel the problems she points out: a structurally racist society kept so by excluding voices of colour from the debate about their lives and future.

Leovy is clearly passionate about calling for a police force which treats all people equally, and goes to great lengths to treat the black people she writes about with as much attention and respect as the mainly white police force. It’s difficult to end the book, however, without wondering when a black voice from South Central will be the one writing about the issues facing black people in South Central – and if, until we get to that point, books on ghettos will only be describing them, not breaking them down.

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The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurdardottir http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/16/the-silence-of-the-sea-by-yrsa-sigurdardottir/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/16/the-silence-of-the-sea-by-yrsa-sigurdardottir/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 09:00:03 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28146 Yrsa Sigurdardottir, an internationally bestselling Scandinavian author whose works have so far been overlooked in a British crime market that has gone into Scandi-crime overload, has finally released the critically acclaimed The Silence of the Sea in English.

The Silence of the Sea
Yrsa Sigurdardottir, an internationally bestselling Scandinavian author whose works have…

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Yrsa Sigurdardottir, an internationally bestselling Scandinavian author whose works have so far been overlooked in a British crime market that has gone into Scandi-crime overload, has finally released the critically acclaimed The Silence of the Sea in English.

The Silence of the Sea

This novel is an example of true perfection. The dialogue is crisp and believable, the plot both terrifying and tense, the characters natural and engaging. The sea itself becomes personified as a background character, casually stalking the investigation and punctuating the narrative with a dialogue which is both alien and strangely understandable to the reader. If anyone ever tells you that crime fiction is engaging but poorly written, give them this book as proof to the contrary.

If anyone ever tells you that crime fiction is engaging but poorly written, give them this book as proof to the contrary.The novel tells the story of a luxury yacht, being returned from Portugal to Iceland by the loan company who has seized control of its owners’ assets. The three crew members, along with a reluctant forth made up by the loan company employee working on removing the vessel and his young family, disappear and the yacht returns to harbour empty, crashing into a harbour wall for lack of control. The parents of the loan company employee hire a lawyer, Thora Gudmundsdottir, to help them prove their son’s death in order to aid their custody battle for his youngest daughter, who was left in their charge and now faces an uncertain future.

If there is any criticism to be levelled against this novel, it is that Thora behaves and is treated in the novel far less like a lawyer and more like a private detective. Beyond this, the technical language and specialist knowledge displayed in the text is frankly stunning. Sigurdardottir makes the world of luxury yachts seem both surreal and at the same time wholly believable, highlighting both the immense money required to own and maintain such a vessel and the fact that, in reality, they just are just large, shiny boats. The legal minefield into which Thora and her new clients are plunged is also both inviting and daunting to the reader, but the author guides the narrative through the paper trail with such skill that even the drab, dreary tasks performed by the protagonist seem thrillingly mundane.

In short, read this novel. It is both groundbreaking and strangely satisfying. The atmosphere and tension woven within every syllable is an example of true writing skill, and I would urge you in the strongest possible terms to put this novel firmly at the top of your reading list.

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After Birth by Elisa Albert http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/15/after-birth-by-elisa-albert/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/15/after-birth-by-elisa-albert/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 09:00:40 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28215 'Sometimes I’m with the baby and I think: you’re my heart and my soul, and I would die for you. Other times I think: tiny moron, leave me the fuck alone.'

After Birth by Elisa Albert review
'Sometimes I’m with the baby and I think: you’re my…

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'Sometimes I’m with the baby and I think: you’re my heart and my soul, and I would die for you. Other times I think: tiny moron, leave me the fuck alone.'

After Birth by Elisa Albert review

Throw away everything you think you know about motherhood. Elisa Albert asks – no, demands – that you leave your preconceptions of what a mother should be at the door. After Birth is a stark warning to those who take baring children lightly; in the words of her protagonist Ari, ‘…are you ready!? Like spiritually bitches. Spiritually.’

When we meet our protagonist, Ari, she is immediately likeable, wry, astute and wasting away in a ‘shitbox town.’ Motherhood is dissembling her, block by block: ‘I’m over, I no longer exist.’ Albert lapses into a stream-of-consciousness-style narrative, devoid of punctuation to convey the cyclical horror of Ari’s first few months of motherhood: ‘antibiotics awake constipation tears awake awake awake limping tears wound tears awake awake awake.’

On the ‘miracle of birth’ itself,’ Albert literally rips apart the usual rhetoric. The violence of Ari’s enforced c-section is both primal and chilling. ‘They cut me in half, pulled the baby from my numb, gaping cauterised center.’ The hospital lights are ‘merciless,’ the surgery leaves her ‘brutalized.’ It is clear Ari will require stitching back together mentally as well as physically. She is without agency over her own body, a victim. As another character remarks to Ari later ‘You were raped, essentially.’

Society’s claim on her body continues post-birth, stigmatising Ari’s public breast-feeding; clearly another axe to grind for Albert. When performing this perfectly natural act of nourishing her child Ari hides herself in ‘shame and abasement,’ until one haughty dinner party too many pushes her over the edge:

‘ No, I will not stay out of sight. I will not go sit in the toilet in the middle of my dinner so you don’t have to trouble yourself that you’re a bi-pedal mammal, bitch.’

Here, Albert strikes gold on this oft-debated subject. The inconvenient truths of humanity are too starkly highlighted by childbirth – hence why nursing mothers are publicly shunned and made to conceal themselves. We are of the flesh, Albert argues, and we must reconcile ourselves with that.

We are of the flesh, Albert argues, and we must reconcile ourselves with that.In addition to Ari’s bodily control being wrenched from her, Albert charts her loss of identity in a similarly stark, unrelenting way. Ambition, selfhood, academic achievements are all shattered by the enormity of motherhood. ‘Does she think I give a shit about my dissertation? It’s all I can do to bathe occasionally, keep the house tidy, feed us, launder, get some sleep.’

Despite Ari’s hardships, After Birth is very much the battle cry of a fortunate, middle-class mother and sometimes smacks of privilege. Ari wants for many things, but her basic needs are more than well cared for. She’s financially stable, well-educated, loved; but not satisfied ‘[…] even the best man on earth turns out not to cure loneliness.’ Due to this it can be difficult to sympathise with her; but it is precisely Ari’s honest diatribe, personal flaws and all, which makes her so compelling.

Despite this grounding in prosperity, Albert taps in to many universal themes of womanhood. Modern society’s insistence on the isolation of mothers and the unnecessary competitiveness between women are key refrains which appear time and time again. Albert’s solutions to this are idealistic and noble. She imagines a utopia for mothers, where ‘you’d share childcare with a raft of women’ as was the norm hundreds of years ago.

Albert’s  vision for the future is far from the famous wish of Scott F. Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchanan for her child ‘I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world – a beautiful little fool.’ Ari’s imagined daughter is blissfully liberated from such constraints: ‘How smart she’ll be. How free. Open and kind. Happy, secure. She won’t sneak a peek at herself when passing any reflective surface.’ This is the motivation behind Albert’s fierce attack, a desire for a stronger, more self-assured generation of women, who are unafraid and harmonious with one another, ‘We’ll do it together – me and this baby girl.’

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Lost in Translation: Norwegian novelist Regine Normann http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/10/lost-in-translation-norwegian-novelist-regine-normann/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/10/lost-in-translation-norwegian-novelist-regine-normann/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 09:00:38 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28163 Born in Bø, Vesteralen, in 1867, Regine Normann was a Norwegian author who wrote a number of novels about adverse challenges facing women and children. However, as Regine’s own life was fraught with difficulties from the start, the path to publishing these works was not straight-forward.

Regine Normann
An irrepressible Nordic author who wrote candidly about women's oppression and abuse.

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Born in Bø, Vesteralen, in 1867, Regine Normann was a Norwegian author who wrote a number of novels about adverse challenges facing women and children. However, as Regine’s own life was fraught with difficulties from the start, the path to publishing these works was not straight-forward.

Regine Normann

Regine’s father died when she was four. Her mother, unable to cope with bringing up five young children, sent her to stay with relations. Just three years later, her mother had remarried and moved away. Regine never lived with her mother again and was effectively an orphan without the title. It was this harrowing childhood experience that would later serve as the impetus for Regine’s future work.

Despite enduring an emotionally fraught childhood, Regine was already moulding a positive foundation for herself. After attending school, she worked as a governess for a priest, and at seventeen married Peder Johnsen, a teacher. Sadly, the marriage was far from what she imagined, with Regine describing the union as a “ten year long rape”. However, a new driving force was born out of the marriage, as it was then Regine began to write.

Peder took measures to prevent Regine from writing, such as restricting her lamp oil and tearing up her papers. Instead of succumbing to these demands, Regine took matters into her own hands. In the freezing Norwegian climate, she began writing in a nearby cave, known as Sinahula. Dimmed lamp light merged with the emotional factors that must have been involved meant writing would have been a truly arduous task. Regine hid her manuscripts in the cave to prevent her husband from destroying them before they could be safely transported elsewhere.

Her resilient spirit should be celebrated and remembered, for those who might find solace in a woman’s grievous story that was triumphant in the end.At this point Regine did something courageous – she moved away to become a teacher and left Peder soon after. Bearing in mind it was 19th century Norway, a move like this would have been very daring for any woman at this time.

In 1905, Regine finally made her debut with the novel, Kravbaag: skildriner fra et lider fikseavar (Kravbaag: Pictures of a Little Fishing Village). In this first novel, the protagonist a young woman named Paulina suffers at the hands of a vindictive mother who sets out to ruin her daughter’s life. Themes of rape and the abuse of both women and children also permeate her other novels, including Bortsat (Given up for Adoption) and Barnets Tjenere (The Child’s Servant).

Regine Normann teacher(IMAGE: http://no.wikipedia.org) 

The novel Staengt is particularly relevant to Regine’s own life. In this novel the protagonist, Sara, is destroyed by her guardian and told to marry an elderly preacher who beats her when she protests to being raped. Adhering to the folklore theme that could often be found in Regine work, Sara meets a girl and a boy who she goes hunting for treasure with inside a cave. It is the only solace from her oppressive life and the cave seems to represent freedom, just like Sinahula had for Regine years earlier.

From childhood, it seemed that Regine Normann was destined for a life filled with sorrow. However, looking at her novels together, it is clear that Regine took her life experiences and processed them through writing.

She published eighteen books and revealed that teaching and writing were her two “life’s works”. Her resilient spirit should be celebrated and remembered, for those who might find solace in a woman’s grievous story that was triumphant in the end.

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2014 VIDA Count Announced http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/09/2014-vida-count-announced/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/09/2014-vida-count-announced/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 15:39:58 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28138 The numbers have been counted and verified and as ever VIDA's graphs make for a stark visual aid to show the state of the gender split on the publishing landscape.

2014 VIDA Count Announced
The 2014 VIDA count has just been announced, tallying the female contribution to the writing industry...

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The numbers have been counted and verified and as ever VIDA's graphs make for a stark visual aid to show the state of the gender split on the publishing landscape.

2014 VIDA Count Announced

Last year, for example, saw The New York Review of Books publish 677 men contributors and reviews by men combined to 242 women. The London Review of Books had an equally large divide with 527 men featured to 151 women – further exposing the prejudice exercised by one of the most influential publications in writing.

Conversely, several major publications, including Harper’s and The New Republic have made good on promises to close the gender divide, having increased their women’s contributions by 6 percent and 7 percent respectively since last year. Boston Review went a step further, publishing more women reviewers than men in 2014. The overall women count in The New York Times Book Review, which has consistently fallen short of gender parity, ranking around 38 percent until 2013 when it hit 45 percent, has inched closer to its male counterparts in the last year at 47 percent.

Unfortunately, several publications failed to make any increase in the amount of women contributing to their reviews, including major magazines such as The Paris Review and The Times Literary Supplement.

A fact conspicuously absent from most media coverage on the most recent count, is that the 2014 VIDA count involved a second count dedicated to women of colour – though VIDA themselves admitted that these results are problematic. They deemed themselves ‘not qualified to determine and assign race to any writer’, so instead, offered contributors the chance to identify themselves. Whilst possibly the best means to avoid offence, it led to the results of the Women of Colour VIDA count being inconclusive.

However, the inclusion of such a count indicates a concerted effort to address continued racial discrimination throughout the publishing industry, and as Erin Belieu states, the goal of the count ‘has always been consciousness not quotas’. In this respect, VIDA has succeeded and as their website states: ‘no system of bias, with all of its tendriled attitudes and practices, can be fully uncovered by any study; only people can speak up in the face of how those attitudes manifest and are realized’.

You can read the full count results here.

What do you think of the results?

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Afrikult. presents: Tsitsi Dangarembga http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/09/afrikult-presents-tsitsi-dangarembga/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/04/09/afrikult-presents-tsitsi-dangarembga/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 09:00:45 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28124 Afrikult. brings For Books’ Sake fans a bimonthly series on African Women writers and have chosen Tsitsi Dangarembga to open the floor. Check her top five accomplishments we have highlighted to give you an insight into the writer’s awe-inspiring work... and a taster of the others to follow.

Tsitsi_Dangarembga
Five brilliant reasons to read Tsitsi Dangarembga.

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Afrikult. brings For Books’ Sake fans a bimonthly series on African Women writers and have chosen Tsitsi Dangarembga to open the floor. Check her top five accomplishments we have highlighted to give you an insight into the writer’s awe-inspiring work... and a taster of the others to follow.

Tsitsi_Dangarembga

When I was first introduced to Tsitsi Dangarembga I felt a sense of injustice in not knowing who she was or having read her work earlier. Let me put it out there straight – this woman is REMARKABLE. Tsitsi has created a laudable body of work within the fields of literature and film. She writes novels and screenplays, directs, and campaigns for women in every area of her work and expertise.

You just have to read the opening lines of her debut novel Nervous Conditions to see that this woman means business. Her work is inspired by the experiences of her upbringing in both Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and England, and she is internationally recognised for her important work in centring black African women in her stories and business ventures.

She continues to champion women and provide spaces for African women from diverse backgrounds and within various levels of society to speak freely, and most importantly ensuring that the space she provides acts as a mechanism for these voices to be heard. She continues to champion women and provide spaces for African women from diverse backgrounds and within various levels of society to speak freely, and most importantly ensuring that the space she provides acts as a mechanism for these voices to be heard. Here are five awesome ways that Tsitsi has demonstrated her powerful presence and influence in the African feminist literary and filmmaking scene.

1. Challenging the Silence and Advocating African Feminism

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s debut novel Nervous Conditions (1988) basically shut chauvinistic and sexist attitudes down. With her snarky, sharp tongue and surgical analysis of girls, women and their conditions based within colonised Rhodesia, men were not the saviours. Brazen and equipped with psychoanalytical focus, Dangarembga displays the importance of honing in on the multifaceted experiences of black girls and women, thereby advocating African feminism and joining the burgeoning presence of women writing in the continent at the time. However, Tsitsi is not only locked into literature but also uses the medium of film as a platform for varied women’s voices.

2. Founded International Images Film Festival for Women in 2003

Another demonstration of Dangarembga’s incredible drive in creating a stage where African women filmmakers can really engage and critically address pertinent issues via the lens. Ultimately this festival is fundamentally instrumental in implementing a dialogue where African girls and women are the central and dominating focus of the discussion. This annual festival still thrives today and is currently under the direction of Yvonne Jila. Last year’s theme was ‘Women Alive: Women of Heart’ – even the title invokes positive and encouraging images of African women.

3. Published Nervous Conditions (1988) at 25

Have you read this book? As in, really read it? If not we suggest you stop whatever you are currently doing and hop over to Foyles or your local book store to purchase a copy! The incredible impact of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s seminal work was accomplished through the writer’s crafting of complex characters who are interlocked by the multi-cultural and -dimensional societal failings confronting colonial Rhodesia. The protagonist Tambu is a formidable force: she opens the story with, “I was not sorry when my brother died.” And this sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Brr. Winning the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989 a year after its release, the novel has since been translated into multiple languages, and became a part of the syllabus in various schools and universities within and outside of Africa. Following the success of the novel, Dangarembga released the sequel The Book Of Not in 2006, with a proposed third.

4. First Black Zimbabwean Woman to Direct a Feature Film: Everyone’s Child (1996)

Gifted with the art of storytelling, Dangarembga writes and directs a harrowing story following Tamari, whose life takes a tragic turn when she and her three siblings are orphaned after both parents die from AIDS. Illustrating the agonising realities of AIDS, Tamari becomes mother, sister and provider, and desperately seeks alternate ways of earning a living from the minimal options available to a young desolate black girl in the village. Everyones Child was the first feature film to be directed by a black Zimbabwean woman; another of Dangarembga’s accolades demonstrating her courage and determination in telling stories of the unknown.

5. Studied Medicine at Cambridge University

Before unveiling her literary genius to the world, Tsitsi Dangarembga was actually studying Medicine at Cambridge University during the 1970s. Dangarembga then moved back to her newly liberated nation Zimbabwe in 1980. #truestory

If this has whet your appetite, you should watch Dangarembga’s TEDxHarare Talk: The Question Posed By My Cat.

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In the month of July 2014, three friends came together to consummate their love for African literature. This auspicious encounter led to the birth of Afrikult. an online forum for people to connect, explore and expand knowledge on African literature and culture combined. Afrikult. aims to make African literature less exotic, less highbrow and more accessible. All materials on the site are cleverly presented in a simple language and in a bite-size format for easy readability. Check us at www.afrikult.com or follow us on facebook.com/afrikult, Twitter and Instagram @afrikult.

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