For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net Championing Books by Women Fri, 28 Aug 2015 09:00:26 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 For Books' Sake: Championing Writing by Women since 2010. Your regular monthly dose of brilliant books, fierce feminism, music and more. Presented by Zoe Grisedale-Sherry. For Books' Sake no For Books' Sake jane@forbookssake.net jane@forbookssake.net (For Books' Sake) Books, Feminism, Music and More For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Podcast_Logo.jpg http://forbookssake.net Whispers Through a Megaphone by Rachel Elliott http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/28/whispers-through-a-megaphone-by-rachel-elliott/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/28/whispers-through-a-megaphone-by-rachel-elliott/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 09:00:26 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=29301 Rachel Elliott's charming début explores love, relationships and the difficulty of truly connecting with one another in our digitally-overloaded world

whispers through a megaphone elliott
Rachel Elliott's charming début explores love, relationships and the difficulty…

The post Whispers Through a Megaphone by Rachel Elliott appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Rachel Elliott's charming début explores love, relationships and the difficulty of truly connecting with one another in our digitally-overloaded world

whispers through a megaphone elliott

Rachel Elliott is a psychotherapist as well as a writer, and it shows. Whispers Through a Megaphone, her first novel, is a very kind book. Each character has their flaws, but is ultimately a good person. Their motivations may sometimes be impulsive, or destructive, but they are all ultimately following the right path towards understanding themselves, and the world, better. In a literary scene full of people you would hesitate to pass on a dark night (I’m thinking specifically about any of Ian McEwan’s characters here), this makes for a refreshing change.

The stories, of a marriage breaking up and a traumatised woman dealing with terrible events in her past, are typical themes of the modern novel. Ralph and Sadie, married since university, struggle to maintain their relationship in the face of Sadie’s addiction to, and high profile on, Twitter, combined with Ralph’s disconnection from the world. Miriam hasn’t left her house for three years and is unable to speak above a whisper. So far, so twee, but it would be a mistake to let that put you off – the characters win you over with their depth of emotion and convincing back stories. Even Miriam’s wicked mother, whose behaviour towards her daughter is basically manipulative child abuse, has suffered in her turn and, though this doesn’t excuse her, reminds the reader that good and evil is rarely as simple as we would like it to be.

The two different families in Whispers Through a Megaphone are endearingly true to life, with in-jokes and little traditions, history and specific characteristics. The novel dates itself, however, with the use of Twitter and specific references to pop culture – something that looks like it’s becoming endemic. It’s a difficult thing to get around, because of course when writing about the modern condition, social media and television are an unavoidable truth. But the inserted bits of Twitter dialogue shake you out of the story, taking a moment or two to get back into the narrative again. Perhaps because it was all a little unbelievable. Who, for example, waits 16 years of unsatisfactory marriage before idly looking up their old lover on Twitter? Some people look up their old lovers on Twitter every day.

The book is also perhaps a little too ambitious. There’s a hint of trying to shoehorn too many social issues into one narrative set up. Rachel Elliott has a lot to say about people’s issues but the danger is that there are so many characters with so many different problems that the reader loses track, and can’t give their full attention to each one.

Despite these small criticisms, I liked Whispers Through a Megaphone very much. The family scenes are incredibly well-drawn, giving the lie to that hoary old Tolstoy quote ‘all happy families are alike’. The two different families in Whispers Through a Megaphone are endearingly true to life, with in-jokes and little traditions, history and specific characteristics. Perhaps despite its ambitions, it’s a light read, but an enjoyable one.


Be sure to check out our wonderful guest post from Rachel Elliott exploring the fear of missing out in the Twitter age.

The post Whispers Through a Megaphone by Rachel Elliott appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/28/whispers-through-a-megaphone-by-rachel-elliott/feed/ 0
Rachel Elliott on the fear of missing out http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/25/rachel-elliott-on-the-fear-of-missing-out/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/25/rachel-elliott-on-the-fear-of-missing-out/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 09:00:45 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=29033 Rachel Elliott's debut novel, Whispers Through a Megaphone, explores relationships and meaning-making, from the hyper-connectedness of Twitter through to the gentle friendship between a woman who can't speak above a whisper and a man who's run away from his whole life. She took some time out to write us this beautiful reflection on idleness, imagination, and the importance of disconnecting.

Rachel Elliott
Rachel Elliott's debut novel, Whispers Through a Megaphone, explores relationships…

The post Rachel Elliott on the fear of missing out appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Rachel Elliott's debut novel, Whispers Through a Megaphone, explores relationships and meaning-making, from the hyper-connectedness of Twitter through to the gentle friendship between a woman who can't speak above a whisper and a man who's run away from his whole life. She took some time out to write us this beautiful reflection on idleness, imagination, and the importance of disconnecting.

Rachel Elliott

In July, I was waiting to see Damien Rice at Bristol’s Colston Hall when I overheard a conversation about knickers. A woman and her boyfriend were in front of me in the queue.

‘I was feeling so good today,’ she said, ‘until I saw Jenny’s knickers.’

‘What?’ he said.

‘Well, you know my new knickers,’ she said. ‘The ones I thought were sexy.’

‘Yeah,’ he said.

‘Well I don’t like them anymore.’

‘Since when?’

‘Since I saw Jenny’s.’

‘I can’t believe she posted a picture of herself in her pants,’ he said.

‘No, she’d just bought them. They’d gone to Sam’s Kitchen for a sausage roll and three salads. Why don’t we ever go anywhere nice for lunch? Do you like my knickers?’

Then they had an argument. Which struck me as sad, because they seemed happy enough until Jenny showed up with her knickers.

Before social media, if you wanted to see a friend’s underwear, you had to ask. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something nice about that. We never used to see photos of our friends’ beautiful purchases, their meals out, their Sunday afternoon picnics in the prettiest parks.

Ignorance is bliss. And there’s a lot to be said for being bored in ugly places. As a child, I was happy cycling around a cul-de-sac. Happy in a deeply bored kind of way – a way that kickstarted my imagination and made me write stories. If I had seen a photo of a friend doing something exciting in a spectacular location, this experience would have been interrupted. I would have felt like I was missing out.

The fear of missing out is now so common that it has its own acronym: FOMO. And we’ve all got it. We’ve had it forever, on account of being human, but social media has upped the ante, made the grass even greener, made it harder to live in the present. All these images of what a life should contain: lunches out, new purchases, travel to fabulous places. We often say that advertising lowers our self-esteem, makes us view ourselves negatively, but the devices and apps we love mean that we are each other’s voyeurs and consumers.

My debut novel is about a woman called Miriam Delaney who feels that other people are more real, sane, busy and exciting than she is. This is a common issue for many people. It’s easy to become possessed by the idea that others are leading better lives. The speed of technological development and the ubiquity of social networking have made this feeling stronger than ever. We are surrounded by narratives about other selves and lives, there is an overwhelming amount of choice and this generates competitiveness, envy, comparing ourselves to others, a sense of inferiority.

So many of us are public storytellers, putting a version of the self online, often the funny and lively one, the fully functioning ‘normal’ person, not the one sitting in their kitchen, feeling inadequate and alone, wondering how to leave the house or what to do with the hours that lie ahead. Technology isn’t the problem and neither is social networking. There are so many positive things to say about both of these things. But anxiety and feelings of inferiority are rife, so perhaps there’s something we need to be saying about this – and the value of peace, quiet and boredom. The value of regenerating in silence.

Silence is in short supply. Being at home used to provide us with a restorative space – it was a way of being unavailable to people other than your immediate family. Home used to be private, a kind of haven, but our use of technology has made it public. This is depriving us of something essential. Yes, there are times when we need to be seen and found, but there are also times when it’s vital to be hidden – for the sake of space, recuperation, thinking time; for the sake of our mental and physical wellbeing.

[pull]Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the surge in popularity of mindfulness has come at a time when we are all constantly processing vast amounts of information. We live our lives in a state of hyper-vigilance. Traditionally, hyper-vigilance, or a heightened state of awareness, has been regarded as a response to trauma. Our brains are still learning how to cope with hyper-connectedness – with being bombarded by text and images.

The Damien Rice concert was fantastic, by the way. I saw the couple again in the interval, sitting in the bar, drinking cider, her head on his shoulder, his hand on her leg as they peacefully stared into space.

__________________________________________________________________

Rachel Elliott is a writer and psychotherapist. Whispers Through a Megaphone is published by ONE, an imprint of Pushkin Press.

The post Rachel Elliott on the fear of missing out appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/25/rachel-elliott-on-the-fear-of-missing-out/feed/ 0
Five categories result in ‘No Award’ at Hugos 2015 http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/24/five-categories-result-no-award-hugos-2015/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/24/five-categories-result-no-award-hugos-2015/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 16:08:12 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=29062 The Sad Puppies' attempt to stifle diversity at this year's science fiction awards has failed in spectacular fashion

Five categories result in 'No Award' at Hugos 2015
Voters reject right-wing stacked nominations

The post Five categories result in ‘No Award’ at Hugos 2015 appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
The Sad Puppies' attempt to stifle diversity at this year's science fiction awards has failed in spectacular fashion

Five categories result in 'No Award' at Hugos 2015

The 2015 Hugo Award winners were announced on Saturday night, with Chinese author Liu Cixin topping the list for Best Novel with The Three Body Problem and G Willow Wilson scoring Best Graphic Story for Ms Marvel Volume One: No Normal.

But the biggest story of the night was the unprecedented number of categories in which no award was given, after voting members’ rejected a loaded slate of nominees.

Earlier this year, the Hugos attracted attention after two right-wing campaign groups, the Sad and/or Rabid Puppies, formed a voting bloc in an attempt to load nominations in favour of white, male writers. The controversy prompted two nominated writers to withdraw from the competition, while high profile sci-fi and fantasy authors including George RR Martin urged voters to reject the Puppy slate.

[This] equals the total number of times members have presented No Award in the entire history of the Hugo Awards And that’s exactly what’s happened, with the five categories featuring only Puppy-endorsed candidates, including Best Novella and Best Short Story, going unpresented as voters selected ‘No Award’ in protest.

Following Saturday’s announcement The World Science Fiction Society, which hosts the Hugo Awards, noted the five ‘No Award’ results “equals the total number of times that WSFS members have presented No Award in the entire history of the Hugo Awards”.

Not only that, but many of the categories that did secure winners are certainly not Puppy-friendly. G Willow Wilson‘s 16-year-old Muslim shapeshifting superhero woman protagonist presumably sticks in their craw, as must feminist writer and engineer Laura J Mixon‘s win for Best Fan Writer. In fact, not one Puppy-favoured nominee succeeded in winning an award, lending credence to Mixon’s acceptance speech assertion: “we must find non-toxic ways to discuss our conflicting points of view.”

Certainly less toxic than stacking the pack.

You can read the full list of winners, and non-winners, on the Hugo Awards website here.

 

 

 

 

 

The post Five categories result in ‘No Award’ at Hugos 2015 appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/24/five-categories-result-no-award-hugos-2015/feed/ 0
Borderlines by Michela Wrong http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/20/borderlines-by-michela-wrong/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/20/borderlines-by-michela-wrong/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 09:00:56 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=29022 A tense legal thriller which conjures the sights and sounds of Africa and questions Western involvement in the continent. Michela Wrong's début has big ambitions, but does it deliver?

Borderlines
A tense legal thriller which conjures the sights and sounds…

The post Borderlines by Michela Wrong appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
A tense legal thriller which conjures the sights and sounds of Africa and questions Western involvement in the continent. Michela Wrong's début has big ambitions, but does it deliver?

Borderlines

Michela Wrong is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a foreign correspondent.  She has been writing about Africa for over 20 years after postings with Reuters in Cote d’Ivoire and Zair. She is the author of three non-fiction titles that have examined Mobutu’s rise and fall, studied the little written about Red Sea nation of Eritrea and told the story of Kenyan corruption whistle-blower John Githongo.

Her non-fiction books on contemporary Africa aim to be accessible to both members of the general public and experts in the field and she brings the issues and ideas she has examined in her previous books to her first novel, Borderlines.

At the centre of her debut is Paula Shakleton: a smart, ambitious but troubled lawyer who is tempted into working for an African government by a brilliant human rights lawyer. Fleeing from heartbreak over the death of her lover, she agrees to help with a border dispute between two small African nations which caused two damaging wars.

The novel is slow to start but Michela does a good job of peppering the first few pages with clues as to where the story might go, keeping the reader intrigued and guessing from the beginning. Paula is instantly recognisable as a strong, independent woman but Michela creates a character that is wholly three-dimensional, with flaws and complexities that bring her to life and which holds the story together.  She is suffering from the loss of her lover and has all but given up on her ‘botched, interrupted, pointless demi-life’. You are drawn into thinking that her adventure in Africa is either going to make or break her.

At times Michela’s writing can feel quite clunky. There are points that leap out from the page as anomalies, such as the moment an unfamiliar aroma is broken down into 6 different herbs and spices (she must have a really good nose) or the 1950’s diary extracts that feature phrases such as ‘old girl’ and ‘chaps’. It feels a little clichéd at times, as though Michela perhaps wrote them in to give her characters more depth but ended up overshooting the mark a little.

The novel sparkles when Paula describes the local landscapes and the book raises important, pertinent questionsPassages about Paula’s past with her lover are also anomalies of a sort. They are far less exciting and vivid than the ‘real time’ moments we spend with Paula in North Darrar. The novel sparkles when Paula describes the local landscapes and the book raises important, pertinent questions. Spending time in a refugee camp, Paula has a conversation about the use of the term ‘Internally Dispersed Persons’, rather than refugees, highlighting the use of terminology to dehumanise people during conflict. Interviewing a local historian, he describes the broad lines of history, explaining that ‘the entire world today signs up to the American capitalist dream, which is why our own boys and girls keep dying in the Mediterranean trying to reach it!’ It’s a passage that instantly brings to mind recent news reports, placing the novel into a world we recognise.

Despite the book’s tendency towards clunky, clichéd segments, this is a novel that shows a lot of promise from a debut writer.  It is topical and raises questions about the portrayal of nations in modern media, something which isn’t a surprise from such a respected international journalist. The novel also takes a swipe at outdated representations of Africa as a purely impoverished land. Michela writes richly of the beautiful landscapes and the plight of citizens in a politically tumultuous landscape, through the eyes of an outsider. Borderlines an engaging, informed novel that could be the start of an exciting career in fiction for Michela.

The post Borderlines by Michela Wrong appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/20/borderlines-by-michela-wrong/feed/ 0
Displacement by Lucy Knisley http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/14/displacement-by-lucy-knisley/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/14/displacement-by-lucy-knisley/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 09:00:37 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28962 A graphic travelogue following a cruise with the creator’s elderly grandparents, detailing the inevitable difficulties alongside moments of humour and reflection.

Displacement by Lucy Knisley
A graphic travelogue featuring a cruise with the creator's elderly grandparents...

The post Displacement by Lucy Knisley appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
A graphic travelogue following a cruise with the creator’s elderly grandparents, detailing the inevitable difficulties alongside moments of humour and reflection.

Displacement by Lucy Knisley

American comic artist Lucy Knisley saw high acclaim for her last graphic travelogue, An Age of LicenseFantagraphics have now published her latest book in the travel vein, Displacement, which also incorporates memoir and family history.

In 2012, Knisley went on a cruise for the elderly with her nonagenarian grandparents, who insisted on the trip despite their age and ailing health.

The family panicked about them going un-chaperoned, and Knisley volunteered to help out as a way to get to know her grandparents better, as well as to escape winter in New England in the aftermath of a breakup.

She brought along a copy of her grandfather’s war memoir, excerpts from which contrast with this journey. Reading her grandfather’s words as a young man becomes a comfort when dealing with both grandparents’ decline in health and memory.

Displacement is notably different from An Age of License, which, while also a travelogue, involves midnight picnics, wine tasting and romance alongside 20-something career anxiety. In this follow-up, Knisley must switch to carer mode and forget all notions of a relaxing holiday.

The artwork is very appealing and the perfect style for this type of graphic novel. It’s cute without being twee and the watercolours add a liveliness appropriate for a book set on the open seas.

Knisley’s frustration is palpable as she tries to balance her grandparents’ differing needs.

Grandpa’s war diary is a highlight, as he struggles with being a soldier while lacking the natural disposition. His boss even leaves him to fly a plane alone during training because he thinks he’s going to crash and kill them both. “A great way to inspire confidence in a student,” he quips.

There are flashbacks to Knisley’s childhood and time spent with her grandparents. They are not very open with their emotions and find it hard to be affectionate with their grandkids. They also seem to have a hierarchy for family members based on their level of education. Their granddaughter spends an insomnia-filled night musing on their old-fashioned attitudes and concludes that “everything is terrible”.

Her frustration is palpable as she tries to balance her grandparents’ differing needs. They can’t sit for long because Grandma gets disorientated and wanders away. They can’t walk for long because Grandpa’s asthma means he needs to stop and rest.

Displacement is perhaps more relatable than some of Knisley’s previous books, in that  it deals with the universal problem of elderly relatives becoming increasingly incapacitated, and the frustration of trying to maintain a relationship with people who at times can’t remember what that relationship is.

Unsurprisingly, this is not an entirely light-hearted book. It evokes the sad reality of loved ones ageing as well as communication difficulties within families. Regardless, Knisley finds humour in the smallest details and the illustrations add a levity that makes it an enjoyable read.

All things considered, Displacement is a fascinating and visually charming book dealing with difficult subject matter.

The post Displacement by Lucy Knisley appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/14/displacement-by-lucy-knisley/feed/ 0
Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/13/kauthar-by-meike-ziervogel/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/13/kauthar-by-meike-ziervogel/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 09:00:22 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=29006 Meike Ziervogel’s exploration of a white British woman’s conversion to Islam and eventual descent into horrifying delusion is deftly and sensitively handled, raising fascinating questions in a post-9/11 world.

Kauthar
Meike Ziervogel’s exploration of a white British woman’s conversion to…

The post Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Meike Ziervogel’s exploration of a white British woman’s conversion to Islam and eventual descent into horrifying delusion is deftly and sensitively handled, raising fascinating questions in a post-9/11 world.

Kauthar

Kauthar is much larger than the sum of its 144 pages. Be warned, it is not a story which will sit comfortably in your mind; its sharp edges will jostle your preconceptions and make you question your biases.

The novel quite literally starts with a bang, Kauthar, our protagonist and a British Islamic convert, is aflame; smoke billows from her as she soliloquises on God and those without faith.

‘All the infidels will be punished. I have put myself to the test. All power is with you.’

After this chilling snapshot we are catapulted back in time. Kauthar, following her evening Arabic class, receives a marriage proposal from Rafiq, a handsome Iraqi doctor; seemingly completing her new Muslim life, a world away from her Catholic upbringing.

‘He’s a Muslim. He obeys Allah’s will. And Kauthar doesn’t play games either. Now Lydia, yes, she would have wanted to play.’

Lydia is Kauthar’s former self: 30-something, lacking purpose, her only solace at the bottom of a wine bottle. She embroils herself in a string of meaningless affairs whilst waiting for ‘The One.’ So far, so Bridget Jones. But when Lydia meets Rabia, a convert to Islam, she takes comfort in the beautiful rituals and stability the faith provides her, sets her old life aside and becomes Kauthar.

Throughout the novel, Ziervogel deftly switches between the twin perspectives of her protagonist’s split personality, darting between memories from Lydia’s childhood and adult life; then jumping to the present day to document Kauthar’s immersion in Muslim culture.

Uniquely qualified to write this tale of a woman’s conversion to Islam, Ziervogel is able to write and speak Arabic and holds an MA in Arabic Literature. Her portrayal of Kauthar’s faith is both sensitively and acutely observed, with fascinating insight into the daily prayers and rituals which make up Islamic life.

As the novel unfolds, Kauthar initially seems to find happiness and belonging in her new faith; completed by her loving marriage with Rafiq. But this new bliss is only skin-deep; Lydia still rears her head unbidden in Kauthar’s thoughts, creating disturbing moments of schizophrenic cross-chatter:

‘Lydia strokes his head, strokes the head of my husband. I know it is her. She has crept back and now sits between us.’

Kauthar’s attempts to run from Lydia’s insecurities are futile; in the wake of 9/11 she finds that she is still an outsider despite her desperation to belong. Her husband begins to turn from her, ‘We Iraqis have to stick together,’ leaving Kauthar isolated with only her faith for comfort.

‘He has given us His book, the Quran […] I no longer belong to the world outside the book.’

In tandem with her spiral into breakdown, we watch the Iraq war unfold through her eyes. Alone and angry, Kauthar watches the bombs explode in Baghdad on TV, outraged at the coverage: ‘Clinical precision. No one wounded. No one dead. Only heroes.’

We are led by the hand through Kauthar’s descent into madness, giving us an uncomfortably close glimpse of violent extremism.Ziervogel shows us another side to The War on Terror, one which is not televised and cold; one which is deeply personal and has the potential to incite hatred. We are led by the hand through Kauthar’s descent into madness, giving us an uncomfortably close glimpse of violent extremism.

Although Kauthar’s mounting religious zeal is documented with insight and precision, her character arc could have been more finely wrought. The (rather considerable) jump between Kauthar’s obsessive devotion and her development of violent tendencies in particular would have benefited from being charted at more length. Perhaps the novella is a victim of the brevity of its own form.

Overall, Kauthar is a darkly captivating story of love, faith and desperation which asks probing questions about our post-9/11 world. With characteristic power and acuity, Ziervogel encourages us to shed our preconceptions and view the world through the eyes of another, who may not be as wildly different from us as we first thought.

The post Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/13/kauthar-by-meike-ziervogel/feed/ 0
Afrikult. on Balaraba Ramat Yakubu http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/11/afrikult-on-balaraba-ramat-yakubu/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/11/afrikult-on-balaraba-ramat-yakubu/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 09:00:20 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28989 In the third instalment of their bi-monthly series on African women writers, the team at Afrikult. introduce us to Balaraba Ramat Yakubu. Originally self-published and one of only a few Hausa writers to be translated into English, Yakubu is an influential author whose work is laced with social commentary and feminist critique.

Balaraba_Ramat_Yakubu
In the third instalment of their bi-monthly series on African…

The post Afrikult. on Balaraba Ramat Yakubu appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
In the third instalment of their bi-monthly series on African women writers, the team at Afrikult. introduce us to Balaraba Ramat Yakubu. Originally self-published and one of only a few Hausa writers to be translated into English, Yakubu is an influential author whose work is laced with social commentary and feminist critique.

Balaraba_Ramat_Yakubu

During the 1980s and 1990s Balaraba Ramat Yakubu was able to use literature to create a space in which she could start a dialogue centred on social change and the gendered effects of Islamic Hausa traditions within Kano, Northern Nigeria.

Her works, all written in the Hausa language, engender the concept of revision, and critical restructuring of traditional perceptions of womanhood. This is a very deliberate and didactic feature of her work that seeks to facilitate women assuming a larger degree of responsibility in their familial, educational, and career choices. The fact that she was able to do this can be seen as a result of the economic collapse that struck Nigeria during the 1980s.

The economic collapse coincided with the maturity of a new generation of literate young adults who had benefited from the introduction of Universal Primary Education in 1976 and basic adult literacy classes. When it came to getting their work out there authors such as Yakubu had no choice but to personally foot the bill and self-publish in order to get their voices heard. In fact the lack of established institutional interference in their work contributed to their freedom of expression. Authors could pick and choose what to write about; topics of love and marriage with particularly urban traits were predominantly featured.

The style of fiction writing Balaraba Ramat Yakubu produces has been coined ‘Littattafai na Soyoyya’ which translate as ‘books about love’. Littattafai na Soyoyya is cheaply mass produced, and readily available from market stalls and street hawkers. Yakubu’s authorship is laced with her own personal experience of ‘auren dole’ (forced marriage), and limited education which serve to make it all the more empowering as a social commentary on Hausa culture.

By examining the subject matter throughout Yakubu’s novels a call for social reconfiguration can be seen; the adoption of a more ‘equitable gender system’. Broaching issues like the day to day domestic politics of polygamy and encouraging female education through fiction, Yakubu’s social commentary seeks to give women options they have not previously had. Through the creation of binary figures and stock characters she critiques the norms of Hausa society. For example in her first novel Burdurwa Zuciya (Young at Heart) published in 1986, she challenges polygamy by focusing on how women are seen through the eyes of the main male character, Alhaji Usman, who at the beginning of the novel has three wives, wishes to marry another and also frequents prostitutes. As the plot unravels it becomes clear that Alhaji views women as disposable; when he is displeased with one of his wives, he remedies his situation by divorce, and then quickly marries someone new. The implication is that his household is always in disarray as a result of his moral depravity and lack of respect for the institution of marriage. His inability to act fairly towards his wives is reinforced by the Hausa word for co-wife, ‘kishya’ which translates as ‘jealous one’; all the women in his household are unhappy. This novel centres its critique on the abuse of Islam through the lives of Alhaji’s wives to whom he does not listen. As Alhaji ultimately meets his untimely demise, Yakubu’s creative manipulation of her story line calls for a collective reassessment of Hausa society and its gender dynamics.

Yakubu’s success can be measured by considering the adaptation of her work into different media within the last two decades. Widespread availability of cheap personal computers and the windows 3.1 package during the 1990s aided the progression of Kano market literature into video film. The most popular novels could now be made into films creating a whole new genre of visual literature. Yakubu’s Alhaki Kwikwiyo (Sin Is a Puppy That Follows You Home) is perhaps the most famous of her novels to have been developed into a film. The fact that her written fiction is so widely read, fostered this development, and her popularity within the Hausa literary community has meant that she is one of the few Hausa authors whose work has been translated into English. Her successes as a result of creative freedom of written expression have transformed her from an author into a screenwriter, producer, and director of her own Kano market literature films. Needless to say her contribution to the genre of African language literature is quite considerable; not only has she garnered recognition for her achievements in her first language but actually develop and mould the specific field of Littattafai na Soyoyya writing in northern Nigeria.

______________________________________________________________

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 atwww.afrikult.com or follow us on facebook.com/afrikult, Twitter and Instagram @afrikult.

The post Afrikult. on Balaraba Ramat Yakubu appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/11/afrikult-on-balaraba-ramat-yakubu/feed/ 0
A Book for Her by Bridget Christie http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/10/a-book-for-her-by-bridget-christie/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/10/a-book-for-her-by-bridget-christie/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2015 09:00:39 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28983 Winner of the 2013 Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award, four Chortle Awards, and host of her own series on Radio 4, Bridget Christie is breaking through the comedy glass ceiling. A Book for Her is Christie’s début novel which details how a fart led her to a feminist revelation, and how this has helped her career move up a gear.

A Book for Her
Winner of the 2013 Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award, four Chortle…

The post A Book for Her by Bridget Christie appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Winner of the 2013 Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award, four Chortle Awards, and host of her own series on Radio 4, Bridget Christie is breaking through the comedy glass ceiling. A Book for Her is Christie’s début novel which details how a fart led her to a feminist revelation, and how this has helped her career move up a gear.

A Book for Her

Christie has been working away on the comedy circuit for 12 years; this did not stop one male reviewer asking who she had slept with in order to get her show. She responded by pointing out “There isn’t a casting couch in standup comedy. There isn’t even a couch. That’s why we’re always standing up”. This humorous and direct dismantling of sexism and misogyny is what A Book for Her is all about.

Christie’s experiences on the comedy circuit form the skeleton of the book. She shows her early career is playing to small rooms, often with few people. These initial forays are an essential part of Christie’s learning and honing her comedy craft. She describes how being a woman adds an extra layer of challenge to being on stage alone. Disguising herself as an ant, and Charles II amongst others, so as not too alienate audiences; Christie asserts that dressing up to go on stage is easier for an audience to accept than seeing a woman up there doing comedy. This is because, she reasons, society through media images and messages is primed to see women as either sexual objects or vacuous idiots.

The aim of humour in the book is not to reduce the problems of female inequality to something to be laughed at, but rather it is to show how laughable the stances perpetuating these inequalities are. Skilfully melded in with this stand-up comedy bildungsroman is a chapter-by-chapter debunking of issues confronting female equality; labiaplasty, FGM, sexual objectification, anti-rape pants. This gives A Book for Her a very up to date, fresh feel, and perceptive. It’s definitely not a dry academic tome on the current state of feminism.

The aim of humour in the book is not to reduce the problems of female inequality to something to be laughed at, but rather it is to show how laughable the stances perpetuating these inequalities are. Christie’s blows these on to the page like bubbles, transparent and empty; before bursting them with her insightful wit.  She wonders if, rather than someone inventing “anti-rape pants”, would it not “just be better if the rapists stopped raping?” and, “how am I supposed to pee when I’m wearing them?”

A Book for Her is not claiming to be a panacea for female inequality or oppression. Christie is making her contribution to the cause by using the skills she has: making people laugh. And what skills they are! Through her agile, shifting narrative, she blends comedy and ideology superbly, with a sense of humour that leaves the reader in no doubt about the ludicrousness of 21st century misogyny and sexism.

 

The post A Book for Her by Bridget Christie appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/10/a-book-for-her-by-bridget-christie/feed/ 0
Noonday by Pat Barker http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/03/noonday-by-pat-barker/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/03/noonday-by-pat-barker/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 09:00:41 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=29028 Noonday is the final instalment in Pat Barker's ‘Life Class’ trilogy, completing the stories begun in Life Class and Toby’s Room.

noonday
Noonday is the final instalment in Pat Barker's ‘Life Class’…

The post Noonday by Pat Barker appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Noonday is the final instalment in Pat Barker's ‘Life Class’ trilogy, completing the stories begun in Life Class and Toby’s Room.

noonday

Noonday is Barker’s first foray into Second World War writing; she tends instead to focus on the lives of soldiers and civilians in the First World War. The book can also be read as a stand-alone novel.

Noonday continues to chronicle the lives of Elinor, now working as an ambulance driver, and her husband Paul, who works as an air-raid warden. Their marriage has lost its lustre and the characters exist in the terrifying uncertainty of the London Blitz. It feels inevitable when affairs begin.

Trying to break up the couple is their old student friend, Kit, who has always had feelings for Elinor. He doesn’t have much power in his life, with his young daughter living with her mother in America, so he tries to retrieve his feelings of masculinity.

The novel begins outside of the city. Elinor is helping her sister take care of Kenny, a child who had been shipped out to the countryside. Kenny just wants to be back in London with his mother. Paul feels sorry for Kenny and takes the child back to the capital. It is here that the reader first feels the horrors of the Blitz, especially opposed to the relative calm of the English countryside.

They are suffering from their own shell-shock, which Barker covered so well in the Regeneration trilogy. Barker uses her understanding of trauma, as seen in those novels, to bring these horrors to British soil.Kenny haunts the novel. Paul believes that, through him taking the child back, he has sent him to his death. Barker examines the thoughts of all three protagonists and Paul’s thought processes here are interesting. He begins an affair with a colleague and he doesn’t seem to find the woman he has an affair with terribly attractive, but he sees their tryst as inevitable.

Here we see the impact of war on the lives of individual civilians. They are suffering from their own shell-shock, which Barker covered so well in the Regeneration trilogy. Barker uses her understanding of trauma, as seen in those novels, to bring these horrors to British soil.

Noonday is written by a novelist adept at weaving historical detail into immensely readable stories. Barker seems to truly understand her characters and is particularly good at realising working-class voices, and the voices of women in wartime.

An eccentric medium also makes an appearance; her claims of being able to see and talk to the dead unnerve Paul. Her presence seems to be particularly craved in wartime, with many people having lost loved ones. Is she capitalising on grief or is she seriously mentally ill?

Wartime London is well-realised. The destruction and the rubble and constant threat of bombs give the novel a claustrophobic feel. Again, Barker brings the terror of the trenches into the city.

Issues of femininity and masculinity are made apparent. Paul and Kit seem unable to come to terms with the lack of power in their lives; they are not out fighting and they have no sense of control over their lives. Elinor, in contrast, has more power than she has had before; she is able to live by herself and work for herself.

Towards the end, Barker gives the well-worn love-triangle trope an interesting twist. Elinor is no passive pushover; she drives the story. The climax focuses on her needs.

Noonday is well worth anybody’s time. It is a compellingly well-researched story written by a master observer of human nature.

The post Noonday by Pat Barker appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
http://forbookssake.net/2015/08/03/noonday-by-pat-barker/feed/ 0
For Books’ Sake talks to: Claudia Rankine http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/29/for-books-sake-talks-to-claudia-rankine/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/29/for-books-sake-talks-to-claudia-rankine/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:00:50 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28923 Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric is an eloquent, yet sprawling piece of literature, exploring race relations and the racialised body, on a domestic and global scale. Our Features Editor, Nikki Hall spoke to Rankine, Jamaican-born, New York-bred poet and professor, discussing the black female body, Rachel Dolezal, Serena Williams, and the policing of race.

For Books' Sake talks to: Claudia Rankine
Nikki Hall talks to award winning poet and author of Citizen, Claudia Rankine.

The post For Books’ Sake talks to: Claudia Rankine appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric is an eloquent, yet sprawling piece of literature, exploring race relations and the racialised body, on a domestic and global scale. Our Features Editor, Nikki Hall spoke to Rankine, Jamaican-born, New York-bred poet and professor, discussing the black female body, Rachel Dolezal, Serena Williams, and the policing of race.

For Books' Sake talks to: Claudia Rankine

 

As a Londoner of Afro-Caribbean descent, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric resonated with me more than any book I have read in recent years. Why? Because Rankine manages to explore what it means to be a black person in a predominately white society, world, and history, using an eclectic mix of art, mediation, verse and social commentary. Citizen is a global text; an organic work of art. It will be read for many years to come, thanks to Rankine’s accessible, yet intellectual discussion about race in the 21st century.

I had been excited of its UK release since winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. I remember seeing a photo of Rankine for the first time, and how she reminded me of my own elegant, Jamaican-born mother – who was also born in 1963. I finally got to interview Rankine in early July. Extremely nervous, I met Rankine at her London hotel. I wanted to rhapsodise about Citizen, praise its originality and how much I felt kinship with her. I did, and she embraced it…

Nikki Hall: As alluded in the organic nature of Citizen – that the racial discrimination is just history repeating itself, over and over again – do you ever think that America will become post-racial?

Claudia Rankine: Well, I don’t think that being post-racial should be the destination. I mean, I think we will always, ALWAYS, be raced. The question is at what point, will whiteness recognise its own prejudice. Because right now, part of the problem is that the white imagination does not understand the ways in which historical, systemic racism determines what they think and how they act. So when will that happen? We will never not be black. So the idea that wanting to get to a post-racial moment is the desire but I do not think so. I want to be seen for who I am. And I want to understand the history I came out of. Do I want to be projected on as a criminal by an imagination that has no recognition that it’s doing that? No. So that’s a change I’m waiting for.

NH: Perhaps by changing the negative signifier of what blackness means? However this would probably take many generations?

CR: Despite the change in laws, despite centuries passing, white American imagination has held on to its racist beliefs. Maybe because the culture has supported that. So it’s in the advertisements, so people believe they’re not racist and then they say racist things and the question is why, often people would say “oh the race is a generational thing, racists will die out”.

NH : Exactly, and as long as the media projects this. It is the same thing that happens in Scandinavian countries – everything, their perceptions of race has always been from Hollywood. Even though they haven’t had any contact with cultures, or experienced what America is really like or producing.

CR: And what they’re producing are black people are drug addicts, criminals, deserved to be shot and the authorities deserve to be in the street, unattended.

NH: What are thoughts on The Wire?

CR: It portrayed a segment of the society that is a product of the racist. The disenfranchisement of those black men on The Wire has to do with education, and I think that was part of The Wire’s message, that it wasn’t unconnected that the drug crime wasn’t unconnected from the educational system, the media, all of that. That when you have a society that refuses to educate, that ghettoises certain people then they have no option and they have no belief in their own possibility. And they have no way to enter into mainstream culture. Is that all blacks in the United States know?

NH: Although black people – particularly black women – are the most successful in the entertainment industry, is that a spectacle or a facade to what is truly going on underneath? The multi layering of multimedia used in Citizen are in contrast to the mundane mediations of – autobiographical blacks moving in certain upper class circles, and still having to deal with slips of the tongue.

CR: Well, what I wanted, I mean, one of the things I wanted to show in Citizen is that I’m not talking about communities like The Wire, I’m talking about communities that are populated by people who are educated, people who are supposed to know better. People are partaking in quote on quote “the good life” and who feel themselves aware, sympathetic, good intentioned. And yet, still hold these racist disbeliefs and they way it comes out. It comes out through language. And then you get the “I’m sorry”, ” I didn’t intend that”, “That’s not what I mean” – “I say it but that’s not what I mean”. But it’s still arriving in the body, that’s what it means, because you say what you mean.

 

[pull] NH: As a black person moving in those circles, there’s always a silence. Is the silence partaking in black oppression?

CR: One of the ways that black people are silenced is that you criminalise expression. You say that black women are angry, and if they speak up they are out of control – like Serena Williams, like Michelle Obama. You’re not allowed to express disdain or distress, if you do, then the problem is not in source of the white gaze or the white mouth that might be soliciting, the problem is inherent in you. And that’s a mechanism of silencing people. and i think one of things that, I myself, has had to be ok with is speaking up and not caring. What that means in terms of servility, if you say something to me and it’s unacceptable, I’m going to say it’s unacceptable and you can then say that I’m classless whatever because that’s your language for silencing me.

NH: Silencing can also be found in the manipulation of the N-word, however taking it back into our culture does support a certain performance of blackness.

CR: One of things about the N-word is, it’s become a point of scandal that is less interesting than its subject. Let’s talk about the N-word and not talk about the N-word! Let’s not talk about Michael Brown’s body in the street or let’s not talk about the fact that Dylann Roof just shot nine people. Because even this week (recently) I saw something about how Obama mentioning the N-word. (laughter) The man was talking about a massacre of nine people and all you can talk about the fact that he had mentioned the N-word. I think it’s become one of those points of scandal, that is a distraction from the realities that are actually affecting lives, and extinguishing lives.

NH: Double consciousness, and you do mention in Citizen about  The conflict between being hyper visible and invisible simultaneously. How do you feel about that?
CR: The hyper-visibility has to do with that way the media deals with black athletes and black celebrity so there everywhere. So it makes it look like there is a level playing field but one as we see in the case of Serena it doesn’t immunise them from the same kind of racism that you and I encounter on a day to day level. I also think that when you think about white privilege, what you’re really thinking about is both white mobility and white ownership of space. And so when whiteness enters a space and sees blackness the fact that blackness is within the space makes blackness hyper-visible because they feel that they own the space. And if it’s not, if the blackness cannot be made invisible by turning it into staff or turning it into some mechanism that is in the role of service or property then it seems hyper-visible and then its not just another body, it becomes this huge body inside their space. Even though, clearly the space is just space.  But that perception that we own the space so if you step in, you take over that space, in their imagination, which is why they need to shoot you or get you out of the space, because you’re taking it over.

NH: Which is exactly what Dylann Roof said.

CR: Exactly, what Dylann Roof said.

NH: Do you think Roof’s comment subconsciously explain a shift to black and white equality?

CR: First of all, it’s not black. It’s brown bodies, it’s the hispanics that are evening out the numbers. So black and brown bodies will overtake whiteness. But I don;t think we have to bring a logic to a logic, you know, this is just the power dynamic inherent in whiteness that “we automatically own this space” and so anxiety around having  the space taken away from them has nothing to do with reality. It’s been that way forever, that’s part of white supremacist thinking. So to say that numbers say this and the numbers say that means nothing.

NH: Even though you are an America, being born in Jamaica, you are still part of the British Empire and has that influenced bringing the race discussion to London and to Algeria. Because I feel that an African American born in America could not have written Citizen for some reason. I mean, when you talk about Mark Duggan and conversations I’ve been in, in London you know art-filled houses in Hampstead when you’re talking about race. I don’t think an African – American could have had that insight – or am I wrong?

CR: I would beg to differ. Only because I think that we are at a point where we are such global citizens. I think the ability to understand that these dynamics are postcolonial dynamics and not actually really locked down nationally.That all of these countries are engaged in a relationship to balck bodies that began with ownership of those bodies and that the level of racism in the United States might seem greater only because of the militarised nature of their culture, where the police pulling out tanks in the face of protest. And willing to use those tanks, at that level of armour against their own citizens which that I think is unique.

NH: But the history is slightly different.

CR: It’s different but it still comes from the same place. I really think that because we are global citizens now, it’s easier to understand how a dynamic in France or a dynamic in Britain, in London,  or in the United States might actually move similarly, relative to the white imagination. Relative to hegemonic culture, whoever’s in power, relative to who’s not in power, the histoy what got us heremight play out less violently here and that might have to do with the role of guns.

NH: It probably all boils down to gun control.

CR: Yes, in a sense. I think even Americans were surprised when the protests in Ferguson was answered by tanks in the street. I don’t think we realise that these small towns police forces owned that material, that equipment. You know, they weren’t the only ones that own that equipment across the country! The local police!

NH: It’s the policing of black bodies.

CR: Yeah. You wouldn’t pull out that equipment in Springfield, Mass. You know, in some white community. That would not be allowed. That would not be tolerated. They would take those armed vehicles away from those people.

NH: Did you follow the riots? I was out in the riots and was barracaded in New Cross – was studying at Goldsmiths at the time – but I did not feel any racial tension. What are your thoughts on this?

CR: I do think that even though the postcolonial history is similar in some ways, the United States has a very vehement and explosive relationship to blackness, even more so. And nothing seems to alter it. Laws don’t seem to alter it. A black president doesn’t seem to alter it. Even the people that voted for the black president, when they feel their own position being threatened, are capable of the same thoughts of a Dylann. They might not pick up a gun, reload it five times and shoot nine people but if they feel  threatened in the same way those thoughts are very available to them. I mean, we did not make him so, he is a product of the country, and so every thought available to him is available to everyone.

NH: When massacres happen in recent times, they were usually in schools. I wonder why at this moment in time there has been a large scale church massacre?

CR: In the black community, it’s often in churches. Or white supremacists predominantly attacked churches in the black community throughout the 20th and 21st century and they do that because the church is a safe place. The one place that blackness owns as a safe place. In ’63, that’s when the church was bombed and those 4 girls were killed. When Obama was elected a black church in Springfield was burnt down to the ground. So there is a kind of history that Dylann Roof was stepping into consciously. He researched that church because of its historical significance in the black liberation movement. So it wasn’t a random moment, he wanted that church because of its historical significance and he is able to do that kind of research, he is obviously able to understand how black churches have functioned in the black community up till now.

NH: It was particularly eerie that he sat with them, and that they welcomed him into the church. How do you feel about that?

CR: I’m not surprised it was a church. They were at church, they were in the environment where one is one’s best self. So you expect everyone to be their best selves. It was not like they were in a bar. I think given the location, he could depend on the generosity of the people’s around him.

NH: On art – Citizen closes with Turner’s The Slave Ship, were you conscious of using it as a representation of blackness being submerged and bleached by whiteness?

CR: If you want to take on the classification that is being to constructed for you. I don’t see myself determined by the white imagination. I see myself as in conversation with the constructions made by white imagination. But you and I are black women, with different histories and different lives and different ages and experiences, and all of that contributes to who we are. but we both also understand history in ways that can be in conversation with and in dialogue with. And we understand that that history might inform other people’s reading of us and our bodies but that’s not us.

NH: What are your thoughts on the black female body today?

CR: (On Rachel Dolezal) That situation, that has nothing to do with race! That has to with a woman who is traumatised. That racial thing is about trauma, that is about a woman who is traumatised within the dynamics of a family that had apparently sexual trauma. There was trauma, there was sibling rivalry between the black adopted children and the white biological children. To me that has nothing to do with race. Race  is just being used in this but the woman needs psychological help and I think one of things about race in the United States is because it’s such a volatile category, things that don’t belong in it get put it in and then that discussion trumps the actual reality of the thing itself. And in her case, people should talking about what it means for a woman to be traumatised to the point of wanting to escape into another culture, another identity. This is disassociation at its extreme and i think that’s the conversation people should be having relative to that woman.

CR: Because they’re using the situation to talk about other things, but they don’t need to be talked about through her traumatised body.

NH: Why did you chose Serena Williams as the female subject in Citizen?

CR: Because Serena to me is the example of what it means to work hard,to strive, to do everything that you’re think you’re supposed to do, and still you are subject to the most hateful, and unrelenting racism. The woman has won everything. There is nothing left for her to win, except break obscure tennis records. And yet, she has been attacked and attacked and attacked and you know, I went to the US Open a few years ago and she was playing in the final against Victoria Azarenka and the white Americans standing around me were cheering for the woman from Belarus. And I said to the people, standing near me I said, “you’re Americans, why aren’t you cheering for the American player?”

NH: What was the answer?

CR: “Oh, we just wanted to be competitve!” And then when it got close why aren’t you cheering for  American player and then they moved away because nobody wants to turn to me and say “we hate her because she’s black.” But it’s the reality.

NH: So what’s next for you?

CR: I am working on a play. But I don’t like launching into another writing project immediately after finishing one, because I think then you end up just writing the same thing again. So I love sort of, just doing something different and then coming back to it.

NH: Were you surprised at the success and embrace of Citizen?

CR:No I was surprised! I didn’t think when you’re working on something  you can never anticipate what the reaction is going to be, so I was just doing the book I was doing. I had no idea that it would have been embraced in the way that it has done. I am grateful. Partly because it means that the subject is being engaged.


Claudia Rankine is a Jamaican poet and playwright. At present, Rankine is the Henry G. Lee Professor of Poetry at Pomona College and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Rankine’s work, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (2004), an experimental project, has been acclaimed for its unique blend of poetry, essay, lyric and television imagery.

Citizen: An American Lyric (Penguin, 2015, £9.99)  won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry. It has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection.  It is available to buy here.

Nikki Hall is a writer and the Features Editor of For Books’ Sake.

The post For Books’ Sake talks to: Claudia Rankine appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/29/for-books-sake-talks-to-claudia-rankine/feed/ 0