6. The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui. What an intense and beautifully executed memoir told over generations, borders and time. At its heart, this book is about Thi Bui’s journey of becoming a mom, seeking to heal herself through understanding her history and then ultimately, charting a new path forward for her own family.
What I loved most about this book is that it's a graphic novel. Thi took us through important parts of Vietnam and American history with words and images; history that I had very little knowledge of. She rebuilt entire towns, sketched the landscape and presented her own story as she saw it. If you are a member of an immigrant tribe who America has historically seen as expendable and wholly unwanted, you know how important it is to write your own story on your own terms. The very act of drawing into existence her reality, to me, is transgressive and adds a level of truthfulness that my imagination could never render.
7. Dominicana, Angie Cruz. Damn, what a story. Before moving back to Brooklyn, Ryan and I lived in Inwood. It’s a community I love and other than living in the heart of little Colon on Franklin Ave, it is where I felt most comfortable and at times, not so much.
Colorism is real in every community. Anti-Black sentiment is real in Inwood. Like so many Afro-Latinx communities, the energy around race, color, gender and sensuality is so charged. This feels particularly true in the Afro-Dominican culture or how I experienced it during the four years we were on Isham Street. It is for this reason I committed myself to understanding the root of colorism and Anti-Black sentiment in the Dominican culture. My first stop, “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz. My second, “Dominicana.”
This book, told from the perspective of a teenage girl whose family’s future rest on her tiny, not fully formed shoulders, picked up where I stopped with Diaz. This is a complicated story of poverty, the decisions families must make to climb the social mobility ladder, the borders we must cross both internally and externally to have a fighting chance, the abuse womxn suffer and the possibilities and hope each generation brings. Suffice it to say, immigrant womxn fucking resist and persist. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda said, “immigrants get the job done."
This book was also the first one where I received a handwritten letter from the author. "Angie, I'm sorry it took me so long to write this note. However, I want to say...thank you. I see you and thank you for seeing me. You did good with this one. I hope you continue writing 'cause you definitely have something to say. I will continue reading your words; I have so much more to learn." Cuidate, kqd.
8. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri. There’s an entire podcast about why I love this book. Listen here.
9. Celestial Bodies, Jokha Alharthi. My first winner of the Man Booker International Award. My second translated book which I struggled with. The first being “Convenience Store Woman.” I approached this book with high expectations and trepidation. I wanted so much and feared it all at once - not fair and in hindsight, a recipe for disaster.
At our recent book club meeting, I shared that I wasn’t convinced this book would make my list. Said to be chronicling the lives of three sister at a pivotal time in Oman history, this book is expansive and plays with time, storytelling structure and voice in an interesting and unfamiliar way. Ultimately, the story felt unfinished and I wasn’t comfortable with that.
Then, I looked at my notes. I sat with the prevailing themes: womxn lack of choice in the direction of their own lives and bodies, the way we resist and stay alive to see another day, slavery, internalized racial oppression, the poison of secrets, the shame of poverty, feeling shame due to a failed relationship even as we achieve professional success, what it means for a slave to fall in love with her master – is it love? Many of the existential questions presented in these seemingly unfinished and eclipsed stories were not answered. And as an Afro-Latinx womxn whose mom watched Novellas which ended and restarted every few weeks and as an American Afro-Latinx who watched entire problems be in 20-25 mins, I’m use to things being wrapped all up and pretty.
The brilliance of this body of work is that the book itself lived out the way life does. Life is a journey and just when we think we've figured it all out, another question saunters in.
Despite it being a book about three sisters, the only voices that are fully heard and stories actualized are the men. The truth is, as womxn with intersectional identities, we are often living at the behest of oppressive systems. Rarely do we get to take center stage and when we do, it's because we fought like hell to get there. Nonetheless, like the womxn in this story, we are Celestial Bodies and Beings. To me, it means that we are brilliant and powerful but not dominant in this particular orbital system. At least not now.
10. Luster, Raven Leilani. Like everything in life, it’s about timing. “Luster” is the type of relationship that you look back and say…"damn, that shit could have been everything had it just been at a different time."
That’s how I feel about “Luster.” I remember opening the book and after reading the first few pages, feeling like, “yes, a young Black womxn completely owning her sexuality.” I was sold. I respect the ways Leilani discusses class through school loans, the L train and odd jobs. Basically, fell deep for how ordinary and familiar everything felt. And that discussion about the “respectable Black girl” in the office who everyone swoons over while us radical Black girls are ignore and secretly feared. I’m here for all of that! Oh wait, of course, we’ve all had that moment when we look at a person significantly more privileged than we are and want to take care of their feelings. I’m still cringing at the moment I felt that and all the courage it took for me to gather myself and him.
However, the meandering sentences; the same ones I loved in the beginning, with such mundane yet strategic detail wore me out after a while. When I realized that Edie was all kinda fucked up, I became bored. I waited and waited for something that frankly took too long to come.
Here’s the thing, COVID19 made reading difficult and concentration 3x as hard. The structure of this book did not work for me. In addition, I’ve been reading tragic stories of Black girls for so long, I’m done right now. This is definitely an amazing story; she has a firm grasp on the “isms” and their interlocking nature. Lelani’s way with words…reminds me of some of the sentences in Toni Morrison’s storytelling. Devine and crushing all at once. It is definitely brilliant. It’s just not where I’m at right now. At 41 years old and having spent most of my life reading Black Feminist literature, I need a different story.
However, like those epic love stories, it is very possible, we'll bump into one another in a different space and time. It will be...well, it will simply be a wrap.
Thank you for taking this stroll with me. Shop this collection.