Life in a Country Album: Poems by Nathalie Handal

Life in a Country Album: Poems by Nathalie Handal

I don't read much poetry. It takes a savoring, a slow reading, that I'm not good at, that I should practice more. I am glad that I picked up Life in a Country Album, the poems are beautiful and touching and challenging. I read Handal's mini-biography before I bought it, but was unprepared for how much French was in the first section. I have a little French left from my high school years, enough to get the gist of some of it, but not all. On the other hand, maybe that's not important, maybe it's the sounds and the flow and the contrast. For Handal, it seems the world is home. She's connected to places and shares those, but she's not tethered to any, and that's a piece of what she's exploring. ...
Read More
Passing by Nella Larsen

Passing by Nella Larsen

More of a novella than a novel, Passing starts with a chance encounter at a tea shop between Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry. Once childhood friends in Harlem, New York, Irene and Clare are separated when Clare decides to leave the Black community behind, to ‘pass’ for white, marry a white man, and live as a white woman. While the two women catch up, Clare asks Irene if she could come to one of her parties, explaining that she misses being around Black people. Irene agrees and then she meets Clare’s racist husband. Irene is shocked and angry. She lives within the African-American community, is married to a black man, and is anxious about passing though she does it when convenient, like at the tea shop. In fact, Irene’s biggest desire in life is for security, while Clare is a risk-taker. A couple of year later, Clare reaches out to Irene again, and begins spending more time with Irene, her family,...
Read More
Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

In Four Hundred Souls, Kendi and Blain have assembled an outstanding group of 90 writers and poets to tell the history of African Americans. The collection begins with Nikole Hannah-Jones's essay on the 1619 arrival of 20 Africans in Virginia and ends with an essay by Alicia Garza on the Black Lives Matter movement. The essays and stories tell of history we know, but many writers focused on stories and people I didn't know, like Elizabeth Keyes who was the first Black woman in the American colonies to petition for her freedom, Lucy Terry Prince the poet who argued for her family's freedom before the Supreme Court, and David George who established the first Black Baptist church. Others touch on laws and events but they fit together, telling a history that we don't know well enough. Like any collection, Four Hundred Souls is uneven, but I don't think that's a negative here. Each of the writers has their own style, their...
Read More
White Negroes by Lauren Michele Jackson

White Negroes by Lauren Michele Jackson

White Negroes is a great collection of essays around cultural appropriation and how it relates to power and privilege. It's a short book, but each of the topics, music, art, fashion, language, economy, feels like it's covered well with data and references and examples that get the author's points across. The book is well structured, meticulously researched, and very readable. I do admit that I did miss some of her cultural references, current musicians or memes or whatever that I'm just not familiar with. White Negroes is definitely worth reading. I learned a lot. Obviously, I knew cultural appropriation exists, but I don't have a clear concept of how prevalent it is and how damaging to the black community. And some of the examples are just outrageous. Jackson doesn't suggest there are easy answers or that the topics are clear cut. She does ask us to respect, recognize, and pay the creators, and to recognize how we contribute to the...
Read More
The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths by Olivier Barde-Cabuçon

The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths by Olivier Barde-Cabuçon

The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths is the first in a series by Barde-Cabuçon, but it's the only one currently translated to English. Hopefully, they'll get around to the rest soon because I really enjoyed it. The story takes place in 1759 Paris, somewhere between the shiny halls of Versailles ruled by debauched Louis XV and his cohorts, and the dirty, dangerous hovels of Parisian suburbs inhabited by the desperately poor. The general population of Paris is seething with resentment, misery, and anger, on the brink of revolution, while the elites seem oblivious to both the inequity and the risks.On the streets of Paris, a horribly mutilated body of a young woman is discovered; the inquiry into her death quickly leads into dangerous territory – to the boudoirs of Versailles, where terminally bored Louis XV is mostly preoccupied with his newest sexual conquests. The detective who has taken on the case is Chevalier de Volnay, named the Inspector of...
Read More
A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer

A British country house Christmas party may be my favorite setting for a murder. Joseph and his wife, Maud, live at Nathaniel's grand home. Joseph has organized a Christmas party, even though he seems to be the only one in a festive mood. Like any good Christmas party, we've got a ill-matched bunch of relatives, significant others, a family friend, and a business partner. Nathaniel is a difficult and argumentative man, who has fights with just about everyone at the house. When he is killed, there are a plethora of suspects and plenty of motives, mostly revolving around who inherits Nathanial’s fortune. The murder obviously puts a damper on the Christmas celebrations. This was a good read, clever and funny. We've got a locked room mystery that makes for a good puzzle for the investigator. I adored Maud, placid, unruffled, unwilling to play hostess. She just wants to find her missing book. And how can you not enjoy a mystery that...
Read More