Friday, February 22, 2013

#BookReview: Maman's Homesick Pie - Donia Bijan #BP2W (Iran)

Prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1978, Donia Bijan and her family lived a charmed life in Iran.  You can hear the pride in her words as she writes of her doctor father and nurse mother who built a hospital from the ground up.  Raised in an apartment above the hospital, Donia and her sisters were raised not only by their parents, but by the nurses at the hospital as well.

Even as she plays the role of nurse and mother, Maman (I don't recall the author ever giving her actual name) also takes on women's issues and politics.  Not only does she serve on the board of several organizations fighting for women's rights, she becomes the director of Tehran's first nursing school and serves in parliament.  While all of these actions are notable, they also prove to be a factor in her family's exile from Iran.

Spanning her family's time first in Iran, then in Spain and finally in America (with an interlude in France), Maman's Homesick Pie is as much a love letter to the author's mother as it is a cookbook.  While her father wanted Donia to be a doctor, and was quite disappointed that she was not, her mother encouraged her love of cooking from a young age and went to great lengths to make sure her daughter could achieve her dream.

The end of each chapter includes a recipe or two that ties back to something the author has mentioned in that chapter.  She includes an anecdote about her mother or why she or her mother created the recipe.  Though some of the recipes didn't necessarily appeal to me, I did find myself dog-earing a few pages for recipes I definitely plan to go back and try.

Published: October 2011
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Known as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling monarchy was overthrown and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was forced into exile.  Conservative clerical forces established a theocratic system of government with ultimate political authority vested in a learned religious scholar referred to commonly as the Supreme Leader who, according to the constitution, is accountable only to the Assembly of Experts - a popularly elected 86-member body of clerics. - CIA World Factbook

Location: Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea, between Iraq and Pakistan
Size: 1,648,195 sq km; slightly smaller than Alaska
Population: 78,868,711
Ethnic groups: Persian 61%, Azeri 16%, Kurd 10%, Lur 6%, Baloch 2%, Arab 2%, Turkmen and Turkic tribes 2%, other 1%
Languages: Persian (official) 53%, Azeri Turkic and Turkic dialects 18%, Kurdish 10%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 7%, Luri 6%, Balochi 2%, Arabic 2%, other 2%

Anthem: Soroud-e Melli-ye Jomhouri-ye Eslami-ye Iran (National Anthem of the Islamic Republic of Iran)

Friday, February 15, 2013

#BookReview: The Space Between Us - Thrity Umrigar #BP2W (India)

The space between women of differing religions, socioeconomic statuses, age groups and the space between men and women are all touched upon in Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us.  While the differences are vast at times, in some instances, there is very little difference.

Bhima has worked as a servant in Sera's house for more than twenty years.  Bhima has witnessed the abuse Sera suffers at the hands of her husband, yet doesn't pass judgement.  She is there to pick up the broken pieces and serve her mistress as best she can, even if that means neglecting her own family's needs.

Sera married Feroz believing that a lifetime of happiness awaited her.  Instead she got a husband prone to violence and an equally abusive, albeit verbal, mother-in-law.  The bright spots in her life are her daughter Dinaz and her son-in-law and the unwavering loyalty of Bhima.

The lives of Sera and Bhima are so deeply intertwined.  Each woman depends on the other for emotional support, yet there are still unwritten rules that keep them from crossing the bridge into friendship. For as long as Sera has known Bhima, and as much as she depends on her, she's still very much aware that she is her servant and not her friend.  The men of the book seem to feel that Sera has forgotten this, but the reader is reminded by Sera's actions that she has not.  Most telling of this is a family argument in which Bhima is firmly reminded that she is indeed a servant and not a member of the family.

Umrigar gives you a lot to think about with this one: Bhima's relationship with her granddaughter, which is strained by the differences in age and levels of education; Bhima's relationship with her husband, in contrast and side by side with Sera's relationship with her husband and even Dinaz's relationship with her husband; Sera's relationship with her mother-in-law vs. her relationship with Dinaz. In addition, each woman must live with consequences brought about as a result of choices their husbands have made, with no room for discussion, refusal or rebuttal.Each relationship explored is more alike than they are different, separated only by the imaginary space between them.

Published: January 2006

The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. From equal status with men in ancient times through the low points of the medieval period, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful. In modern India, women have adorned high offices in India including that of the President, Prime minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Leader of the Opposition. As of 2011, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha (Lower House of the parliament) both are women. However, women in India continue to face discrimination and other social challenges and are often victims of abuse and violent crimes and, according to a global poll conducted by Thomson Reuters, India is the "fourth most dangerous country" in the world for women, and the worst country for women among the G20 countries. - Wikipedia
Location: Southern Asia, bordering the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, between Burma and Pakistan
Size: 3,287,263 sq km; slightly more than 1/3 the size of the U.S.
Population: 1,205,073,612
Ethnic groups: Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, Mongoloid and other 3%
Languages: Hindi 41%, Bengali 8.1%, Telugu 7.2%, Marathi 7%, Tamil 5.9%, Urdu 5%, Gujarati 4.5%, Kannada 3.7%, Malayalam 3.2%, Oriya 3.2%, Punjabi 2.8%, Assamese 1.3%, Maithili 1.2%, other 5.9%

Anthem: Jana Mana Gana (Thou Art the Ruler of the Minds of All People)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

#BookReview: The House Girl - Tara Conklin

As a "twenty-first century white girl from New York," what does Lina Sparrow, a first year litigator at New York's most prominent law firm, know about slavery?  By her own admission, slavery and its legacy never crossed her mind.  When a reparations case lands on her desk, she wonders why she doesn't know the names of the faceless and forgotten individuals that built America, why there's no monument to them and what they wished for, worked for and loved.

Even though her law firm really does not have an appetite for taking on reparations for descendants of slaves, a wealthy client does.  To appease him, the firm brings in Lina and Garrison, an African-American second year associate, to do the research and find the perfect plaintiff.  In this case, they would prefer a plaintiff that can show indisputable evidence proof of familial ties to a slave.  And this is where it gets good.

The House Girl shifts between present-day New York and 1850s Virginia, between Lina and Josephine.  As a slave at Bell Creek, Josephine serves as the house girl for the Bells, Missus Lu in particular.  Prone to dizzy spells and forgetfulness, Lu fancies herself an artist, but Josephine is the real artist.  Raised, as it were, in the Bells' home, she has been Lu's faithful servant and confidante from an early age.  As Lu has learned how to draw, so too has Josephine.  But Josephine is a much better artist, and while Lu's works focus on scenic landscapes, Josephine draws the children and adults of the plantation, capturing their faces as no one else can.

Josephine knows no other life than that of the plantation, but she knows there's something better and longs to escape north to a better life.  In present-day New York, Lina is still searching for the perfect plaintiff when a conversation with her father leads her to an exhibit of Lu Anne Bell's work.  It's always been rumored that Lu Anne's work was actually that of her house girl, Josephine.  With help from her artist father, Oscar, and her own due diligence, Lina sets out to prove that Josephine is indeed the artist.

I was much more fascinated with Josephine's story than I was with Lina's, though I can appreciate that Lina's research brought me Josephine's story.  Equally as fascinating was Garrison's lack of desire to work on the reparation case, believing that the African American population in the U.S. is in a far better position today in comparison to those who stayed in Africa.  I also got the feeling that he believed that since he had achieved a certain level in life, there was no need to entertain the thought of reparations for those that had not been as fortunate.  In a speech from Dresser, the client who has tasked them with the case, comes a compelling argument for why reparations may be necessary.

"Let me ask you something else.  You walk down the street here, outside this building, Midtown Manhattan, center of the world in many ways.  People coming, going, important people, people with money, people with power.  Now how many black people do you see... How many black men driving cabs, selling hot dogs, hauling garbage or furniture or what have you?  how many black women getting off the night shift, or pushing a stroller with a white woman's child inside?  How many do you see? And then step inside this building, how many black men and women do you see in here?  How many are wearing suits?  How many are giving the orders?  How many are emptying the garbage?  How many are dishing out the macaroni?  Now multiply your little life by forty-one million, and is there a need for some acknowledgement that the deck is stacked?  Of course there is.  This case, the reparations idea, won't lift those men and women out of their disadvantage, but it will cause the whole rest of the world to take notice, to do some counting on their own.  An not just the Caucasians, but you too, boys like you who have achieved success in this world easier than you thought you would. Easier than your parents thought you would.  We're talking about a conversation here, not a public whipping.  It's just that money is the quickest way to get people's attention.  You call in the legacy of slavery and nobody bats an eye.  You call it six point two trillion dollars and it's a different story."

Regardless of where you stand on reparations, if you even have a stance on it, The House Girl is an interesting read and take on the topic.

Published: February 2013

Theme: Black Gold by Esperanza Spalding featuring Algebra

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

#BookReview: Freeman - Leonard Pitts, Jr.

How far would you walk to be reunited with your loved one? Following the end of slavery, countless men and women set off across the country looking for mothers, fathers, husband, wives, sisters, brothers and children.  Because slaves were given the last names of their owners, it was often difficult for families to be reunited, especially if they didn't know to what plantation and where their loved ones had been sold.

Was this what they were to be now?  Once a slave people, now a wandering people, rootless and itinerant, searching for one another and for connections that used to be.  It was as if forever incomplete was the Negro's awful destiny.

When Sam Freeman sets out from Philadelphia to find the love of his life, all he knows is that when he last saw her, she was living on a plantation in Mississippi.  Unsure of whether the 15 years of no contact have softened her heart, Sam is determined to find her if it's the last thing he does.  Having lived a number of years on a plantation where the mistress taught and encouraged the slaves to read, Sam is an educated man, working at a library in the north, but such an education can be detrimental to a person that's forgotten the rules of the south.

Tilda was once a proud woman, but the years have been unkind to her.  Losing her son and her husband, then being sold to a master that treats her more like chattel than a human, has worn her down.  Even with the emancipation of slaves, she continues on with her master because she's unsure of where to go and what life holds for her.  Given a chance to run, she doesn't, and the shame eats away at her.

A daughter of white privilege, Boston and an abolitionist, Prudence Cafferty Kent plans to keep the promise she made to her father to open a school for the recently freed slaves in Buford, Mississippi.  And while that may be noble, it's also self-serving.  Prudence asks Bonnie, a free woman that has grown up with Prudence and is so close to her that they call themselves sisters, to go with her.  And this is where I began to hate Prudence.  You want to fulfill your father's mission, fine.  You want to take someone out of their comfortable environment and subject them to a life where people that look like her are treated inhumanely and expect her to just deal with it? Ma'am, tuck your privilege all the way in.

I loved, loved, LOVED Sam's story line.  I tolerated Tilda's, because though I couldn't understand why she behaved the way she did, I could empathize. But Prudence? Ugh.  She danced all over my nerves on more than one occasion.  At the same time, I applaud Pitts for adding her story line because it was certainly different from anything I've read in any other works of historical fiction set during this era.  And obviously I got over my dislike of Prudence enough to give the book five purple armchairs.

Published: May 2012

Theme: I Will Get There by Boyz II Men

Friday, February 1, 2013

#BookReview: Daughters Who Walk This Path - Yejide Kilanko #BP2W (Nigeria)

No one told us that sometimes evil is found much closer to home, and that those who want to harm us  can have the most soothing and familiar of voices.

As a child, Morayo and her sister Eniayo loved visits from their older cousin, Bros T.  A gifted storyteller, everyone recognized that he lied effortlessly, still, there was really no harm in his lies. But as the saying goes, if you'll lie, you'll steal.  The day money goes missing, Bros T swears he hasn't taken it, lying to both his overindulging mother and his disbelieving grandmother.  It's then that Mama Ejiwunmi recognizes that her grandson is a bad seed.

Expulsion from school and pleas from Aunty Tope result in Bros T taking up residence in the Bassey household and begin Morayo's descent into her own private hell.  While Bros T's molestation of Morayo only takes up a few pages in the book, it is really her life after and the decisions she makes as a result of living with the shame that make up the bulk of Daughters Who Walk This Path.

This book could have been about any variety of topics.  In fact, within the first few pages, I thought there was a chance that it would focus on albinism, since much is made of Eniayo's birth and the realization that she is an albino.  Knowing that albinos in Nigeria often face discrimination, Kilanko had the opportunity to touch on that.  Beyond a few comments about Eniayo being teased in school, no mention is made of it.

Instead, Daughters focuses on the repercussions that women live with when they're not allowed to make their own decisions about their bodies and who is allowed access to them.  As the men that have violated them go through life carefree, the women are the ones that deal with mistrust, feelings of inadequacy and a host of other things that prohibit them from fully engaging in meaningful relationships.  Though Morayo and her aunt Morenike are victims of similar situations, how they choose to deal with life after and which paths they choose differ greatly.

Remember that others have walked this path before you and now balance babies on their backs.  Daughters, yours will not be an exception.

Published: January 2013

Theme: No One Like You by P Square