Wednesday, March 27, 2013

#BookReview: The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat - Edward Kelsey Moore

Friends for over 40 years, Odette, Clarice and Barbara Jean have seen each other through everything.  From forbidden love to a cheating husband, the Supremes have been there for each other. And if one of them got out of hand, the other two were there to steer her back on course.

Unlike THE Supremes, Odette, Clarice and Barbara Jean aren’t singers. They’re just friends that happen to reside in the same small Indiana town. But Big Earl, owner of Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat diner, gave them the front window spot while they were in high school and, from there, they’ve watched over and gossiped about the comings and goings of Plainview, Indiana residents for decades.

The plainest and rowdiest of the group, Odette is a no nonsense kind of woman and always has been. If anyone knew that she had conversations with her dead mother, they’d think she was losing a few screws. If they knew that her mother’s ghost hangs out with Eleanor Roosevelt’s, they’d lock her away for sure.

As teens, Clarice’s cheating boyfriend Richmond, now her cheating husband, had a hard time finding someone to double date with because Clarice’s mother insisted she bring Odette along. But, as the saying goes, there’s a pot for every lid and James fit Odette to a tee. Clarice never would have imagined that her homely friend would wind up in a more successful marriage. She never imagined she’d be married at all.

Growing up poor, and with the skankiest mother in town, Barbara Jean vows that she’s going to have a much better life. Rescued from a future that was starting to resemble her mother’s, by the Supremes and Lester, her much older husband, Barbara Jean has been on a slippery slope for the longest. Clarice and Odette see it for what it is, but are too polite to say anything.

These were the tender considerations that came with being a member of the Supremes.We overlooked each other’s flaws and treated each other well, even when we didn’t deserve it.

When one of the Supremes becomes ill, not only is she forced to confront some truths, the others are as well. While the results may not be pretty, you can guarantee that the path they take to get there is pretty entertaining. As Sophia stated in The Color Purple, “things gone be different around here from now on.” Indeed, they are.

Published: March 2013
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.
Theme: With a Little Help From My Friends by Ike & Tina Turner

Friday, March 15, 2013

#BookReview: Running the Rift - Naomi Benaron #BP2W (Rwanda)

What if a civil war broke out between you and people that looked just like you? Can you imagine turning against a friend you've known all of your life simply because they were born into the "wrong" group?  For many Rwandans, this is the reality they lived with for decades, as the war between the Hutus and Tutsis raged.

Jean Patrick lives relatively unscathed by the ongoing rift between Hutus and Tutsis. He is a Tutsi, but several of his friends, and even his running coach, are Hutu.  To him, they are simply people.  And for the longest time, Hutu around him have felt the same way.

But while Jean Patrick is pursuing his dream of distance running in the Olympics, the world around him is crumbling.  Those that he formerly called friends now consider him their greatest enemy. To them, he is now the prey and they are his hunters.

An emotional read, I had to take on Running the Rift at a much slower pace than usual.  It was haunting to read of how easily Jean Patrick's Hutu classmates turned on their Tutsi counterparts.  It was just as disturbing to read about the UN envoys that came in, not to assist or rescue the Tutsi, but to help Americans and other westerners leave Rwanda.  This is a disturbing read, but well worth it.

Published: January 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

In 1959, three years before independence from Belgium, the majority ethnic group, the Hutus, overthrew the ruling Tutsi king. Over the next several years, thousands of Tutsis were killed, and some 150,000 driven into exile in neighboring countries. The children of these exiles later formed a rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and began a civil war in 1990. The war, along with several political and economic upheavals, exacerbated ethnic tensions, culminating in April 1994 in a state-orchestrated genocide, in which Rwandans killed up to a million of their fellow citizens, including approximately three-quarters of the Tutsi population. - CIA World Factbook

Location: Central Africa, east of Democratic Republic of the Congo
Size: 26,338 sq km; slightly smaller than Maryland
Ethnic groups: Hutu (Bantu) 84%, Tutsi (Hamitic) 15%, Twa (Pygmy) 1%
Languages: Kinyarwanda (official, universal Bantu vernacular), French (official), English (official), Kiswahili (Swahili, used in commercial centers)
Population: 11,689,696

Anthem: Rwanda nziza (Rwanda, Our Beautiful Country) 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

#BookReview: Sister of My Heart - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Sudha and Anju aren't sisters by blood, yet in the true sense of the word, they're sisters and more.  Raised in the same house by their widowed mothers, the girls grow up believing that they're cousins.  To say that they cannot live without each other is an understatement and, by their actions, often prove that they love each other more than they love themselves.

The beautiful Sudha has always dreamed of having a family, but only after college and once she's established herself as a designer.  Studious Anju loves the literary classics.  She wants nothing more than to run the family bookstore once she's completed her degree.  Love and marriage are for the beautiful people like Sudha, all Anju needs is books and enough money to remove some of the stress her mother has carried on her shoulders for so many years.

But as the saying goes, "the best laid plans of mice and men go astray," and neither Sudha nor Anju finds herself leading the life she'd planned.  Misunderstandings and a lack of communication drive a wedge between the formerly inseparable sisters.  Unbeknownst to them, the fracture in their symbiotic relationship affects all of their decisions, ultimately leading them to conclude that without their other half, their lives are incomplete.

Sister of My Heart is a beautiful tale of friendship.  It was heartbreaking to see the two struggle for so long needlessly.  Sudha spends her life trying to right wrongs she believes her father did to Anju's father.  Anju spends her adult years resenting Sudha for something Sudha can't control and is unaware of.  The story has so many twists and turns, you won't be able to put it down until you're done.

Published: January 1999

Theme: Always Sisters by Cece Winans

Monday, March 11, 2013

#BookReview: Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina - Raquel Cepeda #BP2W (Dominican Republic)

Globetrotting journalist Raquel Cepeda takes readers around the world from New York to the Dominican Republic to Morocco and back again in Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina.  If ever there was a book that meets the guidelines for the Books: Passports to the World challenge, this is it.  There's a lot of information to digest within the pages, but it's well worth the read.

Born the daughter of an idealistic mother and an unaffectionate father, the young Raquel spends much of her time trying to figure out where she fits.  That applies to both her home life, which is turbulent, and, later, her school life.  Upon being sent to the Dominican Republic to be raised by her grandparents following her parent's divorce, her childhood happiness peaks.  Her mother brings her back to the States, a puzzling decision since she seems to have no use for her, where she witnesses domestic violence on a daily basis.  Eventually, Raquel is sent to her father and stepmother in New York, and they seem to have little use for her either.  Verbally abused by her father, and occasionally a victim of domestic violence, Raquel merely bides her time until she can leave for college.

While most teens seek solace in her friends and classmates, the author finds little comfort there either.  In America, there is a tendency to categorize people.  We want people to fit into a "checkable" box.  As a daughter of the diaspora, Raquel felt a kindred connection to other people of color, but for her black classmates, she was too white and for her white classmates, she was too black.  So there was a separation by skin tone and even more, a separation between those Dominican students who had been in America for a while and those who had recently emigrated.

I believe that everything happens for a reason and after reading this book, I think Cepeda does too.  Her childhood and young adult experiences eventually lead her on a journey to find out more about her family's ancestry.  While she could go the genealogical route, she's more interested in finding out where her people originated.  Yes, they ended up in the Dominican Republic, but how did they get there? What is their ethnic origin? What is the history of relations between Africa and the island? And why does she feel so drawn to una india, an Amerindian or Indigenous-American spiritual guide?

Occasionally I have a-ha moments with books, I had quite a few with Bird of Paradise.  The one that stands out most is the whitening of the country.  While Hitler was killing Jews in Europe, Rafael Trujillo was doing the same to Haitians, sanctioning the killing of 20,000 Haitians in what became known as the Parsley Massacre.  To further whiten his nation, he encouraged Europeans, those fleeing Hitler especially, to emigrate to the Dominican Republic.  Trujillo's suppression of all things African was continued by his successors up until 1996.

Another a-ha moment came as I read about the fluidity of race in the Dominican Republic.  The U.S. has long practiced the one drop rule, in which one drop of African/African-American blood means you're black. In the DR, it is the opposite.  One sixteenth of white blood means you're white.  Darker Dominicans who have attained a higher financial or social status can be deemed white as well.  Fascinating stuff indeed.

So I know I've rambled on much longer in this review than usual, but it's the perfect blend of storytelling and science.  It's a fascinating read for all of my genealogical/anthropological readers, as well as my memoir readers.  It should be noted that there are phrases sprinkled throughout in Spanish, but that shouldn't dissuade you from reading it.  Some of them are translated, others are not.  If you have a basic knowledge of any of the romance languages, you should be able to infer what is being said.

Published: March 2013
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

The Dominican Republic has long been viewed primarily as an exporter of sugar, coffee, and tobacco, but in recent years the service sector has overtaken agriculture as the economy's largest employer, due to growth in telecommunications, tourism, and free trade zones. The economy is highly dependent upon the US, the destination for more than half of exports. - CIA World Factbook
Location: Caribbean, eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of Haiti
Size: 48,670 sq km; slightly more than twice the size of New Hampshire
Ethnic groups: Mixed 73%, white 16%, black 11%
Languages: Spanish (official)
Population: 10,088,598

Anthem: Quisqueyanos valientes

Friday, March 1, 2013

#BookReview: Faceless - Amma Darko #BP2W (Ghana)

If I've learned nothing else in the first few months of this challenge, it's that women and girls around the world live difficult lives.  That's not to say that I didn't know that before, but it was never more obvious to me than when reading Amma Darko's Faceless.

Fourteen year old Fofo is a street child.  Like many children who live in an area referred to as Sodom and Gomorrah in Accra, Ghana, she's estranged from her family.  Unlike some of the children that have been put out on the streets to work, she voluntarily left home before she could be forced to.  Whether she left by force or her own volition is moot, because it's likely that the outcome would have been the same.

Growing up, Fofo saw her older brothers leave, and with them, most of the household income, and her older sister.  While her brothers left to pursue their own careers, Fofo's older sister, Baby T, left under cloudier circumstances.  And when Baby T is found murdered, Fofo is determined to help her new found friends find out what happened to her sister.

Amma Darko uses Faceless to touch on quite a few issues. The character Fofo deals with abandonment, while Baby T deals with molestation and prostitution.  Their mother, Maa Tsuru, the product of a single parent home seeks love and attention from men who use her.  With the character Kabria, the middle class agency worker who tries to assist Fofo, Darko highlights the difficulties in balancing the role of mother, wife and employee in a chauvinistic society.

The one thing that threw me was the way Darko interjected the AIDS conversation into the story line.  There was a missed opportunity for Kabria to have a conversation with her oldest daughter about AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases that was not fleshed out.  It was obvious that she wanted to get the message out, and I applaud her for that, but the ways in which she did it did not flow well with the story and instead of being well integrated, they read as commercial-like PSAs in the middle of a skit. 

Published: January 1996

Formed from the merger of the British colony of the Gold Coast and the Togoland trust territory, Ghana in 1957 became the first sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence.  Ghana's economy has been strengthened by a quarter century of relatively sound management, a competitive business environment, and sustained reductions in poverty levels.

Location: Western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea, between Cote d'Ivoire and Togo
Size: 238,533 sq km; slightly smaller than Oregon
Population: 24,652,402 
Ethnic groups: Akan 47.5%, Mole-Dagbon 16.6%, Ewe 13.9%, Ga-Dangme 7.4%, Gurma 5.7%, Guan 3.7%, Grusi 2.5%, Mande-Busanga 1.1%, other 1.6%
Languages: Asante 14.8%, Ewe 12.7%, Fante 9.9%, Boron (Brong) 4.6%, Dagomba 4.3%, Dangme 4.3%, Dagarte (Dagaba) 3.7%, Akyem 3.4%, Ga 3.4%, Akuapem 2.9%, other (includes English (official)) 36.1%

Anthem: God Bless Our Homeland Ghana