Reading Recommendations for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month. As Anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise and the AAPI community is threatened by ignorance and cruelty, this APAHM feels particularly important. It is a time to reflect on all of the tremendous gifts, literary and otherwise, that the Asian-American community has contributed to our country and the world. With this in mind, we are highlighting some of the incredible new works by Asian-American authors in our collection.

cover art for Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless GirlsLong Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

Literary essayist Madden’s debut memoir pulls no punches in depicting her coming of age as queer, biracial teenager in Boco Raton, Florida. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls fearlessly lays bare the many contradictions of Madden’s young life–from the immense privileges of her wealthy upbringing, to the trauma and isolation wrought by her parents’ drug addiction, to the precious and devastating nature of friendship between fatherless girls.

 

cover art for The Color of AirThe Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama

Tsukiyama’s brilliant historical novel tells the story of a Japanese-American family, set against the backdrop of Hawai’i’s sugar plantations. Just as long-standing family secrets and tensions appear primed to explode, another devastating eruption occurs: that of Mauna Loa volcano.

 

cover art for The Unpassing

 

 

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Lin’s gripping debut novel interrogates the myth of the American Dream through a Taiwanese immigrant family struggling to get by in Anchorage, Alaska. When tragedy strikes, the resultant upheaval forces the family to reckon with grief and guilt amidst unfamiliar, and often unforgiving, surroundings.

 

cover art for How Much of These Hills is GoldHow Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

In Zhang’s epic Western set during the American Gold Rush, the orphaned children of Chinese immigrants set out across a harsh and unforgiving landscape in the hopes of burying their father, and their past. The unforgettable sights and adventures they encounter along the way provide a fascinating glimpse of the future that might await them.

 

cover art for Pachinko

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Lee’s powerful historical novel follows a single Korean family through a dramatic saga of betrayal, sacrifice, ambition, and love. The family’s tumultuous story begins with a young Sunja’s unplanned and potentially devastating pregnancy. Unbeknownst to her, the choices Sunja makes will reverberate through generations to come.

 

 

Anti-Violence and Anti-Racism Resources to Support the AAPI Community:

https://anti-asianviolenceresources.carrd.co/

https://www.advancingjustice-aajc.org/anti-asian-hate

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/anti-racism-resources-support-asian-american-pacific-islander-community-n1260467

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/a35862857/stop-asian-hate-organizations-to-support/

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Nneoma Ohale

The Literatures and Languages Library’s celebration of National Poetry Month continues with UIUC student Nneoma Ohale reading her poem “Love Made This Stone Brown.” Watch Ohale’s poetry reading on our Instagram and read her reflections below:

I am Nneoma Ohale, a 20 year old Nigerian-American artist. I am currently a junior at U of I studying English, Secondary Education and Creative Writing. I have been a poet since the age of fourteen when I got the opportunity to compete in Young Chicago Authors’ Louder Than A Bomb poetry festival. National Poetry Month means a lot to me and I am excited to celebrate it with fellow poets and lovers of poetry. I choose to share this poem because it took a lot for me to write it and I feel it is best when read aloud. This poem is my ultimate romantic daydream. I wrote this piece as a reflection of what love can be when lovers are able to truly be there for each other through it all. Despite what we might want to believe, love is not always easy because life isn’t always easy. It is important to be with someone who can stand the rain. The title “Love Made This Stone Brown.” is a nod to the transformative nature of love and its ability to inspire a different course of action. This poem is a celebration of my favorite things: music, life, lovers and nature.

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Archiving Poet’s Voice: Czesław Miłosz Reads His Own Poetry

Many scholars and poetry lovers rightly believe that Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) is one of the most respected contemporary poets in the world and certainly the most distinguished figure in 20th-century Polish literature. According to Seamus Heaney, Miłosz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, created “a unique voice [italics mine]” through his poetry, “a poetry cargoed with a density of experience that has been lived and radiated by an understanding that has rendered it symbolic.”[1]

Miłosz established himself figuratively as a vital and distinctive poetic voice, but one may wonder what his human “poetic” voice was really like. The best way to find out is to listen to the recording of his poetry performed by the poet himself, which brings us to the topic of this post.

The UIUC Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures Professor George Gasyna has recently come across the tape that included the recording of Miłosz’s readings of his poetry. In terms of provenance, the “Miłosz tape” most likely came from the late Professor Stephen Hill who for many years taught Slavic literature at the UIUC and nurtured a passion for Polish poetry, cinema, and theatre. The tape has been digitized by the UIUC Library Preservation Services (thanks to Cristina Kühn, Media Preservation and Digital Reformatting Project Manager) and is currently available for downloading at: https://uofi.box.com/s/1yr7x1iqg62wwd16a5im6hs4s259fg2d

Of course, the question that needs to be further investigated is whether the tape represents an amateur recording of Miłosz reading his poetry in a classroom, at a lecture hall, or at a poetry recital. At this point, it is impossible to state unequivocally that the tape had been recorded privately. It should be noted that there is neither audience applause nor a sign of audience participation on the recording. However, there is no evidence (on the tape itself and on the case) that the recording had been done commercially or that it had been copied from another recording (such as a radio broadcast, a vinyl record, or a commercial tape, etc.). The only thing that is preserved with the tape is a typed list of poems read by Miłosz. Moreover, there is no date of the recording, but it may be a good guess to place the recording in the 1970s or 1980s (when magnetic recording tapes were widely used).

The poems come from two volumes, Ocalenie (Rescue), first published in 1945, and Światło dzienne (Daylight), first published in 1953. Miłosz’s deep voice oscillates between melancholy and indignation, sometimes turning into fury. It is a real treat to hear him reciting his own poetry while different images come to life as if conjured by the poet himself. And the beauty of his voice is enriched by the melodic accent of the kresy (the Polish-Lithuanian borderlands where he came from).                                              Thanks to Professor Gasyna and the UIUC Library the poet’s voice has been rediscovered and has been preserved for generations of students, scholars, and poetry enthusiasts.

[1] Hawkins, Kaitlin. “Czeslaw Milosz Centennial.” World Literature Today 85, no. 3 (2011): 6. Gale Literature Resource Center (accessed February 23, 2021). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A255971255/LitRC?u=uiuc_uc&sid=LitRC&xid=2f689b1a.

The tape.

A list of poems read by Miłosz (included with the tape).

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The Finalists for the National Book Awards Have Been Announced!

Congratulations to the finalists selected for the National Book Awards!

Divided into five categories–fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people’s literature–the National Book Awards seek to celebrate the best literature in America. Five finalists each are selected from ten longlisted books per category, with the winners of the prize being announced on November 18th.

Below are the finalists for the Fiction, Poetry, and Translated Literature prizes. To find them in the library’s collection, click the image of the cover.

Finalists for the Fiction Award: 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finalists for the Poetry Award:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finalists for the Translated Literature Award:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Congratulations to Shortlisted Authors for the Booker Prize!

On September 15th, the Booker Prize announced its shortlisted works and authors, all finalists for the prestigious award. Of the thirteen longlisted novels, six were chosen as finalists for the prize. Congratulations to all authors!

The winner, selected from the six finalists, will be chosen on November 19th. If you’d like to read any of the shortlisted works, we’ve got you covered! The library has just about every novel listed.

The shortlisted novels include:

cover art featuring pink birds on a blue background

Though the library doesn’t have Diane Cook’s newest book quite yet, for more information on the novel, click the image above, which will take you to the author’s webpage.

cover art of a green succulent on a purple background

Burnt Sugar, by Avni Doshi. Click image for catalog link.

 

 

 

cover art of legs in ballet flats on a black background

This Mournable Body, by Tsitsi Dangarembga. Click image for catalog link.

cover art of a person in shadow with a multicolored background

The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste. Click image for catalog link.

black and white cover of parent and child facing each other

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart. Click image for catalog link.

 

 

 

 

 

cover art of bird on a black and red background

Real Life, by Brandon Taylor. Click image for catalog link.

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Congratulations to the Winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction!

Recently, the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced. Congratulations to Maggie O’Farrell, who won for her novel, Hamnet!

cover art for hamnet, with a giant letter h covered in leaves and flowers

This year was the 25th anniversary for the award, which was first given out in 1996 under the title of the Orange Prize for Fiction. The creation of Women’s Prize began back in 1991, after not a single woman was on the Booker Prize shortlist, despite the fact that a great number of novels published that year (around 60%) were written by women. After further research showed that only 10% of all writers shortlisted for the Booker Prize were women, the eventual founding committee sought to create a prize that celebrated these neglected authors. Thus, the Women’s Prize for Fiction was born.

Previous winners of the award include Tayari Jones, Kamila Shamsie, and Naomi Alderman.

Even though Hamnet isn’t available through the library just yet, you can read Maggie O’Farrell’s other works, as well as those of former winners of the prize! Here are a few you can get through the library:

cover art for i am, i am, i am.

I am, I am, I am, by Maggie O’Farrell. Click for catalog link.

cover art for an american marriage.

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. Click for catalog link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cover art for home fire

Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie. Click for catalog link.

cover art for the power

The Power, by Naomi Alderman. Click for catalog link.

 

 

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Marcel Proust & His Madeleines

Marcel Proust is famous for many things, one of which is his inclusion of madeleines in his infamous work, In Search of Lost Time. But where did madeleines originate, and why would Proust choose include this specific dessert in his writing?

Madelines are small, spongy cakes, known for their seashell-like shape and iconic “hump” that develops when baked in the oven. The way in which the cake batter is whisked and mixed together results in an airy and light cake when baked in the oven and is a lighter sort of batter than the traditional sponge cake.

The dessert was thought to have originated in 17th century France, specifically in the Lorraine region. Over time, several legends explaining the invention of these sweets began to circulate. No one knows the true story, but one such tale focuses on a woman named Madeline. The legend claims that when a young woman stepped in as the pastry chef to the Duke of Lorraine, she chose to bake these delicious, airy cakes that came from her grandmother’s recipe, as they were the only thing she knew how to make. The Duke loved them so much that he decided to name them after the girl who’d baked them. Thus, madeleines were born.

There are several other legends regarding the origins of the madeleine, including finding the recipe on a pilgrimage to Spain; in fact, one story claims that Louis XV tried this new dessert and loved it so much that he popularized it in France. Though these stories all differ, there’s one thing in common: each time, a woman named Madeline is the one responsible for the invention.

We may never know the true origins of the madeleine, but its popularity–particularly in France–is obvious. But what about these desserts enamored Proust so much?

Proust first mentions madeleines in connection to memory:

“She set out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell…No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and i stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.”

–Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume One

As soon as the narrator tries the madeleine, his senses are overwhelmed by the flavor, causing him to remember–involuntarily–an old memory from his past.

“And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray…when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the interval…But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered…the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment.”

–Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Lost Things, Volume One

Whether he shares the narrator’s experience of this dessert evoking a specific memory, or simply enjoyed the pastry enough to want to include it, Proust’s fondness for madeleines is undeniable. Perhaps that’s why, instead of including macarons–another dessert commonly associated with France–he instead opted for a more delicate pastry. One that happens to pair incredibly well with coffee and tea.

Despite their exquisite appearance, you can make madeleines of your own at home. All you need is a whisk, a madeleine tin, and a little bit of patience.

Madelines (recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

Ingredients: 

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs, room temp.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • Chocolate if desired (for dipping)

Method: 

  1. Melt butter and set aside to cool.
  2. With a whisk (or equivalent attachment for a stand or handheld mixer), whisk eggs and sugar together until the batter becomes thick and pale, and forms ribbons when you lift the whisk (approx. 8 mins.).
  3. Beat in vanilla extract until combined.
  4. Fold in flour, baking powder, and salt. Be gentle when folding the dry ingredients into the egg and sugar mixture, as the batter is delicate.
  5. Stir about 1/4 of the butter into batter. It will take a minute to incorporate. After its combined, stir the rest of the butter into the mixture. Batter will appear thick and shiny.
  6. Cover and chill for ~30-60 mins. 45 minutes is ideal.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  8. Spray madeleine pan with nonstick cooking spray, or brush melted butter into pan to avoid sticking. Drop about 1 tbsp of batter into each madeleine mold.
  9. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops spring back after being lightly pressed on.
  10. Transfer to baking rack to cool, and if desired, dip in chocolate or add any other desired toppings.
  11. Enjoy!

 

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The 2020 Booker Prize Longlist Has Been Announced!

Congratulations to all authors longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize! 

The Booker Prize is one of the leading literary awards for books written in the English language. The Prize is awarded to the book that a panel of judges believe is the best English-language novel of the year. This year, all novels considered must have been published between October 1st, 2019 and September  30th, 2020.

The shortlist will be announced on September 15th, 2020.

The longlisted novels include:

  • The New Wilderness, by Diane Cook
  • This Mournable Body, by Tsitsi Dangarembga
  • Burnt Sugar, by Avni Doshi
  • Who They Was, by Gabriel Krauze
  • The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel
  • Apeirogon, by Colum McCann
  • The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste
  • Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid
  • Real Life, by Brandon Taylor
  • Redhead by The Side of The Road, by Anne Tyler
  • Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart
  • Love and Other Thought Experiments, by Sophie Ward
  • How Much of these Hills is Gold, by C Pam Zhang

You can read some of the longlisted books now, too! Several of the nominees are available in the library catalog or via I-Share; find them by clicking on the cover image for each title below.

This Mournable Body, by Tsitsi Dangarembga. Click for catalog link.

The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel. Click for catalog link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apeirogon, by Colum McCann. Click for catalog link.

The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste. Click for catalog link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid. Click for catalog link.

Real Life, by Brandon Taylor. Click for catalog link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redhead by the Side of the Road, by Anne Tyler. Click for catalog link.

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart. Click for catalog link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Much of These Hills is Gold, by C Pam Zhang. Click for catalog link.

Congratulations to all nominated authors!

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The Distance Between High and Low: A Southern Gothic Novel (Book Review)

“Pearl said I’d have to let go of stuff I couldn’t have, no matter how much I wanted it, or got used to chasing it.”—Peck (Pearl’s grandson), one of the two protagonists in the novel

cover of book, "The distance between high and Low"

Photo by Sarah Lerch

Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. In The Distance Between High and Low: A Southern Gothic Novel by Kaye Park Hinckley, the ‘it’ asked for is an absent father’s identity. But knowing who your father is is not the same as having a father. He must want you more than he wants drugs, alcohol, a ‘good time,’ gambling, money, or prestige, as is made clear by the end of the novel. A father’s love should be a given in a child’s life. The characters in this novel each confront this longing for perfect parental love in their own way.

The novel’s subtitle is “a Southern Gothic Novel,” and it fulfills that promise. The location is Highlow, Alabama. Anyone from north of the Mason-Dixon line is a Yankee, not to be trusted, not one of ‘us.’ The characters are or have been damaged people (some have been ‘fixed’). Gambling, neglect, booze, death, entangled family relations, drugs, guns, church, secrets, and rumors are woven throughout the story. I enjoy the Southern Gothic genre, so I jumped right in and I’m glad that I did.

Using a slightly modified version of Faulkner’s technique in As I Lay Dying, Hinckley has different characters narrate each of the (sometimes very short) chapters to drive the plot forward. It works. We gain insight to the characters’ thoughts beyond the well-written dialogue (that include conversations between preteens in the 1960s). The narrators are the characters that grow over the course of the story; those that do not narrate but are still essential characters remain predictable in their behavior; what they think is made obvious for the reader through the other narrators.

“After that, Lila wouldn’t go anywhere with her father, though she wanted to. She couldn’t trust him. ‘Of course, it all left an empty hole in her heart,’ Miss Pearl said. ‘It changed her, made her fragile, and out of balance. Futile longing for what you don’t have will do that.’”

The book is written in two parts: Part One covers the period when the twins Peck and Lizzie, the main characters of the novel, are thirteen years old. They are the children of their ‘sometimes crazy’ single mother, Lila. A little over thirteen years prior, Lila headed to a Cincinnati art school against her mother Pearl’s advice.  About nine months later, she returns, blurry eyed and heavily pregnant. She now spends her time in her attic room painting pictures of faces on china plates.

All live in Pearl’s house with Izear, adopted years ago by her to save him from his abusive father and absent mother. Pearl is a descendant of the founding father of Highlow, Alabama. They are Main Street kind of people. They are the accepted; if they accept you, then you are considered respectable.

“The mystery of our father’s identity feeds on his heart like an unhurried dragon. But it doesn’t bother me so much.”—Lizzie, Peck’s twin sister, the other protagonist

Peck wants to find out who his father is; Lizzie doesn’t seem to care that much—only for her brother’s sake.

“I was in the care of the bird-women from the time I was four, so I don’t remember much of my real parents.”—Hobart, Peck and Lizzie’s next-door neighbor

Hobart, their “Yankee” (an outsider to the folks of Highlow, Alabama) neighbor, was adopted out of one of Detroit’s Catholic orphanages by the childless McSwains when he was about eleven. When he arrived in Highlow he was a just a bit younger than Lila.

“I have a father!”—Little Benedict, Peck and Lizzie’s younger playmate

Little Benedict is younger than Peck and Lizzie, and is an annoying, but well-tolerated tagalong playmate. Little Benedict’s mom despises him, and his spineless father allows him to be emotionally abused by her. Big Benedict loves him but loves peace with his wife more. Little Benedict does have it better than his little sister. She isn’t given a name or brought home after her birth. Her mother doesn’t want her, and her father is too weak to stand up for her. Little Benedict is proud to announce to the ‘fatherless’ Peck and Lizzie though, “I HAVE a father.” Quantity over quality, I guess.

The pace of Part One is just what is needed. Time enough to get to know the characters and their peculiarities, but fast moving enough to keep the story interesting and move the plot along. If Peck can’t literally meet his father (who he has been told lives in Cincinnati and is an artist like is mother), then he decides that catching a live osprey will do. The captured bird would be taken home and tethered in the backyard as an acceptable substitute for his biological father. This quest becomes Peck’s obsession.

The pace of Part Two naturally changes as it covers the period a few years later as the characters (that are still alive) mature. Some go away to college, start businesses, and some marry. They live on, the scars of their childhoods visible in their life choices.

There are a few bumps in Part Two. I felt the way that Lizzie’s attitude changed towards her late husband after reading files on his computer needed to be explained. I wish the author would have shared what changed her mind and softened her heart to his serial cheating and controlling nature. Also, Lizzie’s feelings toward Anthony, her husband’s friend, seemed rather flat, even at the end.

“I never held my father. But once, I held the hawk.”—Peck

The author brilliantly used different symbolism throughout the novel to tie the people and the time periods together.

The Judge, a second cousin to Pearl and the only judge (only one God) in Highlow, is mentioned, but we only hear him speak once, when he saves (a savior) Hobart from one of his poor, stupid decisions and, for this decision, eventual death. He narrates a few chapters, not by speaking to the reader, but by letting the reader glance over his shoulder at the “Official Notes of Pearl’s Cousin, The Judge.” He keeps ‘notes’ on the people of Highlow and all that pass through it (his Bible or is this his Book of Life?). Pearl occasionally visit him to fill him in (confession). The Judge is “responsible for conclusions” and the keeper of “the truth, and nothing but the truth,” as Little Benedict’s little sister parrots from watching too many Perry Mason reruns. He is the one that banishes the liars, cheaters, violent, drug dealers and users, and the like) from Highlow and sets them up in a used car lot and real estate business in Florida (sends them to “Hell.” Have you ever been to Florida in August?).

With only Baptist churches locally, Pearl and her family must to leave town to find a Catholic church (to meet with their Heavenly Father), just as Peck and Lizzie thought they would have to leave town (get on a bus and go to Cincinnati) to visit their biological father. Lizzie asked at one point why they couldn’t just go to a Baptist church (even though she wasn’t big on going to either church), an attitude she had towards her father—not caring much to meet or know him either.

The most frequently used symbol used in this novel is that of the osprey. From the first page “the moonlight divides like the wide wings of the Osprey and falls on Lizzie’s twin children” to the end of the novel, the osprey is always there, but unattainable.

The osprey can be “low enough to tempt, then flying too high to touch.” It makes its presence known by flying around and distracting Peck but is always out of reach by the time Peck can get to him. The osprey comes into town and alights on houses; when noticed and chased, it flies away.

Peck’s desire is to catch a live osprey; he doesn’t want to kill it, he wants to hold it—to have it. The novel recounts the only time Peck held an osprey. The osprey had its talons stuck in a fish too heavy for it to be able to fly away. When Peck helped free its talons from the fish, the osprey lashed out and pierced Peck’s palms, drawing blood and leaving scars. Izear warned Peck that the bird will “claw out yo’ eyes, you ever caught it.” Once, in a fit of rage, Lizzie yelled at him, “Let it claw your eyes out!”

Fathers that don’t want you, hurt you and leave behind scars. Izear and Lizzie knew this; deep down, Peck probably knew it too. The pain this father symbol caused did not deter him. He was determined to ‘catch’ his father, to have him, or at least the bird, alive and physically with him.

Hobart even offers to help him catch an osprey. In describing his childhood, Hobart describes the nuns at the orphanage before his adoption as “swooping white-winged women” and that he was “under the care of the hooded bird-women.” But Hobart doesn’t want to catch the ospreys, he wants to kill them; and he does. He has them stuffed; he does it for Peck, but by that point, Peck can’t appreciate it—Peck wouldn’t have appreciated it.

But it is Little Benedict that is the character that has the osprey symbolism applied to him: when Little Benedict nasty mother hollers him home, he “flies,” and he is described as having a “little bird chest.” By the end of the novel, you understand why Little Benedict is described in terms saved for the father symbol.

And at one of Pearl’s annual Christmas open houses, a blind man arrives wearing a golden-eyed eagle on the back of his jacket, with the wings continuing down the sleeves. Is this their father? Surely this is too obvious. He glides into the house as if he’d been there before, selects the lucky piece of lane cake that contains the porcelain baby Jesus, goes over the Lila and is kissed by her gently, and then leaves without the porcelain baby Jesus $100 prize winnings or a word to anyone. I told you this was Southern Gothic.

I am glad I found and read this book. There is so much more to it; hopefully I have whetted your appetite for it, like a slice of Izear’s sour cream pound cake offered up at one of Pearl’s Christmas open houses. I enjoyed it thoroughly, rereading some sentence just to savor their richness. So much wisdom in clusters of fifteen or so words. The characters were well-developed and for even the worst of them, I felt some sympathy, knowing what had happened to them when they were children. Some of Pearl’s wisdom and mercy must have rubbed off on me while reading. In the end, not everyone got what they wanted, but everyone got what they needed—or deserved.

At one point there were at least three sudden, unexpected events that occurred within a ten-page span in the novel. After the third one, I had to close the book, sit there, and grin. She had me and I loved it. Please continue writing, Ms. Hinckley; keep writing your Southern Gothic novels, and I’ll read each and every one of them. In fact, I have two more being shipped to me right now.

 

 

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Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward

Posted on behalf of students in ENGL 350: 21st Century African-American Literature

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward. Click image for catalog link.

Location: Literatures and Languages
Call Number: PS3623.A7323 S36 2011

Location: Residence Hall Florida Ave Circulating Collection
Call Number: 813 W2132sa

Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones illustrates one family’s experience of Hurricane Katrina in the days surrounding the disaster. Each of the twelve chapters conveys the events of a single day, as told from the perspective of Esch, a fifteen year-old-girl living in Mississippi with her daddy and teenage brothers. Ward begins by writing of the family’s dog, China, giving birth. Throughout the novel, China is a significant figure, as she is so important to the family. When one of her puppies falls ill with Parvovirus, Skeetah, Esch’s brother, devises a way to steal medicine from the white neighbors. When the family’s house floods and they are forced to swim to a nearby higher house, China comes loose and gets lost in the water, devastating the family. Throughout the novel, Esch is also dealing with a problem of her own: she is pregnant with her brother Randall’s friend, Manny’s, child. At only fifteen years old, and emotionally invested in her casual relationship with him, she is terrified. By the end of the novel, Daddy has found out and eventually vows to care for Esch and her unborn child. The story concludes with the calming of Katrina, the family returning home, shocked by the damage to their community, and anxiously await for China to return to them.

This work conveys the struggles brought on by a natural disaster, while relating it to race and family. As Esch deals with her pregnancy, she is reminded of the loss of her mother at a young age, especially being surrounded by only males. Her attachment to China, a new mother, is revealing of this. Ward also demonstrates how race is a factor in the face of tragedy. The boys are forced to steal from the white neighbors in order to care for the sick puppy. This novel is important particularly when considering it in the context of how black people’s Hurricane Katrina experience compared to white’s. Black neighborhoods received less and slower aid in the midst of it, and also received less attention in the recovery process following. By conveying the story of one family in the days surrounding the disaster, Ward provides a more intimate look into the effects of this on a personal level. Salvage the Bones is a very powerful and compelling novel that explores a black family in poverty and their efforts for survival throughout obstacles such as pregnancy, and Hurricane Katrina. One should read this book to better understand minority groups, and their disadvantages within the socioeconomic sphere. Esch’s family shows how to overcome the struggle and persist when times are tough in order for survival. For example, Esch and her brother must go out of their way to allow their dog’s offspring to survive in order for them to sell the babies to collect money to get by, as well as going through the house and property of a “white” household to collect materials for survival. This book is useful in the sense that it teaches about motherhood as Esch must cope with becoming a mother, all while having an absent father, a mother who passed away, and being treated poorly by her baby’s father. The audience along with Esch are able to learn about motherhood through their dog China. This is useful because China teaches us that one of the most important aspects of motherhood is the protection of one’s children from the violence that the outside world may bring. We even see China become stronger and more violent after delivering her babies. China does whatever she can to protect her offspring, even chasing after them to find and save them during a very dangerous, level 5 hurricane. This novel allows the audience to gain the perspective of an African American family who must deal with a natural disaster, when they are already struggling on a daily basis, as well as giving the readers a sense of gratefulness for what they do have in life.

I thought that this novel was really interesting because it allows the readers to explore the intersectionality of Esch’s character, as an impoverished black female. As a part of more than one minority groups, it helped me to better understand that Esch is dealing with a lot on her plate. She deals with helping her family get by financially, the struggles of being black in White America, the obstacles that come along with being a female who is constantly surrounded by men, on top of trying to be a teen girl at the same time. I was personally quite struck by the relationship between Esch and Manny, and more specifically the way in which Manny treats Esch. From the start, I empathized with Esch because of her love for Manny, which was unreciprocated, except for the purposes of sexual relations for his benefit. On top of all of Esch’s struggles, having a trusting and loving romantic relationship would surely assist her along the way. However, his coldness towards her just adds to the pain and sadness in which she must deal with. I began to really dislike Manny’s character after the moment where he discovered that Esch was pregnant. Instead of helping her cope with the emotional and physical pain that comes with pregnancy, he got angry with her and even called her a “slut,” diminishing her as a woman. This stuck out to me because unfortunately this is a disgusting situation that happens quite often in with teen pregnancy, where the male figure takes control of the power dynamic in the relationship, leaving the woman to feel worthless about themselves. It greatly saddened me how Esch still blamed herself after Manny refused to take part of the responsibility for getting Esch pregnant. She refers to the situation in a way in which she has failed to get Manny to fall in love with her, however, I feel that his mistreatment of her as a woman and as his baby’s mother reflects poorly on himself and not her.

Jesmyn Ward. Click image for author webpage.

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