UKREN blog

Tuesday 23 August 2016

10 (end of) summer reads written by BAME women/women of colour

September is almost upon us, and the warm weather seems to be sticking around. We've put together 10 brilliant fiction novels written by Black/Asian/minority ethnic (BAME)/women of colour; perfect novels to get lost in on a sunny afternoon.

1. Kindred (1979) by Octavia Butler

 Photo: Goodreads

One of the most famous pieces of science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother. -

[TW: graphic violence]

2. A Tale for the Time Being (2013) by Ruth Ozeki


In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace — and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox —possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home. -

[TW: attempted suicide]

3. Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison


As extraordinary as the character who inspires its title, Beloved is seminal both in its stylistic achievements and its searing depiction of the lives of African Americans under slavery. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988, and in a 2006 New York Times survey was ranked the nation’s best work of fiction of the past 25 years. At its daring, startling heart lies the image of infanticide – an act of paradoxical violence by which an escaped slave, Sethe, saves her child from a life like her own. Unnamed, the baby is buried in a grave marked ‘Beloved’, but her time among the living has not drawn to an end. -

[TW: rape, racism, sexual assault]

4. Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche


A powerful, tender story of race and identity; Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland. -

5. Small Island (2004) by Andrea Levy


Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer's daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve.

Told in these four voices, Small Island is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers---in short, an encapsulation of the immigrant's life. -

[TW: racism]

6. Yoruba Girl Dancing (1991) by Simi Bedford


A semi-autobiographical first novel about a Nigerian girl's adjustment to life at an English boarding school, Yoruba Girl Dancing is an affecting and mordant appraisal of British social mores of the '50s. Remi is six when she is deposited at the upper-crust Chilcott Manor School. There, the former darling of a close-knit and aristocratic Lagos family must endure the scrutiny and derision of her classmates, one of whom spreads the word that "the black rubs off". Tracing Remi's adaptions to life among the British while she maintains the inevitable distance of the outsider, Bedford establishes a simultaneously wistful and cynical piquancy. Even when Remi seems to have fully assimilated, she is asked to dance by a young man who adds, "Are you considered attractive in your own country?".

Bedford is originally from Nigeria, moved to Britain as a child and now lives in London. She has written a wise and provocative book that will likely prompt some soul-searching in the social circles she has skewered. -

[TW: racism]

7. The House on Mango Street (1984) by Sandra Cisneros


Through a series of vignettes, The House on Mango Street covers a year in the life of Esperanza, a Chicana (Mexican-American girl), who is about twelve years old when the novel begins. During the year, she moves with her family into a house on Mango Street. The house is a huge improvement from the family’s previous apartment, and it is the first home her parents actually own. However, the house is not what Esperanza has dreamed of, because it is run-down and small. The house is in the center of a crowded Latino neighborhood in Chicago, a city where many of the poor areas are racially segregated. Esperanza does not have any privacy, and she resolves that she will someday leave Mango Street and have a house all her own.

Esperanza matures significantly during the year, both sexually and emotionally. The novel charts her life as she makes friends, grows hips, develops her first crush, endures sexual assault, and begins to write as a way of expressing herself and as a way to escape the neighborhood. The novel also includes the stories of many of Esperanza’s neighbors, giving a full picture of the neighborhood and showing the many possible paths Esperanza may follow in the future. -

[TW: domestic violence, sexual violence]

8. Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992) by Alice Walker


When Alice Walker finished writing The Color Purple she realised that she needed to tell the story of Tashi, a minor character, who had "left Africa but had taken her wound with her to America". This is Tashi's story, told in her words and the voices of the people who loved her. This extraordinarily courageous and compelling novel explores the tragic consequences of Tashi's decision to go through the female initiation ceremony [female genital mutilation]. - Wordery

[TW: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)]

9. Gardens in the Dunes (1999) by Leslie Marmon Silko


A sweeping, multifaceted tale of a young Native American pulled between the cherished traditions of a heritage on the brink of extinction and an encroaching white culture, Gardens in the Dunes is the powerful story of one woman’s quest to reconcile two worlds that are diametrically opposed.

At the center of this struggle is Indigo, who is ripped from her tribe, the Sand Lizard people, by white soldiers who destroy her home and family. Placed in a government school to learn the ways of a white child, Indigo is rescued by the kind-hearted Hattie and her worldly husband, Edward, who undertake to transform this complex, spirited girl into a “proper” young lady. Bit by bit, and through a wondrous journey that spans the European continent, traipses through the jungles of Brazil, and returns to the rich desert of Southwest America, Indigo bridges the gap between the two forces in her life and teaches her adoptive parents as much as, if not more than, she learns from them. -

[TW: racism]

10. The God of Small Things (1997) by Arundhati Roy


‘They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much.'

This is the story of Rahel and Estha, twins growing up among the banana vats and peppercorns of their blind grandmother's factory, and amid scenes of political turbulence in Kerala. Armed only with the innocence of youth, they fashion a childhood in the shade of the wreck that is their family: their lonely, lovely mother, their beloved Uncle Chacko (pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher) and their sworn enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun, incumbent grand-aunt). Arundhati Roy's Booker Prize-winning novel was the literary sensation of the 1990s: a story anchored to anguish but fuelled by wit and magic. - Wordery

[TW: child sex abuse, death]

All of these titles are available to buy second hand, from between £2-£7, from abebooks

By Leah Cowan


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