Luisa in Realityland by Claribel Alegría (tr. D J Flakoll)

a nutshell: flitting between poetry & prose vignettes, this short autofictional book conjures Alegría’s mystical, occasionally haunting memories of her early life in El Salvador

a line: “Any psychoanalyst would tell you that you’re horribly envious of Chagall”

an image: Luisa refuses to take home a bird from her childhood friend, saying her grandfather believes birds should be free – the boy then reveals, twisting his bare & dirty toes, that his mum is planning to cook her as they have nothing but the bird to eat

a thought: in its afternote, the book mentions that the author has long been an outspoken advocate of the liberation struggle in El Salvador and Central America more widely – this comes across in the later stages of the book, particularly through the poetry

a fact: Alegría was born in Nicaragua but when she was nine months old her father was exiled for protesting human rights violations during the US occupation, so she grew up in Santa Ana (western El Salvador) where her mother was from and considered herself Nicaraguan-Salvadorean

 

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Soweto Stories by Miriam Tlali

a nutshell: this 1989 short story collection casts a unique light on Sowetans – mostly women – persevering within a cruel landscape of apartheid and patriarchy

a line“It was a strong, stoic and steadfast face which, to both her children, never seemed to yield to the vicissitudes of life and the inevitable hazards of ageing.”

an image: in one of the perennially congested train carriages into which black South Africans were forced, a woman clenches as a man probes her thighs – her screams unheard in the noisy, suffocating compartment; on arrival she is “too hurt, too shamefully abused, to speak” (gender-based violence runs throughout Tlali’s fiction)

a thought: at first I found the style challenging – e.g. Tlali often dips into other languages (which I worked out were Sesotho and Afrikaans, maybe among others) not necessarily with translation, and many English words are punctuated ‘like this’ – but after a while I came to appreciate how she kept her world alive in this distinct way

a fact: the first black South African woman to publish a novel (Muriel at Metropolitan / Between Two Worlds, 1975), most of Tlali’s writing was originally banned by the South African apartheid regime and she endured years of harassment by police for her work

 

want to read Soweto Stories? visit here