Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging by Tessa McWatt

a nutshell: this stunningly incisive memoir of identity by Guyanese-born, Canadian-raised, UK-residing author Tessa McWatt is a journey through body and time in attempt to answer the question of what – or rather – who am I?

a line: “Why does race exist? To do the accounting for who will have more and who will have less.”

IMG_5498an image: in her chapter ‘Hair’, McWatt is sceptical of the notion that Meghan Markle and Michelle Obama (both of who have ‘relaxed’/straightened hair) should be seen as straightforward icons of progress and compares their public image with the FBI’s ‘Wanted’ poster for Angela Davis – McWatt presciently disputes the idea that Prince Harry’s marriage demonstrates a new, non-racist Britain (Shame on Me was published before the UK’s rabid press essentially forced Markle to leave the country); with all this in mind, it’s worth noting the exasperating search results when I started to type in this book’s title >>>

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a thought: having reread Wide Sargasso Sea just last week, I was intrigued by McWatt’s evolving relationship with Jane Eyre & Antoinette/Bertha Mason – the way in which Jean Rhys’ story influenced how she thought about plantation dynamics and how she felt about the time spent by her grandfather (whose surname, coincidentally, was Eyre) in an asylum after a nervous breakdown in what was then British Guiana; McWatt reveals that pyschoanalysis allowed her to access both Jane and Bertha in a less divisive manner

a fact: it continues to sicken me that, as mentioned towards the end of Shame on Me, following the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 the UK Government paid out what was at the time 40% of its national budget to ‘compensate’ slave owners – huge sums of which the slaves never received a single pound and, on the contrary, many descendants of slaves paid for across nearly two centuries until this enormous debt was paid off in 2015

want to read Shame on Me? visit here

The Secret River by Kate Grenville [T/W: racism, colonialism, sexual assault]

a nutshell: the efforts of a London convict, William Thornhill, to reinvent himself as a gentlemanly landowner on a hillside outside Sydney become a microcosm for the atrocities committed by the British colony against Aboriginal people

a line: “in the world of these naked savages, it seemed everyone was gentry”

an image: every scene with Smasher Sullivan, another ’emancipated’ settler, is extremely disturbing – but among the most horrific is one in which he flaunts an Aboriginal woman he has chained up as his sex slave

a thought: on finishing this bleak book I was (as often) left deeply ashamed of Britain’s imperial history; Thornhill’s exploitation of his eventual position of power – despite, or due to, an impoverished background – is irredeemably repulsive

a fact: the main protagonist, Thornhill, is based on a family member of Grenville; the author used to ask her mother what had happened to Aboriginal people on their ancestors’ arrival and ended up digging into her family history to discover the hideous truths

 

want to read The Secret River? visit here

Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa

a nutshell: a Parsee girl, Lenny, candidly narrates her 1940s Lahore childhood as it mutates from a life of carefree mischief & chatter among miscellaneous friends to Partition-provoked horrors & heartache

a line: “Don’t hog God!”

an image: a colonel retells the story of the Parsis’ migration to India from Persia during the Arab invasion in 600s AD, evoking how the Indian Prince noted their arrival with a full glass of milk as a polite signal of his aversion to outsiders & their potentially disturbing alien ways; the Parsee forefathers returned the milk with a teaspoon of sugar stirred in – an indication that they’d be absorbed harmoniously into the country and sweeten the lives of his subjects

a thought: privy to adults’ tense discussions of the inevitable split, Lenny begins to notice that everyone she knows suddenly goes from being just themselves to being ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Sikh’, or ‘Christian’; tribalism is forced onto them – as the country breaks, so too does her own community fracture

a fact: India and Pakistan have been embroiled in numerous conflicts since 1947, and just today Pakistan has announced it shot down two Indian military jets; sadly the clashes depicted in this now 28-year-old novel show no signs of abating

 

want to read Cracking India (aka Ice Candy Man)? visit here