Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

a nutshell: from Somalia to the US via Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Netherlands, this polarising public figure’s memoir follows her journey through an unimaginably turbulent childhood into an adulthood that pivots on her vocal disavowal of her former religion, Islam

a line: “Drinking wine and wearing trousers were nothing compared to reading the history of ideas.”

an image: while describing the period of her childhood spent in Mecca, the writer conjures up a strikingly vivid contrast between what she sees as the cool, beautiful, kindly space within the Grand Mosque and the intensely hot, filthy, cruel space outside the mosque’s doors

a thought: I was intrigued by Ali’s fairly understated comment on p.94 that novels were what saved her from submission – reading fiction gave her glimpses of another world, which ultimately sparked the sense of rebellion that changed her life, but once she had landed in the other world she refers only to non-fiction

a fact: Ali and I occupy very opposite ends of the political spectrum – and while I do try to read widely, which necessarily includes views I disagree with, my interest in the book waned as it went on; I felt like it became less a reflection on Ali’s life story and more an engine for promoting her hostility towards Islam

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Revolution Sunday by Wendy Guerra (tr. Achy Obejas)

a nutshell: following the suspicious death of her parents, a Havana-based poet writes an award-winning poetry collection, finds herself under constant surveillance by the government, and embarks on a strange relationship with a Hollywood filmmaker

a line: “My black dress seems to shatter when it comes in contact with the night. The full moon poses a threat from infinity and a shiver releases my desire to feel something new.”

an image: about midway through the book, the narrator describes a dreamlike scene of jasmine mist, in which she experiences the lethargy from which poerty is born, with the salt of a bay on her lips, reconstructing the landscape in water and India ink

a thought: among the novel’s name-dropping (beginning with the dedication, ‘for Gabo’) is an aside about the narrator having once been seated at a table next to Herta Müller (whose novel, set during Ceaușescu’s regime, I read earlier in the project) where she heard Müller say she recited poetry to herself whenever she was taken to the Securitate for interrogations – I love finding these connections between the books I read

a fact: on starting this book I knew very little about censorship in Cuba, and learned that this one-party state has continued year after year to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index – in the 2020 index, Cuba ranks 171 out of 180 countries

want to read Revolution Sunday? visit here