The Dancer from Khiva by Bibish (tr. Andrew Bromfield)

cover on kindle (back of plaited hair) with fern in background

a nutshell: written while Bibish was a street vendor in a province of Moscow, this unique & spirited memoir records an Uzbek woman’s determination to live independently despite all odds

a line: “The state is like an X-ray machine, it looks right through me”

an image: with the moon in Central Asia shining brightly at night, Bibish recalls how she used to read a wide range of books while everyone slept (despite her mother’s scolding)

a thought: the author vividly documents her struggles to earn enough money to provide food for her sons, such as her raw despair at being unable to buy bread to ease their hunger as late as 10pm – this evoked horrible parallels with the current situation in my homeland, the UK, where parliamentarians refused to allow meals to be given to children needing food over the upcoming holidays during the pandemic

a fact: Bibish shared many fascinating details about her childhood in a kishlak, and particularly moving was her account of the forced labour & production quota system that pervaded Uzbekistan’s cotton fields – when I googled this I was horrified to learn from HRW that it continues to this day

want to read The Dancer from Khiva? visit here

The Palauan Perspectives by Hermana Ramarui

Extract from 'Being a Palauan' against sea backdrop

a nutshell: written by a Palauan poet & educator, this extraordinary collection of poetry explores identity, freedom and colonialism

a line: “Our folly is that | We try to recreate | By trying to duplicate | The impractical past | Whose songs are | Out of tune” (‘Palauan Culture’)

an image: in Ramarui’s pages-long & astonishing poem ‘Freedom’, she suggests the US’s colonial approach to Micronesia was like a fishing expedition and asks the coloniser to throw its golden hooks away

a thought: I was intrigued by the poet’s idea of Palauan culture as a state of being – a centre in itself, hanging onto nothing – and her observation that people cease to be Palauan as soon as they fear new learning (‘Being a Palauan’)

a fact: Ramarui worked for over twenty years in Palau’s Ministry of Education and made huge contributions to preserving Palauan language & culture; she later began working on a children’s reading series and colouring book series

want to read The Palauan Perspectives? visit here

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis

Red book cover with text reading: Angela Y Davis, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle

a nutshell: across 10 chapters ranging from interviews to essays to speeches, Davis incisively analyses the need to end state violence & oppression both within the US and around the world, and explores the importance of intersectional mass movements in working towards this

a line: “When one looks at the civil rights era, it was those mass movements—anchored by women, incidentally—that pushed the government to bring about change. I don’t see why things would be any different today.”

an image: it is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope & optimism

a thought: Davis discusses how the Black liberation movement was not only about formal rights to participate fully in society, but also substantive rights – jobs, free education & healthcare, affordable housing, an end to racist policing – and urges everyone to look up the Ten-Point Program of the Black Panther Party

a fact: citing Michelle Alexander, Davis notes there are more Black people incarcerated & directly under the control of correctional agencies in the second decade of the 21st century than there were enslaved in 1850

want to read Freedom Is a Constant Struggle? visit here

Time and the River by Zee Edgell

time and the river book cover with illustration of young girl in front of bushes

a nutshell: following the life of Leah, who was born a slave in late 18th-century Belize, this is a profoundly moving novel exploring oppression in various forms

a line: “By now she knew from experience that one can often seem to be made of several people”

an image: while forced by the British to fight against the Spanish at sea, Will has a flashback to his terrified younger self aboard the slaving ship from Africa as he watched the crew throw sick and dying slaves overboard

a thought: this felt like a very timely story – a vital reminder that abolishing slavery was insufficient; the entire system of white privilege and exploitative capitalism must be deconstructed

a fact: two characters, Will and Sharper, are based on real-life individuals who are named in history books as heroes of the last known Belizean slave revolt in 1820

want to read Time and the River? visit here

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

book spine on side of sofa, the farm by joanne ramos

a nutshell: an eerie depiction of hypercapitalism & bodily colonisation, this novel follows a Filipina immigrant to the US who commits to being a ‘Host’ at Golden Oaks – a venture sort of like the Uber of pregnancies, where immigrants are paid to get a foetus from A (insemination) to B (birth) for the convenience of rich clients

a line: “But how many Good, Obedient Anyones truly make it in the world?”

an image: Ramos often conjures up an acutely oppressive atmosphere in her portrayal of life at the ‘Farm’, particularly in one scene where she describes humble bloated bodies, a crushing sky above, and the possibility of unnoticed shards of glass below (after a bottle is smashed)

a thought: this book was suggested by Cara Teo Ong, aka thebookingchild, who got in touch with the idea of a ‘buddy read’; after we had both read the novel, we shared our thoughts – take a look at Cara’s recap of our conversation here & read her own review here!

a fact: yesterday I stumbled across a news article (through my work in women’s rights) about 32 Cambodian women who received suspended jail terms for carrying the babies of Chinese clients – this is no ‘dystopia’, this is now

want to read The Farm? visit here

Farewell, Damascus by Ghada Samman (tr. Nancy Roberts)

a nutshell: a fervent ode to liberty, this novel follows an idealistic young writer – Zain – who strives to be independent in (and ultimately beyond) circles that wants to repress her

a line“A homeland should have enough room for everybody, even for people who have the audacity to criticise … As it is, our coffee shops and restaurants have ears planted in their walls. They’re even planted in the walls of our lungs, our arteries, and our fear-sickened souls.”

an image: towards the end, Samman lovingly daubs a colourful picture of Beirut’s hive mind in contrast to the conservatism of Damascus; roundtable discussions send conversation and laughter through night air “like sparks from a bonfire”

a thought: the last few chapters are disappointingly inconsistent with Zain’s character, and felt like it betrayed the earlier progressive nature of the book

a fact: Samman (b. 1942) established her own publishing house, Ghada al-Samman Publications, to circumvent censorship – looking at a biography, Zain’s story is very reminiscent of the author’s own

 

want to read Farewell, Damascus? visit here