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

My Fathers’ Daughter by Hannah Pool

My father's daughter book with author on front and my cat in the background

a nutshell: adopted from an orphanage in Eritrea by white parents in 1974, Pool grew up in the UK under the assumption that she has no birth family – that is, until she receives a letter from a brother, leading her on a journey to reunite with them ten years later

a line: “It’s tattooed on your psyche: love is temporary”

an image: for me the most vividly interesting passages in the book were where Pool describes her visits to the family’s villages – the landscape, buildings, habits, festivities

a thought: in order to avoid spoilers, all I’ll say about p.115 is that it moved me to tears and I can’t imagine how Pool felt in that moment

a fact: while I usually share something I learned here, instead I want to share a few things I’d like to know – what was the response to this memoir in Eritrea? did the criticism of the government in Pool’s epilogue trigger any repercussions for her family? has she been back to Eritrea in the 15 years since the book’s publication?

want to read My Fathers’ Daughter? visit here

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 >>>

Screenshot 2020-04-26 at 12.18.14

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

Trans by Juliet Jacques

cover of Trans, featuring illustration of Juliet

a nutshell: interweaving the personal with the political, this nuanced & intimate memoir records Juliet’s navigation of her gender journey through her 20s (looping in the arts, football, the internet, & more)

a line: “what if we’re not trapped in the wrong body but trapped in the wrong society?”

an image: one of many beautiful moments is when Juliet describes a play’s parting message that the more somebody resembles what they’ve dreamed of being, the more authentic they are

a thought: I can’t imagine the weight of frustration that Juliet must have felt at the inordinate day-to-day life admin that came with her decision to live freely as a woman, e.g. the local supermarket’s demand that she supply a letter from the GP & two utility bills before they’d replace her loyalty card (which had £2.40 on it)

a fact: the national media, from The Guardian to The Sun, comes across extremely poorly in this book – whether it’s publishing the hateful bile of transphobic feminists or outing individuals in traumatic splashes, the extent to which they’ve let trans people down over the years is woeful

want to read Trans? visit here

The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugrešić (tr. Michael Henry Heim)

a nutshell: taking on two semesters of teaching ‘Yugoslav literature’ at the University of Amsterdam and very much grieving the loss of her country of origin, Yugoslavia-born Tanja coaxes her fragile students towards ‘Yugonostalgia‘ – and there begins Ugrešić’s stimulating exploration of exclusion, memory, language, identity…

a line: “Retouching is our favourite artistic device. Each of us is a curator in his own museum.”

an image: breaking down after admitting she got lost in her old Zagreb neighbourhood, Tanja tries to express to an unmoved passenger on a plane how the trauma of exile hit her where she had least expected it 

a thought: I picked this book up from my local library and thought it sounded interesting – but now, since Ugrešić seems to have taken a vehemently anti-nationalist stand after war broke out in 1991 in her native former Yugoslavia, I’m a little uneasy about putting it out there as my ‘Croatia’ book for the project (esp. given the author in fact holds Dutch citizenship); in time perhaps I’ll come to swap in another

a fact: Ugrešić worked for many years at the University of Zagreb’s Institute for Theory of Literature, which explains the many literary references interweaved into the pages

 

want to read The Ministry of Pain? visit here