Do They Hear You When You Cry by Fauziya Kassindja and Layli Miller Bashir

yellow book against brick wall

a nutshell: in this moving autobiography Kassindja records how she fled Togo aged 17 ahead of kakia (female genital mutilation) and a forced marriage, ending up in the US where she spent a horrifying 16 months in detention

a line: “I’d been lost, misplaced, like luggage gone astray”

an image: Kassindja’s memories of prison guards mistreating detainees often evoked shocking scenes, particularly how she was ostracised under entirely false suspicion of TB

a thought: among the most poignant moments in this book, for me, were Kassindja’s reunions with other women detained while seeking asylum – her story is full of powerful friendships and unconditional love often in less likely corners, for instance the commitment of her cousin Rahuf whom she hadn’t seen since childhood

a fact: 97% of detained immigrants are people of colour even though 5 of the the top 20 countries of origin for illegal immigrants are Caucasian – it isn’t that white-skinned illegal immigrants don’t come to the US, it’s that they don’t get put in detention

want to read Do They Hear You When You Cry? 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

How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta

a nutshell: this moving memoir follows Uwiringiyimana’s journey from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, through the Gatumba massacre, to the US where she resettled with her family and began to confront her trauma

a line: “We must not fall prey to the kind of thinking that separates us”

an image: Uwiringiyimana vividly recalls the sense of displacement in the family’s arrival in the US, for instance how her father says he feels like the cold wind is electrocuting him

a thought: I was astonished to learn the family did not receive any counselling during their resettlement, which seems like an extreme oversight in the program – I was very moved by Uwiringiyimana’s frank account of her mental health in the years following the massacre

a fact: Uwiringiyimana’s activism grew out of a photo exhibition she created with her brother, Alex, which led to an invitation to speak at Women in the World – here‘s part of that interview she did with Charlie Rose

want to read How Dare the Sun Rise? 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

Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández

knitting the fog cover with misty path image, book on tile floor all in black and white

a nutshell: blending narrative personal essays and bilingual poetry, Hernández shares her matriarchal upbringing and her childhood journey from Guatemala to Los Angeles

a line: “Tía Soila has always been a breathing poem who knows how to climb the tallest tamarindo trees”

an image: the scene in which Hernández, her sisters & her mother are to cross the Río Bravo to make the leap from Mexico to the US is one of the most intensely memorable in the book, particularly the moment where one of the sisters worries aloud about their inability to swim and Hernández (“trying to be brave and hopeful”) reassures her that she’ll rescue her

a thought: her mother’s physical violence towards others and corporal punishments on the girls for any misbehaviour made for discomfiting reading; Hernández’s explanation of what her mother had endured earlier in life was telling, but not excusing, nevertheless the writer expresses gratitude in the Acknowledgements for her mother’s courage & sacrifices

a fact: languages & accents play a big role in Hernández’s story about coming of age, and I learned that Guatemala has more than twenty Mayan & distinct indigenous languages

want to read Knitting the Fog? visit here

The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli (tr. Kristina Cordero)

Blue spine of book with title and author, blank red cover, yellow brick wall in background

a nutshell: subtitled ‘A Memoir of Love and War’, this is a stunningly rich remembrance of an acclaimed Nicaraguan writer’s involvement in the Sandinista Revolution and how she came to age as a passionate feminist in & out of exile

a line: “I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t believe in the creative powers of the human imagination”

an image: on returning to Managua after a heart-rending medical procedure in NYC, Belli presses her forehead to the plane window and realises the runway is beautifully lit by oil lamps – since recent storms had wreaked havoc, they had relied on these with the hope it wouldn’t rain

a thought: Belli’s account certainly made me reflect on social responsibility & collective joy – esp. as my partner is currently reading Lynne Segal’s Radical Happiness – but I never quite pinpointed whether her primary source of joy is herself or collaboration (sometimes she singles out the former as the key to happiness, other times the latter)

a fact: Belli’s most well-known book, The Inhabited Woman, is a semi-autobiographical novel which raised gender issues for the first time in the Nicaraguan revolutionary narratives, yet she considers herself a poet before all else

want to read The Country Under My Skin? visit here

Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

a page from the book with words highlighted 'tell them we are afraid'

a nutshell: this dazzling debut collection from a Marshallese poet & activist is a rallying call to action on climate change, while also carrying the traumas of racism and US nuclear testing

a line: “Tell them | we are afraid”

an image: so many pages of this collection are stunningly shaped – from the words scattered across pages to mirror a child’s hair falling out from chemo to the words that weave a basket to reflect the matrilineal society of the Marshallese

a thought: at several points, the poet notes the strain of colourism that runs through society (such as “Ma’s consistent warning” to remember bonnet so she doesn’t “turn brown”) which reminded me of the writer Shazia Usman’s book, Kaluti, on self-love in the face of such attitudes

a fact: the destruction wreaked by the United States’ nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands crops up in many heart-breaking poems throughout the collection; as the poet writes, “most Marshallese can say they’ve mastered the language of cancer”

want to read Iep Jāltok? visit here

Nobody Wanted Me by Soledad Castillo

Chapter of Soledad Castillo's story

a nutshell: this is a moving account of resilience from a young refugee, Soledad, who fled her native Honduras aged 14 (having survived disease, sexual assault by her step-father, and child labour) to forge a new life for herself in California

a line: “Many Americans think that we come here to take their jobs, to do bad things, to take advantage of the country. I’m not a bad person. I came here to survive, to do better in this world, to help my family and other people.”

an image: Soledad describes the moment when, aged 12, she fearfully told her mother what her step-father had done; refusing to believe her, her mother tried to hit her and the 12 year old ended up running from the house crying – on returning a few hours later, she found her mother packing the child’s clothes and she was sent away from home into unpaid work

a thought: it’s uplifting to read how sharing her story has changed Soledad’s life – now if she ever feels sad or despairing, she rereads what she wrote to be reminded that so many things have come true for her; that she can get up and go on

a fact: Soledad is currently studying for a degree while working for John Burton Advocates for Youth, a civic organisation that advocates for foster children’s rights

Soledad’s story is featured in Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders with Youth Refugees from Central America (ed. Steven Mayers & Jonathan Freedman)

want to read the book? visit here

The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper

The House at Sugar Beach book next to plant

a nutshell: this memoir covers some distance – from a wealthy childhood among Liberia’s ‘Congo’ class to a (post-coup) adolescence in the US, it’s an unflinching reflection on destructive divisions within societies and families

a line: “‘What makes us not refugees?’ ‘Because we paid for our own plane tickets.”

an image: Cooper recalls her classmates trying to make sense of soldiers’ extreme violence against their families during the coup d’état, with the kids themselves having been beaten and violated

a thought: ahead of describing the mass executions, persecutions & humiliations that came with Doe’s military coup in 1980, Cooper makes many observations on the inequality & injustice of society before the coup as well – she doesn’t mask the fact that her elite class ignores the immense poverty of the ‘native Liberians’ who were colonised when American black freemen (one of who was her direct ancestor) founded Liberia

a fact: Liberia was the first African republic to proclaim its independence (in 1847, from the US) and is Africa’s first & oldest modern republic

 

want to read The House at Sugar Beach? visit here

Raising My Voice by Malalai Joya (co-written with Derrick O’Keefe)

Malalai Joya speaking in Finland

a nutshell: this is the extraordinary story of Malalai Joya, a lifelong women’s rights activist and former politician in her native Afghanistan, whose public denunciation of warlords led to several assassination attempts and suspension from parliament

a line: “By necessity, after decades of brutality, we are our sisters’ keepers”

an image: Joya portrays Afghanistan as a bird with one clipped wing – women – thus it cannot take off until half its people are free; she goes on to clarify that this isn’t achievable through overseas donations or enforceable at gunpoint, and she condemns the use of ‘women’s rights’ as a justification for US occupation

a thought: once again, I was left ashamed of my heritage – Joya writes of how Britain’s resentment at the loss of a colony (post-1919) and fear of a modern, independent country near India saw the British sow rebellion against Afghanistan’s progressive King Amanullah Khan and his reforms (incl. advancing women’s rights and compulsory education for all), culminating in his exile – an overthrow that is considered a disaster in Afghanistan’s history

a fact: this was the first time I heard of the ‘Jihad Schoolbook Scandal‘ – the US government’s $50-million publication of textbooks promoting a militaristic agenda to children in Societ-occupied Afghanistan in an apparent attempt to fuel a jihad against the Russians

 

want to read Raising My Voice? visit here