As some have said, Black history is not just American history, but also global history. People of color have had an impact on culture and life in nearly every country, to greater and lesser extent, and one of the most interesting ways to explore this impact is through fiction. So, I’ve somewhat randomly chose six novels that take place in various world regions and look at how Black folks coped “then” and are coping now. NOTE: I do not actually know if all of my chosen authors are Black and am ok with that, as the told stories still hit on important themes in ways that few other novels have.
I’m currently working on two of the novels, and the other four I might have completed by the end of February, but who knows. The first of my current reads is The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate. This story, set in the Louisiana of 1987 and 1875, takes a look at what happened after slavery. Sharecropping, scratching out survival by traveling through dangerous parts of the then-forming country, and most importantly, as the title suggests, an attempt to find people lost or scrambled about during slavery. The 1875 story tracks a specific family as three women, who had to disguise themselves as boys to get by, work their way through Texas and encounter issues that alter their lives forever. In the 1987 story, we see the descendants of this family and its house as they cope with the politics of what should or shouldn’t be taught in schools, particularly represented through a teacher from out of town who dares to venture into the controversial with a class project, because she sees that the kids strongly relate to it. The story is captivating and I’ve nearly completed the 15 hours of audio.
My second read is A Good Neighborhood, by Therese Fowler. I was compelled to grab this title because it is set in my home state of North Carolina, though no specific city is named. In the Oak Knoll neighborhood, a long-time resident becomes upset when a million-dollar buyer has a house constructed that ruins her favorite tree. Things become complicated when the mom prepares to sue the well-off father of the other household, even as her son starts to like their teenager. This story is a lot more dynamic than I kind of thought it would be, especially as we see the complex interracial reactions that occur between them all and the ways that class, and especially the experience of poverty, also plays into it.
As it happens, both of these books are set in the United States of America. The only other book in this country that I plan to read is Concrete Rose, by Angie Thomas. It’s the third in her Garden Heights series, which began with The Hate U Give. I assume it’s kind of stand-alone-ish, as it examines the life of Maverick (the family patriarch) seventeen years prior to that book. I think it’s gonna take a good Look at life as a black boy in a tough neighborhood, set in a major, again unnamed, city.
The fourth book I am considering sounds interesting to me. It’s called HowThe One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, by Cherie Jones. It takes place on an upscale beach in Barbados, an island I know little about and am fascinated with. In an NPR Weekend Edition interview, the author discusses things like the power of braiding hair in Black culture and how some people can be, well swept under, if they are seen as less.
The fifth book, called Africaville, is by an author named Jeffrey Colvin. This story is set in Nova Scotia against the Great Depression, And apparently examines how three generations of one family are affected by prejudice during that time. Again one in a region I know next to nothing about, which intrigues me. It is also narrated at least in part by the excellent Robin Miles.
And my final choice, which I’m sure is going to be equally well narrated, is Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This story, as does most of her work, examines life in Nigeria and some of the challenges that arise because of ideas about treatment of women by men in particular. I’ve read two other of her novels, Americanah and Half of A Yellow Sun, both of which were excellent. So I’ve been meaning to check this one out as well.
Of course there are so many books on my wishlist that I could read for this purpose, and I will read them over time. But I thought this would be a fun way to get a sense of life for Black folks within and outside of my own circle and my own country.