October is Black History Month here in the UK and as such I wanted to share some of the books I’ve read this year, fiction and nonfiction, as well as the books I’ll be reading this month.
Love After Love by Ingrid Persuad – Set in Trinidad and with much of the speech in patois the novel transports you to the Island and the story dexterously juxtaposes the trauma and love shared between a mother, her son and their lodger. In her debut novel Persuad explores themes of race, immigration and sexuality, each with care and gentleness that keep you turning the pages, unable to put this wonderful book down.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins – This gothic fiction starts in London 1826 where our protagonist finds herself on trial for the murder of Mr and Mrs Benham, for who she worked as a maid. Frannie tells her story, which takes us to a plantation in Jamaica in 1812 with haunting tales of life as a slave and the horrors endured by the men, women and children. When she arrives in London, no longer a slave but still in shackles, she finds herself embroiled in the life of her mistress, a women who frustrates her but who she also loves deeply. Her confessions allow her to tell her story but is it enough to save her?
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – Set in precolonial Nigeria, it depicts village life before and during the arrival of the Europeans. The story is divided into three parts and follows the life of Okonkwo, an Igbo, and one of the greatest warriors alive. The first part of the book describes life in the village, the culture and traditions of the Igbo people while the second and third introduce the “white man” and the influence of Christianity on their way of life.
Misfits by Michaela Coel – In her MacTaggart Lecture, Michaela revealed her experiences of being a Black women in the Television industry. With striking and insightful declarations about race, class and gender, she tells her truth in her speech. Misfits builds on the speech, and Michaela shares her experience both before and after it.
Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison – This is a powerful collection of essays, meditations and speeches by the Nobel Prize winning author. The book is divided into 2 parts with an interlude for BLACK MATTER(S). The first part looks at race and politics, in literature and in the wider context of society while the second part focuses exclusively on language and the power it has to portray and uphold certain ideals. This is a phenomenal collection, one that I find myself coming back to over and over (and over) again. Toni Morrison was a master of her craft and this book is evident of that.
Black and British by David Olusoga – We are not taught Black History at school. Whatever information we are fed is through an extremely problematic white lens and the focus is almost entirely on what Europeans offered the rest of the world, rather than the rape and pillage of lands with little or no compensation. Professor David Olusoga’s short, essential history starts in 27BC, when the first Africans came to Britain with the Roman Empire. The books then takes us on a journey of Tudor, Stuart Gregorian and Victorian history as well as both the Great Wars up to the Twentieth Century. I’ve deliberately included this edition of the Professors works, which is for younger readers, as I think its a great starting point for everyone, but also for those of us with children, its a wonderful book to read together.
Books I’ll be reading this month
The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed – I picked this book as it’s shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2021 but also it gave me a mix of The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste and The Confessions of Frannie Langton (above) vibes. The synopsis from the inside cover reads:
Mahmood Mattan is a fixture in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, 1952, which bustles with Somali and West Indian sailors, Maltese businessmen and Jewish families. He is a father, chancer, some-time petty thief. He is many things, in fact, but he is not a murderer.
So when a shopkeeper is brutally killed and all eyes fall on him, Mahmood isn’t too worried. It is true that he has been getting into trouble more often since his Welsh wife Laura left him. But Mahmood is secure in his innocence in a country where, he thinks, justice is served.
It is only in the run-up to the trial, as the prospect of freedom dwindles, that it will dawn on Mahmood that he is in a terrifying fight for his life – against conspiracy, prejudice and the inhumanity of the state. And, under the shadow of the hangman’s noose, he begins to realise that the truth may not be enough to save him
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – This is a classic that I’ve been meaning to read for ages but haven’t managed to. I’ve decided to prioritise it this month. Alice Walker wrote of it “There is no book more important to me than this one… it speaks to me as no novel, past or present, has ever done’. The synopsis reads:
‘ When sixteen-year-old Janie is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before she finally meets the man of her dreams – who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds. ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the very greatest American novels of the 20th century. It is so lyrical it should be sentimental; it is so passionate it should be overwrought, but it is instead a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece of prose, as emotionally satisfying as it is impressive. There is no novel I love more’ ZADIE SMITH
Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall – I’m embarrassed to admit that I still haven’t read this book! I bought it as soon as it was published, convinced it was going to be one of the most important books I own. Almost two years later, I’ve dipped in and out of it, but I haven’t read it fully. All that’s about to change! From the inside cover:
All too often the focus of mainstream feminism is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few.
Meeting basic needs is a feminist issue. Food insecurity, the living wage and access to education are feminist issues. The fight against racism, ableism and transmisogyny are all feminist issues.
White feminists often fail to see how race, class, sexual orientation and disability intersect with gender. How can feminists stand in solidarity as a movement when there is a distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others?
Insightful, incendiary and ultimately hopeful, Hood Feminism is both an irrefutable indictment of a movement in flux and also clear-eyed assessment of how to save it.
There you have it, my list of reads and recommendation for Black History Month 2021. I’d love to know what your reading and what you think I should make space for on my shelves. I hope you are able to get to a Black History Month event in your area, I know a lot of London Libraries host events from author events, comedy, poetry and music nights, as well as history talks, the art of African head wraps and much more. Check out your local council website for more details.