Book review – Bernardine Evaristo – “Manifesto”


This was the first book I bought from The Heath Bookshop back in September (you can read about the shop, my purchases and their launch weekend here; I bought this with a book token when they were soft-launching to help them to practise the process before it was critical). I picked this up to read as part of my 2023 policy to get my hardbacks read before they’re out in paperback, and of the other two books I bought that week, one will get read in ReadIndies month next month and the other might get read this month as part of the same policy.

Bernardine Evaristo – “Manifesto: On Never Giving Up”

(09 September 2022, The Heath Bookshop)

The person I am today no longer throws stones at the fortress. I sit inside its chambers having polite, persuasive and persistent conversations about how best to transform outmoded infrastructures to accommodate those who have been unfairly excluded. The rebel without has become the negotiator within, who understands that we need to sit at the table where the decisions are made, and that enrolling people in conversations is ultimately more effective than shouting at them (satisfying as that can sometimes be). (p. 183)

In this thematically structured memoir, such a lot of life, information and positivity packed into one short volume, Evaristo explains where she came from and how she came to be a writer and activist, all heading to her “overnight” success when she won the Booker Prize aged 60 for the sublime “Girl, Woman, Other“. Divided into chapters on heritage and family, houses and homes, relationships, drama. poetry and fiction, education and the self and activism, she circles around her life, concentrating on the theme of the chapter, which actually works really well, with a bit of referring forward and back.

And the ordering of the chapters makes sense; although we travel with her through her family relationships and issues around growing up with dual heritage in a very White area to her father’s death and her visits to his home country of Nigeria in the first chapter, we are into self-actualisation and the effects she has had going forward (founding and running literary prizes in particular) by the end. It also allows to her explain and celebrate change, so her view of her father as a teenager of his being strict and harsh gets tempered by his example in her activism and attempt to help others. I have to say, as I fail to sort out getting a quotation for something for the house, I did like the tales of renovations half-done or not done in this chapter.

What a strong and admirable character Evaristo is, something she characteristically only puts down partly to herself:

Essentially, I am grateful that I was not raised in a family where I had to fulfil my parents’ ambitions for themselves through me, and that I was encouraged to become the architect of my own adult life. (p. 46)

Of course, she talks passionately and in great detail of the most important thing in her life: writing. I hadn’t quite realised this took precedence over her early work in community-based theatre and I enjoyed reading about the detail of the writing of her books and poetry. Everything: family, jobs, relationships, is seen in terms of what it contributed to her writing, and I hugely admire this single-mindedness and determination. And of course (or not of course, as I wasn’t quite expecting it), at the end we get Evaristo’s own personal manifesto, something unique to her but also points we can all carry with us about being responsible for ourselves and for helping and supporting others where we can: generous and uncompromising, they read as a fitting summary of her life, work and opinions.

What an excellent book!

Book review – Nicola Rollock – “The Racial Code: Tales of Resistance and Survival”


I was selected to read this book via NetGalley after it came out, and didn’t manage to get it read until this month, but I have now covered all my October NetGalley books. I was attracted by the title but wasn’t quite sure what this book was going to be like – it was different to what I’d expected but extremely well done and innovative.

Nicola Rollock – “The Racial Code: Tales of Resistance and Survival

(16 October 2022).

I argue that mainstream perceptions of racism are wrong and overly preoccupied with explicit or extreme forms of racism seen to exist only on the fringes of society. Instead, I draw attention to the existence of more subtle forms of racism which saturate everyday life and shape interactions between (and sometimes within) different racialized groups. These interactions help determine who is seen to belong, who is included and excluded from different social spaces and roles, and, crucially, help maintain a racial status quo where white people remain at the top of the hierarchy and people of colour are at the bottom.

After working out a lot about her identity and what race was when she got to university, Rollock became a well-known and highly trusted academic, eventually tasked by think tank The Runnymede Trust with carrying out an independent review of progress arising from the Macpherson report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Finding that in particular the recommendations on approaches to race in the police force had not been addressed, she further discovered in other studies and reports later that the same was true: nothing had changed. Suspecting there was something more than institutional, a sort of code in place, to retain racist structures and maintain the White-led status quo, she researched and produced this book to share her theory, as laid out in the quotation at the top of this review. And she then goes on, after setting out terms, etc. (she uses “racialized as White” and “racialized as Black” which I think are very useful), to evidence this.

The way she gives her examples of life in the structures of racism is innovative and radical and, while I’ve seen composite portraits in books on psychotherapy practice (most lately Susanna Abse’s), it’s not something I’ve seen used in a book like this exploring structural racism. In each area, to do with the world of work, seeking work and promotion, being drafted in to an organisation to accomplish change, networking, when to speak up about racist statements from people, etc., she uses examples from people she’s interviewed or her own experiences to weave a compelling story which shows in fictional form very powerfully what she’s talking about. So we’re inside the world of a middle-class, well-dressed Black man at an exclusive club who encounters an uncomfortable doorman (Black, so only showing body language), a posh White man who “doesn’t see race” and a posh White woman who claims to think he’s a waiter, or we meet a couple arguing in a car about whether someone should have called someone out and risked spoiling a party.

At the end of each story or group of stories is a section by Rollock detailing what she is showing here with back-up information, and there are also some short, hard-hitting vignettes with individual experiences. Particularly wince-inducing is the very clever list of “some of the ways in which white people seek to demonstrate their commitment to advancing racial justice while, in fact, holding steadfast to existing practices” which is called “A white person’s guide to preserving racism in the modern age”. And, as Rollock states, the footnotes are there to reference the sources but also to give tips on where and how to go deeper into various individual areas. Intersectionality is brought into play when looking at women and working class people and their experiences and the author is careful to show nuance rather than monolithic behaviour – in White people as well.

Although a lot of the statistics and situations Rollock is talking about can be encountered in other books on racial justice, this way of presenting them is visceral and really hits home. As well as more direct reportage style pieces there are a couple of savage satires near the end that are shocking – as they have every right to be, of course – and a straight-talking section on the phenomenon of people only being awoken to racism by George Floyd’s murder and rushing to quickly mine books on the topic then just as quickly move on (a real risk which can be mitigated by a drip feed of reading and sharing, in my opinion, but one that needs to be borne in mind). A genuinely innovative book that will hit hard and not allow the reader to skim past stats. There’s room for a range of books, of course, and I’m glad that this seems to have been commissioned before lockdown and George Floyd, giving hope that the recent resurgence in diverse publishing will continue and not suddenly lapse back down again.

Thank you to Allen Lane for choosing me to read this book in return for an honest review. “The Racial Code” was published on 6 October 2022.

Book review – Jimi Famurewa – “Settlers: Journeys through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London”


Yet another great read courtesy of NetGalley – I’m not completely sure how I became aware of this one but I was very glad to be selected for it, and it complements other reading I’ve been doing very nicely, as it concentrates on the later 20th century and the increase in settlement in London from the Black African community, now overtaking people of Caribbean origin arriving here. Having lived in several areas Black African people live – notably Peckham and New Cross – I was looking for information on how those areas have thrived and changed, which I was happy to find.

Jimi Famurewa – “Settlers: Journeys through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London”

(30 August 2022, NetGalley)

I do not remember a time in my life when I had anything like pure, unquestioning faith. But I recognize now, more than ever, that I have benefitted immeasurably from the structure, support and values that religion through a specifically African lens has bestowed. For me and so many others, our Black African identity is inextricably linked to faith. They are one and the same. I understand that it has given me more than it has taken away. And I appreciate that, for all its issues and ideosyncrasies, it has long been the only path to sanctuary, success and sanity for those bearing the daily weight of life in diaspora. That it cannot be easily explained is sort of the point.

British-Nigerian author Famurewa takes us through life in Black African London through the lens of his own lived experience and that of the people he interviews and his craft of journalism. He divides the book into themes rather than chronologically, although we do take a look at the practice of “farming” first of all, where African parents, often coming to London to study, placed their children with mainly White foster families, often in poorer parts of Kent and London, with varying and not always negative effects (he states in the Prologue that he started out with the aim of providing a positive portrait but wasn’t always able to). Then we look at markets, immigration patterns, crime, police and prisons, religion, restaurants and the outward movement of Black African families, echoing the constant moves from the inner city to the outer city, the suburbs and beyond but with its own special issues and features.

Famurewa opens the book with a vivid journey through different aspect of Black African life in London, from tutoring businesses to community halls, street preachers and parties to markets and traders, and his descriptions of people and places remain atmospheric and vivid throughout. He draws out various themes across the chapters – an entrepreneurialism based on necessity (you can’t get the goods you want to consume, you can’t get ahead in a company, you can’t get traditional funding, so you do a side project or start a small business, maybe renting a kiosk in a bigger premises, a larger one, an individual shop, etc.); the need to employ extra resources to keep up and get ahead, leading to the mass migration of children across London to attend selective grammar schools; the division between Caribbean and African people that was encouraged but is now maybe dissipating; the fact that “we are here because you were there” – notably in the fact that British missionaries went to Africa to convert the local people then did not always give them a welcome in British churches when they emigrated, leading to the development of the large, active, community service orientated Black churches in London. The last chapter has an interesting look at the phenomenon of second-generation Black African people returning to Africa, either full or part time, and he talks to some of them and the advantages they see in that. And he says, referencing the way that African students were appalled by an exhibit of people from Africa at an exhibition in the 20th century, protested and had it stopped,

… what Ajala’s generation [of returners] is doing is not all that dissimilar to what the students who were appalled by the Empire Exhibition were doing. Which is to say, by actively pushing against the idea that the West is inherently better or more civilized, she is expanding and sharpening our perception of what African identity can mean or look like.

although he also emphasises that these returners are often living between the UK and their African country and city, not settled in either place.

An excellent, highly readable book with plenty to learn and think about, and a portrait of a city in a time of change and development which has apparently not been written about before. He does reference a lot of other writers, from Sam Selvon to Akala, and I assume that the finished copy will have a reference list and bibliography. Definitely one to recommend.

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Settlers” was published on 13 October 2022.

Book review – Chelsea Watego – “Another Day in the Colony”


Here we have the last book I read for AusReading Month: fortunately, Brona, who runs the challenge, has allowed people to post reviews after the end of the month! I continued my theme of reading books set around social justice and Australia’s Aboriginal/Indigenous peoples along a sort of curriculum: I read “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” to get a background idea of the Stolen Generations and a summary of the experience of Aboriginal peoples from when the White invaders first came; then “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia” gave the experiences of Aboriginal people growing up from the 1940s to 1990s and now we have the lived experiences of one woman who is an Aboriginal/Indigenous [she uses both terms in the book, Indigenous more often and I’m trying to reflect that] writer, academic and campaigner. This is the third book that Bill from The Australian Legend kindly sent to me in January. His review is here and I urge you to read it.

I admit right now that I’ve been a bit nervous about reviewing this book. It is not written “for” me, the author makes it clear (and fair enough, of course) and it’s doubly not about my culture, being Aboriginal/Indigenous centred and about Australia. All I can really do is set down my reactions and the connections I have drawn with other works I’ve read or cultural issues I’ve noted: and like all great works, it’s both specific to its time and culture but can have general global points drawn from it. I’d encourage people to read it for themselves if they’re at all interested in learning about colonialism, current issues of the “settlers” in a claimed territory that is actually someone else’s and Indigenous people’s lived experience.

Chelsea Watego – “Another Day in the Colony”

(13 January 2022, from Bill)

It took me a while to realise that in teaching Indigenous anything I was meant to be teaching students to feel good about being a coloniser; that in my presence I was meant to be the site of absolution both for the institution and its students. Despite transcending our role in the academy as engraved objects carved into sandstone, to enter classrooms as educators we are still being called to accessorise white knowing and affirm white belonging. (p. 109)

Dr Watego is clearly angry, and she has good reason. She is also exhausted, and as we read this book, we can see why. She doesn’t want to, and doesn’t, explain terms, history and experiences for White / settler [her term] readers, and why should she? (this fits with a long-held view of mine which I know is contentious that it’s my job to look stuff up, not the author’s job to explain her culture to me when things are easily looked up; terms, yes, experiences, no, and we get them from this book).

I’d like to say Dr Watego’s experiences are shocking, but if you’ve read a fair bit of work by Global Majority and Indigenous peoples, unfortunately they’re not. Or not surprising. She experiences racism and exclusion in academia and expected to remove guilt from White students (I’ve read Black and Brown academics talking of that here). She’s blamed for all sorts of things outside her control. If she’s in confrontation with a White person, the White person will be believed (and let go and she’ll be taken into custody). If she dares to say that someone who claims to be Indigenous but has no connection to the culture which is so communal and relational is not yet wholly Indigenous, she’s told she’s wrong. She encounters White anthropologists who try to tell her about her own lived experience. She sees her own people denigrated for having poor health outcomes when it’s clear those outcomes are a direct result of the pressure and colonisation, institutional and intersectional racism, sexism and classism imposed upon them by a coloniser ideology that believes they should have died out decades ago. (This last reminded me of the blame heaped upon Global Majority People in the UK when they died disproportionately of Covid: it was biological or due to “lifestyle choices”, not of course because they were forced into poverty and overcrowded living and compelled to go out and do risky face-to-face work while the White middle class sat in our homeworking isolation.)

In this bold and usettling book, Dr Watego sets down her experiences on her terms. She is able to print a (perfectly reasonable, well-argued and massively referenced) article that ended up not going out in an academic journal because the publishers weren’t keen on the racist stereotyping and violence clearly portrayed in the book being exposed without having some spurious balance: she did claim room for a rebuttal and letter to the managing editors in the journal. She states powerfully in the final essay that there is no room for hope, only for sovreignty, and for standing your ground, not fighting back, for strategies and not solutions. You’re not going to read this to feel better about the world or your place in it, apart from the fact that there are people like Dr Watego who are managing to speak out and get published so others can see themselves reflected or learn about what’s happened and happening. There is a superb playlist in the back of the book of “songs that brought joy” while she was writing it, and I salute her (not that she needs my salute, obviously) for including that in what is a confrontational and at times very dense read.

One powerful lesson that was reiterated for me here (which I did learn when reading a book by a non-Indigenous Canadian about Indigenous Canadians last year and bought a new book instead) was to go to “own voices” for books about Indigenous and Global Majority peoples, which I do do on the whole, but I need to stay in this space and not go back to White people’s, even if not Australians’, narratives about Indigenous/Aboriginal peoples like the one I read last year. And I recommend this powerful and strong narrative by very much an “own voice”.

This was Book 3 for AusReading Month and Book 12 for Nonfiction November.

Book reviews – Sam Selvon – “The Housing Lark” and Caleb Femi – “Poor”


Two books read for Novellas in November which detail Black men’s lives in London 55 years apart but with many similarities as well as differences. Of course the men in Sam Selvon’s novel, Selvon himself, have fairly recently arrived in London from Caribbean countries, while poet Caleb Femi was born in Nigeria. South London features heavily in both – Brixton and Peckham, respectively; I don’t know Brixton that well but I lived in Peckham for a year in the mid-1990s, well before the gentrification I’ve been reading about in later novels and at the time of the North Peckham Estate, which Femi records in detail in his poems and photographs. Both men detail simple wishes for safety, companionship, some money, some way to advance in life. Both have friends laughing at friends who wouldn’t know what to do with the women they are chasing if they caught them, and both feature strong, uncompromising women.

I bought “The Housing Lark” in November 2021 after it was mentioned on Ten Million Hardbacks’ blog; out of the eight print books purchased that month, I’ve read two so far, but that is only still a year ago. “Poor” came in Bookish Beck’s parcel-before-last in December 2021 and I’ve actually read four out of the ten making up the pile I gathered before Christmas that year!

Sam Selvon – “The Housing Lark”

(04 November 2021)

Is so life was, you had to take chances, and one day your luck might turn. And if you yourself ain’t have anything to offer, it good to stick with fellars like Harry, and Alfy and Syl and the rest of the boys. All of we can’t be blight, Bat think, out of six seven fellars, one bound to be lucky, something good bound to happen to one of we. Bat ain’t care who it happen to, as long as he around to share in the good fortune. (p. 34)

I can’t remember if the characters in this short novel appeared in “The Lonely Londoners” but we’re back in familiar territory with a disparate group of men struggling to survive in a mainly unfriendly and difficult post-war London. We open with Battersby regarding his rented room, hoping the lamps on the wallpaper might issue a genie, wishing for simple things, food, company, money. The plot revolves around the resolve of a group of friends to club together to buy a house – the only way they can see of getting secure accommodation and their own agency.

Maybe it’s not such a good idea to make Battersby the treasurer, as the money seems to fritter itself away … He does run a coach trip to Hampton Court which gives us a hilarious interlude as the participants eat and laugh their way around, observed with some alarm by their White counterparts, and of course it’s the women, Battersby’s sister Jean, her room-mate Mathilda and Teena, unfortunate enough to be married to one of the men, who take the scheme in hand and make it work. Written in dialect like “The Lonely Londoners”, like that novel, too, it’s both funny and tragic, the characters making the best of their situation, destitution only one step away.

Interestingly, it has a very modern comment to make about education:

‘I must say you boys surprise me with your historical knowledge. It’s a bit mixed up, I think, but it’s English history.’ ‘We don’t know any other kind. That’s all they used to teach we in school.’ ‘That’s because OUR PEOPLE ain’t have no history. But what I wonder is, when we have, you think they going to learn the children that in the English schools?’ (pp. 100-101).

A touching and lively novel and an important record of first-generation immigrants’ lives.

Caleb Femi – “Poor”

(11 December 2021 – from Bookish Beck)

This will not be enough for them

so they’ll force us to put it into words

& we will say: When hipsters take selfies

on the corners where our

friends died, the rent goes up. (“On Magic / Violence”, p. 39)

I have read more poetry this year than I have for a long time; I still favour the very clear and direct and I got a bit lost in the allusions in this one (I was mainly OK with the language and dialect terms) but could see my way through a good proportion of them. I’m not sure “enjoyed” is the word as most of them are very hard-hitting and full of pain and distress, but it’s an important and strongly beautiful collection of both words and images.

With poems about the concrete landscape and the miles of walkways connecting the spaces of the North Peckham Estate, the poetry is going to be unyielding and strong, but there’s a lot of feeling, emotion and care in the book, from the unconventional signs of spring (young boys play on the grass, people get the new trainers) to the moving eulogies for Damilola Taylor, Mark Duggan and the Grenfell Tower residents. It’s worth looking at the notes, which explain which poems are memorialising which lost people.

There’s anger and understanding of anger, with some very powerful poems about the “riots”/uprisings and their meanings, and there’s bewilderment at the start of the gentrification which has now hit the South London suburb (I have most notably read about this in “Yinka, Where is your Huzband?“). The images of people and tower blocks work perfectly with the poems, couplets and prose pieces and the work is technically complex and adept, pulling at the heartstrings, raising a smile, documenting how it feels to feel you are every Black man who is shown mistreated on the TV. I hope this reached a variety of audiences, including those people who are portrayed in it and will see themselves in a poetry book published by a mainstream publisher, for once. Rebecca’s review which originally attracted me to the book is here.

These were Books 6 and 7 for Novellas in November, both from the original selection of 15.

Book review – Anita Heiss (ed.) – “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia”


Back to AusReading Month and I’m continuing my theme of reading books set around social justice and Australia’s Aboriginal peoples along a sort of curriculum: I read “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” to get a background idea of the Stolen Generations and it gave me a short history of the experience of Aboriginal peoples from when the White invaders first came; this book charts the experiences of Aboriginal people growing up from the 1940s to 1990s and “Another Day in the Colony” which I am starting now, will fill in a lot more gaps hopefully (I don’t think I’ll get to “Lies Damned Lies” but can save that for next AusReading Month of course). This is another of the books that Bill from The Australian Legend kindly sent to me in January. His review is here and we largely agree on the pieces that most struck us, interestingly.

Anita Heiss (ed.) – “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia”

(13 January 2022, from Bill)

… this anthology is not one of victimhood: it is one of strength and resilience, of pride and inspiration, demonstrating the will to survive and the capacity to thrive against the odds. Growing up Aboriginal in Australia paints a landscape of a country that has created leaders who form strong communities, with a generous heart and passion for change. That is why this anthology matters. The goal is to break down stereotypes – many of which are identified with these pages – and to create a new dialogue with and about Aboriginal Australians. (Introduction, p. 2)

This excellent book takes 50 submissions from Aboriginal people living in Australia which (sometimes loosely) follow the theme of growing up. Some of them relate in a straightforward manner what it was like to be a child in Australia, some take the idea that they are still “growing up” and some just fill us in on what life continued to be like. I don’t think I’d heard of any of the contributors, but some are well-known writers, academics, musicians and sports players and some are ordinary people. The ages of the contributors range from 13 to people who must be in their 80s and this gives an excellent perspective as some are from the Stolen Generations (Aboriginal people, especially those with lighter skins, who were taken from their families and ‘raised’ on missions and in special schools to ‘protect’ them from taint by their darker-skinned relatives) or are children of people who were stolen, or look back to a fractured family line because of this vile policy: we really see how that has reverberated through the generations.

I learnt a lot reading this. Many of the contributors described their anguish at being lighter-skinned, asked to prove their Aboringinality, told they could and should ‘pass’ for non-Aboriginal, were questioned on what proportion of their heritage was Aboriginal and found they were too light-skinned for some of their family group or activists but too dark-skinned for European-origin Australians (this chimed with the works I’m reading on people with dual heritages elsewhere in the world, but with special horrors to do with their geography). I also hadn’t realised that Aboriginal people were only accepted as actual PEOPLE in the 1960s when there was a referendum about ‘allowing’ them to appear on the census and vote – before that, they were counted as sort of part of the flora and fauna [Edited to add: this is actually a myth, please see the comments and links by my Australian blogger friends below]. And I was completely unaware that people were captured and removed from Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and other islands and used for labour.

It’s not all doom and gloom: there’s a lot of humour, a lot of anger and pushing back, and a lot of people finding their Aboriginal heritage and connecting with it, learning the traditional ways and cultures of the different Aboriginal groups and becoming workers or activists or educators in their communities and beyond. Interestingly, although I re-read his review after I’d finished the book and put down some thoughts, I liked similar essays to the ones Bill chose: for example, “Two tiddas” by Susie and Alice Anderson, who record a dialogue about their feelings about being Aboriginal, and Dom Benrose’s powerfully sarcastic apology to “Dear Australia” for basically existing or pushing back: “I am sorry I can’t tot paint, play football or run really fast” (p. 17). There’s a lot of intersectionality, too, looking at race, class, gender and/or sexuality, with Celeste Liddle in “Black bum” unable to separate her experiences of being Aboriginal from those of being female.

One tiny criticism I had is that I struggled to find a pattern or structure in the book, so while it showcased diversity in ages, backgrounds and experiences, you sort of dotted from one to another without a clear pathway through it. The introduction by the editor only explains they came from 120 submissions and notes on why the anthology matters, which is great, but I’d have liked to understand the selection and organisation principle. This is a minor point, though: the thing that matters is the diversity, own voices and chances for people to express themselves and readers to find themselves mirrored or to learn.

At the end of his review, Bill notes that many people of his generation and younger don’t understand/accept that racism existed and still exists in Australia and adds his hope that school children are all reading this book: I add to that hope and also think it’s very important to know about these issues outside Australia, hence being very glad to have had the opportunity to read this powerful, fascinating and moving book and share about it here.

This was Book 2 for AusReading Month and Book 7 for Nonfiction November.

Book review – Janet Pywell – “Someone Else’s Child”


Because I’d read and reviewed Janet Pywell’s “Someone Else’s Dream” last year, she got in touch with me and kindly offered me a review copy of this, the second in the Westbay Romance series. I’d liked the diversity as well as the seaside community setting (a favourite of mine) in the first book and had finished my review by saying I’d read more in the series, so I accepted and downloaded it when I got back from our recent holiday.

Janet Pywell – “Someone Else’s Child”

(14 November 2022)

Everyone has a story and when everything else is stripped away, it’s kindness that’s the most important thing.

Femi, a dual-heritage, single woman living in the seaside town of Westbay, had a difficult childhood including time in a foster family, and she was determined to offer that kind of support to some children herself. Someone who likes to help, she also works shifts in a medical centre and is an RNLI volunteer, with some exciting rescues featured in the book. As we meet her, she’s looking after 17 year old Ricky, who’s just starting to become a bit more independent, and 13 year old Albert, who’s quiet a lot of the time and yearning for his dad to be the hero he knows he’s really not, both of them British and having suffered early neglect. Into the house comes Ahmed, a Syrian refugee placed with them as an emergency, and Femi must negotiate the new home dynamics and try to settle him in while making sure her other two boys are OK and juggling a whole suite of social workers.

There are a lot of issues in this book, from abuse to living as a refugee, and fractured families, but all treated well and sensitively, with the author obviously having done her research, but refraining from shoving it all into the book. The various social workers around the family are explained carefully and the status of a fostered child made clear, so we can understand Femi’s take on things and decisions, too. She’s a lovely, strong (physically and emotionally) character with bravery in both aspects; the only thing I was a bit unsure of was that she describes herself as needing to lose weight time and again, and although that’s a hook to hang different characters’ reactions on, it could have been done without.

Anyway, Femi is also on her own journey of accepting her past and also has the possibility of a new friendship – or more – once she overcomes her very understandable reservations. A crowd of supporters around them, some from the previous book and some new ones, makes the sense of community palpable and believable, and the book is never scared to address issues like the different experiences two refugees only two years apart will have.

Thank you to Janet Pywell for offering me a review copy in return for an honest review. “Someone Else’s Child” is published today, 22 November 2022!

Nonfiction November Week 4: Worldview Changers


Week 4: (November 21-25) – Worldview Changers: One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book or books has impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in? (Rebekah @ She Seeks Nonfiction)

I found it tricky to find books for this week as I wanted to do this on books I’ve read since 1 November last year. However, some of my books for the second question I read before last November.

What nonfiction book or books has impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way?

I came up with Symeon Brown’s “Get Rich or Lie Trying“, which is an exposé of the world of internet influencers, or rather those who try desperately to monetise their lives for various reasons, including hauling themselves out of poverty, and who are used and abused by companies who know their desperation.

Damian Hall’s “In it for the Long Run” opened my eyes to the actual environmental costs of the hobby of running – I have only travelled far to race once, and combined it with a holiday, but it made me think, and it made me pre-order his new book, as yet unread, “We Can’t Run Away from This” (pictured here), which covers the issue in more depth.

Finally, Sabeena Akhtar’s “Cut from the Same Cloth?” opened my eyes to the anti-Black prejudices which exist in the Muslim community in the UK, as well as showcasing the huge variety among hijabi women here, which I already knew a little more about.

Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in?

A book that profoundly changed my worldview last year was Shon Faye’s “The Transgender Issue“. I hadn’t really understood that in order to gain medical acceptance and treatment, trans folk had to follow a pathway, a narrative, which was very restrictive and limited how they were ‘allowed’ to experience the world. Once I’d gathered that, I was able to understand the issues a lot better and fit in a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle for myself.

With all the opprobrium, misunderstanding and vileness that gets thrown at refugees and asylum-seekers across the world, I’d love people to read one of these two important volumes I read this year. “American Refuge” looks at people who have come from all over the world to one town, and “Refugee Wales” tells the stories of Syrian people who have come to South Wales. Equally important would be “The Good Immigrant” and “The Good Immigrant USA

Finally, for people in the UK to understand that people who look the same as them or people who look different to them, depending on the reader, have been here since prehistory, I’d recommend two big books, David Olusoga’s “Black and British” and Hakim Adi’s “African and Caribbean People in Britain“. Olusoga does have a shorter version aimed at younger people which is comprehensive, too, and there was an interesting TV series.

Three books that opened my eyes in different ways and one and a selection to change everyone’s world. What did you pick for your week and what books have opened your eyes this year?

Book review – Kamila Shamsie – “Best of Friends”


I’m still gamely working through my September NetGalley reads – I WILL catch up one day! although I’ve realised “African and Caribbean People in Britain” is 688p which is why my progress seems a little slow – and I really enjoyed this one, even though I now feel like I’m coming to the party a bit late. Who can resist a tale of best friends in 1980s Karachi and 2010s London?

Kamila Shamsie – “Best of Friends”

(26 July 2022, NetGalley)

The certainty that whatever happened in the world you would always have this one person, this North Star, this rock, this alter ego who knew your every flaw down to our atoms and who still, despite it all, chose to stand with you and by you through everything that the world had yet to throw at you, every heartache, every disappointment, every moment of darkness. Always this friendship, always its light.

Zahra and Maryam are best friends in Karachi, at school together and sharing (almost) all their thoughts and experiences, yet Maryam can choose to take risks because whatever happens, she’s going to inherit the family business, whereas Zahra’s dad is treading a fine line as a TV presenter who doesn’t want to let his friends down by praising the leader and Zahra needs to behave perfectly in order to get the out she needs. The book and the girls’ long friendship turns out to pivot on one scary night when Maryam tries to take control but actually they get into a difficult situation – but who, in fact, got them into that situation and who took the blame?

I loved the atmosphere of the first section of the book in Karachi, the feeling of fear just averted, of divisions in society and double-think, of either doing what you have to do to get by or making sure you’re doing the right thing, but also of being a teenager, wanting to flirt with boys and sharing a collection of marked up Judith Krantz, etc., novels.

Then we’re in London in 2019 and while Zahra is head of a social justice organisation lobbying the government and trying to help everyone, Maryam is a tech investor who is flirting with the Tories. When her face-recognition app comes up against Zahra’s policy work, we wonder what will happen and whether it will break their tight bond. Relationships are carefully done, there’s diversity woven into every strand of the book, but not in a preachy way, and the differences between those lucky enough to be secure and those living in precarity is brought out beautifully and sensitively. And there’s so much nuance – one girl always waiting for the other, one woman doing so, then near the end, their paths converging at the right point: so cleverly done. Old friends reappear and fates intertwine and it’s fascinating until the last page.

Oh, and it also has the best, most sensitive portrayal of the Covid lockdowns I think I’ve seen so far.

The trees were abundant with leaf once more, the dogs frolicked as though it were any other sprint. People walked, purposeful, veering away from each other and nodding in thanks for this new act of courtesy. The dogs were considered safe by some, so several hands reached out, hoping to brush against silken fur. The rarity of touch.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for giving me access to this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Best of Friends” was published on 23 September 2022

Book review – Keshia N. Abraham and John Woolf – “Black Victorians”


It’s handy that everything I finish this month that’s nonfiction automatically fits into the Nonfiction November category – and so this one from NetGalley does. And yes, I am behind, as this was published in September, and I apologise to the authors and publisher for my lateness. It’s not even Black History Month any more, although obviously I do read Black history throughout the year …

Keshia N. Abraham and John Woolf – “Black Victorians: Hidden in History”

(19 July 2022, NetGalley)

Black Victorians delivered Shakespeare, abolitionist dramas, spirtuals, minstrel songs and classical music. They gave speeches and leactures; they wrote letters, novels, poems, articles and autobiographies. They spearheaded powerful polemics and political movements concerning abolitionism, Black feminism and Pan-Africanism.

These are just a few of the things the authors list in their conclusion to this excellent and fascinating book: Black Victorians were also evident throughout society and different lines of work, appeared in works of art and created them, engaged in religion and “operated both inside and outside the social structures of their time”.

The authors take us through this range of appearances, using primary sources and archives and describing their work digging these out, but perhaps relying a little less on chunks of direct quotation than Gretchen Gerzina does in “Black England” (they acknowledge their debt to her book and there is a little overlap at the beginning of their period / the end of hers but not so much that you can’t happily read both).

So at the start of the book, the authors recall the struggle to find Black people in the historical record when terminology was different or not used; they give the Victorian context before zoning in on individuals. There’s certainly a range, as they pick out inhabitants of Broadmoor like William Brown, protestors like William Cuffay, aristocrats like Sarah Forbes Bonetta (whose descendants are still part of the elite today), artists’ muses like Fanny Eaton, who used people’s easy, glib take on ethnicity to forge a career being painted as all sorts of people, and anti-racist campaigners like the clever Ida B. Wells.

Intersectionality is acknowledged and there’s a positivity and drive to celebrate and reclaim people who were instrumental in stopping cruelties and forming new alliances, such as the Pan-African ones. After looking back over history, the last chapter looks forward to new hopes and independence movements. It’s a great survey and excellent addition to Black history studies. The White author, John Woolf, acknowledges that it might be seen as odd for “a White person to be paid to write Black history” and explains he felt the same when writing on the history of disability as an able-bodied historian: he explains that he and Black expert on the African diaspora and committed Black feminist Keshia Abraham worked collaboratively and from the conviction that to understand British history we need to understand Black history and explains their process.

Thank you to Duckworth Books for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Black Victorians” was published on 15 September 2022.

This was Book 2 for Nonfiction November.

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