Book review – Sara Novic – “True Biz”


A really interesting novel from NetGalley here about the D/deaf community in the US – not an area I knew much about, either there or over here (I would LOVE some recommendations on books, fiction or non-fiction, on the D/deaf community in the UK as I’ve had trouble locating anything but expensive academic works but I know they must be out there). I did check with a friend who has experience with the D/deaf community in the UK and confirmed that many of the issues are similar to those in the US, the only difference being that the NHS provides cochlear implants and the relevant training and support, where basic US health insurance gives implants without support, from the book. We’re onto books I’ve finished in May now, although this was an extra one I picked up in March and published in April.

Sara Novic – “True Biz”

(25 March 2022 – NetGalley)

We meet February, the head teacher of a school for the deaf in a relatively run-down American city, the hearing child of deaf parents and bilingual in English and sign language, and Charlie, a teenager who’s transferred to the school after sinking at a mainstream school, de-languaged by the installation of a cochlear implant that’s never worked properly, without the accompanying high-intensity therapy that’s needed to navigate the world with one, while not having been allowed to learn sign language. Now she and her dad are learning ASL at night school community classes run at the school, while her mother still refuses to learn. Charlie and the other teenagers have the usual preoccupations with classes, lessons, friendships and relationships, all mediated through the various bits of tech that a person with a hearing disability need – from video phones to flashing alarm clocks to new apps.

The school is under threat and February’s relationship with her wife Mel deteriorates as she holds this knowledge to herself. Meanwhile, her mother, who is living with them at the start of the book, is becoming more overwhelmed with dementia: will a care home living with an old deaf friend of hers help? I loved that Feb just happens to be gay, just as Charlie’s roommate Kayla just happens to be Black – although their characteristics do throw up plot points through the book. I particularly appreciated learning about Black ASL and its origins and differences from ASL.

This was not the only learning point. The book is full of sign language lessons and exercises from presumably a textbook they are learning from themselves – although at one point, associated with a part of the story where Charlie is engaging in various risky drug and sex behaviours with her anarchopunk sometime high school boyfriend, we get an awful lot of interesting signs for various sexual activities (don’t look at these too closely while being a visual learner, as they will become engrained in your mind forever!). I liked the way Charlie’s experience of spoken and signed language is conveyed to us with dashes where she can’t understand a word, and signed communication is written in italics, spoken in plain type. The history of ASL is covered in boxes (I think this book would work better as a physical book than an e-book, actually, in layout terms) and current issues, like the apparent wish to eradicate D/deafness and its culture by implanting all babies or genetically engineering it out of them, and issues there around class and race, are explored through the characters’ lives and experiences.

I wanted this book to end on a more positive note, and was sure it would when a certain plot point happened. However, all is not light and positivity in the D/deaf community as regards culture and education, so this is more realistic. There were lovely points, for example when Charlie finally gets an interpreter in her implant appointments when she can understand enough ASL, and her dodgy high school boyfriend makes an effort to sign and be lip-read and is careful around consent. The different experiences of different kinds of people are explored with care and understanding. The author’s note thanks the Deaf community, of which she is part, and lists real schools that have already closed.

Thank you to Little, Brown for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “True Biz” was published on 21 April 2022.

Here’s a great review by Grab The Lapels, who has been immersed in ASL and Deaf culture for the past year and gives a view on the book from that valuable perspective.

Book review – Sairish Hussain – “The Family Tree”


I had been pretty desperate to pull a real-life, physical book from my TBR, as I have been terribly guilty of only reading physical review or challenge books and NetGalley ebooks recently. And how glad I am that I took this one off, such a good story, if a traumatic read at times, and so absorbing. I apparently bought this on a pre-order in the autumn of 2020 and it turned up slightly unexpectedly in November of that year – I have at least now read all of the four books I acquired then.

Sairish Hussain – “The Family Tree”

(27 November 2020)

Saahil spoke of success as thought it was waiting around for him like a faithful pet dog. It would come rushing to him as soon as he whistled. He’d worked hard enough for it and more importantly, Saahil wanted it badly enough. (p. 85)

This is the second book I’ve read recently (“Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?” being the other) where the author has written in an author’s note that they wanted to write the book they wanted to read, where they saw themselves represented. In Hussain’s case, she’s written a great book about Pakistani Muslims in a Northern British town which has not one arranged marriage plot or row about headscarves or any other stereotypical plot point. What it is is a fresh, approachable, well-researched and at times visceral portrayal of an ordinary family going through events that could happen to anyone.

We open with Amjad caring for his baby daughter, Zahra after his wife’s death in childbirth. He wraps her in his wife’s beautiful pashmina shawl, with its image of a tree with birds fluttering around and in it, and this shawl will see us through the next 500-odd pages. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but we watch Amjad doing his best, helped by his mum and his best friend Harun and Meena, who step in to help and support the little family, completed by Amjad’s son Saahil and Harun and Meena’s son Ehsan, Saahil’s best friend. We watch the kids growing up, close as anything, and then Saahil and Ehsan are finishing university and going for a night out which for the one gobby, handsome boy and the other quieter lad will change their lives forever.

Bringing in themes of addiction, revenge, homelessness and betrayal, we watch events slowly unfold for another decade, but secrets will always come out, people who have gone away can almost never stay away, and various characters will have to decide whether or not to forgive.

The family drama is set against the changing times in the country. Zahra has never really known the UK before 9/11, as she’s eight when the attacks occur, and she becomes an ardent feminist and highly politicised, writing a provocative blog that she knows will be undermining her opportunities to work as an investigative journalist for the BBC – will she get any chances? Her cousins in Birmingham don’t think so, with their middle son offering a vignette of the institutional racism of job applications.

I loved the main and supporting characters, Ammi with her lack of English and range of colourful swearwords, Libby, Zahra’s best friend, and Ken, an older White bloke who comes into their lives and provides an unexpected strength to them (I also liked the White characters being the side-kicks). Having Ken in the mix, as well as Zahra and Saahil’s university friends, allows Hussain to demonstrate learning points and microaggressions without making it laboured or didactic. I liked how one character is shown regaining dignity through his religion, while mosque is a central point for Amjad and different kinds of imam are shown.

I’m glad the current upswell in publishing of works by Global Majority People is continuing and allowing writers like Sairish Hussain to write what they have wanted to read for a long time and give representation to others in their communities. A genuinely suspenseful, heartfelt and moving first novel, this is a good and recommended read.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 2/41 – 39 to go.

Yet more Another Bookish Beck Book Serendipity : this was the second book in quick succession (the other being “Blessed is the Daughter …“) to mention Crimewatch. I can only think this is an example of Baader-Meinhof Syndrome (you see something once and it’s suddenly everywhere) although I really can’t think of Crimewatch being mentioned anywhere else recently!

Book review – Lizzie Damilola Blackburn – “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?”


The seventh out of eleven books I had to read from NetGalley which are out this month (as of writing and publishing this review, I’m in the middle of two more so haven’t done quite as badly as I feared, although the two remaining ones are substantial works of non-fiction). This is another excellent debut novel; I’ve been so lucky to read a few really good ones recently, thanks to NetGalley.

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn – “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?”

(18 October 2021)

I’ve never been a loquacious person, but once I start talking it’s hard to stop. It’s as though someone has reached into a bathtub and pulled out the plug, and now all the murky, dirty water is whirling beyond my control.

Yinka is 31 and, at the moment, she has a job in the operations department of an investment bank. She split up with her last boyfriend a good while ago but no one has come along in the meantime. When her cousin announces her engagement and her mum and aunties keep praying – out loud, in public – for her to find a husband (or, even more importantly, a “huzband”, one approved of by said mum and aunties and preferably put forward by one of them), she formulates a plan. Soon she’s busy eschewing chicken shops and pretending she can cook Nigerian food, casually “borrowing” her best friend’s clothes and, in short, pretending to be who she isn’t. When things start to go wrong, she’s still bluffing, this time to her friends as well as her family. What’s left to divert from her usual ways – oh, drinking and messing around on men’s sofas – because Yinka’s a Christian and she doesn’t believe in getting drunk and sex before marriage. Is it time for her friends – with her White workmates and her Black best friend joining up against her – to stage an intervention? Can she pull herself back from the brink?

I’ve seen some Nigerian and Nigerian British bloggers expressing disappointment with this book as showing a stereotyped view of Nigerian British people – especially the older generation, with its leagues of aunties demanding respect. I am of course in no way qualified to discuss this judgement, and it’s obviously a valid one if it’s made from inside the community this book describes. I would say that as a non-Nigerian British reader, I certainly didn’t think any less of the characters or of the Nigerian British community for real having read this book, which I think a load of negative stereotypes would risk doing. The aunties chimed with my reading of books by South Asian writers, also prone to them, and the characters felt really well-differentiated to me, with different motives and outcomes, so not a homogeneous whole, and you could see why they acted as they did. And I loved so much about this book …

I loved that Yinka’s Christianity was shown as a strong point and a good thing, not something to be chipped away at. A good lot of the characters volunteered at an outreach centre for the homeless and, while that was a plot device to have them interact, too, it felt authentic – and men took on caring roles there, too. I loved her friends and her sister, and the way they showed different ways to be and to be successful in career and family terms. I really loved that there was an aromantic character – and that they explained the difference from asexuality and were left space to be their own self. There was LGBTQI representation in the gay workmate and his stable relationship, too, just there, being happy, no trauma and drama. I loved how Yinka’s colleagues modelled how to be friends with her, listening to what she said and buying her gifts that carefully reflected her culture. I loved that it’s more than a rom-com, that her friends and friendships and cousins are more important than any man.

I especially loved that it was set around New Cross, Peckham and other bits of South London I know well (although now, when they’re a bit more fancy – Yinka is not wrong when she’s surprised to find a Costa full of hipsters on Peckham High Street). It also has a lovely description of the therapeutic relationship as Yinka struggles to tell her dark-skinned counsellor about the colourism she’s experienced. Blackburn almost pushes her behaviour too far, as well: we see her silencing a celebration and bemoaning that no one supports her, and she can be very unlikeable, but in my opinion, Blackburn pulls that back from the brink.

Now we’ve got to the nub about running round South London as a young Black woman and exploring therapy – is this another “Queenie”, then? No, it’s not – and is there not room for more than one novel about young Black women running around South London, just as we have lots of books about middle-class, artistic, White families or Irish millennials. Let’s celebrate and make room for more books about more kinds of people. Another excellent debut novel and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Thank you to Penguin for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband” is published today, 31 March 2022.

Another Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment: this is the third novel in a row that has portrayed a (very positive) therapeutic relationship. I’m pretty sure not all the novels I read feature someone going to see a therapist or counsellor, but who knows!

Book review – Erika L. Sanchez – “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”


The sixth out of eleven books to read from NetGalley this month (and yes, I’m aware it’s the 27th and I’m not going to do it; I am part-way through both “Yinka …” and “An African in Greenland” at the moment so I think I’ve done OK). This is another excellent debut novel; I’ve been so lucky to read a few really good ones recently, thanks to NetGalley.

Erika L. Sanchez – “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”

(6 Feb 2022)

“I’m from Chicago, I like books, pizza, and David Bowie. My favorite color is red. Your turn.”

“But where are you from from?”

“I’m from Chicago, I just told you.”

“No, what I I mean is … Forget it.” Connor looks embarrassed.

“You mean you want to know my ethnicity. What kind of brown I am.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Connor smiles apologetically.

“I’m Mexican. You could’ve just asked, you know?” I can’t help but smirk. “I prefer it when people are straightforward.”

“Yeah, I see your point. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s cool. What about you, though?” Where are you from? What are you into?”

“Umm … Evanston, burgers, and drums.”

“But where are you from from?”

Connor laughs. “I’m a typical American mutt – German, Irish, Italian and-“

“Wait, wait” Let me guess. Your great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess.”

“No, I was going to say Spanish.”

“Ah yes, our conquerors. And your favorite color?”

The book opens notably with our heroine, Julia, looking at the body of her sister, Olga, who was the perfect Mexican daughter, killed by a car in their hometown of Chicago, travelling from the community college back home, where she helped their mum cook and clean and also do her cleaning jobs outside the home.

Julia is very different. She’s a writer, and she’s keen to break away and go to a big college in New York or another city. While her best friend Lorena seems happy with her life obsessed with boys and not wanting to move away, Julia wants more, although Lorena’s path is equally validated, reminding me of the three boys in “Good Intentions“. When she realises there might have been something they didn’t know to Olga’s seemingly quiet life, she tries to work out what was going on; her geographical world also starts to shift slightly as she meets her first boyfriend, Connor and starts hanging out in his more middle-class neighbourhood.

When a crisis hits and is sent home to her grandmother in Mexico, she learns more about the mum she clashes with, once a rebellious teenager herself, and her dad’s secret artistic leanings. She also learns more about just how their journey across the border played out. But will that change her need to escape from her family life in Chicago, or will her time out of school affect her college chances?

The book is subtly done; in the mental health outpatients’ unit, Julia learns about different ways to cope and has a role model in the form of her counsellor; while Connor offers to help her hack into Olga’s laptop, she manages it on her own; Julia’s poverty and their inequity is shown nicely when she can’t afford lunch on a trip out while he plans on wasting money on amusing thrift-store purchases; and not all secrets are told, while characters do come to understand one another better.

There’s a list of mental health resources, an interview with the author and readers’ group questions in the back of the book, and America Ferrera is making it into a Netflix series, so plenty of extras; I think it would do well as a book group read and extends beyond the YA audience.

Thank you to Oneworld Publications for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” was published on 3 March 2022.

A couple of Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moments centred around this novel. In this book and the previous one I read, “Duane’s Depressed” we get details of the therapeutic relationship with a psychotherapist. More surprisingly and notably, this one, “Duane” and my next read, Richard King’s “The Lark Ascending” all have mentions of Thoreau, perhaps more surprising here where he pops up as someone the heroine has read about. Last one, which I might as well include – Richard King talks about both Margaret Atwood and her environmentalism in general and her championing of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and I’ve just read Atwood’s chapter on that very book in her new collection of essays.

Book review – Richard King – “Brittle with Relics: A History of Wales 1962-1997” #Dewithon22


I’s taken me a while to read and review this special and important book: I didn’t want to rush it, wanted to give it my full attention and respect, and I found it incredibly moving in parts, too. Although I didn’t come into existence until 10 years through its timeline, and didn’t come into political consciousness until the mid-80s, I remember the miners’ strike very well, and the Greenham Common protests, both covered in depth here.

Even though I provided administrative support on this book and have known about its existence, concepts and contributors for a long time now, it still surpassed my expectations when I held and read the finished item.

Richard King – “Brittle with Relics: A History of Wales 1962-1997”

(1 February 2022, from the publisher)

“This is a history of a nation determined to survive during crisis, while maintaining the enduring hope that Wales will one day thrive on its own terms”. (p. 8)

King takes the immediate and up-to-date voices of around a hundred Welsh people who have been active in various forms of culture and politics over the last third of the twentieth century and beyond, and weaves them into a seamless narrative that brings us from the 1960s gathering of momentum in the Welsh language movement, agitating for equality between Welsh and English in the country and taking part in specifically non-violent protests (although there were also the holiday cottage burnings, also not causing harm to life and still never clearly resolved), to the referendum on and vote for a new Welsh Assembly (the Senedd). He intersperses extracts of the participants’ words from long and detailed interviews with historical interpolations, making the context and ramifications clear while leaving the stage free for the individual voices. Making it an oral history is a masterstroke, and the way he has taken sections on each theme and put the voices into dialogue with each other gives a stunning immediacy and authority to the book as a whole.

After a note on translations being well-nigh impossible to create directly and a list of the voices with notes on who they are (local councillors to Lord Kinnock and Leanne Wood; Michael Sheen and Rhys Ifans; men who were down the mines and women who protested at Greenham Common; folk musicians and the peerless wonder that is the late David R. Edwards, founder of Datblygu to widely known pop musicians; couples, parents and children), noting the spaces left by people no longer with us or those whose reliability of memory was self-describedly failing, King opens the book with his own Easter journey to tend family graves in the Amman Valley, looking out over the chapel and down a traditional mining valley, considering the industrial disasters and the neat terraces, concentrating in on the miners’ institute and what those organisations meant to the communities they were in. He fills us in on the background to the events in the book, starting with Saunders Lewis’ radio speech, ‘Tynged yr Iaith’ (The Fate of the Language), warning that Cymraeg faced extinction, along with the way of life and culture it represented. He explains the twin threads of the Welsh Language Movement and the crisis across Britain, but seen especially in Wales, of traditional industries and employment patterns. On the former, he’s careful to state his position:

“The history of the relationship between Cymru and Cymraeg, between Wales and its language, has most usually been told in the mother tongue. To present the history of the Welsh language during the period covered in this book in English is an act of faith: it is one not entered into lightly.” (p. 8)

We’re then on a roughly chronological journey through the period, although some themed sections such as that on the Women’s March to Greenham common and subsequent protesting take a longer section of history and overlap in the time line. It took me quite a long time to read the book as it was often a very emotional read, the participants’ individual voices interacting, backing each other up, arguing, talking about someone then having their own words pop up. There are heart-breaking sections and there are amusing parts – veteran campaigner Ffred Ffransis buying a clapped-out car that wouldn’t go up the hills out of Aberystwyth in order to park it to protest against tax discs being in English only, only to find the police ignored it for a month.

The long section on the miners’ strike was brilliantly done, with so many voices and making sure the women who were politicised and supported the miners and their families were fully represented (this section also pleasingly has the events that were described in the lovely film, Pride, mentioned). Putting Arfon Evans’ highly emotionally charged description of the return to the pit at Maerdy right at the end of that chapter, after the other returns had been discussed, was a rightful twist that had me weeping. Cleverly, King lightens the mood a little in the next chapter looking at the Welsh language music movement (and others who did not sing in Welsh, and those who pushed against traditionally seen Welsh values) with a mention of John Peel’s influence on spreading Welsh music across Britain including a packed gig all the way over in Harlow, curated by Attila the Stockbroker, that cheered.

The contrast between the two independence referendums was very interesting (one resounding no, one just yes, politicians doing their usual thing, leaflets mysteriously never manifesting, etc.) and there’s another book to be written on the contrasts between Scotland and Welsh independence movements and campaigning, only touched on lightly here, for reasons of space, I’m sure. The last word is given to Michael Sheen, eloquent and poetic, looking back at Wales and into the future in a powerful paragraph.

The epilogue explains how the Senedd continued being developed, its values and the phenomenon that people still didn’t really see what it did – until the pandemic came along and

That Wales could operate independently of Westminster was noted both by its own population and a London government animated by patriotism and the attendant manufacturing of divisive grievances. (p. 501)

And the book ends, after the Acknowledgements, within which I’m desperately proud to appear, with an in memoriam to folk lost during the writing of it.

An absolutely vital resource, something that hasn’t been written before, certainly not in this breadth and depth. It’s lively and never stodgy, thanks to the way it’s put together, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good, solid read on community, politics with a small and large p, industrial and social history and the history of the proud and distinct country of Wales.

I was sent a copy of the book by the author, via his publisher, in thanks for having contributed to its production and to review. All opinions are my own.

This was my first review for Reading Wales 2022.

Book review – Symeon Brown – “Get Rich or Lie Trying”


Well, I’m not doing too badly with my humungous NetGalley TBR, having read two and a half of the books in this image at the time of writing up this review. This one about the new economy of influencers caught my eye back in December and was an interesting read, if at times shocking almost to the point of distress. I do wish I’d read it before I had a job transcribing an interview with the author but we can’t all be perfectly prepared at all times, can we?!

Symeon Brown – “Get Rich or Lie Trying”

(9 December 2021, NetGalley)

I met streamers, marketers, tech entrepreneurs, sex workers, dropshippers and fraudsters. I saw how easily ambition transforms itself into deceit online and how social media has emerged as the most exploitative frontier of late-stage capitalism. I heard extraordinary tales of exploitation, delusion, dishonesty and chutzpah. And the more people I encountered, the more I started to see how much this brave new world had in common with the one we all know so well.

Rather than being yet another skate over why we have no attention any more, Internet addiction, the cult of celebrity, etc., this book takes a deep dive into the new culture of the “influencer” (loosely described as someone who uses their online presence and makes income by getting other people to engage with or buy something), allying it with a critique of (modern) capitalism, with the work of a huge mass of labour enriching the owners of the systems within which they exist, whether that be investment organisations with no real staff, the big social media platforms, so-called empowering hubs which host people effectively selling their bodies (well, everyone in this book is doing that) or retail empires preying on the desperate in both manufacture and sales.

There was so much I didn’t know about here, having assumed it would be mainly about people selling products and their own bodies, especially the people who livestream their lives and those of others, often with horrible results. First we meet young women who are basically encouraged to buy cheap, mass-produced clothes (made by exploited female workers, often undocumented, in illegal sweatshops; it struck me though it wasn’t made explicit that daughters could be selling clothes their mothers made), make “haul” videos to promote them, thus giving the clothing retailer free publicity, in the aim of getting more cheap clothes at no cost which will help them give the illusion of wealth and luxury which millennials and Generation Y people have been told they should have.

But it gets worse. Conforming to a new standard of beauty which involves an appearance of having a multiple heritage (which might in fact be performative Blackness, performed by a White woman) and a body shape never found in nature which replies on breast and buttock implants, desperate women resort to dodgy plastic surgery, often by undocumented surgeons, with no redress if (when) it goes wrong, and, if they’re “lucky” various bits paid for by the surgery companies … which then market to other women via them. It shocked me here that the companies don’t go after very popular women, but women with a small following of women like them who they will be able to sell to.

The financial scammers were hard to understand logically because I’m not highly numerate, but involve pyramid schemes, as do most things. The livestreamers were harder to understand morally, as they seem to involve bros doing pranks and saying revolting racist and sexist things to get tips online and make money, often from humiliating people. This lead into a heartbreaking portrait of a man who basically has a better life allowing people to insult him with racial slurs than before, when he was homeless, as he can make his rent now. In another section, we are asking whether it’s safer for women to perform sex work online (can’t be physically attacked, etc., but are never off-duty and pay a high price in terms of emotional labour …). What world IS this???

Brown does a really good job at explaining all the pyramid schemes and the likes, relating it to capitalism, the neoliberalism around markets, the cult of celebrity and luxury and a sort of identity politics which has people faking their race to “pass” the other way from how we’d normally imagine it. I can’t really work out which parts are more shocking: there’s a whole scenario where people claim to be activists or to be empowering people but are really selling – no, hawking – half-baked theories and crap books. Where there’s a way of making money or a movement, there’s a scam, I suppose, but it was pretty grim reading, and there’s only worse to come, apparently. He brings it right up to date with the boom in opportunities to “work from home” spread on Facebook etc., which are still nothing but pyramid schemes, breeding out of control during lockdown.

It did make me think about my own Internet personas, which I think are fairly realistic (I remember being infuriated on something like Second Life when I couldn’t make an avatar to represent my true self). I profit from my online presence only to the extent that I get quite a lot of free books in return for honest reviews, and recently received a small hamper of cheese. I believe I still have my feet on the ground, but for digital natives younger than me, this is a scary world with seemingly no end.

Thank you to Atlantic Books for choosing me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Get Rich or Lie Trying” was published on 3 March 2022.

Book review – Kalwant Bhopal – “White Privilege”


Thank goodness Kaggsy and Lizzy extended their ReadIndies challenge to the middle of this month: this is my fifth read for it. It’s also my oldest book on the main run of acquisitions in my TBR Challenge (I have some older randoms) so it felt good to have it out of March’s TBR photo finally (I read this in February). I bought this book in August 2020, apparently following a policy in buying diverse books of “buying some serious, hard-hitting books full of statistics and info and some lighter ones” and I’d been recommended it by a Facebook group I was in at the time (I think an anti-racist one that descended into virtue signalling and finger pointing … ).

Kalwant Bhopal – “White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society”

(20 August 2020)

The main argument of this book s that within a neoliberal context policy making in its attempt to be inclusive has portrayed an image of a post-racial society, when in reality vast inequalities between white and black and minority ethnic communities continue to exist. Policy making has exacerbated rather than addressed the inequalities which result from professes of racism, exclusion and marginalisation in which white identities are prioritised and privileged above all others.” (p. 1)

In this academic title (really looking like one I’d have been putting on course booklists back in my university library days) dating from well before the big Black Lives Matter movement and publishing push, Bhopal looks carefully at the evidence for white privilege in the fabric of British and American society, looking mainly at education, work and wealth and finding that we are far from being the “post-racial” society we claim to be.

White privilege is, as we probably all know by now, the fact that by dint of being White, someone is the mainstream that other races are “othered” from and that whatever their level of education, poverty, etc., their world is not made worse by the colour of their skin. That’s very reductive and basic I know. But White privilege means I might not see middle-aged, childless women represented on the telly and in books, but I will easily be able to find White people represented, for example. Or I’ll find someone who looks like me to vote for (if I want to) and I won’t be singled out for my colour in a work meeting or asked to represent all White people with my behaviour and views.

Bhopal interrogates statistics and finds institutional racism still alive and kicking in universities, schools and workplaces, looking at the effects of that on income and living standards across people’s lives. She does look at intersectionality to (as in the combined effects of someone’s race and gender, race and class, or race and gender and class, etc.). What did feel slightly odd was the US-based bits, which did seem a bit bolted on, maybe an editorial decision to increase the book’s market. Education works differently in the US so the paragraphs in the university chapter didn’t really gel, and some chapters don’t have a US section at all. I think she could have left it at the UK stuff and still had a good and useful book.

It’s notable in this pre-pandemic read that there’s not much about health inequalities – I’m not sure those had been studied so much by the time she was researching and writing in presumably around 2016-17, and maybe one good thing coming out of the pandemic was the increased research output on ethnicity-based health outcomes. She does look at Traveller communities in that respect, when pointing out there are “acceptable” White and “non-acceptable” White communities, a point that echoes things I’ve read about the way some communities in the US had to lobby to “become” White and the work that recent writers have done on unpicking the conceptions and invention of race.

Like so many books, it’s slightly unfortunately heavy on the descriptive statistics and lighter on what can be done to address/redress the situation. Bhopal states that universities need to address the inequalities experience by their “black and minority ethnic” students and staff and understand that racism does exist in them, and in the final chapter talks more about this and about running unconscious bias training at least for recruiters. It’s interesting to consider whether she would have felt empowered to be bolder in her demands post the upsurge in publishing on race (also, would she have felt she had to include a personal note about the racism she and her family experienced, or would that have been more woven into the narrative?).

A decent, if academic, work that is still relevant today.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Policy Press, who are an imprint of Bristol University Press and describe themselves as publishing “work that seeks to understand social problems, promote social change and inform policy and practice. Our core aim is to improve the day-to-day lives of people who need it most.”

This was officially my fifth ReadIndies read.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 10/53 – 43 to go.

Book review – Marina Sitrin and Colectiva Sembrar – “Pandemic Solidarity”


I’ve done quite poorly with my lovely pile for Kaggsy and Lizzy’s ReadIndies challenge: this is only my fourth read for the challenge, but fortunately they’ve extended it until the middle of March, so I have time to squeeze in a few more. It fits into my TBR Challenge, too, at least. This excellent book from Pluto Press showcases community activist responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and this seemed a good time to read about it. I originally spotted this on Lovely Bookshelf’s list of Books for Leftists during Non-Fiction November 2020 and bought it in April 2021 among a lot of other books but I do cheerfully note that I have read 11 out of the 16 books featured in that post (and I’ve just created a NetGalley collection on my Kindle so I can see the poor neglected e-books from other sources that languish on it …).

Marina Sitrin and Colectiva Sembrar (eds.) – “Pandemic Solidarity: Mutual Aid During the Covid-19 Crisis”

(24 April 2021, bought with money Ali gave me at Christmas)

The fact we have created a web of solidarity that is able to reach the most vulnerable and precarious during this crisis – it’s a great achievement. (p. 153)

Rushed out to be published in June 2020, this takes a look at endeavours from around the globe inspired by the very beginning of the pandemic; the editor and her circle took a sort of snowballing approach through their networks to reach out to people who might want to contribute and submit pieces or interviews about their or people in their networks’ work. It’s very determinedly non-hierarchical and as equitable in what and who it shows as it can be, extending to putting America (or Turtle Island, as North America is known by many of its Indigenous inhabitants) and Europe towards the end of the book, and covers such a huge range of projects so it feels very inspiring and also bittersweet.

I suppose my reading of this felt a little bit like when I read Mass Observation archive books or novels set in the two world wars and written before they had finished. There’s an air of expectation and hope that feels poignant: people often comment how the best has been brought out in communities – which it was, of course, at that time – and how this is likely to last, and I’m not sure whether we haven’t fractured back into individualism as things have gone back to “normal”.

The efforts range from helping elders who are in lockdown to people with disability’s reaction and activism through food banks and radio stations, pet care and keeping in touch by phone. The countries covered range from South Korea to Italy to Mexico, Argentina, Greece, Kurdistan – and it’s very notable that the basis for the UK work seems here to be on community groups rather than the fierce, protective, left-wing activism in many other countries, where disparate groups banded together to give a combined response.

A worthwhile work of record and history and a book to warm the heart, although reading it now raises more questions than it would perhaps have done at the time of publication.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Pluto Press, who describe themselves as “An independent publisher of radical, left‐wing non­‐fiction books. Established in 1969, we are one of the oldest radical publishing houses in the UK, but our focus remains making timely interventions in contemporary struggles.”

This was officially my fourth ReadIndies read (one of them was a book published by Canongate I reviewed for Shiny New Books, which I talked about on Tuesday).

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 9/53 – 44 to go.

Book review – Maya Angelou – “Mom and Me and Mom”


Having finished the last volume of Angelou’s full autobiography, “A Song Flung up to Heaven“, in December, Meg and Ali and I continued on to this one, the last prose book in our box sets, “Mom & Me & Mom”, published in 2013 and taking a specific view of Angelou and her mother. Ali’s review is here.

Maya Angelou – “Mom & Me & Mom”

(April 2021)

Love heals. Heals and liberates. I use the world love, not meaning sentimentality, but a condition so strong that it may be that which holds the stars in their heavenly positions and that which causes the blood to flow orderly in our veins.

This book has been written to examine some of the ways love heals and helps a person to climb impossible heights and rise from immeasurable depths. (Prologue)

This book specifically takes Angelou’s relationship with her strong and doughty mother and revisits many of the episodes we’ve read in the memoirs before, but often taking a slightly different, and very often more understanding, viewpoint on them, as well as adding in extra scenes from those first 41 years and taking us all the way to her mother’s death, written in the year before her own passing. Vivian comes over as a more sympathetic character; she understands she could not have raised small children, passing Maya and Bailey off to her mother in law to be raised, and acknowledges the strength she showed and passed on to her children. Her and Bailey’s very different relationships with their mother are also highlighted.

There are photographs included in this book, which I don’t remember having seen in the other volumes, which add a lovely touch and also somehow legitimise the words in the book (I’ve seen the other volumes described as fictionalised memoir, not a description I particularly agree with, although of course I don’t know all the facts of her life, but having photos roots it back in truth). It was good to get a glimpse of what happened to Maya after the end of the straight memoirs and it was also lovely to see Vivian’s relationships with her several husbands brought out, including the last one, who seemed to have a lovely fatherly relationship with Maya.

It’s a lovely and lyrical book, and she pays tribute to Vivian’s strength, love and support in a way that doesn’t always come through in the other books (where she’s still strong, but a bit scary, maybe); she describes how she “fills a gap” and protects her automatically. I’m really glad I was able to read this one.

We have a volume of poems next, last in the box-set (then I have a celebration volume and three volumes of essays to read, hooray!). I’m not the biggest poetry reader so I might do one per evening for a while …

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 8/53 – 45 to go!

Book review – Daphne Palasi Andreades – “Brown Girls”


I had seen and heard a lot about this book already when it popped up in my NetGalley emails and I was very pleased to win it back in November. I thought it would be an interesting companion piece to “Wahala“, with the latter about young women of colour in London and this about young women of colour in New York, however, although they are both fresh, new and atmospheric, they’re nothing like each other. I did love them both, though!

Daphne Palasi Andreades – “Brown Girls”

(15 November 2021)

We have been admonished to Study hard! yet have also been told Don’t go far, stay close, stay near, aren’t we good enough for you? We long for more, but keep our dreams to ourselves.

Have you ever read a book that’s written in the first person plural? Nope, me neither. The whole books is written in this way, so cleverly. What a stunning way for a writer to put together her debut – it’s so technically accomplished as well as authentic-sounding, raw, emotional, real and brilliant. When the experiences of the “Brown girls” divide, you might have a few names then we … a few more names, another we … she does not put a foot wrong the whole way through and this is not an easy thing to do (note, I wrote my review of “Open Water” in the second person singular it was written; I couldn’t do the same for this one!).

The Brown Girls of the title are a loose friendship group in Queens, New York (“The dregs of Queens”), starting aged ten around, presumably the turn of the millennium (their mothers are described as having come there in the 1990s) and then presumably stretching into the future, although this is not explicitly described. Where are their families from? Well, when they go to their “motherlands or fatherlands” part-way through the book, they …

… purchase flights to capital cities: Dhaka, Port-au-Prince, Malia, Kingston and Santo Domingo. I n a week, we will fly to Mexico City, Islamabad, Accra, Caracas, Seoul, Damascus, Bogota. Soon, with our own eyes, we will see San Juan, Cairo, Tehran, Beijing, Panama City, Georgetown, New Delhi, and many more places.

They do interact with White people, particularly men, idolising boys like those in White boy bands in their youth, marrying interracially but then maybe drifting back to the boys who look like their first male friends and brothers, and all the microaggressions are detailed, whether from posh families who think they’re charming then ask about the causes of poverty in their country or from lower-class parents who have fought in “Korea, Vietnam, Gulf wars” and want to talk about it; microaggressions about race, about class, about gender. Some of them experience racist or gender violence; they share tales as they still go out into the world, determined not to become trapped like their mothers, getting trapped like their mothers.

There’s a contrast between who leaves and who stays behind, and with one girl who stays behind forever, always her age at her death but present in everyone’s dreams. They start to interrogate colonialism when they visit their parents’ homelands and find hospitals and schools “named after people whose life missions, they believed, were to uplift savage nations”. And all life is covered – life and death, for while I will admit I found the opening chapters with the young women finding their places in the world, working out their sexualities and their genders, daring to dare, the book goes on beyond their deaths, more and more lyrical and beautifully written, looking to their daughters and granddaughters.

Although Andreades is the product of writing courses, her work doesn’t read like an exercise, a particular bugbear of mine. Yes, it reads a bit like autofiction, but so many different lives, cultures and experiences are described, it’s not just that. It’s fresh, exciting and moving, and I cannot wait to see what she does next.

Thank you to 4th Estate for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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