In February I try to only read books written by Black authors, for Black history month. However, I hadn’t properly prepared this year and I ran out of books and since I don’t live in a town that has a book store and I haven’t joined the library in town yet (and then was sidelined by my broken tailbone) I couldn’t restock. So I read two books by Black authors and one by a white author, for full transparency.
I read this at least once a year if not more, it is the essay version of her TedTalk of the same name, and it’s a crucial reminder of what is really at stake for equality of the sexes. I also love her TedTalk, The Danger of a Single Story.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. This book languished on my TBR for a while and I’m really mad at myself about it now because it is soooo good. We follow Emira Tucker, a young Black women living in Philadelphia who is very worried about disappointing her family because they have all had Real Jobs, skilled jobs, and she is working as a babysitter for a white woman, Alix Chamberlain. Alix is a successful author, mom to two, and wife to a news anchor who recently moved to Philly from New York and is having a hard time adjusting. She is also having a hard time adjusting to motherhood, hence hiring Emira.
One night Emira is out at a friend’s birthday party when she gets a panicked call from Alix asking if Emira can come take the oldest daughter, two-year old Briar, to get out of the house while the police come after a rock gets thrown through their window. Except this is just the beginning of a bad night, as while Emira and her friend are at the grocery store, the cops are called and Emira is questioned for kidnapping Briar, she is eventually allowed to call the Chamberlains and Mr. Chamberlain runs down the street to the grocery store and reports to police that Emira is their babysitter and they asked her to take Briar out of the house. After Emira leaves the grocery store a tall, young, cute white man runs after her and says he recorded the whole encounter and emails it to her, just in case she ever wants to do anything with it.
This book is so interesting because of how well it demonstrates how white people can harm Black people insidiously. Alix is so desperate for Emira to think she is cool and interesting and not racist that she blows up her whole life. And that young man with the video is so intent on being part of Black communities that it comes across as fetishization, even if he can’t see it.
The Girl from Guernica by Karen Robards. This book was incredible. It tells the story of the bombing by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on behalf of the surging Nationalist forces raging civil war across Spain that led to the dictatorship of Generallisimo Francisco Franco of the town of Guernica. We meet Sibi and her family in Guernica, where her mother is from, where they have been separated from their German scientist father for a few months, under the guise of caring for their dying Grandmother, and then burying her. We meet Sibi on April 25, 1937. The town is having a festival, pretending they don’t notice the fleeing government troops retreating from the Whites, as the Nationalist forces were known then. Everyone is pretending except Sibi, who goes up to some of the troops and asks what they are doing, where they are going.
The next day, Sibi and her sisters are on their way to the bakery where their mother works, with some of the sisters running ahead when they hear the planes. At first they found shelter, but then the gun planes come. The youngest sister, scared runs away from one of the other sisters, and Sibi watches as one sister is cut down by planes she knows. Planes she knows are German because she knows her father has worked on them. Planes she can identify down to the model, pilots so low to the ground they couldn’t not know they were killing children. Later as she and two of her sisters are rescued by American “military attachés” and gotten to Bilbao, where they are scooped up by their Father and rushed back to Berlin, saving one sister’s life with the medical care she can receive there.
However, the whole world has learned of the role Nazi Germany (although it wasn’t yet known to be Nazi Germany), played in Guernica, the total destruction of a defenseless town, and the Nazi government knows that seventeen-year old Sibi can bear witness. They have Sibi tell a bald-faced lie to the international press, a lie both she has no choice but to tell, it may be early days of the Nazi regime, but even at seventeen she knows the only way to stay alive, and save her family is to tell it and keep telling it for years. However, it is enraging her and when one of the handsome American military attachés shows back up in Berlin, she talks him into letting her pass secrets of her Father’s scientific work, and later military work for years.
This is a wonderful story of one of the most senseless and brutal attacks leading up to World War II, Spain during that time is often forgotten about, because they stayed out of World War II for the most part. But they stayed out of it because they were being actively overtaken by a brutal nationalist, borderline Fascist, dictator who was in place until 1975. To this day, Spain bears the scars of Franco and we are now nearly 60 years on.
That’s it for books in February. I really want to read Babel by R.F. Kuang, but I’m trying to save it for AAPI awareness month, but I don’t know if I’ll make it. That I find is the hardest part of trying to follow rules when reading, like I could have save Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (which I adored) for February, but instead I devoured it the moment I bought it in December, because I was excited to read it. Reading books whenever I want to has been essential to getting me to read more as I recovered from university and grad school.
What are your favourite books by Black authors? Bonus points if they aren’t about Black pain and suffering.
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