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Black History Month Week 1

BLACK HISTORY MONTH WEEK 1

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, we are featuring books that are written by African American and black writers each week.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf
by Marlon James

As with his Man Booker Prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, James’s first foray into fantasy demonstrates epic sweep, an intensely layered structure, and raw if luscious language that pins readers to the page with enough concrete detail to discourage a breezy skim-through. Placed firmly in the genre by its dark magic, unstoppable twists and turns, dangerous kingly aspirations, and imperfect but essential fellow-creature bonding, the narrative is refreshingly distinctive in its grounding in African history and folklore. Its protagonist is the Tracker, a tough-talking loner whose sense of smell leads him to his quarry and here to a momentous task. The opening pages show the Tracker as a young man leaving home both to escape his family and confront his people’s enemies, as he refines his skills, discovers a shocking secret about his parentage, helps a group of children (e.g., Smoke Girl, Giraffe Boy) abandoned for their weirdness as cursed, and meets the sardonic, shapeshifting Leopard , with whom he forms a close but testy relationship. But the journey’s the thing, as the Tracker is later engaged by a slaver to find a kidnapped child, reputedly the son of a North Kingdom elder who riled the king and was slaughtered with his family. In his efforts, the Tracker grudgingly allows himself to be joined by the Leopard , the Moon Witch Sogolon, the perfidious Nyka, and others. As they move through the Darklands and subsequent fraught territories toward the Southern Kingdom, they encounter witches and demons, flesh-eating trolls, splendidly dressed mercenaries, vampires, necromancers, ancient griots, and a wise, magisterial buffalo. References to harsh pansexual encounters often shift events forward, and the entire story is framed as a tale told to an inquisitor, though we are a long way from understanding from whence he came—this is the first in the “Dark Star” trilogy. VERDICT As the Tracker realizes, “The only way forward is through,” and it’s the same for readers. Highly recommended for fantasy lovers who welcome a grand new challenge, as James launches an unglorified if gloriously delivered story that feels eminently real despite the hobgoblins, and for literary readers, eager to see the world—and James’s particular talents—in a new light. [See Prepub Alert, 7/31/18; Editors’ Spring Picks, p. 22.] –Barbara Hoffert (Reviewed 02/01/2019) (Library Journal, vol 144, issue 2, p68)


Girl, Woman, Other
by Bernardine Evaristo

Shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize, Anglo-Nigerian writer Evaristo’s (Mr. Loverman, 2014) courageous and intersectional novel explores Black British identity and unfolds in a single night, or over the course of 100 years, depending on how readers look at it. It opens with the story of Amma, a formerly fringe, lesbian playwright whose newest work, The Last Amazon of Dahomey, opens tonight at London’s National Theatre. Her daughter, Yazz, uber-confident thanks to Amma’s emotionally affirming parenting, goes next, followed by Dominique, Amma’s longtime friend and one-time partner in artistic consciousness- and hell-raising. Following chapters expand the novel’s web three characters at a time (a table of contents lists their names, but it’s exciting to be surprised by the revelation of who will take center stage) until there are 12: 11 women  and 1 nonbinary person. Evaristo uses minimal punctuation and fluid paragraphs for a high-velocity style of exposition. And, oh, what is exposed. Hearing from mothers and their children, teachers and their students across generations, readers might expect that they’ll get to see just what these characters can’t know about one another, but they won’t imagine the dazzling specificities nor the unspooling dramas; they will be entertained, educated, and riveted. — Annie Bostrom (Reviewed 11/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 116, number 5, p17)


Call Me American: A Memoir
by Abdi Nor Iftin

Nor Iftin’s experience was the “gory terrorism” of Mogadishu, Somalia, the setting of Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down. His pastoral parents retreated to the city when drought decimated their herds. A brief period of prosperity soon descended into warfare with Islamic terrorist activity infiltrating the city and affection for American  ways endangering one’s life. Nicknamed “Abdi American ,” the author had a love of Western movies that was dangerous. He quickly parlayed that affinity into learning English fluently and met reporter Paul Salopek, who featured him in a 2009 Atlantic article. Opportunities for public radio reporting generated American  connections that finally led him to resettle in Maine. While focusing on his life in Somalia, the horror and tribulations of his family become explicit. Sadly, the volume ends with President Trump’s stance on immigration, which prevents Nor Iftin from visiting his family in Somalia and them from joining him in America. VERDICT A harrowing success story of escaping terrorism, overcoming government bureaucracy, and experiencing pure luck, this insightful debut yields an inside look at a largely forgotten conflict that continues to rage. –Jessica Bushore (Reviewed 05/01/2018) (Library Journal, vol 143, issue 8, p72)

**MAINE AUTHOR**


The Old Drift
by Namwali Serpell

Serpell’s debut is a rich, complex saga of three intertwined families over the  course of more than a century. The  epic stretches out from a single violent encounter: in the  early 20th century, a British colonialist adopts North-western Rhodesia (now Zambia) as his home, settling in the Old Drift , a settlement near Victoria Falls, where the  colonist gets into a fateful skirmish with a local hotelier. After this, readers first meet Sibilla, the  hotelier’s granddaughter, a woman born with hair covering her body, who runs away to Africa with a man who frequents the  wealthy Italian estate at which her mother is a servant; then, in England, there’s Agnes, the  colonialist’s granddaughter, a rich white girl and talented tennis player who goes blind and falls in love with a student who, unbeknownst to her, is black; and Matha, the  servant’s granddaughter, a spirited prodigy who joins a local radical’s avant-garde activism. In part two, Agnes’s son, Lionel, has an affair with Matha’s daughter, which leads to a confrontation that also involves Naila, Sibilla’s granddaughter. Serpell expertly weaves in a preponderance of themes, issues, and history, including Zambia’s independence, the  AIDS epidemic, white supremacy, patriarchy, familial legacy, and the  infinite variations of lust and love. Recalling the  work of Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez as a sometimes magical, sometimes horrifically real portrait of a place, Serpell’s novel goes into the  future of the  2020s, when the  various plot threads come together in a startling conclusion. Intricately imagined, brilliantly constructed, and staggering in its scope, this is an astonishing novel. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Mar.) –Staff (Reviewed 01/07/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 1, p)