Dosun Adeleye’s Hearts of Clay follows the journey of Grace, a young woman living in the United Kingdom who travels to Nigeria in search of the answer to her life’s mystery. Grace finds herself in some wild situations that test her strength and resolve. While intelligent and independent, Grace’s emotional spirit can get the better of her especially when it comes to love, sex, and secrets.
The author, Dosun Adeleye.
Dosun Adeleye is especially adept at describing her characters; it is clear that she is passionate about writing them. Our main character sets out to find the question to a lifelong question. Not only does she receive her answer but she gets caught up in adventures that are at times thrilling and at times romantic. To keep this review spoiler-free, I will say no more but let the reader discover the excitement and emotion on their own.
I especially appreciated reading from the perspective of a woman caught in several dichotomies: between life in the UK and life in Nigeria, between familial relationships and her own autonomy, between living life as expected or life as she wants. The protagonist is smart yet impulsive; Grace is not perfect and Adeleye ensures we can see ourselves in her, faults and all. Adeleye’s challenging of social stigmas and gender roles in her writing is admirable.
To be honest, I’m not usually into romances or thrillers, so I am a tough sell in these genres. For me the book was a bit unconvincing and rudimentary at times. Despite this, I don’t doubt that many readers will enjoy this book. The story is one of secrets uncovered, one of trust and abandonment, one of obstacles and ambition. From the outrageous twists to the steamy love scenes to the family drama, Hearts of Clay will appeal to those who appreciate adventurous reads and romantic thrillers, especially those in international settings. Recommended.
Welcome to New Reads for the Rest of Us for December 2018!
With these monthly lists, I aim to amplify the books written by those who are historically underrepresented including, but not limited to: womxn, women of color, women from the Global South, women who are Black, Indigenous, dis/abled, queer, fat, immigrants, Muslim, sex-positive, and more. My lists meant to be intersectional, feminist, and trans-inclusive. I also want to highlight books by gender non-conforming people (who may or may not be described by the term “womxn”).
If you’d like to learn more about which books I focus on, see my Review Policy. These are just guidelines and I reserve the right to include (or not!) any books I see fit. I usually add to this list as I learn of others; if you have a suggestion, please share it in the comments below!
So here are the New Reads for the Rest of Us for December 2018. There are so many great titles here, which will you read??
Nazia Kazi’s Islamophobia, Race, and Global Politics is a devastating critique of the prevailing ways that Americans talk about Muslims, especially liberals who apparently mean well. Kazi makes her case elegantly and persuasively; her frustration is palpable and engaging. Anyone who thinks they have something worthwhile to say about Islamophobia in the United States should read this book first.–Arun Kundnani, New York University
“One of the most paradoxical aspects of Cuban history is the coexistence of national myths of racial harmony with lived experiences of racial inequality. Here a historian addresses this issue by examining the ways soldiers and politicians coded their discussions of race in ideas of masculinity during Cuba’s transition from colony to republic.”–Description
Tags: Venezuela, women writers, colonialism, nonfiction
University of New Mexico Press, 336 pages
“This is a book about the links between politics and literacy, and about how radical ideas spread in a world without printing presses. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Spanish colonial governments tried to keep revolution out of their provinces.”–Description
“Poetic, confrontational and radical, Decolonizing Academia speaks to those who have been taught to doubt themselves because of the politics of censorship, violence and silence that sustain the Ivory Tower. Clelia O. Rodríguez illustrates how academia is a racialized structure that erases the voices of people of colour, particularly women.”–Description
Tags: SE Asia, health, reproductive freedom, women writers
Rutgers Univ Press, 244 pages
“An original, comprehensive, and eye-opening account of the unprecedented growth of commercial surrogacy in Southeast Asia. By focusing on the industry’s multiple stakeholders—particularly Thai surrogates who have gestated babies for Australian intended parents—Whittaker writes with ethnographic sensitivity and compassion, while at the same time critiquing the “disruptive industry” within which surrogacy takes place. A must-read for those interested in globalization, biotechnology, and reproductive justice.”–Marcia Inhorn author of Cosmopolitan Conceptions: IVF Sojourns in Global Dubai
Tags: Short stories, women writers, family, historical fiction
Counterpoint, 448 pages
“A young German Jewish refugee in England in the 1940s, a resident of India for two dozen years, and a New Yorker from the mid-1970s until her death in 2013, Jhabvala triangulated her three adopted cultures in the 17 enthralling stories gathered in this sterling retrospective collection. . . . Jhabvala was a spellbinding short story writer of fluid empathy, exceptional cross-cultural insight, and abiding respect for unconventional love . . . This is a richly captivating, revelatory, and important collection.”–Booklist (starred review)
“As a feminist organizer, I’ve been waiting for this collection of essays for years. How do we address and transform violence in non-punitive ways? Ann Russo offers a compelling analysis of how a praxis of accountability can guide us toward some answers to this question. As a scholar-activist, Russo’s insights are drawn from both theory and practice. She has tried on and tried out the ideas she espouses in community with others. The essays are beautifully written and accessible to all. Feminist Accountability is a must read for anyone interested in community accountability practices, anti-violence organizing and transformative justice.”–Mariame Kaba, Founder of Project NIA
“Ellie Kirkland is at loose ends―and not for the first time. Resistant to following the path her parents insist on, she’s been trying out careers like she’s trying on outfits at Banana Republic. Now that her dream of being a journalist is over, Ellie must begin again. And the woman who crushed that very dream is the very woman who just might hold the key to Ellie’s future.”–Description
“Arresting, an explosive portrait of loneliness and isolation. Thick with the atmosphere of… Havana on the cusp of the Cuban thaw, the novel reads like the world’s most poetic anxiety dream, vibrant and stifling. Demanding and unforgettable.”–Kirkus (starred)
“As their friendship blossoms, Beth’s unspoken desire to sell remains the single wedge keeping them apart. Will asking for what she needs cost Beth a chance at a life with Dylan? Perhaps the richest inheritance of all may be a second chance.”–Description
“Diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer at 37, artist Terri Luanna da Silva’s example of living and dying with grace and integrity is an inspiration-not only for the dying, but for anyone aspiring to live with greater mindfulness and authenticity.”–Lauren Mackler, best-selling author of Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness & Transform Your Life
“That women are increasingly on the front lines of war since 9/11 may not surprise readers of this book, but the many ways that women are symbolically enlisted in the promotion and perpetuation of endless global conflict certainly will. This well-written and timely book is essential for students and scholars alike to understand the PR strategies employed to curry favor for war, even as the public sours on American militarism. Unveiling the constructions and contradictions of a kinder, gentler post-feminist war mythology offers all of us a pathway to become ethical witnesses to war narratives, in the hope of ending war and its inhumane consequences.”–Robin Andersen author of A Century of Media: A Century of War
“The book’s topic is superb: the role of black sailors, particularly enslaved or emancipated black sailors, has been woefully understudied. In locating both revolutionary potential and abolitionist inspiration in the insurrectionary activity of black sailors, Warren provides a fresh, exciting new unit of analysis for scholars and students of American literary history. I cannot stress enough how vital and necessary the topic is, and how overlooked it has been.”–Hester Blum, Pennsylvania State University and President of the Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists)
“A counterintuitive feminist history of the new Hollywood that convincingly challenges widely held assumptions about the boys’ club movie brat auteur renaissance. In Liberating Hollywood, Maya Montanez Smukler is remarkably attentive to the industrial as well as sociopolitical histories that made such a new women’s cinema and such a suddenly liberated Hollywood possible.”–Jon Lewis, author of Hard-Boiled Hollywood: Crime and Punishment in Postwar Los Angeles
“This book is a beautiful tribute to Maryellen Bieder, an important and significant scholar of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Spanish narrative by women. The essays in this book—by scholars and writers of several different generations who are also highly esteemed in the same and other areas—expand and continue Bieder’s research to new horizons.”–Sandra J. Schumm author of Mother and Myth in Spanish Novels
Tags: Africa, Ghana, immigration, women writers, education
Lexington Books, 186 pages
“This beautifully written book elucidates the educational trajectories of immigrant children as they confront rigid American systems of race and class, and it documents how parents rely on the ‘network village,’ a transnational network of fellow Ghanaians in New York and Ghana, to provide academic and other types of support and resources for their children. This superb ethnography will appeal to readers interested in immigration and education, anthropology of education, and African diaspora cultural studies.–Lesley Bartlett, University of Wisconsin
“The essays collected this book by Ossa and Lee-Distefano present a formidable addition to Latin American, African, and Asian studies—where the fields converge in vigorous and well-researched conversation with one another.”–Sheridan Wigginton, California Lutheran University
“This new resource assembles 129 Black artists and their magnificent works, highlighting their important contributions to art worldwide. Beginning with the Brooklyn-based artists active during the Works Progress Administration years and continuing with artists approaching their prime today, the collection spans 80 years of art. From highly publicized artists to rising talent, each is tied to Brooklyn in their own way.”–Description
“This book provides an excellent historical overview of crime and violence in the Caribbean. The contributors identify and present many of the forces that contribute to this phenomenon.”–Zelma Henriques, John Jay College
“This book delivers shrewd analyses of a wonderful and quirky range of SF texts. Barclay and Tidwell situate the project brilliantly, and the collection as a whole will illuminate familiar texts anew and add unfamiliar stories to your high-priority reading and screening queues.”–Andrew Hageman, Luther College
Tags: Essays, women writers, #OwnVoices, Africa, African American
Lexington Books, 316 pages
“The essays [in this book] represent a wide spectrum of experiences and viewpoints central to the bicultural Africans/Black experience. The contributors offer poignant and grounded perspectives on the diverse ways race, ethnicity, and culture are experienced, debated, and represented. All of the chapters contribute more broadly to writings on dual identities, and the various ways bicultural Africans/Blacks navigate their identities and their places in African and Diaspora communities.”–Description
“This book offers a theoretically rich survey of directors and films that found international notoriety as well as those that have been little known outside Latin America. It examines the history, institutions, contexts, and practices that have reshaped Latin American cinema under neoliberalism, and it does so in an impressive, intellectually rigorous manner.”–Cacilda M. Rêgo, Utah State University
“A well-researched report about the horror of ‘legal’ child abduction by the state, which deems itself the savior that will elevate the children of what it deems inferior cultures to it’s notion of ‘civilized’ heights. Slay their children, or rob them of their cultural heritage by removal, the end result is genocide!”–Daniel N. Paul, Mi’kmaw Elder
“This fascinating collection of essays provides a rich overview of women’s multiple and diverse contributions to U.S. presidential campaigns. The book’s focus on individual women with prominent roles in the 2016 election reflects an innovative approach that illustrates superbly the complicated and varied ways that gender is at play in contemporary electoral politics.”–Susan J. Carroll, co-author of A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen’s Perspectives on Why Their Presence Matters, Rutgers University
“Through the study of local and global activism, Women, Social Change and Activism: Then and Now engages scholars interested in the artistic, economic, educational, ethical, historical, literary, philosophical, political, psychological, religious, and social dimensions of women’s lives and resistance.”–Description
Tags: Hawaiʻi, politics, US history, women writers, Native American
University of Pennsylvania Press, 312 pages
“The Kingdom and the Republic challenges some of our most basic assumptions about native Hawaiʻi, the encounters between natives and foreigners, and the processes of colonization, upending our expectations of who, in Hawaiʻi, had law and governance, and who was encountering whom.”–Rebecca McLennan, University of California, Berkeley
“One-Dimensional Queer is as clear an account as you could hope to encounter of how race and sexuality came to be understood as separate formations in US history. The resultant mainstreaming of LGBT cultures has been disastrous in terms of seeing our way out of the current crisis we inhabit. Offering solutions as well as critique, Ferguson’s book is destined to be a crucial part of any library of liberation.”–Jack Halberstam, Columbia University
“This important book completely upends the criminal justice conversation. Natapoff documents dark truths about the misdemeanor process-how it forces the innocent to plead guilty, how it disregards basic legal rights, and how it inflicts deep injustice. Her insights inspire both outrage and innovation. Punishment Without Crime provides a terrific new understanding of a flawed criminal system, and it offers a much-needed path toward the fair and just criminal system America deserves. A necessary book for our times.”–Barry Scheck, cofounder of the Innocence Project
I’ll add more titles as I find them. What are you reading this month??
Ogenna Ojukwu’s debut novel, The Teacher, the Seamstress and the Pianist, is a multilayered story of intertwining lives and the effect that love and loss in the past can have on the present.
The story takes place in Lagos, Nigeria, in the early 2000s and centers on Onyeka, the teacher. Onyeka is married to Arum but after years of trying to have a child, to no avail, their marriage begins to suffer. Onyeka instead cares for her nephew, Anieto, and Chidiebere, her housemaid.
But this was before Chidiebere and Anieto began living with her, before she would see them as the children she never had, before they would resuscitate in her, a renewed urging to live.
The author, Ogenna Ojukwu.
Chidiebere is from the local village and at the beginning of the story we see her travel back there to attend the funeral of her estranged father, who died under violent circumstances. Onyeka had offered to take Chidiebere in and send her to school; Onyeka’s dream for Chidiebere was for her to go to university but Chidiebere longed to be a seamstress.
Anieto, too, had lost his father to violence; after that, he moved in with Onyeka while his mother moved to England to build a new life for them. And perhaps you guessed it: Anieto is the pianist.
The book follows the three main characters, their hopes and their challenges. The characters in Ojukwu’s story are well-developed. I felt empathy for them at times but also frustration when they made decisions I didn’t agree with. It is a talented storyteller who can create characters in this way, and Ojukwu is such a storyteller.
The author adeptly illustrates the complexities of family relationships and takes on some traditional gender norms regarding marriage and childbearing. We see Onyeka struggling because the responsibility for getting pregnant and having children seems to fall squarely on her; so of course when she doesn’t get pregnant, she is blamed and carries the shame of it.
It was her fault. It was all her fault; it was she who let his love slip away with her childlessness.
There are also messages in the book that encourage the reader to reflect upon cultural expectations concerning employment, class, education, village versus urban life, traditions versus modern ways. It also made me think of the role violence plays in some cultures, families, and relationships. Ojukwu takes on many issues in this book but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by this; I felt as though I was getting a look into the lives of a modern Nigerian family which, like any family, has its ups and downs, its celebrations and its secrets.
I read books written by international authors in part because of the things I learn about the country and culture while enjoying the story. In this case, Ojukwu includes details from the language and traditions of Nigeria that adds authenticity and make the settings come alive. In a few places, the book could’ve used a bit more editing but it isn’t much and it doesn’t distract from the the story. Overall, I appreciated the arc of the story and the trust Ojukwu places in his reader, to open up his world and let us in.
I am enjoying the Nigerian fiction I have been reading lately; I am no expert but from what I have been reading (see links below), this latest generation of Nigerian writers has shifted in focus a bit with regards to nationalism, sharing and challenging their culture, and framing their stories through Nigerian traditions with a modern twist. In a recent interview, Ogenna Ojukwu described contemporary African literature with great admiration:
Reading [Chimamanda Adichie’s] novels always left me with a yearning to pick up the pen, the laptop, a phone and just write. And of course there are a lot of other writers off this promising stable, doing great things. Ayobami Adebayo had an impactful debut. There are Taiye Selasi, Yaa Gyasi, Chibundu Onozu, Nnedi Okorafor, Helon Habila and Chigozie Obioma, all producing phenomenal works. Note that many of these wonderful writers are female and so there is a challenge of sorts to male African writers to produce work of matching prominence.
On the whole, this was an enjoyable book. The story held my interest and I felt invested in the characters. While based in Nigeria, The Teacher, the Seamstress and the Pianist has something for anyone who appreciates family dramas, complex women main characters, and layered plot development. I look forward to reading more by Ogenna Ojukwu and other Nigerian authors. Recommended.