Monday, February 13, 2012

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

My personal challenge for Black History Month was to read one book a week. I can tell you right now – that’s not happening! But more on that later…..

I finished the first book on my challenge list, Black Like Me. This book is the true story of John Howard Griffin, a white man who decides to take medication to darken his skin so that he can live as a black man in the Deep South in 1959.  

The book opens with Griffin taking the final steps to undergo the transformation for the decision he has made to live as a black man. One of the last questions he asks is whether or not people would treat him as himself, John Howard Griffin, even though he would now be black. His friend’s response, “They’re not going to ask you any questions. As soon as they see you, you’ll be a Negro and that’s all they’ll ever want to know about you.” And with that, I took a deep breath, because I knew this was going to be an emotionally taxing read. 

I will not go into the details on all that Griffin experienced while being black during this era; most of us know the stories. Reading them was difficult, at times abominable and contemptible. But what I will touch on are two moments of enlightenment that were able to be expressed due to the uniqueness of the situation. 

 On Griffin’s first night as a black man, he made a somber observation: Tonight they looked at me but did not see me. I paused here. It was a long pause. What does it do to the morale of a person to have someone look at you and not even acknowledge your presence – day, after day, after day. 

On one rare occasion when Griffin was able to engage in conversation with a white man, the man stated of black people’s condition, “It looks like a man could do better.” Griffin’s response, “It looks that way to you because you can see what better would be.” I understand the white man’s response but I don’t think he considered that a system was devised to prevent the progress that would lead to “better”. But does Griffin have a point as well? Do you have to see "better" to know that it exists? This was a thought provoking exchange that took me back to a post I wrote, Don’t Want to Chose? Create a New Option.

The one thing that bothered me about the book itself was Griffin’s persistent attempts to draw conclusions about what black people thought and felt based on what he experienced while passing as black. The problem with this? It doesn’t matter how many days he walked around in black skin; he was not black. On any given day he could decide that he was done with this experiment. And on the day that his  “ [my] heart sickened at the thought of anymore hate”, that’s exactly what he did.  Therefore, he could never fully know the tribulations of those who had no such option.

I think I've forgotten how to write a brief review. There is so much more to be said about this book. You should read it so we can talk about it. It’s not just about race. It’s about humanity. 

"I am annoyed by those who love mankind but are cruel and discourteous to people."
"Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffin

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My January selection for The Versatile Reading Challenge had to be a book by a Nigerian author. I chose Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  It is the first book I’ve read by a Nigerian author.

Purple Hibiscus is the story of Catholic family lead by a wealthy husband and father who rules with an iron fist. The story is told by Kambili, the younger of two siblings. Their life is centered around religion and any time not spent praying or attending worship services is dedicated to tasks from a schedule written by the father. 

As the story progresses, Kambili and her brother are allowed to have an extended stay at the home of an aunt and her children. The aunt is a confident and well rounded woman who enjoys life. Her views on religion and the way she raises her children are very different from the way Kambili and her brother are raised by their parents. 

The author uses this as an opportunity to show differences between children that fear their parents and children that respect their parents.  Although the impact that this has on the personalities of the children can be interpreted many ways, it cannot be argued that a notable difference is present. This becomes even more evident as the more time Kambili spends being nurtured by the aunt, we see her personality change.

Being outside of her parents’ presence, also allows Kambili to becomes aware of things about herself that were unfamiliar to her. She realizes that she rarely smiles and that she doesn't know what her own laugh sounds like. It’s interesting how a change of environment shows you the most obvious thing about yourself.  

While living with the aunt, Kambili find herself falling in love with a priest.  Listening to Kambili describe  falling in love in its purest form takes you to a place that you never want to leave. It was captivating.
Although Kambili is the main character, this book also has several other story lines are unfolding. If only this review weren't already 7 paragraphs long, I'd tell you about the political strife in the country, religious contention within the family, and domestic violence between Kambili's parents that leave you with such anticipation, you don't want to stop turning the pages.

Not only has Purple Hibiscus left me yearning for more reads by African authors, but it has convinced me to purchase another book by Adichie.

UPDATE 7/30/2014: I purchased Half of a Yellow Sun and also went to the film screening! Find the recap here.

Are you participating in The Versatile Reading Challenge? Did you finish your book? Tell me about it!

Affiliate Links
Purple Hibiscus on Amazon
View all by Adichie on Amazon

Another Black History Month Giveaway!!!!

I’m participating in a Black History Month giveaway as part of a Blog Hop. The giveaway had to be a book by a black author, about black characters, or regarding black history. 

My giveaway is a book by a black author, Sybil Nelson

I attempted to give this book away before but the winner did not contact me with their address. So lucky for you, its up for grabs again! 

If you have or are around children that read leave a comment to win a copy of Priscilla the Great.

Giveaway entry closes on Feb 7. A winner will be announced the following Monday, Feb 13th.