There is Confusion by Jessie Redmon Fauset

There Is Confusion

There Is Confusion by Jessie Redmon Fauset

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is lots of confusion going on in this book. For the first part of this story (49% of it) I was not really enjoying the characters or the way the old antiquated way of writing that is in this book. However, I am well aware that this book was written in the 1920’s, so I have to take into consideration the time and place that this book is set in. After having now read this book, I am very complete in my understanding of why this book is on the Zora Canon List.

This book is so vital to the Black community in so many ways. We all embody a piece or pieces of ourselves in these characters and come to a realization of why and how they were, especially in the timeframe in which this story is set. In the 1920s, segregation was definitely in full swing in the south, and there was also so much discrimination and segregation in the North that incapacitated people of color. The institution of racism is exactly that. It permeates in every facet of life, and for Black people there was no way to escape unless you left the country. However, even if you left the country, as we see Peter did when he went to war, there were still Americans there fighting to keep the races separate even in a country that did not have such immense restrictions.

This book follows three young people, Joanna, Maggie and Peter through their childhood to adulthood, in close introspection to see how their lives shape up through living in America as a Black individual. These people are literally two generations away from slavery, and we see the massive impact that slavery has had on Black people, on their opportunities, and in their livelihood. The subject of race dominates all facets of life, and whether you are rich or poor, being Black is the dominant factor in your limited success or failure.

Fauset describes in immaculate detail what it is like to be Black, to be a man, and to be a woman living in the North during Jim Crow. Your opportunities are not abounding or limitless as some may believe. Though Joanna was shielded for most of her young life in the company and economic safe space of her father’s wealthy catering business, she did come to a final realization that she was not going to be as successful as she hoped because of her race and her gender. There were too many obstacles in her way to succeed, and it had nothing to do with her abilities. Though she was very narcissistic and egotistic, she had to come to that sobering realization that she could not accomplish what she had spent her entire life aiming towards. Being a Black woman has very limiting opportunities, and Fauset writes that out in such a way that makes you see how Joanna fell from her “high-faluting” ideas to a more realistic domestic lifestyle, as a housewife and supporter of her husband’s career. Women have worked so hard to get where they want to go and then have to swallow everything to know what they wanted to do can’t be done, at ALL. It’s a shock! Some women don’t take that fall as easily as Joanna did, and even Joanna had to fight her own self into understanding that this was her place now, as much as she was capable, it just wasn’t feasible. No matter how hard you work to get where you want to go, in this period of time, your race was your determining factor. Joanna had to realize this for herself even though she pushed and prodded others to go for the top, she ultimately had to come to the understanding that being Black was not a treat anywhere.

“To have the ordinary job of living is bad enough, but to add to it all the thousand and one difficulties which follow simply in the train of being colored – well, all I’ve got to say, is that we’re some wonderful people to live though it all and keep our sanity.” (p. 167)

The perspective from Maggie’s point of view was interesting because I can see how what she wanted was a viable option. People living in this time wanted an easier life. She desperately believed that all she needed to do was be swept up in the right company, marry the right person, be in the right social groups and be able to live life to the fullest. However, sadly, that’s not the case. I appreciated the growth that Maggie goes through in this story because she really needed to understand that she needed to be a whole and complete person separate from what she thought she could get from other people’s social status. She had skills and abilities that came in great appreciation, but she wasn’t looking within herself for her completeness. She was looking to what she could get out of others. There are women today who still go around like Maggie, looking for the next big thing to get caught up in or being in the right circles, or going to the right schools all for the wrong reasons. Life isn’t easy. No one gets to escape the hard times, so we must embrace adversity and learn to glean from it what we can and use it to our advantage.

Peter was so lukewarm through most of this book. It was funny to see the source of where he got his bad traits from, it was definitely serendipitous. However, Peter was showcases how race impacts a Black man in the world. How, race carves out places that he could go, people he had to interact with, and careers that were within his grasp. He didn’t really let up on how he felt about white people until the end, but even then, he didn’t trust them as a whole.

“I’m glad I’m colored – there’s something terrible, terrible about white people.” (p. 254)

Even being a doctor, educated, a Veteran, and a free descendent of a slave from a prominent family wasn’t enough to escape the injustices of racism. We see Peter, and other men, struggle in their fight against racism. Though as a man, Peter has more opportunities than Joanna, but he still faced an uphill battle with trying to become a doctor and a soldier. Though he made very poor decisions in his life, he was also only trying to make the best of his situation. As I’ve said earlier, the disposition of being Black in the 1920s was a hard reality. There was constant struggle at all times no matter your class.

This book was definitely timely in 1924, and seeing how this book ended, I’m interested to know if she had to have some changes made to the final ending because there were some pretty bold choices made for all the characters that didn’t see quite realistic. I wonder if Fauset was forced to let white people off the hook so to speak before she could get her book published. Seeing how she was first published by Boni & Liveright Inc., I can understand now how she was able to write so scandalously in this book. I’m so grateful that she was able to undergo all that she wanted to do with her story here. It’s a must to read this book. Though the time is now 2022, this book published a century ago, is still relevant today. That, my dear friends, speaks VOLUMES!

The character development was amazing. I didn’t care for any of the main characters, especially Joanna, but as the story played out I started to sympathize with them and why they made the choices they did. I could understand why Joanna wanted Peter to be top notch. I could see why Maggie wanted to be high-class. I understood Joanna’s need to be someone great and accepted everywhere. Though I didn’t like the choices they made necessarily, it did help me to understand the why behind what they did. The pacing of the book, and antiquated language made it hard sometimes to really get engaged with the story, but once I got halfway through, the story picked up, and everything came together nicely.

I am really glad I got the chance to read this book. I never even heard of this Harlem Renaissance writer, and now that I have I will definitely encourage more people to pick this gem of a book up. 4.25 stars for me.

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Unbound by Tarana Burke

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book shares some deeply personal stories that have affected Tarana as a young child, and may trigger some feelings if you have experienced sexual trauma in the past or present. Please be advised. Take care of yourself while reading her book, as you may need to take breaks or put the book down because of overwhelming emotions.

Tarana Burke, the founder of the ‘me too’ Movement shares her personal experiences with sexual assault, sexual violence, and rape. I remember first learning about ‘me too’ while on Twitter. I had heard some white women talk about Harvey Weinstein, and his sexual assaults on women. I do remember reading accounts of other women who suffered/experienced sexual assault by other men, not as notorious and prominent as Harvey though. I came to recall some issues I’ve had in the past with men, and how those men, who most often couldn’t hear the word “NO,” and acted like a toddler who is being told “no” they can’t have something, assaulted me and continued on with their life as if nothing ever happened. However, here I am, decades later, remembering and flashbacking to those times in which my womanhood was stolen/forced/pressed upon until I either relented or didn’t and it was taken…anyways.

Tarana Burke, takes her experiences, and those around her who shares their pain, and uses it for good. She faces her past, and tells herself, no one should have to go through that alone. Although she understands there is power in prevention, she also is well aware of the damage that is done and the community that is needed in order to face another day. She tells how she grappled with the first young woman who fell through the cracks after sharing her experience, and how Tarana ensures that it never happens again, where she doesn’t share and try to help another woman undergoing the pain and stress of bearing this trauma that violated their being and bodies.

Tarana is also sharing this story to ensure people know that SHE was the woman who started the ‘me too’ Movement. So often, white women, who’s womanhood is always the first to be fought for, whether real or imagined, is put in front of the world to help, NO ONE helps Black women. NO ONE hears Black women. NO ONE believes Black women. Burke is sharing that, sexual violence, which occurs to all ethnic groups, is something EVERYONE should be be concerned about, but the ‘me too’ Movement was designed specifically for Black/Brown girls/women/femmes who had no one to talk to, no community to heal within, and no one to help support them during the aftermath of their trauma. ‘Me too’ is for the Black and Brown girls who get overlooked when the world wants to run after the white women’s stories and accusers, but looks down their noses at Black and Brown women, where this violence occurs, unfortunately, too often.

The book definitely triggered some past emotions and memories as I’ve had to also grapple with sexual violence in my life. As a rape survivor, this book was so important for me to read, and also share my story with my own daughters at some point in their lives. It helps to share this with others because as Tarana felt and said in her book, many women think it’s their fault and don’t put the blame on the rightful person, the perpetrator. We are victims, and should not be shamed into silence. Those people who have violated us should be held responsible for their violence.

As a #girlmom, hearing the story of Tarana going through what she did without the help of the elder women in her life just struck fear in me. I remember not telling my own mother what happened because I felt shamed, like it was my fault, like I did something wrong. To this day, she does not know what happened, but I implored with my own daughter that if something like this were to happen to her that she can tell me and we can figure things out together. I also shared with her some ways in which to protect herself, should she find herself in a situation. I pray that nothing like this ever happens to her, but having someone she can talk to is also just as important because it’s so isolating, depressing, and horrible to have thoughts like that in your head every single day and not be able to talk about it or share because you think you’ve done something wrong.

The book is so welcoming and comforting even despite her telling you a horrible past. She shares her story because she wants the reader to know that she can be trusted, that you are welcome to share and come in for healing, that you are not shameful, that you have done nothing wrong, and that you have a place of community here with her and no one is going to leave you behind or out. Her growth and empathy in this book was just phenomenal, and I really appreciated feeling seen here in her book, and I felt compelled to share my own story with my oldest daughter in a way she could understand but not be traumatized by what happened, as she is at a curious age where boys are going to test her to see how much she is willing to do in order to possibly “prove” herself in some form or fashion. I don’t want to wait until it happens to her before she learns about this dark side of humanity, but this book definitely gave me the language to explain to her what could happen and what’s available for her to seek out if god forbid something like this happened to her in her life.

The bravery that Tarana Burke had in sharing her experiences are unmatched and I am so glad that she shared her story. Despite the harrowness of it, more people need to know what happens to women of color, and to believe our stories. Hear us when we speak. Protect us. Provide resources for us. Allow space for us to share our stories because some other young person could be also saying, ‘me too’ in their hearts and minds and need some people around them to care for them while they heal.

This book is so necessary and should be read by all. 5 stars. Required reading.

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Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Black Cake

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

People who have never had anything taken away from them may not be able to experience the joy of this book.

This book massages the Black pain and rearranges it for better in ways no other book I’ve ever read have done. This book is about survival and inheritance and family, survival, second-chances, and self-perseverance.

Coventina Lyncook (Covey), is a biracial young woman, born and raised in Jamaica, who suffers unspeakable loss and oppression, all while trying to free herself from these very things that are seemingly weighing her down from all angles. The book explores and reveals a multigenerational story that is epic, that is surrounded by an ancestral Black Cake that is her legacy and heritage.

Covey loved herself more than anything in this world because she knew she had to make it even if she didn’t know how she was going to get there. Though she had doubts and fears, it didn’t stop her. She pushed through and made a way in spite of the hardships life brings. And boy did life bring her hardships.

The story is told in a multi-layered way through the hearing of a recording that Covey is leaving to her children after she has passed away. She wants to tell them her story finally after all this time of how they came to be, and how her life ended up unfolding despite all the hardships she’s faced.

The author touches on so many things, it’s amazing that she was able to speak to all of what happened in this story, in such a full and profound way.

Topics I found in this book were:
– Family
– Trust
– Abandonment
– Honesty
– Perservance
– Survival
– 2nd chances
– Grief/mourning/loss
– Relationships (grievances/grudges/betrayal)
– Reconciliation
– Communication
– Regrets
– Cultural Diaspora
– Secrets
– Sibling bonds
– Environmental protection
– Interracial marriage
– Identity theft
– Racism
– Motherhood
– Sexuality
– Fear
– Freedom

“Some things are just too ugly to write down.” (p. 219) This book is the epitome of that sentence. Life is not easy for anyone, but especially Covey.

“Of how untold stories shape peoples lives, both when they are withheld and when they are revealed.” (p. 331)

This story is about how untold stories shape our lives. The secrets that are withheld, revealed, shared, etc. is infinitely important in how our lives are directed and lived. In a voice recording, Eleanor (Covey) shares with her two grown children about who she and their dad really are, where they came from, and how they came to be.

Told in a sequence of very short chapters in 4 separate parts, the story is spread out to include every single detail of Coventina’s life, telling her children, her whole story, finally. Wilkerson, not only tells the story of Coventina, but she is telling the story of how Black women, especially, are treated, who are immigrants, and the racism they face abroad. How they are treated as invisible. How know one is looking for them. How no one cares about what happens to them. How white people, especially transracially adopt and oftentimes erase the child’s heritage by refusing to tell them where they came from, and of the circumstances that happened that led to the life that Covey and their father had in order to live a life of freedom.

This book not only talks about Covey and Gibbs (husband), but also about her children and their lives. Byron and Benny were inseparable as children, and now, as adults, they have been separated by a rift between Benny and her parents. Byron doesn’t understand why Benny can’t just do what she’s supposed to, and Benny doesn’t understand why no one is on her side to try and understand where she is coming from. Mixed in with this rift is how many parents put expectations on their children, especially immigrant parents, and how they hold them to a high standard so that their children can reap the American dream, that would have been out of their reach had they not made sacrifices to get there. Also, traditional parenting, and how understanding your children wholeheartedly and listening to them is very important. As parents, we have to get away from what and how we were raised. Our children need us to listen to them and understand, even if it’s vastly different than how we grew up. I am glad that Wilkerson brought this aspect into the book because it is so true and necessary part of our culture that needs to be discussed entirely.

Overall, the story asks the question, would you risk your self for an opportunity that would allow you to take certain chances in order to fulfill a promise or dream even though you would lose everything? Including your entire history, your family, even your identity?

Is living your life the way you want and need worth it? Absolutely. This book should be savored just like your favorite dish or dessert. It is a treasure, this book.

Loved every single word in this book. The writing is beyond phenomenal. As Kiese Laymon says, “Black people deserve beautiful sentences, we really do.” This is absolutely true, and this book has some beautiful and profound writing. 5 stars. Favorite book of 2022 for me.

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The Wonders by Elena Medel

The Wonders

The Wonders by Elena Medel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Elena Medel won a literary award for this debut novel, which was released in Spain in 2020, but translated into English, and being published in the States in March 2022.

A sweeping generational story that will leave you feeling caught up in the feels.

This story is about 3 generations of women from the same family. A grandmother, mother, and granddaughter, who are all living lives in the middle of some patriarchal BS; the beginning of the feminist movement and the women empowerment movement.

Marià, the grandmother, learned about patriarchy the hard way, when she gets pregnant out of wedlock and is forced to move to Madrid to work and provide for her child, that she has had to leave with relatives while she makes a living at the age of 15. Growing up to adulthood and being a parent is no easy task, and Marià is in no position to negotiate the terms. Forced with this decision, Marià tries with all her might to make her life work, and fit her child in, but lots of her daughter’s life gets lost in the back and forth shuffle to maintain a presence in her life, and unfortunately, we witness what happens when life comes at you fast and hard too soon.

Carmen, the daughter, is growing up without her mother, surrounded by family, but living a life of poverty. She is able to escape poverty at some point in her life, and gets married and has her own children. However, Carmen, is also struggling with everyday life and then tragedy strikes. Faced with many hard decisions, we see how she moves in the world determined not to get swept under, but also seeing how not having her mother in her life has affected her own life decisions.

Alicia, the granddaughter of Marià and daughter of Carmen, is also trying to find her way in this world. Growing up, she has been at odds with pretty much everyone, but as an adult she is learning about herself and her limitations/boundaries/opportunities/freedoms are limited due to the patriarchal makeup of her country.

This book discusses the women’s movement, and how women are seen in this country (Spain), and how things have either changed or stayed the same, and how women have had to deal with this reality from their conception.

Knowing that this book was translated piqued my interest into seeing how close the original language came into how this story is being told in English. Sometimes, the book feels incomplete, unfinished, missing parts… and that may be due to the translation perhaps. Although the story was overall well organized and plain to understand, the emotions and meaning behind this generational story, for me, got lost somewhere. The story didn’t feel as rich, deep, or meaningful as I would have liked, and it may just be because of the word choices for English. I believe the author has done a phenomenal job in telling the story of how women’s plights are somehow the same generation after generation, with maybe some possible tweaks here and there, but the overall consensus is that things have remained the same despite the noise women have raised in the past and present.

The ending was incomplete to me, and I was left in a lurch wondering what happened. Overall, I think this book could be a 3.5, but will keep it at a 3 for review purposes. After skimming some reviews from Spanish speaking readers, I do believe a lot was lost due to translation.

Thank you to Algonquin Books and Elena Medel for this book in exchange for a fair and honest opinion.

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