Book Review: You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty

Title: You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty

Author: Akwaeke Emezi

Genre: Romance, Contemporary

Pages: 288 pages; 10 hours (audiobook)

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

It has been five year since the accident that killed the love of Feyi Adekola life’s, and she is re-learning what it means to be alive. However, what about giving love a second chance?

Review:

I went into this book without reading the synopsis; it was a great decision! I recommend you do the same!

Akwaeke Emezi has this unique ability to write books that make you (or maybe just me) deeply uncomfortable yet enjoy greatly. The story plot was chaotic and a little stressful, yet engaging and unpredictable. I was hooked even though I was worried about what would happen next. The book questions the assumptions around true love and age differences in relationships. I can’t entirely say that I found the relationship between the main characters endearing/heart warmly; however, the book made me root for them.

TW: Death, Trauma, Blood

Book Review: Wish You Were Here

Title: Wish You Were Here

Author: Jodi Picoult

Genre: Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 310 pages; 12 hours (audiobook)

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

What has supposed to be a romantic getaway to the Galápagos for Diana and her boyfriend Finn – days before her 30th birthday does not go as planned. Finn, a surgical resident, must stay back in New York because it’s all hand on deck after the Covid-19 outbreak. However, he encourages and reassures Diana to go by herself since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. Unfortunately, Diana’s luggage is lost on her way to the Galápagos, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent on the Island, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole Island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen.

Review:

In the book’s first part, I was a little disappointed by how the female lead ended up on the Island. I felt it was a little too convenient as a plot. However, by the book’s second part, that thought was knocked right out of me. Jodi Picoult is brilliant at engaging a reader and challenging all situations. At that point, I was reminded again why she is (one of my) favourite writer(s).

The themes in the novel about the pandemic were handled well and fully stretched despite being a relatively short book set in a complex time (and written at the earlier stages of the pandemic).

Black Venus

Black Venus as a Depiction of How Science, Academic Knowledge and Popular Entertainment Supported White Supremacy and Colonialism in the 19th Century

Black Venus is a French film based on the true life of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman who moved to Britain with her employer Hendrick Caezar on the promise of a better life, sharing her musical talent. Baartman became a trope for popular entertainment in Britain and France. The movie portrays the traumatic experience she endures after being coerced into letting audience members touch her body, mistreated by French scientists and later forced into prostitution as a means of survival. Black Venus is an effective educational tool because it depicts how science, academic knowledge, and popular entertainment supported white supremacy and colonialism in the 19th century through the vivid portrayal of characters in the movie believing they had a right to Saartijie Baartman’s body. (Black Venus)

The film is an effective educational tool on how science supported white supremacy and colonialism because it revealed to the audience that the science practised in the 19th century was “race science”, focused on distinguishing the white race from all other races. In the movie, the French scientist George Cuvier announces to other scientists that the examination of Baartman’s skull proves that the “Negros didn’t give birth to Egyptians whom the world has learnt science and religion from”. He concluded that the discovery justified the “cruel laws” used to oppress non-whites because the white race’s skull and brain were as voluminous as the Egyptians. (Black Venus) Likewise, in Human Exhibitions: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Ethnic Displays, Rikke argues that the black female body “served to illustrate the underdevelopment of Africans” because it was “considered an incarnation of the past that could be examined to undercover information about the development of humankind” (118). This means that scientists had preconceived notions of black females as primal human beings and believed they could prove that claim by examining their bodies. In Black Venus, the notion is present in how George Cuvier approached Caezar thinking the South African man would allow Baartman to be examined in the name of science. In addition, it is evident how Cuvier pushes Baartman, despite her resistance, to show her vagina to all the scientists because her “guardian” gave permission. (Black Venus) Cuvier’s action is significant because Baartman as a black woman is reduced to a child who can’t give consent. The consequence of Baartman being infantilized is that after her death, she is reduced to just a body for Cuvier and his team to examine, even though it would have been against her wishes. Hence, depicting how the French scientist thought they had a right to Baartman’s body and how science supported white supremacy and colonialism. 

Black Venus is also an effective educational tool on how academic knowledge in the 19th century supported white supremacy and colonialism. It makes the audience question the ethics of museum acquisition methods and the ethics of using remains as commodities. In Making Representations: Museums in the Post-Colonial Era, Simpson argues that collecting activities in the 19th century “were undertaken without regard for the spiritual beliefs of relatives or descendants, and their permission was not deemed necessary”. This means that museums collected and kept human remains without considering how the individual or the community of that individual would feel about it. This is evident in Black Venus from how after Baartman died a painful death from illness, her body was sold to Cuvier by Reaux, who did not have any right over her body. Reaux’s successful action is significant because it highlights the French scientist’s lack of ethical consideration about how Baartman’s body was acquired. In addition, Baartman’s body, particularly her buttocks and genitalia, was cut up and displayed at the Paris National History Museum until 1974, after South Africa asked for them to be returned (Black Venus). The consequence of the display was the museum profiting from having Baartman’s body seen as “abnormal” and “explained as a physical reflection of the inferiority of her race” (Rikke 117). This message that the museum profited on is significant because it questions the ethics of using remains as commodities and highlights how academic knowledge in the 19th century supported white supremacy and colonialism. 

Finally, the film is an effective educational tool on how popular entertainment in the 19th century supported white supremacy and colonialism. It depicts a large part of the British public willing to pay money to be entertained by a racist trope. Rikke argues that “Africans were considered less intelligent and more primitive than Europeans…regarded as more explicitly sexual, with more direct and animalistic…sexuality” (115). This meant Europeans felt superior to Africans and thought they were justified too because of their perceived higher intelligence and reserved behaviour. This mindset is evident in the film from how Baartman is described as a savage who Caezar has captured from Cape Town. She is forced to put on a collar, make animal noises, and is fed treats when she listens to Caezar’s command. More so, Baartman is manipulated into allowing the audience members to touch her butt to prove it is real, while Caezar praises them for being brave. The consequence of Baartman being touched and poked at without her consent is emotional trauma and dependence on alcohol. (Black Venus) The fact that Caezar used a racist trope at the expense of Baartman, forced her to be touched by the audience and that the audience abided is significant because it depicts how Caezar and the audience believed that they had a right to her body. Hence, highlights how popular entertainment in the 19th century supported white supremacy and colonialism. 

Works Cited

Andreassen, Rikke. “Human Exhibitions: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Ethnic Displays.” Taylor & Francis, Taylor & Francis, 9 Mar. 2016, http://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781315587318.

Black Venus, 1 Jan. 2010, tubitv.com/movies/476646/black_venus.

Simpson, Moira G. Making Representations: Museums in the Post-Colonial Era. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. pp. 173-189. 

Book Review: Portrait of a Thief

Title: Portrait of a Thief

Author: Grace D. Li

Genre: Contemporary, Thriller, Mystery

Pages: 384 pages; 11 hours (audiobook)

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

A cultural heist, an examination of Chinese American identity, and a necessary cri­tique of the lingering effects of colonialism.

Review:

I’m giving this book a four-star for the literary, emotional and critical commentary rather than the actual heists. They were very faulty, quite convenient plans – definitely full of holes. Thus how they managed to execute them as novices was a suspension in disbelief.

The book is a feel-good about a possible situation where one can earn a tremendous amount of money to remove the burden of responsibilities and obligations while doing something meaningful and morally sound.

A running theme in the novel is the pressure of being an immigrant, more specifically, a second-generation Chinese in America trying to perform to the expectations of parents who believe in the American dream.

The critical commentary on imperialism (from both parties), colonialism, violence, and power were well woven into the story.

Academic Book Review – Feminism For The 99%: A Manifesto

Re-envisioning Feminism

In the book, Feminism For The 99%: A Manifesto, the authors Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser discuss an intersectional, radical, anti-capitalist, decolonial, and anti-imperialist feminism that is inclusive of all, especially marginalised women called ‘Feminism for the 99%’. With organising principles and action strategies that ensure no group is sacrificed over another and that “anti-racists, environmentalists, and labour and migrant right activists” (Arruzza et al. 5) work together, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ protects the powerless and provides hope for effective change. Hence, re-envisioning feminism and the way it has been practised. This is further evident from the theses the authors discussed in the Manifesto, particularly theses 1, 3, 4, 6, and 8. 

Thesis 1 of the Manifesto states, “A new feminist wave is reinventing the strike” (Arruzza et al. 6). This refers to how ‘Feminism for the 99%’ reformed strikes, which were a form of protest only in the context of waged work, into a state of protest that withdraws labour along with housework, smiles, and sex (8). This form of protest is much more accessible to everyone from all sectors and regions. It allows for a global movement that requires little effort but has a significant impact primarily because we live in a capitalist world where labour is key to survival. By including actions related to unpaid emotional labour – housework, smiles, and sex, “the indispensable role played by gendered, unpaid work” (8) in a capitalist society, for which the system benefits but does not pay, is brought to light consequently. This deliberate attack against all types of exploitative labour is significant as it highlights that ‘Feminism for the 99%’ is radical and anti-capitalist. 

Thesis 3 of the Manifesto states, “We need an anti-capitalist feminism – a feminism for the 99%” (13). This statement is linked to how feminism today, rooted in capitalism, sacrifices the well-being of the many for the freedom of the few. For example, there has been an increased push for women to get into powerful positions, obtain a high income and establish wealth to be on the same playing fields as their male counterparts. However, this sort of feminism emphasises the individual. It assumes that a woman in power would be able to change the systemic problems that affect the lives of marginalised women worldwide. Unfortunately, that assumption is untrue as those systemic problems result from ill-capitalism. ‘Feminism for the 99%’ instead aims to work with “every movement that fights for the 99 per cent”, be it for environmental justice, “free high-quality education, generous public services, low-cost housing, labour rights, free universal health care”, anti-racism or world peace (15) to dismantle capitalism and thus tackle social justice issues from their root. Hence, once against presenting how ‘Feminism for the 99%’ is anti-capitalist. 

Thesis 4 of the Manifesto states, “What we are living through is a crisis of society as a whole – and its root cause is capitalism” (16). This means capitalism destroys anything it uses, such as nature, public goods, and human beings. As such, the political, economic, ecological, and social justice issues the world is facing are caused by capitalism. One example is the refugee crisis – marginalised folks are displaced daily due to war, violent conflicts, and environmental disasters. These circumstances that result in the displacement of marginalised folks are rooted in ill-capitalism, such as how companies pollute the air and water sources at the expense of people for profit, and similarly, how countries export arms to volatile regions for the sack of profit. Canada is one country that profits from the violent conflicts that cause displacement. Yet, Canada believes itself to be a country that practices “humanitarian exceptionalism” because it presents itself as a haven for displaced people and is more benevolent than the United States regarding accepting refugees. However, Canada predominately takes exceptional refugees, such as community organisers and activists. Furthermore, it employs immigration laws that discriminate against refugees based on race, sexuality, and ability (Phu et al. 29). Unfortunately, Canada’s performative action is also rooted in ill-capitalism, as the nation is driven by its desire to push an international and local political narrative of an “international leader in human rights and democratic freedom” (29) at the expense of vulnerable human beings. Hence, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ argues that by eliminating capitalism based on exploiting others, we can efficiently work on putting an end to the problems facing our Earth.

Thesis 6 of the manifesto states, “Gender violence takes many forms, all of them entangle with capitalist social relations. We vow to fight them all.” (Arruzza et al. 25). Capitalist social relations refer to the social links that occur under capitalism, between an employee and an employer or between intimate partners. In addition, due to the different aspects of private and work life, women are subjected to violations both at the hands of family and personal intimates and at the hands of “capital’s enforcers and enablers” (28). One example of a capitalist social relationship where gender violence is present and common is between women migrant workers and their employers. Although borders are not fixed and thoroughly ideological, they produce “hard workers” (Anderson et al. 7). This is because immigrants must work hard to keep their status in the country, which their employers have over them as citizens. The power that citizens have over migrants puts these female migrant workers in vulnerable and dangerous situations, such as when their bosses or managers in factories, for example, “use serial rape, verbal abuse, and humiliating body searches to increase productively and discourage labour organising” (Arruzza et al. 32) because they endure the mistreatment for fear of being deported. Borders, and consequentially, nationalised identities, which are colonial as most settlers do not have rights to the land they claim, are “a key strategy in dividing and subordinating labour” (Anderson et al. 13). Thus, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ which aims to fight all forms of gender violence, such as those that occur due to the construction of borders, is anti-colonial. 

Thesis 8 of the manifesto states, “Capitalism was born from racist and colonial violence. Feminism for the 99 per cent is anti-racist and anti-imperialist” (Arruzza et al. 40). This means that the foundation of capitalism is racism and colonialism. Thus any feminism that does not actively dismantles capitalism would be enabling racism and colonialism. Unfortunately, this failure was present in the first, second, and third wave feminisms. First-wave feminism was liberal feminism and focused on getting women the vote. However, Black women and their needs were excluded in the process. White chosen stead choose to dissociate themselves from white men and argued that racism was “endemic to white male patriarchy” and that they could not be “held responsible for racist oppression” (“Chapter 4: Racism and Feminism: The Issue of Accountability”). Consequentially, this ignorance from white women during the first wave of feminism birthed Black Feminism, a philosophy that “motivated black feminists to work against their multilayered oppression” and to challenge “white feminists to acknowledge their exclusion of women of colour and working-class women in the feminist movement” (“The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)”). This effort to include racialised and working-class women is also present in ‘Feminism for the 99%’. On the other hand, second-wave feminism, which was radical and concerned about racism, failed to include transgender and non-binary people in the conversation. Lastly, third-wave feminism, which is post-modern feminism, was focused on social media, digital space, and the representation of women. Although it began being more inclusive, it supported ill-capitalism by encouraging women to obtain high positions,

Overall, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ attempts to re-envision feminism. It is intersectional, radical, anti-capitalist, decolonial, anti-imperialist, and inclusive, especially for marginalised women. It challenges all that we have been accustomed to when we discuss and engage with feminism by enforcing organising principles and action strategies that emphasise no group is sacrificed over another, that all activist and community organisers need to work together, and that capitalism has to be dismantled for long-standing effective change to happen. While this is one way to re-envision feminism and its movements, as a manifesto, it oversimplifies the severe hostility against feminists and feminism, especially today.

Work Cited

Arruzza, Cinzia, et al. Feminism for The 99%: A Manifesto. Verso, 2019. 

Anderson, Bridget, et al. “Editorial: Why No Borders?” Refuge, vol. 26, no. 2, 1 Jan. 2009, pp. 5–18., doi: https://doi.org/10.25071/1920-7336.32074. 

“Chapter 4: Racism and Feminism: The Issue of Accountability.” Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, by Bell Hooks, Routledge, 2015, pp. 119–158. 

Phu, Thy, Vinh Nguyen, et al. “STATES OF REFUGE: KEYWORDS FOR CRITICAL REFUGEE STUDIES.” Sept. 2019. “The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977).” Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s), by Joy S. Ritchie and Kate Ronald, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001, pp. 291–300.

Book Review: Wicked Fox (Gumiho #1)

Title: Wicked Fox

Author: Kat Cho

Genre: (Korean) Mythology, Low Fantasy, Romance

Pages: 429 pages; 12 hours (audiobook)

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

Gu Miyoung is an 18-year-old gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men to survive. One night, she stumbles upon and saves Jihoon from being attacked by a globin deep in the forest. However, this action violates the rules of survival and puts her at risk.

Review:

I think this book would have been better read rather than listened to. In addition, the narrator spoke in a sad, gloomy manner, which I don’t think was a good fit for the novel.

I think it was pretty engaging in the plot, and there were quite a few surprise twists. However, I felt like it was missing something. Maybe there was not enough time spent between the main characters for there to be as deep of a love to be formed and depicted – they were willing to die for each other. In addition, there is a lot of trauma between the two characters, and I am usually not a fan when characters bond because of the trauma they face.

Unfortunately, I will not be continuing with the series. The bridge to the next book did not make me excited. Instead, it made me sad for the female main character and thus unwilling to see her endure even more pain.

TW: Death, Murder

Book Review: Ugly Love

Title: Ugly Love

Author: Colleen Hoover

Genre: Romance, Contemporary

Pages: 324 pages; 9 hours (audiobook)

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 2/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

Tate and Miles agree to a low-stakes relationship because of their personal circumstance. However, things take a turn for the unexpected…or did it?

Review:

This book should come with the warning “when someone tells who they are, you better believe them”. I know it’s fiction, but it paints the picture that one can get into a relationship by disregarding boundaries…and believing the idea that one can “change” a man…

The trauma that the male lead went through, while very saddening, felt artificial. It was like the incident was put there for the shock factor…to explain his aloofness yet excuse his behaviour towards the female lead. This was the case because there was little to no elaboration of why the incident had happened and the immediate effects of that incident (I’m being general here to prevent spoilers).

I did enjoy the shifting point of view, especially how Tate’s pov was in the present and Miles’ was always in the past. It emphasised that he was stuck in the past. Furthermore, Miles’ pov is read in the present only after the resolution between the lead characters. This was a nice touch in the book.

Book Review: Ayesha at Last

Title: Ayesha at Last

Author: Uzma Jalaluddin

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Retellings

Pages: 349

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

Ayesha might be a little lonely, but the one thing she doesn’t want is an arranged marriage. And then she meets Khalid…As for Khalid, he’s happy the way he is; and was set on leaving his love life in the hands of his mother until he met Ayesha.

Review:

This book is a Muslim romance comedy. There was good character development, real tension between the two lead characters and a beautifully written and smartly executed resolution. There was suspense, surprise, and shenanigans. The plot was engaging, the issues addressed in the book were given great justice, and the humour was appropriate. In addition, it is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice! It was so good that I read it in one sitting. I highly recommend it!

Book Review: Notes on an Execution

Title: Notes on an Execution

Author: Danya Kukafa

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Crime

Pages: 306 pages; 10 hours (audiobook)

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

Through a kaleidoscope of women – a mother, a sister, a homicide detective – we learn the story of Ansel Park’s life, a serial killer who is scheduled to die in twelve hours.

Review:

The latter half of the book was what raised my initial four-star rating to five stars and why I would recommend this book to others. The commentary on the prison system, mainstream media craze about serial killers (especially when they are young and attractive), and how victims are usually remembered at their last living moment (often how they were brutally murdered).

I think the plot was brilliant, as we moved from the perspective of all those whose lives were impacted by the main character’s actions. Furthermore, it was pretty interesting how the main character’s perspective, the serial killer, counted down in hours to his execution and shifted from first-person to a narration (in which a narrator speaks directly to the readers, almost as if they were the murderer themselves).

The author was cautious in how they wrote each character and addressed the sensitivity of serial killers being psychopaths, sexual violence, loss, and murder. I appreciated how they were no violent descriptions of how the victims were killed.

TW: animal abuse, violence

Book Review: The Best Kind of People

Title: The Best Kind of People

Author: Zoe Whittall

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime

Pages: 404 pages; 11 hours (audiobook)

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

George Woodbury, a well-liked teacher, beloved husband and father, is arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school on the birthday of his seventeen-year-old daughter. The arrest leads to a series of events for his wife, Joan, his daughter Sadie who is a student at the school, and his son Andrew, a lawyer in New York. The book follows the family’s journey of coming to terms with the allegations.

Review:

This book engaged with what happens to the family of a sexual assault offender/predator, how they gripple with the scrutiny, the deceit, and their lives changing forever. The author did a good job of engaging with the plot and issues addressed sensitively. However, I did not like the element of fatalism – several characters not speaking up for themselves, several characters easily getting away with questionable character and the lack of critical dialogue required in a book that engages with sexual violence.

TW: sexual assault, violence, drug abuse