Fiction

Reflections on Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

I’d been hearing a soft hum about Jesmyn Ward’s writing for a little while, but with everything that I have to read for teaching, reading for pleasure sometimes takes a back seat. I’m sorry that I waited so long to have this book in my life. Sing, Unburied, Sing is described as a twenty-first century archetypal road novel, however the point of departure and return, the home, is as important to this story as the journey. I initially read the story as an engagement with the literary fantastic, where hauntings are manifested through trauma, illness, and in some instances narcotic induced breaks from reality. However, it slowly becomes clear that these breaks from consensus reality are not specific to the characters, and the reader is also implicated in experiences that transcend the world in which we sit.

My reading of this book was definitely shaped by my love for Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Sing, Unburied, Sing revisits and explores not only the searing loss of potential and hope that is inscribed on the bodies of generations of African-Americans, but it explicitly juxtaposes it with the forgiveness and the lauding of potential that is offered to white men and women. The book is gentle, but unapologetic in holding white readers to account for their privileges, and with the echo of Black Lives Matter, and the current imprisonment and dehumanisation of non-American People of Colour by the current administration (and I know that Australia has been doing this for years, against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as against refugees) it is a text that should be on university curricula everywhere.

The other feature of this story that puts me in mind of Beloved is its use of circularity; this is less revolution that spiralling. The stories told by pop to the young protagonist, JoJo always circle around their ending, but don’t quite arrive there, and even when enough of the story is pieced together for the reader to know what sorrows sit in Pop’s shadow, there is no resolution to those sorrows, no reconciliation, no moving on. They just continue to haunt and to hurt. it puts me in mind of a brilliant article written by Philip Page for the African American Review back in 1992. In both stories the only way in which the parental figure (in Beloved, Sethe, in Sing, Unburied, Sing, River) can ensure the safety of the children in their care is to remove them. In Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates writes “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.” This anxiety, a rational anxiety that arises because of the violences that white supremacy —institutional, systemic and polite— wields against black bodies is at the heart of Ward’s book. But her writing is not hopeless, though it is mournful: JoJo and Kayla both provide a path forward: they understand where they are from, and they know and feel its hurt, and they demand more from the world around them, even as they know they will be denied it.

I’d like to write more about this book, but to do so in a more explicit way where I can be less obtuse and not worry about spoiling the story. At the same time, I know that that sort of writing has to be just for me, because, as a white girl, it’s important that I read this story, but my thoughts on it are not important. This story is not written for me, even as I learn from it.

Fiction

Reflection: What Should be Wild by Julia Fine

This Sunday I determinedly curled up on my couch and read. I read all day. My housemates walked back and forth past me, my cat yelled at me, and I stayed under a doona and read. It was glorious. I read What Should be Wild by Julia Fine.  I don’t remember why it was I purchased this book, only that it arrived in a Book Depository delivery and I think the front cover is pretty. I regularly judge books by their covers and there are some very pretty books that are being released at the moment. however, What Should be Wild is more than just a pretty face. Continue reading “Reflection: What Should be Wild by Julia Fine”

Fiction

Reflection: Reading Crime Fiction – The Rúin by Dervla McTiernan

Last week Irish women from around the world boarded planes and ferries in an attempt to go home and vote in a referendum that amended to Irish constitution to decriminalise abortion. As you know by now, they won. The images of Irish women, thankful for and celebrating their autonomy, their freedom hit close to home. It came on the back of discussion both there and in Australia about the ways in which the Catholic Church perpetuated systems of violence and oppression, particularly against women. (I’m comfortable discussing this oppression having been raised and educated in Catholic institutions. We discuss our own history). I had read Dervla McTiernan’s The Rúin a little while ago, but hadn’t quite found the lens through which I could explore it, but now I can: this is a crime novel that explores the ways in which shame and expectation haunt communities and individuals, Continue reading “Reflection: Reading Crime Fiction – The Rúin by Dervla McTiernan”

Admin, Fiction

The Mid-Semester Silence – Part the First

So as per, the semester is well back in (I’m marking, I’m writing lectures, I’m generally making other poor life choices) and so my non-academic writing has fallen by the wayside. I feel guilty for not maintaining a regular writing pattern, I know it would be good for me, but I also struggle to find the time/space/energy once semester kicks in. I’m hardly alone in this, so I think I do just need to exercise a little more discipline. So here I am. Being disciplined. And writing an unfinished blog about unfinished books.

Continue reading “The Mid-Semester Silence – Part the First”

Fiction, Life Writing

Reflection: The Book of Dirt by Bram Presser

On Friday I walked underneath a blazing sun with 60 thousand other people to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal people and Torres Straight Islanders. We gathered in Naarm on Wirundjuri and Boon Wurrung land, under the banners of Constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, the abolition of national holidays that are invested in narratives of white supremacy, and calling for a treaty to be negotiated in relation to the stolen land on which we work, walk, live, and love. We mourned the violences enacted against a 60 thousand year old culture. As I’m writing this, I’m sat in a pub, surrounded by old men while Baker Boy plays over the speakers, and there is an absolute joy that I derive from hearing Danzel Baker singing in Yolngu Matha. The resilience of humans to keep culture alive through art, stories and music is, for me, central to what it is to assert subjectivity (self in relation to power) in the face of oppression and dehumanisation. It is a bitter irony that International Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on 27th January, the very day after the Australian national celebration of the events that resulted in Australia’s genocide against First Nations people. News papers can’t seem to decide between proclamations of “Never Forget, Never Again” and “Just Get Over It.” The dissonance is painful.

Continue reading “Reflection: The Book of Dirt by Bram Presser”

Fiction

Reflection: We Who Are About To… by Joanna Russ

TW: mention of socially mandated reproduction/rape.

I was wandering thorugh The Book Grocer when I came across this volume. Having loved The Female Man, And Chaos Died, and How To Supress Women’s Writing, I was delighted to come across the novella, We Who Are About To…. I was fresh from the Ethics/Utopias/Dystopias conference (I think that event might shape a bit of my reading this year) and I’m always here for a bright, kitsch cover.

Continue reading “Reflection: We Who Are About To… by Joanna Russ”

Fiction

Review: The End of Days – Jenny Erpenbeck

From where she sat today, she cast a critical glance at the peace-loving girl she had once been. She had understood even then that there was a difference between the blood that flowed during a revolution and the blood that was spilled in a war. She also knew that all wars are not created equal. (122)

The End of Days is a thoughtful and evocative read that traces the many and potential lives of one woman over the course of the twentieth century. It is a book that asks readers to think about the ways in which their relationships with other people—family, friends, strangers—can shape their lives.  Continue reading “Review: The End of Days – Jenny Erpenbeck”