Sunday, August 16, 2020
Georgette Heyer, DEATH IN THE STOCKS
Saturday, August 15, 2020
Sarah M Broom, THE YELLOW HOUSE
Early on, Broom explains, "On a detailed city map once given to me by Avis Rent a Car, the French Quarter has been shaded in light turquoise, magnified in a box at the bottom of the page. New Orleans East [where Broom grew up] is cut off, a point beyond, a blank space on someone's mental map. ... New Orleans East is fifty times the size of the French Quarter, one-fourth of the city's developed surface. Properly mapped, it might swallow the page whole." This map, of course, is a metaphor for the ways NOEast has been marginalized and neglected, both in the popular imagination, and materially, in the lack of good sewage systems and drainage, street lights, funding, concern for neighborhoods when throwing up a highway, and concern for the people after Hurricanes Betsy (1965) and Katrina.
But following this beginning, I found it difficult to engage with this book for the next few chapters. Broom presents her extended family tree, from her great-grandparents forward, and I found my mind wandering as if I were reading that section of the Bible: "So-and-so begat so-and-so..." Next comes what felt like a history of New Orleans/NO East, and while it was interesting, it didn't feel much like a personal memoir. Then, at last, we return to Sarah/Monique (her family name) and her story. From her trip to college, and grad school at Berkeley, and her jobs at O (Oprah's magazine) and in Burundi to help Alexis Sinduhije, "the Nelson Mandela of East Africa," and as a speechwriter back in New Orleans, and her life in Harlem, and then back to the French Quarter to embark on becoming a full-time writer, we follow her as she pursues her peripatetic life, reflecting on her family and the Yellow House, and learning as she goes. That part of the book was a pleasure.
As with many other memoirs that are rooted in place (the South, Africa, etc.), I appreciate discovering how aspects of that place shape the author's sense of identity and purpose. My one gripe is that I found the language somewhat uneven. At times, it feels poetic and spare and perfect: "Remembering is a chair that is hard to sit on." But other times, I felt it seemed flat to me, most often when I found a series of five or six sentences in a row constructed around "was." Still, this is an ambitious, original memoir, with a view into a world I knew very little about. I'd recommend.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Austin Channing Brown, I'M STILL HERE: BLACK DIGNITY IN A WORLD MADE FOR WHITENESS
A sensitive, smart, sometimes even wryly humorous collection of memoir-essays about the author's experiences over the years of interacting with white people, from the outright racists to the well-meaning but obtuse "nice" ones. Her first line: "White people can be exhausting." She tackles assumptions, defenses, excuses, and fears, for both Blacks and whites. Well worth the read.