Ramadan Readathon

Since it’s the start of Ramadan and I recently came across the #RamadanReadathon myself, I thought I would I put together this post to recommend some literary blogs by Muslim bloggers and highlight some brilliant Muslim authors.

Blogs:

Headscarves and Hardbacks

Readlogy

Word Wonders

Bookstagram:

Instagram:

  • RamadanReadathon
  • MuslimReadathon
  • thetsundokuchronicles

Twitter:

  • RamadanReadathon
  • TheMuslimShelf
  • MuslimReadathon
  • SajidahWrites
  • WordWoonders

Recommended Ramadan Readathon Reads:

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

  • Author: Uzma Jalaluddin
  • Synopsis: Ayesha doesn’t want an arranged marriage, unlike her cousin Hafsah, and so is irritated when she is drawn to conservative, traditional Khalid. The two are forced to confront what they want and their feelings towards one another when an unexpected engagement is arranged between Hafsah and Khalid.

It’s not about the Burqa

  • Author: Mariam Khan
  • Synopsis: A collection of essays addressing what it means to be a Muslim woman in the West today.

The things I would tell you: British Muslim Women Write

  • Author: Sabrina Mahfouz (editor)
  • Synopsis: A collection of short stories, essays, plays and poems by Muslim women from all across the UK.

All American Muslim Girl

  • Author: Nadine Jolie Courtney
  • Synopsis: Allie is a young, white-passing teen in Texas who decides to embrace her faith after witnessing numerous instances of Islamophobia.

The Beauty of your Face

  • Author: Sahar Mustafah
  • Synopsis: A Palestinian American woman dealing with her faith and identity before coming face-to-face with a school shooter.

Queenie

Candice Carty-Williams

I read Queenie on the recommendation of multiple people in my life and I am so glad that I listened to them. This is one the of the best books I’ve read this year.

The novel follows the life of Queenie in the wake of her and her boyfriend taking and break and the subsequent downward spiral she experiences. The novel beautifully explores the nuances of race, family and class and how they can alter a person’s experiences.

The numerous sexual flings that Queenie has is explored in a darkly comic way whilst still highlighting how low her self esteem is, with a definite quality of ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’. From the brutal experience of such rough sex with a junior doctor leading a nurse to think she has been either sexually assaulted or pimped out to the seemingly nice guy who turns out to be married, Queenie goes from one bad experience to another, unable to understand why she can’t find a man who will treat her well and not just fuck her and move on.

Reading about Queenie being forced to navigate her job and family relationships as she breaks down provides a brilliant account of how desperately someone can try to keep moving despite the clear need for them to seek help. The interplay of race and class are particularly noteworthy in this area as Queenie always has to battle against her Jamaican grandparents beliefs surrounding mental health and therapy, plus Queenie even having access to therapy is reliant on someone else noticing and referring her, and even then she only gets a limited number of sessions.

Carty-Williams brilliantly conveys how Queenie handles always having to correct other people’s assumptions about her and attempting to maintain her fragile sense of self-worth. This is most clear in Queenie’s battle with her grandmother over attending therapy, where she is accused of bringing shame on the family and she rightly points out she is the first in the family to ‘finish school, go to college, get a degree and get a full-time job’ and is simply met with a response that she is also the first to need therapy.

Despite the story starting with Queenie moving out from the flat she shared with her boyfriend, Tom, in the vain hope that is only a temporary move, this is not a book about Queenie’s desperate search for love. Instead the romances in her life, if they can even be called that, are very much a symptom of the wider issues she’s dealing with and decidedly not the point of the novel. Rather Queenie’s story considers the intersections of Queenie’s identity and how people treat her because of them, whether this is men thinking she’s pretty for a black girl or her friend Cassandra failing to understand why Queenie can’t just dip into her savings when she’s short on money.

Overall, this is a darkly humorous, fantastically written consideration of race, class and gender and what it feels like to be drowning when everyone around seems to be swimming.

Girl, Woman, Other

Bernardine Evaristo

I have finally read last year’s Booker prize winner and it might be one the best books I’ve read in a long time. The book follows the lives of twelve different characters, most of whom are women of colour, across several decades, giving insight into the varied experiences they have and how they shape the differing perspectives they have on the world.

Each of the characters are complex and flawed and yet Evaristo always manages to position the reader from a point of empathy when reading their chapter. Since the different characters are connected through various relationships, the reader often gets snippets of information about characters you have yet to read about which allows you to form a prior opinion of them which makes reading their chapters especially interesting. There is always more to a character and their life than expected which is eye-opening to read.

My favourite chapter was probably the first one about Amma’s life. Amma is a black lesbian living in London in the 1980’s fighting for her rights and trying to get into the theatre. Her life in the 80’s juxtaposed with her life in the present day is fascinating as it demonstrates how the world has changed and how her views and life have changed along with it, including her becoming a parent and transitioning into the mainstream theatre industry.

Evaristo also expertly demonstrates how systemically racist and sexist structures within society can unite women, particularly women of colour, whilst highlighting how different they all are and how so many other factors in life can determine where they end up. For instance, Carole’s journey through elite academia and the world of banking which required her to conform to society’s expectations in so many ways puts her in a wholly different position to Amma’s life as a black lesbian who refuses to meet any expectations that don’t match up to her own desires and combats systemic racism, sexism and homophobia through this rejection.

However, despite these differences, Evaristo successfully conveys the shared experiences that ultimately bring these women together and often drives them to help each other out, whether this means mentoring young women of colour to try and give them an extra step up in life or providing a safe space for women when they need it.

Finally, I enjoyed the style of Evaristo’s writing far more than I expected to. Evaristo’s writing lacks standard capitalisation, punctuation or sentence structure which allows the stories to flow far more naturally and creating a feeling of the characters naturally reflecting back on their lives rather than a more contrived and deliberate narrative being told. This stream of conscience style combined with the natural inclusion of key physical details and references to wider debates, such as who has the most privileged or trans exclusionary feminism, results in a deeply insightful and thoroughly enjoyable novel.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Cho Nam-Joo

I started and finished this book in a day, partly because I’m on lockdown with a lot of free time, but mostly because I couldn’t put it down. After being recommended this by my girlfriend, I was thrilled that I had the chance to read it.

The book follows the life of Kim Jiyoung from early childhood up until her early thirties, exploring what it is to be a woman in Korean society. The novel beautifully conveys how wearing daily life can be for women in South Korea through depicting the how relentlessly Jiyoung is put down and held back simply for being a woman. This relentless quality was, I believe, conveyed so effectively because the novel itself was only short. Where I felt the effect of this daily sexism and misogyny, I at no point felt bogged down by it, which I think could have happened had it been a longer book.

I loved the insight into how children were raised in South Korea during the 80’s and 90’s, how boys were, and to a large extent still are, favoured to the point of women aborting babies once they find out they were having a girl. This was also emphasised by the inclusion of various statistics regarding gender equality in South Korea.

I also particularly enjoyed the characterisation of Kim Jiyoung’s mother and how she walked the line of understanding what she had given up because she was a woman, and trying to avoid that happening to her daughters, and still playing favourites with her son. She frequently stands up for her daughters, ensuring they don’t have to give up the things she did and making sure they have more, but then still sacrifices for her son in small daily acts, such as giving up food for him, and never asks as much of him.

This brings me to one of the other aspects of the book which I loved, which was the role Jiyoung’s brother, the boy and youngest child of the family, plays, or rather lack of role he plays. The invisibility of him as a character really speaks to the aim of novel to highlight the lives of women in South Korean, where so often men are central to narratives. The son is barely mentioned by name, is only central to a scene once and is never the focal point of any aspect of story, instead being the background character who is normally considered first within the family but not to be considered in this book.

Finally, I have to mention the ending to this book, but will try to do so without giving too many spoilers. The final chapter of the book is from the perspective of the male medical professional treating Jiyoung and it perfectly sums up the issue men have when thinking about the difficulties women face. Even the men who take the time to understand how often women are held back in society, they almost always fall at the last hurdle, as is perfectly summed up in the final two sentences of the book.

March 2020 Round Up

After a slightly slower February, I’m back on track and got through some great literary content this month.

An American Marriage

  • Author: Tayari Jones
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books, 6th January 2018
  • Synopsis: The novel follows the lives of newly-wed couple, Celestial and Roy, after Roy gets convicted for a crime Celestial knows he did not commit.
  • Rating: 4/5

The Chain

  • Author: Adrian McKinty
  • Publisher: 9th July 2019, Orion Fiction
  • Synopsis: Your child has been kidnapped and you won’t get them back unless you kidnap someone else’s. You are now part of the chain.
  • Rating: 4/5

The Trial

  • Author: Franz Kafka
  • Publisher (My Copy): 2009, Vintage
  • Synopsis: Joseph K. wakes up one day to find himself arrested and must find a way to defend his innocence despite being given almost no information about the charge he faces.
  • Rating: 3/5

His Dark Materials

  • Network: BBC One
  • Original Novel: His Dark Materials book series by Philip Pullman
  • Synopsis: In an alternative world, Lyra, a young orphan, goes on a mission to track down her missing friend and ends up discovering the dark secret behind a recent string of children going missing.
  • Rating: 5/5

Noughts and Crosses

  • Network: BBC One
  • Original Novel: Noughts and Crosses book series by Malorie Blackman
  • Synopsis: Star-crossed lovers Sephy and Callum develop a relationship in a dystopian world of racially charged prejudice and conflict where the black crosses rule over the white noughts.
  • Rating: 4/5

Don’t Panic!

There will be more internships.

Given the current state of the world publishing internships and work experience opportunities are being postponed or cancelled left, right and centre, leaving many people desperately trying to break into the industry at a bit of a loss. I am currently one of those people.

I was supposed to have an in person interview for a summer internship with Wiley Publishers, which was initially cancelled, only to recently receive an email informing me that they are no longer able to run their internship scheme over the summer. Naturally, this was somewhat expected with ever increasing restrictions on travel and requirements for us to isolate ourselves and although I completely understand the need for this and definitely think it’s the right decision, I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed upon reading the email. Just as I was at the point of submitting applications and hopefully securing a role within publishing everything has been brought to a stand still.

However, I have decided there is no point in being all doom and gloom about it and instead just keep on working towards my goal of editing within book publishing. I am going to keep applying for everything I can, no matter how many schemes have to be cancelled, and at least view it as a way of improving my applications and cover letters, because ultimately there will always be more internships.

After all, when you do not manage to get one of the coveted spots of an internship you have still benefited from going through the application process and the same still holds true in this case. As much as I had hoped not to have to move back with my parents after I graduate in July, we are living in unpredictable times and if it takes me slightly longer to secure a role in publishing then that’s fine.

Besides I have still seen many publishing houses advertising roles with the hope that some people will be able to start from home and you can guarantee that I will be applying to as many of those as possible. Plus Wiley have said they’ll be in touch about potential autumn job opportunities for those who graduate this summer and were successful in reaching the interview stage of the internship scheme, so perhaps this will all work out for the best anyway.

The Chain

Adrian McKinty

The Chain is a suspense thriller novels that follows Rachel and Kylie O’Neill being brought into the Chain. Rachel becomes a part of the Chain when her 13 year old daughter, Kylie, is kidnapped and she is given instructions on a ransom she must pay and how she must kidnap another child in order to be reunited with Kylie.

This thriller is truly a parents’ worst nightmare but shows us how far a parent will go to save their own child. It is a chilling story that will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. My only critique would be that I wished for a genuinely thrilling twist at the end where there was instead an extended action sequence. The conclusion to the novel became clear several chapters too early which didn’t stop me from enjoying the ending but did limit the suspense element of it. This is likely because the second part of the book includes chapters from the perspective of the leaders of the Chain, and whilst this is initially intriguing, I found that it gave away a bit too much too early on.

However, having said that, the horror of the events of this book really hit home through the depiction of Rachel. Rachel is a recent divorcee, primary carer of her daughter and recently finished chemotherapy for breast cancer. The development of Rachel’s character through the book exemplifies how a parent would feel if their child was taken and and the increasing willingness to do whatever it takes to get them back.

Another interesting character in this book is Pete. Pete is Kylie’s doting uncle and Rachel’s ex-brother in law, who Rachel calls upon to help her with the kidnapping and getting Kylie back. Pete is an ex-marine and, as we quickly find out, current heroin addict. He is a clear example a military man who was given opioids and then, after they were taken away, resorted to heroin to fill the void. Throughout the book, Pete is forced to deal with his addiction not only because of the trauma but also because he develops a relationship with Rachel, who discovers his addiction and refuses to have him around Kylie unless he gets help. My favourite part of his characterisation is that he is a loving uncle and partner who suffers with a drug problem, and we are never at any point expected to view him in a negative light. His is a thoroughly good character who has flaws.

Overall, this book is currently being raved about, and rightly so, as it is definitely a noteworthy thriller that everyone should read.

An American Marriage

Tayari Jones

I had wanted to read An American Marriage, last year’s winner of the women’s prize for fiction, for a while now so when a friend offered to lend me her copy just as I was finishing my last book, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, I jumped at the chance.

The novel follows the story of a newly-wed African American couple after Roy gets convicted for a crime that Celestial is sure he didn’t commit. Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The start of the book is told through the letters the couple send to one another. The choice to structure the story in this way is an interesting one as it means that we simultaneously have access to some of the most intimate aspects of their lives whilst also only ever receiving an edited snapshot. You are privy only to what they each wish to share with the other, which you know must not be a complete story, but also gain insight into incredibly personal matters you would only ever share with the person closest to you. Although at points this was somewhat frustrating, I generally enjoyed this structure as it also gave the book a nice balance in perspectives.

The second two thirds of the book then alternate in perspective of the three main protagonists which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite realising I didn’t especially like any of them as characters. However, I think that my dislike of the three protagonists only served to add to the tragic element of the book. I was frustrated by all three of the main characters of this novel but found myself unable to fault any of them for their actions which was an interesting attitude to have to a novel and has also left me unable to decide how much I enjoyed reading it.

However, that is not to say that I do not have a great appreciation for this novel, and I without a doubt think that it tells an important story in a beautifully written way. This book explores race politics and the prejudice within the justice system and law enforcement in America, particularly in southern states. I felt that I was given an insight into a world and culture so far removed from my own which makes this book an invaluable book.

Overall, when finishing this book I was left with a feeling of sadness and an inability to to entirely pinpoint the origin of my frustration with this book but with no doubt in the value of this story being told.

Noughts and Crosses

I remembered reading the novel Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman when I was younger and thoroughly enjoying it, so I was thrilled to hear it was being adapted into a six part BBC series, particularly since it had been a while since I read it so felt like I was going into it with fresh eyes. The story takes place in a dystopian world where Aprica (or as we know it, Africa) colonised Albion (equivalent to Britain), which is now a partially segregated society made up of the ruling black crosses and the oppressed white noughts.

The show aims to explore race politics and demonstrate the injustice black people face within our society by flipping the roles and power dynamic of white and black people. The most obvious example of this is the depiction of police brutality against the noughts. They are frequently thrown up against police vans or to the ground whilst having the slur ‘blanker’ spat at them.

Another brutal example of the discrimination experienced by the noughts is within the wider justice system. The series shows us how the noughts are faced with far harsher sentences, and then treated so much worse once they are inevitably put in prison. The courts are not there to provide justice for the noughts, they are there to punish them, and this could not be made clearer than through the treatment of the noughts once they are inside prison.

However, beyond the blatant discriminatory behaviours, the aspects of the show that I found more interesting were the far more subtle examples of the power of the crosses permeating society. Examples of this that I found most intriguing were how the noughts in the army have their hair corn-rowed, as is required as part of the military dress-code, Sephy (a cross) giving Callum (a nought) a plaster that doesn’t match his skin tone, and only ever seeing crosses on the tv in the background of scenes. It is these subtler nuances of the show, rather than the bigger acts of racism, that make the world seem so realistic and draws a true parallel between this fictional dystopia and the real world we live in.

The main way in which the story deviates from our world today, however, is in the criminalisation of interracial relationships, which brings us to the main plot point that draws us into the show; the illegal relationship between Sephy and Callum. The two met and became friends as children because Callum’s mother, Meggie, works as a housekeeper for Sephy’s parents and she would often bring Callum to work with her during the school holidays. When the two run into each other at a party where Callum is working and Sephy is socialising they develop a romantic relationship, and become the star-crossed lovers at the centre of the show.

Unfortunately, not only is this illegal, placing Callum in significant danger if their relationship is discovered, but Sephy’s failure to understand Callum’s life and the way society, and the ruling crosses, treat him continually proves to be a source of conflict for their relationship. No matter how good her intentions are, Sephy repeatedly fails to consider how certain experiences may be different for Callum, particularly with regard to how authority figures and organisations treat him. Their relationship is an excellent representation of how, even when making a conscious effort, there will always be things that the privileged overlook when it comes to the experiences of the oppressed.

Finally, the depiction of the two mothers in the show is also particularly noteworthy. Watching their relationship to one another and how they aim to prioritise the welfare of their children is incredibly insightful. Whilst you cannot fault Jasmine’s concern for Sephy, her treatment of Meggie when under pressure always highlights how those in power are prepared to sacrifice those without it in the name of protecting those close to them.

This leads to an intelligent and brilliantly told story of structural racism with the deliberate intention of making the viewer uncomfortable.  I would definitely recommend to anyone that they watch this show.

Emma

I recently went to see the new film adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Emma. Before continuing with my review of the film I must admit I’ve never read the original novel or seen another adaptation of it (with the obvious exception of Clueless) and so this was truly my first experience of the story. So, here are my thoughts on the most recent adaptation of this classic.

I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of a period drama so I wasn’t what I would think of this film going in, however I found the tone of it thoroughly enjoyable. The dry humour and eclectic cast was an unexpected joy and the costumes and set were stunning, particularly during the shots that focused very closely on Emma and Mr Knightley being dressed. Two scenes that were interesting because I feel that they highlighted that the film was directed by a woman as there was a distinct absence of the male gaze (something which is notable throughout the film).

The film as a whole follows Emma, a young and beautiful woman of high status in Georgian-era England. Emma enjoys meddling in the lives of her friends and family in the name of matchmaking and the films follows her burgeoning friendship with Harriet, a young woman of unknown parentage, and subsequent matchmaking attempts.

The depiction of Emma’s friendship with Harriet was unfortunately one of my least favourite aspects of the film as I felt that it failed to fully portray it a genuine and meaningful relationship. Instead there were many instances in which Emma came across of cold and only interested in manipulating Harriet for her own benefit. This then takes away some of the significance of the climactic scene between Emma and Harriet in which Emma tries to make amends.

However, an aspect of the film that I did enjoy was that the focus of the plot was the platonic relationship between Emma and Harriet, rather than any sort of romantic relationship. Emma and Mr Knightley’s relationship is very much a secondary plot line, which was something I did not expect from a period drama, particularly since their relationship is entirely one of romance with no ulterior motive for them being together. As Emma makes, she has everything she needs, why would she marry for a household when she already runs her father’s?

Overall, I would consider this film enjoyable but unimpressive, there were plenty of fun moments and it was very well made, but it did not live up to some of the other film adaptations that have come out recently.