The Edith Readalong has been my priority of late. But before I got started with it, I was determined to finish a few of the half read books by my bed which included a trip to Nigeria, dabbling with some poetry and a peek inside a leper colony.
Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.
Americanah was my June by-default book group choice. We were meant to read Purple Hibiscus, Adichie’s first novel, but there were no copies to be found anywhere. The library was out and none of the local bookshops had a copy, with no more stock due until the second week in June. The rest of my group are happy to read on ereaders. I’m not. So I decided to finally read Americanah instead.
It was just what I needed at the end of May as we moved into the cold wintry days of June – a rich, engrossing, sprawling love story across three continents and a couple of decades.
A number of people have commented on how this book opened their eyes to racial issues they had not considered before, and perhaps if I had read this when it first came out, I may have felt the same way. As it stands though, most of the issues were ones I have read about before (I don’t mean this to sound dismissive. Anyone alive in the world today, who is paying attention knows what the issues are, and hopefully the more we read about them and talk about them it will create a momentum where fundamental change finally happens. However, for now, this is a mini review.)
I did learn a little bit about modern life in Nigeria and found the different experiences of a non-American black woman in America compared to a black woman born and raised in the US, fascinating. As Ifemula says at one point, she didn’t know she was black until she moved to America.
But the main reason I enjoyed this story as much as I did was the romance. The wonderful, oft-told trope of young lovers going their separate ways, only to find each other (and love) again later in life is one of my favourites. Maybe one day I will write the story about Mr Books and myself…!
Title: Americanah Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ISBN: 9780007356348 Imprint: 4th Estate Published: 23rd February 2017 (originally published 14th May 2013) Format: Paperback Pages: 481
When Benjamin Franklin wanted to fly his kite on a Sunday, he used to tie a key on its string and use a mysterious but convincing-sounding excuse. When asked why he was breaking the Sabbath, Franklin would tell people he wasn’t actually flying a kite, but was instead ‘fishing for lightning’.
In an attempt to better understand poetry and to help me in any future reviews, I quickly added Sarah Holland-Batt’s Fishing For Lightning: The Spark of Poetry to my bedside table last year.
It has been a slow read, one or two poems and their commentary at a time.
The book started as a weekly poetry column in The Australian newspaper. The first one was slated for 21st March 2020, World Poetry Day. Cultural observors will also note that this was just one week before the world went pear-shaped for most of us.
I will never have the depth and breadth of poetic knowledge that Holland-Blatt has developed and I often found myself overwhelmed by all that I do not know about poetry as I read her pieces. This wasn’t a bad thing, but I did need to be fully switched on and mentally alert to successfully engage with each essay and its accompanying poem.
In the end, this book has become an aspirational addition to my poetry shelf. One that I hope to dip in and out of as my interest and need dictates.
Title: Fishing For Lightning: The Spark of Poetry Author: Sarah Holland-Batt ISBN: 9780702263378 Imprint: University of Queensland Published: 28th September 2021 Format: Paperback Pages: 296
Sixteen years captive. But this last year I have hardly felt it, the sky has opened instead of pressing down.
Even though I love historical fiction and was fascinated by the leper colony at Little Bay in Sydney, for some reason I thought I might not get on with The Coast. How wrong I was!
The parallel stories of Alice and her mum, Clea and Jack, a young Aboriginal boy were engrossing and absorbing from page one. I found myself thinking about the book at odd times during the day and night, trying to imagine their lives inside the lazaret (quarantine station) at the Coast Hospital (now part of Prince Henry Hospital). I know this area pretty well and could picture exactly where they were, which added to the appeal for me.
The story switched between life inside the lazaret for our three sufferers (plus their doctor, Will Senger) to flashback chapters of their earlier lives. Jack’s story was complicated by being part of the Stolen Generation and an amputee from WWI, while Will’s story was complicated by his secret homosexuality.
Limprecht wrote Jack’s side of the story with the ‘advice and feedback from Yuwaalaraay reader Nardi Simpson and Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay reader Frances Peters-Little.’ While Will’s exemplary medical care was based on that of Dr E. H. Molesworth who was in charge of the Little Bay lazeret for twenty-five years.
I’ve given you these small facts to show some of the depth of research that went into this story. Knowledge that was woven seamlessly and effortlessly throughout the book to create believable, authentic characters. As you would expect, a story set inside a leper colony has a lot to say about shame, displacement, isolation, identity, loss, institutional misconduct and maltreatment.
I’d also recommend listening to Limprecht’s interview with Cassie McCullagh here.
Book 2 of 20 Books of
Title: The Coast Author: Eleanor Limprecht ISBN: 9781760879402 Imprint: Allen & Unwin Published: 1st June 2022 Format: Trade paperback Pages: 336
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.