Un-American by Hafizah Geter #BookReview #TheSealeyChallenge

#TheSealeyChallenge: Un-American by Hafizah Geter 

Created by @IntrovertInterrupted

What is #TheSealeyChallenge?

August marks the start of the #SealeyChallenge, a month-long reading challenge where participants set a goal to read 31 poetry books or chapbooks. And for once, I remembered that the challenge started on August 1st!

Named after Nicole Sealey, a renowned poet and educator, the challenge started in 2017. Sealey began the challenge after becoming the executive director at Cave Canem and realizing she wasn’t reading as much as she liked. She ended up sparking a movement when she put out a call on social media to her fellow poetry lovers to join her in her personal challenge to read more poetry.

Poet and Educator, Nicole Sealey
Poet and Educator, Nicole Sealey

After four years, the Sealey Challenge has been transformed into “a movement of poetry lovers reading a book a day and sharing their reads with the cyber world.” This has led to readers forming lasting bonds through their love of poetry.

My Goals for The Sealey Challenge

To keep things simple for myself, I set out a goal to read a minimum of four poetry books (or a book a week) in August to complete the Sealey Challenge just to factor in time constraints and it being my first experience with the challenge.

My first read for the challenge is Un-American by Hafizah Geter.

Published in 2020, Un-American is an attempt by Geter to make sense of the personal tragedy she and her family suffered when her mother died of a stroke when the poet was nineteen. The collection was nominated for a 2021 NAACP Image Award, long-listed for the 2021 PEN Open Book Award, and received a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly.

In an article on Poets & Writers’ websites, Geter states that she used Un-American as a means to “make [her] and [her] family’s wounds metaphorical because up until then, they had been so physical, so palpably devastating” for them. The collection also served as a way for Geter to connect to her Nigerian homeland after losing her mother and to better understand her father, a Black man who grew up in Alabama and Ohio “in a country that doesn’t much care for Black boys and men.”

Un-American by Hafizah Geter book cover
The cover image is a painting by Geter’s father, Tyrone Geter, who did a painting of Geter’s mother when she was pregnant with her older sister

Introduction to Hafizah Geter and Section One of Un-American 

For me, reading Un-American felt cathartic. 

Geter writes about her personal experiences from the vantage point of a casual observer. Using pithy lines to create charged scenes, she invites readers into her memory while shrugging off any notions of being overly sentimental about what she’s referencing even when it is painful to recall. 

Take the closing lines of the poem, “The Break In,” for example:

Tonight the distance between me, my mother, and Nigeria
is like a jaw splashed against a wall.
I close my eyes and see my father
sulking like a pile of ashes,
his hair jet black and kinky,
his silence entering a thousand rooms.
Then outside, trimming hedges as if home
were a land just beyond the meadow,
the leaves suddenly back.
When I close my eyes
I see my mother, mean for the rest of the day,
rawing my back in the tub
like she’s still doing dishes.

Here, Geter relays the story of having her house broken into. Flitting between the perspectives of her mother, father, and self, Geter sifts through their collective memory to present a cohesive picture of the traumatic event. 

Listing each person’s emotions in the poem’s lines, Geter masterfully uses snapshots to show her readers how her interpretation of events is filtered through her parents. But, what’s more, Geter tells her story through an antiseptic lens, as if she is one step removed from the story she is relaying.

While personal, Un-American also draws on the complex history of America and interrogates what it means to be “American” while simultaneously being labeled as “other.”  

With the collection’s first poem, “The Pledge,” Geter speaks of the division between her mother and father and shows the difference in her understanding of being American in contrast to her parents’ knowledge of this identity. Geter builds on this theme in the second section of Un-American

In this section, she weaves together her parents’ story and sets the foundation of their life story up against tributes to Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner in her four “Testimony” poems. 

The poet, Hafizah Geter.
(Nigeria/USA), New York, New York, February 7, 2020.  Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan
The poet, Hafizah Geter (Nigeria/USA), New York, New York, February 7, 2020. Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

Second Section of Un-American

With the second section, Geter takes an interrogative stance drawing on the political and cultural perspectives of being Black in America and gives voice to the layered experience of being Black and American. 

In this section, if a reader is too focused on only seeing Bland, Rice, Brown, and Garner as martyrs or civil rights figures, they’ll miss the way Geter uses each of the “Testimony” poems as transitions and layers her parents’ story over each poem to make sense of her own life story.

Geter shows intimacy mixed with tragedy to develop her family’s story in the reader’s mind’s eye and connect it into the tapestry of American heritage. This approach is fitting since the poet consistently shifts her focus from using a macro lens to tell a story of being an “American” to a microlens when she tells pieces of each member of her family’s story. 

For instance, she mentions Sandra Bland’s death in Wallace County, Texas in the first “Testimony” poem focusing her pen on showing a wider angle of brutality against Blacks in America:

As if the humiliation can never be done,
there were typos in your autopsy report.
The words:no signs of struggle.I thought, my body is your body,

is a temple on fire, is a blinded mask,
is a jail cell, is light as a paper bag,
is the sound my father makes
when, after so many years, he says my mother’s name.

And then Geter swiftly switches focus to tell her father’s story in “Alabama Parable,” giving readers a close up look at her own heritage:

My father looks down the barrel

of a shotgun house,

sees in my grandmother

hurt like prayer

is a kneeling position,

sees that fearing

the wrath of God can make you

name any angry man, King.

Finally, the poet fills in the narrative again and connects her father’s story to the larger story of Eric Garner in “Testimony (for Eric Garner)” using contemporary persona poetry and using the symbolism of kings and a blue-collar upbringing:

This love is blue-

collar work, this exile,

heritage. I don’t regret

the kings and queens I’ve made,

though police keep fucking

up. Keep kicking

down the door

inside me. Master’s tools steady

trying to burn our cribs down.

my children search mirrors

For suspicious activity. Marker 4:40.

the hourglass imitates

me. Judge, the wolves,

they multiply.

This second section also holds my favorite poem, from Un-American, which is “The Leaving,” 

Of all Geter’s collection, if I could get you all to read any poem, it would be “The Leaving.” 

As a lover of Warsan Shire’s poetry, I immediately gravitated toward this poem’s imagery of immigrants transitioning between space and place.

A Nigerian proverb

that when you lose your bridge,

climb down the mountain.

Instead, my mother grabbed

the Atlantic. Enough for a path

to carry daughters. 

“The Leaving” is where Geter’s work shines as it draws together the intricate familial mythology she writes about throughout Un-American. In this poem, Geter folds all her themes into a neat bow showing how difficult it is to be Black and immigrant and woman in America. 

This poem also touches upon the prevalent theme of mother-daughter relationships and being a family of mixed citizenship status. Drawing on her own experiences, Geter tackles the inherent harm that Black people face to their personhood through state-sanctioned violence alongside the everyday occurrence of being alive in America.

Section Three of Un-American

The third and final section of Un-American is about going through the motions of healing after tragedy strikes and returning home to your country of origin once you’ve set up roots elsewhere.

Where section one sets up the themes of Un-American and introduces readers to Geter’s family, and section two positions the family’s story into the wider frame of the American narrative, Geter turns her focuses inward for section three while connecting her family’s story to Nigeria. 

In this third section, she moves on from talking about state-sanctioned violence against all Black bodies in America to switch gears to the violence these bodies experience in Nigeria. Here, Geter writes about trying to build up her identity as a Nigerian American finding herself in-between the respective cultures of her parents. 

Poems like “Out of Africa” and “Three-Hundred Girls” track Geter and her sister’s journey back across the Atlantic to connect to their Nigerian heritage. Lines from “Out of Africa,” such as:

Something in my sister knows

it is easier in China than America to give her children 

uncolonized language, easier to raise black boys to be men

Who never forget duty or home.

Or, lines like the following from “Three-Hundred Girls” draw the reader’s attention to how Geter and her sister must go outside the U.S. to gain access to that security and proximity to power that alludes to them in their father’s country of origin. 

We eat fufu, efo, and egusi soup.

My sister, bowl after of jollof rice.

Like a woman no longer living

outside the language of her happiness

Yet, even in this moment of security that Geter and her sister enjoy for this brief sojourn in Nigeria, the poet intersperses violence into the sisters stay in “Three-Hundred Girls” juxtaposes the safety the sisters feel against the kidnapping and subsequent violence the Nigerian girls from the Zamfara school face:

Fourteen Hauwas, like me,

she says, as though I’ve forgotten

mothers in Chibok are still

weeping on the floors of classrooms

burned into burial grounds.

My Nigerian passport

expires.

Using “harm” as a constant theme in Un-American is understandable since being Black across the Diaspora carries with it a specific brand of harm that the average Black person knows intimately. However, it is often harder to understand when the danger comes from within our own bodies instead of from an external source.

In section three, along with the images of her and her sister reconnecting with their Nigerian roots, Geter conjures up images of the diseases that ravaged her parents. To me, this depiction of illness, besides self-discover, illustrates the cyclical nature of existence Blacks around the world are forced to live within when facing state-sanctioned violence and balancing just trying to exist peacefully.

For example, poems in section three oscillate between global depictions of violence, Geter remembering her mother, and the poet attempting to care for her ailing father while grieving and crafting her own multi-hyphenated identity.

This raw depiction of emotions in these snapshots of her poetry is what made in Un-American a cathartic read for me. While her writing is terse and to the point, the images she crafts with her poetry are full of life and well-honed to hit readers right in the feels.

At its core, Un-American is an introspective look at Geter’s family. However, the collection also asks readers to consider who gets to be a part of the American story while calling us to bear witness to the trauma and pain that comes with being labeled as the “other.” 

All that being said, Un-American is a poetry collection I would highly recommend.

Are you all participating in #TheSealeyChallenge?

Thank you to Wesleyan University Press for the gifted copy! All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee #BookReview

Cover of "Jasmine" by Bharati Mukherjee
Cover of “Jasmine” by Bharati Mukherjee

Something that I enjoy when I read stories about people who have immigrated is to see how their identities change as they go from place to place. This transformation of character belies an unshakable strength that escapes many people who stay stagnant all their lives.

In Bharati Mukherjee’s novel Jasmine, the main character, Jyoti, transforms several times within the book to survive. Jyoti’s story shows the immigrant’s struggle and the danger of being female while immigrating.

For the immigrant woman, the threat of being denied her agency and personhood is much higher than for their male counterparts. Sadly, women face the danger of being sex trafficked, raped, and a slew of other dangers as they make the journey to a better life that is often not faced by men. Mind you, this isn’t to say a male immigrant’s path to a new life is riddled with ease, but Mukherjee places emphasis on the difference in her female character’s struggle to pin down their identities. This left me questioning how different subgroups of immigrants build their identities once they start their new lives.

Author, Bharati Mukherjee
Author, Bharati Mukherjee

It would seem that the author also wanted to prove a point about the flexibility of women vs. men as they move into their new lives. According to Mukherjee in a 1990 interview with the Iowa Review, women are more likely to be the family member who has to go out into the community when the family arrives to speak on behalf of their families. By doing these things, they can build ties to their new homes. 

Men often spend time living in the past and remembering their homes fondly, which can sometimes hinder their progress toward building new ties with their current community. This was an interesting argument because it’s a point that Mukherjee makes about Punjabi men who have immigrated and the American men who still long for the “glory days” of their country.

"What to Read Next" banner

created by @IntrovertInterrutped

If I had to choose a book I’d recommend to read after Jasmine to showcase how immigration intersects with women and those who are impoverished, Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid is an excellent follow-up to Mukherjee’s book.

Book cover of "Lucy" by Jamaica Kincaid

In Lucy, Kincaid explores the vapid and consumeristic undertones of American culture through the eyes of her teenaged protagonist. Fleeing her British-ruled Caribbean island, Lucy Potter, a nineteen-year-old au pair, comes to New York to take care of an upper-class White couple’s children. Lucy goes through all the steps of disillusionment with her life in America after having dreamed of escaping her island life and colonialism in general.

Where Jyoti in Jasmine comes to America and seems to insert herself wherever she goes seamlessly, Lucy questions ev-ery-thing she sees and all those around her. And this singular decimation of the world Lucy inhabits is why I love this book.

Lucy is for you if you’re a lover of books where there is an exploration of character and heavy emphasis on internal dialogue. Be warned, though, Lucy is not a “go with the flow” type of character. Kincaid’s writing is definitely not about smoothing the way for a reader to have a “feel-good experience.” You will feel everything about this slim volume, and like Jasmine, you will think about the main character long after you close the book.

Tell me what books have left you thinking about the characters well after closing the book in the comment section.

Interview With Helene Wecker, Author of “The Hidden Palace”

The Book

In this enthralling historical epic, set in New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I— the long-awaited follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker revisits her beloved characters Chava and Ahmad as they confront unexpected new challenges in a rapidly changing human world.

Cover of The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker
Cover of The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, able to hear the thoughts and longings of the people around her and compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a perpetually restless and free-spirited creature of fire, imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and pretend to be human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Having encountered each other under calamitous circumstances, Chava and Ahmad’s lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other. 

Each has unwittingly affected the humans around them. Park Avenue heiress Sophia Winston, whose brief encounter with Ahmad left her with a strange illness that makes her shiver with cold, travels to the Middle East to seek a cure. There she meets a tempestuous female jinni who’s been banished from her tribe. Back in New York, in a tenement on the Lower East Side, a little girl named Kreindel helps her rabbi father build a golem they name Yossele—not knowing that she’s about to be sent to an orphanage uptown, where the hulking Yossele will become her only friend and protector.

Spanning the tumultuous years from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, The Hidden Palace follows these lives and others as they collide and interleave. Can Chava and Ahmad find their places in the human world while remaining true to each other? Or will their opposing natures and desires eventually tear them apart—especially once they encounter, thrillingly, other beings like themselves?

Author Interview

Author, Helene Wecker
Author, Helene Wecker

Adira: Mrs. Wecker, thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you! The Golem & the Jinni means so much to me as a reader since it was one of the books that kept me company while I sat with my father when he would go to treatment for dialysis. Because of this and the magical landscape you created, Chava and Ahmad are two of my favorite characters of all time.

Helen Wecker: Thank you so much! I’m truly honored, and I’m glad that The Golem and the Jinni could keep you company during a difficult time.

A: Can you tell me a little about the inspiration behind The Golem & The Jinni and The Hidden Palace and how you went about researching for your books?

HW: I started writing The Golem & the Jinni while I was at grad school for creative writing. I’d decided that for my master’s thesis I would write a series of short stories that combined tales from my own family history and from my husband’s family history. I’m Jewish and he’s Arab American, and I’ve always been struck by the similarities in our backgrounds, specifically around issues of immigration to America, language, and culture. But the stories I was writing were very realist and sort of uninspired. When I complained to a friend about it, she pointed out that I adore stories that combine realism and fantasy, and she challenged me to do that with my own work. So I decided that instead of a Jewish girl and an Arab-American boy for my main characters, I’d turn them into the most emblematic folkloric figures I could think of from each culture: a (female) golem and a (male) jinni. That opened up the whole story, and the characters developed their own personalities and struggles, instead of merely being stand-ins for myself and my husband.

Cover of The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker
Cover of The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker


The research process was gargantuan, especially for the first book. I’d picked 1899 because I wanted this to feel like an “old world” immigration story, a folktale set in our real history — but I’d originally thought I was writing a short story, not a novel. Once it became clear that this was going to be an actual book, I had to stop and take stock of what I really knew about 1899 New York, which wasn’t much. So I went to the Columbia University library and just started reading everything I could find about the neighborhoods and the tenements, to establish a baseline of knowledge. From there I branched off into specifics like the history of Syrian and Jewish immigration to the U.S., and the stories and folklore they brought with them, and the different religious sects and backgrounds they came from. For The Hidden Palace, I spent a lot of time researching Sophia’s travels in the Middle East. I read up on Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence, and the history of Palmyra (which is a few novels in itself), and how World War I eventually drove Lebanon into starvation. New subjects kept popping up for me to research, like the Western Union telegraph system and its messenger boys, and turn-of-the-century Jewish orphanages (I based mine on a real New York orphanage, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum). I tried to use primary sources whenever I could — which was easier than it would’ve been a decade ago, considering how much has been digitized and made available on the Internet — and I tried to fact-check everything that wasn’t a primary source. I took the research process pretty seriously even though I’m writing fiction, because I know how much the details contribute to the overall lived-in feeling of the books, and it’s important to me to get them right.

A: Why did you decide on a “golem” and “jinni” to embody your main characters? Likewise, why did you choose Chava, the golem, to be the female protagonist and Ahmad, the jinni, as your male protagonist?

HW: Hope it’s ok that I rolled this part of the question into the answer above…

The pushcart market in the East Side Ghetto of New York's Jewish Quarter was a hive of activity in the early 1900s.

Source: Ewing Galloway/Getty Images & NPR
The pushcart market in the East Side Ghetto of New York’s Jewish Quarter was a hive of activity in the early 1900s

A: Of course!

I only ask this because it reminds me of a conversation I had in my Globalism and Transnationalism Literature class in graduate school, where we discussed how women and men assimilate differently into their new communities as immigrants.

For example, while it is harder for Chava to assimilate because she is at the mercy of her empathic connection to others, as a woman, she can blend into her Jewish community easier through her inquisitiveness about the human world and her work as a baker, which forces her to interact with her neighbors. For Ahmad, though, like many other men who start anew as immigrants, he’s so stuck on the image he holds in his memory of his home country, he couldn’t adapt to his new surroundings. This leads Ahmad, unlike Chava, to shut himself away from the community of Little Syria for much of the series.

As an author, did you intentionally follow this pattern for female and male immigrants for Chava and Ahmed or any of the other characters in your books?

HW: That really is a fascinating question. I remember that during the research process, I read a few academic studies about this exact thing: that immigrant men who’d come to the U.S. for economic gain would consider themselves less tied to America, and held onto the idea of “going home” someday, much more than the women whose role it was to create a new home for their husbands and children. The expectations were so different, and so deeply gendered!

For my characters in particular, these tendencies came about as a result of their individual histories. Ahmad has a past, a life before New York, and Chava doesn’t; she can’t long for an earlier life because this is all she knows. She’s drawn to help others both by her nature and as a result of her empathic abilities, so she has more of an inner incentive to assimilate, while Ahmad — who arrives in New York against his will — is much more conflicted about humanity in general.

Now, was I more likely to make Chava an empath because I’d created her as female, and more likely to make Ahmad a loner because I’d created him male? Almost certainly! Gendered expectations strike again!

Manhattan’s Little Syria neighborhood

A: Be it a religious, ethnic, or a community built around a character’s magical species, so much of what you write about in The Golem & The Jinni and The Hidden Palace centers around the theme of community. How would you define community, and how did you use that definition to influence how you wrote the characters and changing settings in your novels?

HW: I define community in its broadest sense as a group of people whose interactions are framed around a shared element. You can have communities based on physical proximity, on one’s geographic or cultural origins, on shared life experiences, on something as inconsequential-seeming as a hobby. I think that we all belong to any number of these communities, all of which intersect and layer on top of each other. Our ties to them may wax and wane as our lives change. The problems come in when a person belongs to two or more communities that are antithetical to each other in some way. In my books, Chava and Ahmad become a community of two; their experiences are so distinctive that they literally have no one else who can understand them. Yet they each also belong to human communities (Chava more willingly than Ahmad) that would never accept them if they knew the truth. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to bring another golem and another jinni(yeh) into The Hidden Palace: so we could see a different intersection of these communities, these shared experiences. Chava is drawn to Yossele despite her better judgment, because the lure of that common experience is simply too strong to deny. And Dima is forcibly cast out from her original community and seeks out Ahmad in hopes of creating a new one, though it doesn’t go as planned.

A: In The Hidden Palace, you speak of the “changeability” of stories as they are retold in your Prologue. When your series takes place, humans are starting to discover electricity and make massive leaps in technology, which has changed the way humans can tell and preserve our cultural myths and ways of worship. How does this change in technology influence your method of storytelling and the action in your stories from the time the series begins in The Golem & The Jinni and then later in The Hidden Palace?

HW: The change that had the greatest impact was probably the increase in speed of communication. The telegraph had been around for decades, but by the turn of the century the service was much quicker and more streamlined, as well as completely commonplace. And then the telephones, of course, which by the 1910s were practically a household necessity, in the same way that personal e-mail exploded in the mid- to late ’90s. It made it easier for my characters to communicate with each other, even over distances. Though I did sometimes have to come up with reasons why my characters still met and talked in person, instead of just picking up the phone!

Central Park is another favorite site for the characters in Wecker’s series


A: One thing I loved about your novel is the way you center language. Your usage of language spans from having characters in the Jewish community be engrossed in learning Hebrew and harnessing its power for good and sinister purposes to having Ahmad be frustrated by the distance that grows between him and the imaginary language of the jinn. Was there a greater role you wanted language to play in your novel?

HW: In The Hidden Palace I tried to use language as a signifier for community and belonging, or the lack of it. The fact that Ahmad can’t speak his own language anymore, for instance: it’s one thing to say “I have no one to talk to,” but in his case it’s literally the truth! It’s just another way in which he feels he’s assimilating to humanity against his own will. And in the case of Kreindel, the young girl who’s at the Jewish orphanage uptown, language is a tie to her father’s memory and the religious values that he taught her. So she wants to learn Hebrew as a holy language, but the orphanage insists on teaching it as a spoken language, which to her is a form of blasphemy. So in refusing to speak their language, she rejects the community that’s offered to her. And Ahmad and Chava have their own “language,” too, a private blend of human languages which they pepper with idioms and metaphors that they overhear in their walks around Manhattan. It’s just another way that they’re a private community of two.

The Washington Arch in New York City was one of the series favorite sites to visit.
The Washington Arch in New York City was one of the series favorite sites to visit.


A: While your first book is a bit easier going, The Hidden Palace tackles more hard-hitting topics, like pogroms in Eastern Europe, the rights of women and factory and railroad workers, and even what it looked like for those who had their countries turned into war zones in World War I. How did you prepare yourself as a writer to shift your perspective from being a tale of “good and evil” and a matter of two characters attempting to find their place in society in The Golem & The Jinni to touching on the more challenging subject matter in The Hidden Palace?

HW: To be honest, I sort of backed into it without a lot of planning beforehand. At first I’d envisioned The Hidden Palace as more good vs. evil, like The Golem and the Jinni, but the plot grew way too big and I had to cut it down to size. Eventually I realized that the book didn’t need a clear-cut villain for them to fight against, that the characters themselves could create the necessary conflict. But the thing about good vs. evil is that it provides a handy trajectory to plot a book around, so instead I had to weave that trajectory together out of the various threads I’d created. In the end it was a matter of trial and error, as always, as each of the main characters got their turn at playing the “villain” as they reacted (often poorly) to the changes in the world around them.

Sunlight streams through the windows in the concourse at Grand Central Terminal in New York City in 1954.
Sunlight streams through the windows in the concourse at Grand Central Terminal in New York City in 1954.


A: Speaking of “hard-hitting” topics, since the publication of The Golem & The Jinni, immigration has become a hot-button issue in America. Did this change the way you attempted to tackle this issue in The Hidden Palace or the trajectory any of your characters’ stories took?

HW: In the end, it didn’t change the book so much as it made the subject matter feel more immediate and urgent. I also felt the echoes of the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis that it caused; in fact, I was researching the Palmyra sections of the book just as ISIL took control of Palmyra in 2015 and went about destroying parts of the ruins. Around that time I wrote a version of Dima in which she was a refugee who’d barely escaped Syria with her life. But it made the character too instantly sympathetic and messed with her motivations, so I changed her back before too long.

A: Are there any authors that influenced your writing or that you’d recommend readers put on their Summer TBR List?

HW: Oh, too many to list! I discovered Ursula K. LeGuin far too late in life, and I’ve been slowly working my way through her collected works. What a staggering mind that woman had. Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series is lighter than LeGuin, and a hell of a lot of fun. It features a humanoid construct that’s built for servitude and defense but escapes its masters, so of course it reminds me of Chava, though it curses a hell of a lot more than Chava does!

A: I love this series so much and can’t wait to read the next book in the series. Are you working on any writing projects you can share with readers?

HW: At the moment, I’m still recovering from the process of getting The Hidden Palace out the door! But I hope to start researching for the next book before too long, and I really hope that it doesn’t take another seven years before Book Three is finished!

A: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me, Mrs. Wecker!

HW: Thank you! I loved the questions!

Readers, comment below and tell me what do you think life was like in New York during the early 1900s?

Until We’re Fish by Susannah R. Drissi #BookReview

Thank you to @RandomTTours and Mrs. Rodríguez Drissi for my finished copy of Until We’re Fish!

Blog Tour Dates for Until We’re Fish

In a virtual talk with Harvard Book Store, Susannah Rodríguez Drissi says of her title, Until We’re Fish, that “fish are bounty…they speak of potential.” For her, the loose translation of her title means “until [the characters] are able to claim a space for [them]selves and feel like [they] belong,” they will always feel like “fish out of water.” And nothing can be more accurate for the three main characters, Elio, Maria, and Pepe, as the reader follows them on their journey into adulthood over a span of thirty years in Cuba. 

Cover of Until We’re Fish by Rodríguez Drissi

Set from 1958 to the 1990s, Until We’re Fish by Susannah Rodríguez Drissi, is a coming-of-age story. Elio, Maria, and Pepe grow up during the tumultuous years of the Cuban Revolution. As the novel unfolds, each character is forced to make hard choices as they wrestle with the futures they desire for themselves while living in the unfair world that the revolution creates.

As a girl, Maria dreams of freedom and moving to Chicago after spending years reading the Sears catalog. However, Elio, her neighbor, only dreams of Maria and owning a Schwinn bike. In direct competition with Pepe, his friend and rival for Maria’s heart, Elio holds out hope that Maria will be his.

Author photo of Rodríguez Drissi

Rodríguez Drissi’s prose is distinct as she narrates the lives of her characters. This author’s descriptive portrayal of Cubans trying to fight to survive succeeded in drawing me in as a reader because I could picture revolutionary Cuba during the 50’s going forward. And as a lover of languages, having the author use rich references and imagery to her home country and the novel, Don Quixote, helped build suspense about what choices her characters would make regarding their lives and fleeing Cuba. However, it also drives home the point that the Cuba mainland Americans imagine pales compared to the world that native Cubans inhabit or for the world those who immigrated left behind.

Until We’re Fish is an authentic tale about survival, love, and coming of age in a world where nothing is a sure thing. Lovers of Chanel Cleeton’s When We Left Cuba and Next Year in Havana will enjoy returning to Cuba from the perspective of Cubans who were left on the island or chose to stay as revolution broke out.

Come On In, America is Waiting!: The Immigrant & America, A #BookReview #BlogTour

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” 
― Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of 2018, there are roughly more than 44.7 immigrants residing in the United States to date. Immigrants make up 13.7% of the American population and have helped build up every imaginable industry in America from the government (e.g., Can you say, “Founding Fathers?”) to technology and science, to our food industry.

Yet, this group is frequently under attack and lauded as “leeches” on American resources even while they are recruited to keep America running smoothly by doing tasks that others won’t or can’t do. This is often done for little to no pay. With the current administration’s smear campaign against immigration, it’s refreshing to read stories by authors with firsthand experience of the true labor that goes into immigrating in the anthology, Come On In.

The anthology was edited by Adi Alsaid and is comprised of fourteen authors who hail from a variety of global backgrounds ranging from Fiji to Ecuador. I loved this anthology because each author shows that it takes courage and tenacity to leave the world you once knew behind to embrace a new life.

Likewise, each author has their own unique voice and tells their story from different vantage points of immigrating to America. For instance, some writers speak of the pain that comes with confronting TSA when you arrive in America and ICE if you are unfortunate enough to be deported. Other authors in the anthology tell of being told that they’re moving, but their older siblings are being left behind because they weren’t approved for a visa. Still, in other stories, the author presents first-generation American born children who struggle with building an identity in-between the proverbial hyphen of their parents’ native land and the American country they grew up in.

All these stories that Alsaid has edited together show that the immigrant experience, like everything else, cannot be told in a single story. Even within the same family, the story and one’s outlook on being an immigrant can vary.

This anthology is an excellent initial resource for anyone who has questions about what it is like for people who make the journey to leave their homelands and move to a new country. The stories in this collection will force readers to face their assumptions about who immigrants are.

If you go into this collection with an open mind, the stories will force you to look deeper into the question of why people choose to leave their homes, and if there even is a choice for some people. Likewise, for readers who love good storytelling, this anthology is perfect because of the nuanced viewpoints presented in the collection.

Thank you to Hear Our Voices Book Tours for granting me an e-galley of this anthology and allowing me to be a part of the promo tour! Check their site for more stops on the tour!

Through The Voice of the “Other:” Book Review on Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 “I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”  – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’ve been struggling to write a review for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, Americanah for the past week due to mixed feelings about it. Upon finishing it, I was equal parts content and frustrated with the book. While it met my expectations in a way, I was also let down by certain aspects of the novel. I end up giving this book 4 stars due to a lackluster ending and the general feeling that Adichie only meant her characters to be mouthpieces to voice her feelings on different cultural and political topics.
 

At its heart, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a book about various immigrants who are trying to work their way through discovering what it means to be a part of the countries they’ve immigrated to while also holding on to their original cultures. Adichie’s story is told through the perspective of Ifemelu, a Nigerian blogger who has lived in America for thirteen years and Obinze, a wealthy Nigerian business man who still lives in Nigeria. From Ifemelu and Obinze’s perspective, the reader learns about different race issues that go on in America, the way the Nigerian government works, and hears the stories of different people who have settled abroad or come home to live in Nigeria after living abroad.

Comment below if you’ve read this book!

As the novel begins, Ifemelu is set to return home to Nigeria after her hiatus in America and decides to reconnect with her childhood sweetheart, Obinze. The two previously lost contact once Ifemelu went to America to finish college. By the time that Ifemelu reaches out to him, Obinze has moved on with his life and is married. Adichie makes it very obvious to the reader that the two characters have built separate lives from the ones that they once lived as carefree children who were oblivious to the ups and downs of Nigerian politics.

The pacing of this story was fairly good. The author was able to say a great deal about the Nigerian culture while also providing adequate details about each of the main characters’ lives. There were times in the book where the background history about Nigeria became long winded, but it never got to the point where I felt the need to put the book down. One thing that hindered the overall pacing of the story, though, was Adichie’s habit of adding different blog post from Ifemelu’s blog at different intervals in each chapter. While some of the post were interesting and thought provoking, others just seemed awkward in their placing or unnecessary altogether.

In terms of characters, Adichie creates solid ones to tell her story without making them seem overly preachy. Ifemelu’s character is pegged as someone who “tells it like it is” and isn’t afraid to call others out on their BS. Behind this character’s tough exterior, there is also an inquisitive nature that helps give her the initiative to voice her opinion about race relations in America and Nigeria and confront different issues that plague African immigrants and African-Americans. This bluntness in the character as she tries to gain an understanding of racial groups who are deemed as “the other” in America can also cause readers to label Ifemelu as a callused individual. Yet, Adichie makes it a point to eventually peel back this character’s layers and expose her reasoning behind each negative assessment of American and Nigerian culture.

On the other hand, Obinze is a character that is a dreamer at heart and is initially hell-bent on making his way to America to live out his fictional dream of “making it.” Mentally, he believes that life can only begin once he makes it to this glorified Mecca.  Obinze is an individual who also scrutinizes the immigrant’s life, but unlike Ifemelu, his character makes it a point to do so from the role of an unbiased onlooker opposed to a blunt critic. It would seem that his longing to become a part of the Western world keeps him from being overly harsh in his judgement of “the other’s” role in society in places like England and America.

With the building of Ifemelu and Obinze’s character, Adichie creates a storyline that holds the potential to be electric once it hits its climax, but it ends up falling flat for me due to its lack of originality. To me, this is extremely sad because for a good 3/4 of her book, Adichie makes powerful statements about race relations in America and politics in Nigeria. However, when it comes time to wrap up the loose ends of Ifemelu and Obinze’s love life, she creates a weak generic ending that feels dry and so unlike what her reader’s expect of her characters. In this way, I feel as if Adichie did more telling than actual showing in her book. I was truly interested in the cultural topics she spoke about, but by the end of the book, I got the feeling that she could’ve condensed the actual love story of Ifemelu and Obinze into a mere 150 to 200 pages and written another book about her feelings on race in America/ Immigration laws in America and England/ Nigerian politics.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Nigerian culture or who wants to learn what the American or English culture looks like from a non-white immigrant’s perspective. However, if you aren’t interested in hearing a lot of back history to either of these culture’s, I would recommend reading something else.

As of September 2019, there has been word that Danai Gurira of Walking Dead and Marvel’s Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame fame is adapting the film as a limited 10-episode series for HBO Max. Gurira’s television series would include heavy hitters, such as the Oscar winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o, from Twelve Years A Slave fame and the Emmhy award winner, Uzo Aduba, of Orange is the New Black acclaim. If you’re excited about this adaptation, drop down below and leave a comment!

Cheers!