#BookReview of “Crick Crack, Monkey” by Merle Hodge

“𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘢𝘥𝘰𝘹 𝘰𝘧 𝘦𝘥𝘶𝘤𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘪𝘴 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘪𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 – 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘢𝘴 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘨𝘪𝘯𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘴𝘤𝘪𝘰𝘶𝘴, 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘨𝘪𝘯𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘦𝘹𝘢𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘰𝘤𝘪𝘦𝘵𝘺 𝘪𝘯 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘩 𝘩𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘣𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘦𝘥𝘶𝘤𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘥.” ― James Baldwin

What was the last book you read that reminded you of yourself?

When I was in high school, my parents paid for me to go on a class trip to Europe. On the trip, I had my first real taste of a world that was culturally different from my own. 

Cover of Crick Crack, Monkey by Merle Hodge. Photo taken by @IntrovertInterrupted on Instagram.
Cover of Crick Crack, Monkey by Merle Hodge

Upon my return home, I couldn’t stop talking about this trip, & I found some way to always tie the conversation back to what I had seen while I was away. Fed up, my father finally told me, that he hadn’t sent me there to come back & question he & my mother or the life they were providing for me. 

I was stunned. In my mind, I’d only been sharing my observations about the vastness of the world. But to my father, I had presented my observations in juxtaposition to the life he & my mother had provided me, & this was akin to blasphemy to my proud African-American parents. This experience mirrors Tee’s awakening in Crick Crack, Monkey by Merle Hodge.

Author, Merle Hodge
Author, Merle Hodge

Published in 1970, Hodge’s novel is celebrated as a significant work in the Caribbean Literature canon. Set in Trinidad, Hodge’s story is a coming of age story of Tee, a young girl who is shuffled between two aunts’ houses. Tee’s Aunt Tantie and Aunt Beatrice represent the working & upwardly mobile classes of Trinidad & Tobago, respectively, & both vie for a chance to raise Tee & shape her views on the world.

While this novel is not “action-packed,” it made me think of how forcibly “whiteness” gets thrust upon Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. We as minorities often never question ourselves or our cultural traditions until we’re sent to be educated in White spaces or come in contact with a White person who strips us of our humanity.

Watching Tee’s views of places she loves unravel as she‘s forced to try to move closer to an ideal of wealth & whiteness that‘s ever present on her island helped me began to understand why my father rebuked me waxing poetic about Europe so long ago. 

#BookTour Game of the Gods by Paolo Maurensig #BookReview

Game of the Gods’ by Paolo Maurensig

Thank you to @RandomTTours, @WorldEdBooks, and @NetGalley for the advanced readers copy of Game of the Gods by Paolo Maurensig and translated by Anne Milano Appel.

If you’re a lover of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit (the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis) or chess, I have a novel for you! 

Set in 1930s India under British rule comes the story of chess master Malik Mir Sultan Khan. Forgotten by the world but renowned for his chess acumen, Sultan Khan is a historical figure that Paolo Maurensig reimagines from the notebooks of a fictional reporter at the Washington Post. The author fills in Sultan Khan’s life’s details using “what if” scenarios and the scraps he finds from the chess player’s history.

Photo of Malik Mir Sultan Khan

As a reader, this story was engrossing from a plot perspective. Maurensig introduced us to the character, Sultan Khan, at the end of his life, and from there, the author starts off the chess champion’s story. Going from a young village boy with humble beginnings to becoming Asia’s most renowned chess champion of his time makes the character a formidable subject. Yet, when Maurensig delved into his plotline about a blind heiress and the potential that Sultan Khan was believed to have been the woman’s killer, I tuned out.

For me, the depiction of Sultan Khan in such a stereotypical role being framed for being capable of this type of action seemed steeped in his “Otherness” as an Indian. The passivity of Sultan Khan’s character also detracted from how I interacted with the book. While reading, I felt as if this character was passive about his existence and experiences as others were moving him around. I wanted to see him become more assertive when it came to deciding his fate. Thus, while this book had masterful writing, I would have liked to see a different outcome for Sultan Khan than Maurensig provided. 

Sultan Khan playing chess

In real life, according to The Oxford Companion to Chess, Sultan Khan was a chess player that became one of the world’s top ten best chess players regardless of not being able to read or write and never learning any openings for himself since he could not study chess hooks without those skills. He was known as a “positional player” and worked best as a middle-player. Sultan Khan was deemed a “genius” by José Raúl Capablanca, a major chess prodigy of his time. Yet, as Maurensig wrote, the chess player suffered from malaria and frequent cold and throat infections during his Europe tour.

Netflix poster for The Queen’s Gambit

In 1933, Sultan Khan went back to India due to being summoned home by Sir Umar, his benefactor. At that time, Sultan Khan was given a small farmstead by Sir Umar near his birthplace in Punjab, where he spent the rest of his life. Sultan Khan’s children were quoted as saying that he wanted them to do something “more useful with their lives” than playing chess, like him. After playing his last chess game in 1935, Sultan Khan disappeared from the chess world and later died of tuberculosis.

For lovers of suspense novels and mysteries, Game of the Gods is a short read if taken as pure fiction, and the bent toward Orientalism is ignored. However, if you are looking just to pass the time, I would suggest watching “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix.

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!