Hello to our second edition of What Are You Reading??, our monthly thread where we ask readers what books are living between their fingers.
Today we’ll start with my review of Meena Kandasamy‘s When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife, a book I finished reading a few weeks back and have wanted to give a shoutout, since.
Published in May by Atlantic Books, I picked up a copy after this year’s Bare Lit, a literature festival I run every April. Meena Kandasamy had read one of the chapters and left the audience deeply moved and in awe.
Based on Kandasamy’s own experience, When I Hit You is set in Chennai, India, and tells of a marriage to a husband who, in spite of his seemingly progressive political views, turns out to be physically and psychologically abusive. While friends and comrades ignore the troubling signs, Kandasamy’s family dissuade her from divorcing the culprit, convinced the storm of their marriage will settle with time.
Armed with a pen, she chronicles the painfully traumatic journey of her marriage to the moment of their divorce: “A writer is the one who controls the narrative” she insists. Written in memoir form, acerbic poems or quotes from novels frame the chapters (“He was a perfect husband: he never picked up anything from the floor, or turned out a light, or closed a door.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Times of Cholera), suggesting some of the menacing turns that follow. But Kandasamy’s writing is seriously courageous and fierce, and she takes care not to draw a portrait of a victim bereft of will or agency, but of a defiant survivor.
Ultimately, When I Hit You prompts us to acknowledge something few would like to admit: that the violence of patriarchy lives beyond discernible individuals like the abusive husband and, more often than not, it’s those claiming to care so dearly about women who are amongst its most salient agents – that is, our friends, families and ourselves. That’s why I’d like to see this book on every household’s shelf.
Review by Mend Mariwany
Next up is a review of Selected Political Writings: The Great Moving Right Show and Other Essays, by cultural theorist Stuart Hall, chiming with the times and providing relevant commentary on the recent Grenfell Fire.
I was drawn to re-read Stuart Hall’s Selected Political Writings after the Grenfell Tower fire in June. I wanted to realign myself with his critiques of capitalism and greed, as well as seek some solace in Hall’s sharp assessments of British society. For me, Grenfell marks one of the worst disasters to happen in the UK, and Hall seemed to be warning us of an impending catastrophe like Grenfell, in the 1960s.
Selected Political Writings, most significantly, demands that we remain critical of capitalism, the wider establishment and the elite that are in charge of our conditions. Likewise, Hall demands that we consider the complexity of social issues, and are cautious not to make quick claims to an absolute truth of circumstance. But his work also offers hope and inspires me on both an academic and personal level: culture, he suggests, can in fact be at the forefront of change.
Review by Chantelle Lewis, PhD candidate in Sociology.
Ending on a more positive note, our last review is of Sci-Fri novel Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Lagoon is the tenth published title by seminal science fiction author Nnedi Okorafor, a Nigerian raised in the States. When a colossal object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, three people wandering along the city’s popular Bar Beach begin a race against time to save the world.
Lagoon is a dedication to Lagos, which I discovered means ‘lagoon’ in Portuguese. It’s also a direct response to the offensive portrayal of Nigerians in District 9, an “African Science Fiction Film” (whatever that is) by white South African director Neill Blomkamp in 2009. In complete contrast to Blomkamp’s barely literate gang members, who eat the innards of socially reviled aliens to gain magical powers, Okorafor’s Nigerians are as diverse in their humour and beliefs as their contexts, motivations and pronouncements of pidgin English.
As a Ghanaian who’s never been to Lagos, I felt hurled straight into Lagos’ Bar Beach and I wasn’t able to put down the book until closing the back-cover, which I kept turning back and forth, hoping for more. The roaring traffic jam of pre-colonial spirits and gods, and the coming alive of post-colonial urban manifestations like the ‘bone collector’ – a real road in Lagos which has claimed many lives in car accidents and gun-hold-ups – in heady conversation with the non-earth bound ‘New People’ is intoxicating and nothing short of genius. There is no dialling down the pidgin and in-jokes for foreigners. You ride the Lagosian bus with the churchgoers, the bankers and the market-monarchs – or you get off!
Climate change and human waste factor heavily, as do the perspectives of the non-human animals that share the city with our own destructive species in Lagos: cultures and customs that are seemingly antithetical rub shoulders in a way familiar to anyone from a country previously occupied by Europe.
I cannot recommend Lagoon enough. Put down whatever you’re doing/reading/eating/washing/cooking/kissing and pick up this book. Just read it right now, and if you disagree with me I’ll buy you dinner!
Review by Ama Josephine Budge
Like the sound of our picks? All books are available here:
- When I Hit You, by Meena Kandasamy: Hive Books
- Selected Political Writings, by Stuart Hall: Amazon
- Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor: Hive Books
As a new and self-funded project, Skin Deep relies on the generosity of our readers who can afford to contribute. If you’d like to make a donation, please click here.