Twenty Sixteen in 5 personally significant books

Twenty Sixteen in 5 personally significant books

I ended up reading the following 26 books in 2016 (not counting textbooks, legislation and other academic reading):

[Fromย Goodreads – Danielle’s Year in Books]

Twenty Sixteen has been my year of reading, so to speak. I wanted to read one book a month, but I ended up finding some beautiful feminist and cultural novels and biographies which I could not put down. Most of these books have changed my way of thinking in some or other way, but in the interest of time and space, I have chosen 5 books which have truly, TRULY spoken to me.

  1. Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

I don’t even know where to start when it comes to Chimamanda. A friend recommended this novel, her first one, to me and I could not put it down. I think in hindsight I prefer Half of a Yellow Sun to this one, but Purple Hibiscus definitely is a very very close second.

Having grown up in a severely restrictive and sexist religion myself for a number of years, this story really resonated with me. The overly religious father and his ideologies, the church’s treatment of women and children (especially girls), the abuse of women by their husbands, these are all things which made this novel very difficult to deal with.

My favourite books have always been the ones that made me so angry that I could hardly breathe and this was definitely one of those. It is perfect for any teenager – male or female – because ‘we should all be feminists’ (10 points to the person who knows why that quote is significant!)

2. 1984 – George Orwell:

I know that many people struggle to read the classics, but if I were to recommend one (and I have read quite a few), it would be this one.

Orwell was years ahead of his time when he wrote this dystopian novel about a world in which Big Brother is always watching. Where one’s every move, every facial expression, every action is watched and analysed, where free thought is not permitted and any dissenting views are immediately squashed. This novel reminded me of religion, the CIA and The Taliban all in one.

Again, I was both infuriated and fascinated by this novel. If I were to choose a favourite classic, it would definitely be this one, with To Kill a Mockingbird in second place.

3. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe:

I have been trying to read more writers whose stories show different perspectives, with a specific focus on African writers. Chinua Achebe, being the master of African writing, thus had to be read.

This was a significant read because it shows the many different facets of colonisation. Most stories either depict colonists as savages or as saints, with no in between. Regardless of what one’s views on colonisation are, this novel shows more than one side to it. Where colonists brought war and racism, they also brought with them the knowledge to know that twins are not cursed and therefore should not be murdered upon birth and that girls and boys should both be allowed to go to school.

This was indeed a thought-provoking read, with my allegiances shifting often between the protagonist (or antagonist, I still cannot decide) and the other people in the village. Every African should read this. If you can read Shakespeare, you can make the effort to read Achebe.

4. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini:

I genuinely believed that Khaled Hosseini would never be able to top The Kite Runner, but he did. (By the way, The Kite Runner is another must-read, or at least watch the movie).

Set in Afghanistan across two different generations, two women face their own battles until they are eventually thrust into a situation together by a cruel twist of fate. Facing sexism, abuse, grief and the loss of dreams and hope, these women show the strength of women who have had to endure such pain for years and sometimes even lifetimes.

At times I was angry enough to put the book down and take a walk to chill out. It upset me that many women are still oppressed in this way because of extreme religious ideologies. It also gave me hope. It gave me hope that there are open-minded people in the world, it gave me hope that I have freedoms which my mother and her mother before her did not have (just being able to write a blog post is one of those freedoms), it gave me hope for the future of women around the world.

5. Dreams From My Father – Barack Obama:

I thoroughly enjoyed this autobiography. It chronicles the life of Barack Obama up until his entry into Law School. The writing is beautiful! I found the imagery and the symbolism fascinating and what made it even more amazing is the fact that it was written by a lawyer, not a poet.

Obama chronicles his early childhood, teenage years, young adult years and finally his visit to Nigeria like a novelist would write a novel. I tend to struggle to read biographies (although I still love them) because they aren’t as riveting as novels, but this one was different. It reads like a novel and the beauty of its prose had me hooked from the word ‘go’. Of the books I managed to read this year, this was the best written one in terms of language, punctuation and prose.

I found Obama’s identity struggles as a black man somewhat disconcerting – I think I had always just known that he is a remarkable black man without really realising that as a child and a young adult he too struggled with his identity, with belonging. I found this odd, but also very comforting. For anyone who has struggled with their identity, this is definitely worth reading.

I am looking forward to more reading during 2017. I am especially excited to read the following five books:

  • And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini (in progress)
  • The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo – Amy Schumer (it is supposed to be very funny)
  • The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher
  • Hard Choices – Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service – Laura Kaplan

Here’s to another year of books and expanded horizons in 2017!

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Race from the perspective of a young coloured woman

A friend of mine recently asked a group of our white friends what they thought about race. His question was โ€œDo you feel like we have to tolerate one another? Or is it just harmonious and effortless being around the diverse group?โ€ This question was asked in the aftermath of two more black people (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile) being killed by the police in America, which again brought attention to the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, even here in South Africa.

I am neither black nor white and therefore have never experienced the oppression and fear which I can only imagine black people experience every day, nor the inherent privilege which comes with being white. I am pretty much somewhere in the middle: formerly disadvantaged, but still allowed to speak my mind because my relatively light skin tone and โ€˜whiteโ€™ accent means that people listen to me before they shoot down my ideas and opinions, or dismiss me as being bitter about Apartheid.

I have often heard my dad say that we were too black to be white during Apartheid and that we are now too white to be black. It was funny to me when I was younger, but I realised eventually that it wasnโ€™t a joke, but that instead, the words masked a deep-rooted anger and bitterness towards the system which led to an identity crisis for many coloured people like myself who still do not quite know where we fit in.

Nevertheless, as a coloured person, I can do my best to answer my friendโ€™s question from my perspective:

As an extremely outspoken person (often with little to no regard for the consequences), I never felt any different to any other race until an incident in grade 8. A white boy in my class said that he would never marry a person of colour because of cultural differences. Coming from a Christian household like him, I honestly did not see how my culture was any different to his, but he insisted that he could never engage in any sort of romantic relationship, let alone marry, a person of colour for that reason. It was only then that I realised how different I actually was.

A few years later, when I was at university, I wanted to take my mom out for some cake. As we entered this little coffee shop, one of the ladies who worked there told us that they were closed. It seemed peculiar because the sign said โ€œOPENโ€ and everything seemed to be in order in the shop, but because there were no customers in the little establishment, I brushed it aside and we left. My mom, however, angrily said that we were turned away because of our skin tone. That was a major moment in my life because it really dawned on me then that even my mother, who is the kindest, most long-suffering and sweetest human being on earth, had been so badly affected by racial discrimination in the past that even the slightest hint thereof now angered her (she never gets visibly angry).

These two experiences stand out because they truly opened my eyes to the more entrenched forms of racism which are considered to be acceptable (in the case of my classmate) and the more long-lasting effects of Apartheid on the people who experienced it (in the case of my mother).

To answer my friendโ€™s question: There have been moments at the University of Cape Town when I felt uncomfortable and โ€˜less thanโ€™ my peers, especially my white peers, not because they treated me differently, but because I always felt that my white peers had this confidence which I just did not have. It is not that I am an unconfident person in general, I just always felt a bit dumber compared to the people around me who knew what a corporate bond was without having to Google it, or who had a favourite Woolies salad when I would not dare to enter a Woolworths for fear of spending my entire bank account in one go (student life was tough). However, I have never felt the need to tolerate anyone. Being around a diverse group of people has never been a problem for me because although I cannot claim to be colourblind (I definitely am not), I have never thought that anyone was any less or more deserving of anything than me simply because of the colour of their skin.

Of course, it is different for me. I am part of a newer generation where those of us who were privileged enough were able to attend schools where we were exposed to a number of different cultures from a very young age. Although I bear the secondhand scars of Apartheid, I have personally not experienced the horrors and pain of Apartheid firsthand like my parents did.

However, even for my generation, race is an issue. Institutional racism and inherent biases shape the world at large, especially the opinions and ideas of the generations before mine that lived through Apartheid, which are then transferred from generation to generation. This can be seen in debates about affirmative action, selection of sports teams and often on social media (the Penny Sparrows of the world).

These forms of racism are extremely hurtful and can easily cause disillusionment and bitterness in young people like myself. As a member of the first born-free generation, I have dreams of an equal and fair society where respect and success is earned on merit, where affirmative action is no longer necessary, where all young men and women are able to trust the police to protect them and where racial stereotypes are no longer perpetuated. Unfortunately, this is not yet my or anyone else’s reality.

To answer my friend’s question: for me, it is effortless to be part of a diverse group, but I am not blind to the fact that it is more difficult for others. As a coloured person, the most difficult issue is identity: where I actually fit in in this rainbow nation of ours, but that is a topic for another day.

Until next time

The Coherent Rambler