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A Woman Alone: Navigating the Complication of Belonging in the British West Indies

“They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks.”

So begins Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’ tale of a Creole heiress, Antoinette Cosway, stuck between two worlds she can never fully inhabit. Published to critical acclaim in 1966, the book was envisaged as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, a way to reclaim the madwoman in the attic, Mr. Rochester’s first wife, by giving her a name and a voice, along with a tragic story.Read More

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A Coming of Age Story About a Grown Man

It’s hard for people to love you if you don’t love yourself. Or that’s what we’re told again and again if we’re unfortunate enough to struggle with low self esteem. It’s a problematic cliché in that it implies that if you don’t feel lovable – if you are depressed or feel unworthy due to some traumatic experience – you’re right. But as troubling as it is, it is true that it can be hard to love someone who doesn’t seem to understand his or her own worth. A friend who constantly bats away compliments, a lover who regularly asks for reassurance that you want to be with them, a parent who seems always full of regret and guilt. It is hard to love someone when it seems as if there is nowhere for that love to go within that person, when they won’t – or can’t – make a space for it.Read More

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Love in a Sad Café: Carson McCullers’ Forever Dilemma

The Ballad of the Sad Café takes place in the Deep South where McCullers grew up, in the kind of sparse, dried-up town where I imagine some former, blighted America used to reside—a town linked to other towns only by swamps and roads worked by chain gangs and where, in McCullers’ words, “there is absolutely nothing to do.”

Both starting and ending with the image of a boarded-up house, the site of the “sad café,” the story fills the role of the Gothic spinster, moving about her rooms alone like a mournful ghost, with a decidedly un-feeble female. Miss Amelia, a “dark, tall woman with bones and muscles like a man,” is equal parts respected and feared in the town. Read More

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A History Spinning on Violence

Of my first time reading Beloved, I remember most the violence of the book, and my own horror at learning that such violence was at the root of my country’s history. Of course I knew about slavery and the Civil War, but most history classes are a lesson primarily in sugarcoating, if not in outright lies. Still, lucky me, to have lived so long so blithely unaware.

At seventeen, though, I was primed to see violence everywhere: through copious amounts crime shows I watched each evening, so fond of their pretty dead girls of the week, but also day after day in my own life: sexual harassment in the hallways at school; teachers getting caught, year after year, exploiting and molesting their students; the slurs and whistles and slow creeping of cars weekly (daily?) on my way home from school.Read More

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The Fight Against Silence in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée

Open the novel Dictée.  Turn to page 3.  

“DISEUSE.  She mimics the speaking.  That might resemble speech.  (Anything at all).” 

DICTÉE.  French for dictation: the action of saying words aloud to be typed, written down, or recorded on tape; the action of giving orders authoritatively or categorically.

“Greater than is the pain not to say.”

Greater than is the pain not to say.  Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was a Korean-American writer, producer, director, and artist whose life and heritage were complicated and oftentimes painful, and who wanted to express her experience (both lived and inherited) in equally complex forms.  Read More

image: illustration of a white man sitting on a stool holing a suitcase. Behind him are framed pictures of leaves on the wall. The shadow of a window makes a cross over him.

The Impossibility of Going Home

Anne Tyler has built a career on mapping the inner life of the American middle class family. She has delivered a remarkable 20 novels on the subject, from A Spool of Blue Thread, released a few months ago, to Breathing Lessons, the winner of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize. For the past 50 years, Tyler has unapologetically tackled questions of family, relationships, and belonging, and her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes, represents a fitting start to her prolific career. Part bildungsroman, part family drama, the book offers a meditation on the unfulfillment of home, and it contains all of the penetrating social observations that have made Tyler famous.Read More

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Breaking the Love Laws

Nearly two decades have passed since the novel The God of Small Things was first published in 1997, launching its author Arundhati Roy to global literary acclaim. The winner of the Man Booker Prize tells the devastating story of an upper caste Indian family that is torn apart when one of its members has an affair with an untouchable.

As a young woman without a dowry, Ammu didn’t have many opportunities to guide her future. She desperately wanted to be freed from her father’s tyranny so she married the first man who asked. “She thought that anything, anyone at all, would be better than returning to Ayemenem.” She had one chance and she blew it, hedging her bets on a man who would prove to be no better than her father, an abusive alcoholic.Read More