TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!! ‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’

Hello everyone!!!! Today’s book is one that I’ve had my eye on for a year or so, and finally I found it again at a feminist book fair I went to a few weeks ago and said to myself I CANNOT LEAVE WITHOUT THIS BOOK!!!! It is a collection of short stories, not a genre I usually dabble in but this was glorious; so, without further ado, I introduce to you ‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’ by Kathleen Collins.

If you live for political activism and Love stories (all the best people do), these stories will fill you with a nostalgic delight so that you’ll wish you had a time machine to go back to the early 60’s, pick up a placard and march along (and fall in love with) the people who trail blazed the world’s progressing social justices we are still working on today. Collins hearkens back to the time when integration, interracial communities and ‘the melting pot’ were young American ideals still unsullied from failure. When young white people and black people still believed that simply living together would solve all the problems created by white ancestors. Of course, we know this idealism failed and that the benefits of multiculturalism often turn out in reality to contribute to the erasures and misunderstandings that it is trying to solve. But Collins is both nostalgic and critical- revealing a tense undercurrent of dissatisfaction with this periods’ short-comings whilst also celebrating it as a time of energy, of enthusiasm and hope- even if free love didn’t have such strong foundations as the political arguments that would come after. Collins shows the bad and the good of the time when people didn’t want their love to be confined by race, and these are stories of love- in all its complexities of heart-break, young love, marriage and friendship. Love and race, how the two interact with each other in the lives of young, vivacious black women.

That is one of my favourite things about this collection: all of the stories centre around black experience, and most specifically, the vast majority are focused on the narratives of black women. IDK about you, but I can hardly think of any main-stream romantic heroine/ hero of screen or fiction who is black, and not made into some mistress, sexualized beast or just generally chastised because of it (I am always open to being wrong, so if I am mistaken please let me know which rom-coms to watch which don’t make me feel like I am observing a Nazis dream of marital eugenics). Most romantic stories, in trying to please white male publishers and producers, have constructed stories of love that fulfil their notions of what it is that will complete them. Unsurprisingly, most men (whatever race) don’t want their meek beloved- who they will supposedly save from the cruelty of spinsterhood (yawn) – to outshine them; hence why so many female romantic protagonists turn out the same: white, ‘beautiful’ (read: able-bodied and skinny), alone and needing dick to rescue them from whatever it is women can’t possibly have enough brain to solve themselves- everyone KNOWS that dick is the answer to all life’s problems!!!!

But in these stories shine black women, from many different class back grounds, but specifically focusing on middle-class/ boujie black girls which I found refreshing opposed to the stereotype of all black people always being poor. Black Women (Collins often chooses to focus on lighter skinned black girls) who are exploring love on their own terms and are not afraid to break out of stereotypes white people and even their own well-intentioned family’s force upon them. There’s the girl who cuts her hair and lets it grow natural and falls in love on a summer French course (with her professor- I didn’t wanna give spoilers but that story was so sweet I couldn’t stop smiling); there’s the sophisticated, cultured and elegant black girl who doesn’t need white validation, or to demean other black girls to prove her worth; there’s painters, mothers, freedom fighters, violinists, and daughters. They may not always be ‘empowered’ as such, as in many stories the girls are wrangling with men emotionally distant, abusive and just generally immature- not leaving relationships as quickly as we may like with our more modern ways of thinking. But each woman is an agent of her desire, and all the stories speak of some awakening, whether it be realising what love is, or figuring out how your skin colour affects what love is available to you- these stories are beautiful in how they show emotion so fleetingly and yet so powerfully, without the breadth or scope a whole novel would have to use.

Collins also worked with film, and this influence can be seen in some of the stories. Because they’re so short, many of the stories don’t get their emotional depth from the coming together of plot, but from the overlapping of time periods and omissions of narrative that allow you to fill in the gaps yourself. One short story, ‘Interiors’, is a set of two monologues from a husband and wife; its 9 pages, but the way Collins’ fits so much story into such ‘little’ prose, so much heart into sentences that don’t reveal everything- it does as much work that a story triple its length may not achieve.

I will stop blabbering now, but honestly these stories do not take ages to read and anyone interested in race, relationships, civil rights, art or LUV would adore these stories! Collins has long been forgotten as a black woman playwright, director and author and reading these stories it is wonderful she has been rediscovered from the mire of history to enlighten us again!!!!!!!

“… The night I danced for you. Why am I recalling such a simple time? We were taking a walk and suddenly I started dancing. I don’t know why; it wasn’t like me at all. I just wanted to jump outside my coloured looks and make you laugh… Why am I recalling such a simple time? We said good bye. We never saw each other again. Once my father mentioned that you’d moved to Washington, become a doctor, married. But all that seemed beside the point. It took so well between us…

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- HOME FIRE!!!!!

Hello everyone!!!! I have just finished reading Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 Women’s Fiction Prize Winning novel, Home Fire, and fucking hell IT IS SO AMAZING!!! A story of love VS betrayal, of state VS family, and of East Vs West in the ‘melting-pot’ of modern Britain. It is loneliness- what to do with the unbearableness of it: sink into the comfort of hostility and proclaim that there must be revenge, or to reach out through the pain, be honest with it and fight for what you need to survive?

Based off the ancient Greek myth of Antigone reworked for the modern day climate of Islamophobia- how it causes terrorism, and then even more Islamophobia, like a grim merry-go round of hate- this devastating novel has love and betrayal at its core; how we cope with each emotion, and which one should prevail overall if we are to hold on to one another. I had to keep stopping reading so that I could process all the conflicting passions without losing myself, and it is a book that will tear your heart not into two pieces, but a scattering of a million shards.

Shamsie’s novel is told through narrating the experiences of 5 main characters, all British- Pakistani citizens, all woven to put together a larger narrative that will draw them together whilst tearing them apart. This plot of tragedy and love is condensed into a seemingly anonymous Wembley household; the unseeming characters progressively more and more embroiled into a conclusion that reaches far beyond what they ever could imagine.

It starts with Isma, an intelligent but world-worn woman and elder sister/ mother to her two twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. I think Isma is one of my favourite characters, she is very good at balancing acts, of gently toeing the line between obeying the law to avoid further pain, and standing up for what she really believes in. Love of her family is Isma’s motive for pretty much all she does. Aneeka also is fuelled by love of her family, but without the forgivingness or subtlety of her sister- Aneeka’s love is pretty much all for her brother, not the mothering and hence oppressive Isma. Aneeka and Parvaiz’ twinhood is evoked so beautifully it makes the forces tearing them apart so cruel and callous I could hardly bear it; but whereas Isma’s love aims to bring everyone back together, Aneeka’s love is driven for one purpose only: to bring Parvaiz home from the terrorists he has been groomed into joining.

However, Aneekas love at first solely meant for Parvaiz actually multiplies in another direction. Aneeka falls in love with a man- Eamonn- her sister first met and sent her way- but this is not a tale of sisters fighting over a man ( it does still make me really sad that Isma is so alone in the book, it would have been nice for her to have at least one solace for herself). Eamonn is the son of the Home Secretary, and Aneeka, at first using him as a vessel for escape to bring Parvaiz home, ends up finding another escape for herself, away from the extremes of loyalty demanded by religion and state. Eamonn’s family are rich, integrated and push the piety of Islam to the back of their minds. Aneeka’s family are poor, derided by the general public for their devotion to their home land and religion. The contrasts are striking, which makes their falling in love only more bitter-sweet with the subtext of Parvaiz between them.

Shamsie evokes the character of Parvaiz before and after his defection to ‘the enemy state’ (the book’s main debate is essentially of loyalty to a state: which comes first, the state of law or love?) with a cleverness that doesn’t exempt him from criticism, but goes into detailed explanations of why what has happened has happened. Yes, he switched himself off and is complicit in the horrors of the Caliphate world in which he finds himself- but if that was the only way to survive, wouldn’t you dance for the devil, too? His choice to abandon his sisters, despite one of them literally being his other half, seems selfish and awful to the extremes. But, again, if you constantly felt alienated as the lone boy without a father in a world ran by women, at an age where you want to talk but don’t feel like anyone wants you… what I’m trying to say is that sadness makes people desperate, and desperation makes people do un-explainable things.

I don’t want to say what happens in the last scene, but it is a conclusion at once satisfying in its inevitability of plot tragedy, yet still discordant, gut-wrenchingly sad for all parties involved. It is reconciliation through grief, a reckoning that will make you want to simultaneously punch every bigot in the face (and by bigot, I don’t just mean Tommy Robinson clones, also the unflinchingly wicked men in suits at Westminster, too) and weep, clinging onto whoever love is to you.

I recommend this book very highly. It makes your brain think hard about the climate of xenophobia, islamophobia and prejudice that seems to govern politics today, and gives your heart a work out- that is never a bad thing!

“The language of violence, spoken by the powerful of all nations, erased distinctions beneath the surface. Two girls walked past, laughing, uninhibited. The sound- continuing on, burrowing down from the girls’ throats to their bellies- was more remarkable than bracelets or wrists. Perhaps surface was all there was to fight for. He remembered how it felt to float on a surface of freedom and safety, to feel himself buoyed up by it, and longing tugged at his heart…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- Astragal!!!!

Hello and welcome to today’s’ post about… Astragal by Albertine Sarrrazin! I had never heard of this book before, but I am sooo glad to have stumbled upon it in my bumbling ways. I was at a feminist book fair (I know you’re jealous) and on a stall were two books- Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles and Astragal. I was really leaning towards Chelsea Girls, but one detail caught my eye on the pink cover of Astragal and fate was sealed. That detail was a name: Patti Smith.

Yes, Astragal is one of the favourite books of none other than New York’s poet punk rock queen. After a tumultuous period with Robert Mapplethorpe ( no details about Robert are in this book, but to anyone interested ‘Just Kids’ reveals loads about that relationship, and is such a beautiful and tender book you will treasure it forever) when Patti was alone and knocking about New York with just her tattered boots and the pennies in her pocket, she had to make a monumental decision. To eat or to read. A cup of coffee, or a paperback of Sarrazin’s novel- both for 99 cents.

I think we know it is clear what path Patti took that day. And reading this story and Patti’s introduction to it- I am so happy she went without coffee that day.

Astragal is sleek, cool and deliciously dangerous in its style and subject. A French book from the 1960s, it narrates the escapades of Anne, but is really a lightly veiled auto-biography of what Albertine herself went through. Anne: the vulnerable yet acrid femme fatale. She is a character of multiple and conflicting selves, on the run from jail, an escaped prisoner returning to the world of freedom.

But is she more free inside or outside the prison walls? In prison, Anne knew the ropes; was contained but mainly free in her desires to manipulate and break the rules. She climbed out the kitchen windows to see her girlfriends, she knew the measures of time in a day and how to whittle the hours. But once out, she is not fully herself. The bravado gone as she is helpless in the road, alone in pyjamas with a broken ankle after jumping the prison wall. Burdened by the tethers of the law always behind her back, constantly on red alert for another police pig to lock her away. But the greatest barrier to Anne’s freedom isn’t her illegal status. It is her heart.

As soon as Anne is out, she falls in love with the man who saves her. I know, a bit OTT and cheesy. At first, I thought the same. Seriously?!? She literally has just escaped, has the whole world to swindle, already is in love with a girl in jail and a man comes by once again, like the cliched prince on horseback, to save Anne from her queerness and cherish her injured ankle, her vulnerability- because without it, she would run away she would run from him like she’s always run from authority. But, remarkably, Sarrazin does not make this one of maudlin and derogatory romance. It is hypnotic, complex and grittily real in its sparsity of hiding places from the human heart.

It is a tale of freedom VS confinement, of power VS submission, of Appearances VS Motives as Anne hankers after her lover and tries to rebuild her sense of independence and rebellion. Sarrazin writes in the first person view point of Anne, and the use of ellipses and general grammatical smoke screens means that sometimes this book can be hard to follow temporally. I had to re-read many a section to determine whether what was going on was in the present, past, predicted future or a dream. But that adds to the beauty of the book. You can read it as slickly or as slowly as you choose, depending on whether you want to be blown away with the drama, or contemplate deeper signals and meanings in the text.

This book is for anyone who seeks romance, drama and intrigue. It doesn’t take too long to read, and should definitely be on the TRL (to read list) for any Smith fan, as its amazingness really can be seen to filter through into some themes and styles of Patti’s own writing later. I will stop blabbering now, and leave you with a quote to tempt you to that bookshelf you know you shouldn’t stalk, just like Patti and her last 99 cents all those years ago… xoxoxoxooxxo

“A life had taken shape, after my arrest: for years, I had let it sprout, joyously absurd, naive and shameless. In that life, you were never carried off, petted, saved; you stood up straight… But in that life, all the same, you could get your kicks in the secret certainty of each day’s routine. My new freedom imprisons and paralyses me…”

 

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- ‘Devotion’

The fact that I have chosen to sit and type this after a day of work, instead of scrolling through instagram and letting other people decide how I should hate myself today, perhaps illustrates the point that Patti Smith is trying to explore in this book- Devotion, all about why writers choose to write. Why there is something within us all that won’t shut up, like a conker trying to burst out of it’s thorns into the dark softness of earth around. The mystery of what compels somebody to sit down and create a whole new world of their own choosing, whilst the real hustle and bustle of blood and bones keeps cranking the wheel outside dreamings. This isn’t the first book of Patti’s I’ve read, and Just Kids about Robert Mapplethorpe and her galavanting around New York in love and inspired will always hold a special place in my heart. Patti’s works are always little miracle drops into the vast legacy of language.

Devotion keeps up the typical Smithian prose, sparse yet searing- using a minimal lanuguage to convey spiritual hopes and depths, that many writers forsake in favour of catalogued details to get more ‘realistic’ styles. Sometimes reading Smith I do feel a bit skeptical, like her writing is trying too hard to be profound and is too serious in its exultations of divinity. But, I also feel perhaps that is the green eyed monster clouding my perception- truly, I am amazed how one mind can be so sensitivley intune to the cosmic vibrations around the most mundane of routines without fanfare. In Devotion, Patti describes her visits to cafes for bread and coffee with as much beauty as if she were visiting an other-worldly wonder, not some old poets dive in Paris.

This book is not too long, but it engages with the topic on the origins of inspiration and the force behind writing with a mystical directness that only leaves me wanting more. It is probably my analytical mind being too hopeful, that I thought before reading this that Smith could give clear answers to these obscure and ever debated issues of creatvitity. But ultimatley, that’s what I love about Devotion– Patti is like a London pidgin, alighting on one thought, briefly pecking around its periphery before flying away in search of another hope to find substance, not mere crumbs. The only certainty being that there will never be certainty, never any right or wrong when it comes to the soul unsullied. Smith doesn’t pretend to know all the answers- she worships beauty on her knees like communion mass scribbled on paper. She appreciates, and celebrates without the burden of answers which is something I envy a lot about her writing. It is powerful, direct, yet not pretentious in the slightest. If she is melodramatic, it isn’t because she is hiding behind pretty words- its a pure and unadultarated excitement for the world and its little wonders.

She discusses the how and why of writing. We often know what inspires us, and how we come to express such dioramas of feeling and thought, but never the why. Why do we write when we could live? Why create another world when we are given what is before our eyes without even asking for it? Is writing a desperation, or an overflowing sensitivity of nerve endings, forever reaching to finally touch what we trmeble underneath, grasp what is really there. This book is interesting, as it is not only a short work of fiction, but also includes memoir of before the pen hit page. Of what her life was unfurling to prompt that brain to dream, those words to kindle. This is a story where slices of ham become round ponds of ice. Where ice skaters speak a limb language that only hands knowing the curve of inked-writing can echo. Silent forests and the way failing sunlight in winter breaks through crusted leaves, the way breath catches on frozen air- a cold beauty only the mind can embrace without shivering in uncomfort.

Her story is promted whooshing past fields of France, and is recorded in its final narrative as a story of a young, friendless girl with a longing of finding and speaking her solitary truth through dancing on snowflakes. The story is told through her perspective, at once brutally honest yet alienatingly emotionless as she encounters her doomed paramour. A strange yet alluring art collector, obsessed with beauty and thus cursed with his rejection of living- all he wants to do is own, safe and sturdy with his precious object to commandeer. When I started reading this book, I was unsettled by the story Smith spins, and the ending is hardly consoling. But, once you get past the initial shock, the story unfolds in a prophetic eloquency that only Smith could have the gentle, innocent audacity to write. I don’t want to spoil the plot here, as really if you have a day to yourself this book could be easily read with delight in silence, with copious amounts of tea or coffee or zootage. But rest assured, after reading Devotion you won’t only wish there were more pages to turn, but you’ll be wanting to pick up a pen and record the singular mysteries of destiny and love in your own silent epic that is us, our lives.

I hope this blog post finds you well, and even if you dont read Devotion, that you give Patti your eyes and ears. Her writing is always consice without being empty, deep without being too high-brow and arrogant. Her voice is loving, cosmic and demurely energized- a way of feeling deeply without thinking too highly. If you have no time to read, do at least give her music a try. She is the punk poetess of New York, after all- and for that, Patti, I am eternally grateful. Like she so often visits the graves of those icons and artists she has followed; if I can’t meet her in person, I hope to be able to lay flowers for her some day. As Patti would say: THEY LAUGH AND THEY EXPECT ME TO FAINT BUT I WILL NEVER FAINT I REFUSE TO LOSE, I REFUSE TO FALL DOWN. xoxoxoxox

” Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the wants of others… There are stacks of notebooks that speak of years of aborted efforts, deflated euphoria, a relentless pacing of the boards. We must write, engaging in a myriad of struggles, as if breaking in a willful foal. We must write, but not without consistent effort and a measure of sacrifice: to channel the future, to revisit childhood, and to rein in the follies and horrors of the imagination for a pulsating race of readers.”