The Attack by Dauvillier and Chapron

This graphic novel (and the novel it is based on) is about the struggle to come to terms with decisions and actions that do not correspond with the facts as the main character sees them. It illustrates the humanity underlying the desperation in an act of terrorism, without trying to justify the act, and it explores the expanding circles of family and friends affected by the attack. Many peoples’ lives are changed forever and the carnage is far more than those involved directly in the attack. The collateral damage is more than the surrounding buildings. The author explores the complicated circumstances without being didactic and without providing clear answers. This story thoughtfully engages a sensitive and controversial topic. Back to Book Reviews  

Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I found Colson Whitehead’s idea intriguing, portraying the Underground Railroad as a real railroad that traveled beneath the land. However, the real highlight, I found, was Cora’s story, a woman who clung to the railroad as her only hope of freedom, or even survival. As she journeys on the railroad the reader witnesses the many different kinds of horrible slaves experienced throughout the South, and in fact throughout a long and embattled journey towards equality, each stop signifying a different struggle. While it is an important story, I found it lacking in continuity and depth in comparison to Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which portrays similar narratives and was my favorite book in from the past year of reading. I happened to read two one right after the other, which maybe was unfair to Underground Railroad, a very good book in its own right. Back to Book Reviews  

Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

These well-written stories center on Refugees’ experiences. The characters are caught in a transition between two cultures, two worlds, two lives, not able to fully inhabit either, struggling with the idea of assimilating while clinging to the memories of a life that was ripped away. I recently heard Viet Thanh Nguyen say in an interview on NPR that he believes refugees have the valuable experience of being outsiders, which helps them feel compassion and empathy towards others. He wishes everyone “had a sense of what it is like to be an outsider, an other.” These stories give the reader a brief glimpse into how that might look and feel. Back to Book Reviews

Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson

For those who do not have first-hand experience of it, this book offers an opportunity to step into someone else’s shoes and try to understand the onslaught of racism many people experience daily. Using personal examples from his life, Dyson annotates events and points out the building frustration, the sparks of emotion and the cultural patterns lurking beneath seemingly normal interactions. This is even more powerful realizing this is a highly educated African American professor at an Ivy League school who has regularly feared for his life, with reason, in circumstances the majority would consider routine or mundane. This is an important contribution to race relations, well worth reading. Back to Book Reviews  

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

Lyrical and profound, these observations explore the interactions between African-American culture and American racism. Using multiple formats Rankine critiques topics as wide ranging as Serena Williams’ reception as a superstar in the world of tennis to the author’s own personal daily interactions. She carefully builds a case that exposes the steady current of microaggressions against which African-Americans constantly struggle. Back to Book Reviews  

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

This book is outrageous throughout, in ways both hilarious and offensive, with no clear separation between the two, but that just shows how hard-hitting the satire is. It is a brutal satire on race, and nearly everything race-related, including slavery and segregation. Beatty irreverently digs into these sensitive subjects, dissecting them with wit and satire, leaving them raw and bare and leaving the reader laughing inappropriately. Back to Book Reviews  

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

This is one of those books you read with fascination watching the conflict unfold. A woman decides to become a vegetarian in a family who savors their meat. Not surprisingly, her family has a hard time understanding her decision to not eat meat. As the story unfolds, it raises the questions of where is the line between eccentric and total madness, between self and family, or self and culture? Back to Book Reviews  

Big Machine by Victor LaVelle

He grew up in a cult, and now he’s been recruited to join a mysterious paranormal investigation team. Conspiracy underlies the structure of the story, which plays with the fine line between belief and doubt. However, the humor and absurdity is what I enjoyed most. Back to Book Reviews  

We the Animals by Justin Torres

This is a short, beautifully written coming-of-age story about three rough and tumble boys growing up in a family characterized by intense relationships. The power of this story is well beyond the short 130 pages of the novel. It is well worth the quick read. Back to Book Reviews  

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This is probably my favorite book I read this year. The author spent seven years crafting this novel and it shows. This novel explores slavery and the effects it has on multiple generations starting at the beginning of the slave trade in Ghana and Ivory Coast and going up through the present day in the United States. Unlike other multi-generational family sagas that can seem to drag on, Gyasi keeps the stories very engaging by describing one significant moment in the life of each character and weaves in poignant observations about race and culture along the way. I highly recommend it. Back to Book Reviews Save Save