A strong collection of memoiristic writing that illuminates African womanhood while blending diverse styles and experiences.

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Crossroads

WOMEN COMING OF AGE IN TODAY'S UGANDA

Conte, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, collects 15 autobiographical essays by Ugandan women that question stereotypes of African femininity.

This anthology will introduce myriad new voices, some from Uganda’s women writers’ association, FEMRITE, to Western readers. All share an interest in reconciling traditional and Western practices. The opener, “My Name” by Nakisanze Segawa, uses names as cogent symbols of Christian and African values; she tells of how a hospital cashier refused to register her because she abandoned her “Christian” name in homage to Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. In another essay, Lydia Namubiru, who was raised Catholic, tells of how she feared demons ever since she witnessed an exorcism as a child: “There are no standards for balancing our imported faiths with our ancestral ones,” she notes. “Most people…straddle the fence.” The title piece by Caroline Ariba beautifully explores the gulf between educated, working women like herself and village women who bear many children, desperate for a son and heir. One of the responsibilities of ssengas, or paternal aunts, is to initiate girls into marriage and motherhood rites, and in Shifa Mwesigye’s “Ssengas and the Single Woman,” the collection’s standout, a bridal shower provides the occasion for a witty yet incisive dissection of gender roles. In it, a ssenga advocates total deference to one’s husband: kneeling, feeding him first, and washing him after sex. Although her friends laugh at this old-fashioned advice, Mwesigye recognizes that careful evaluation of traditional customs is healthier than knee-jerk rejection and that lessons on caring and service are valuable no matter their source. Two pieces on tomboy-hood seem repetitive, but most of the essays reveal fresh facets of African experience. For example, Peace Twine, in “Wife of the Enemy,” tells of enduring false arrest and months in a maximum security prison. In “No Time for Pain,” Harriet Anena artfully displaces the trauma of years in refugee camps using second-person narration, while haunting anonymous essays disclose sexual abuse and lesbian identity. “Change comes slowly,” Laura Walusimbi laments in her concluding piece on corporal punishment, later adding, “There are so many new challenges and no easy answers.”

A strong collection of memoiristic writing that illuminates African womanhood while blending diverse styles and experiences.

Pub Date: June 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5076-8022-3

Page Count: 178

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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