Not a Dumb American: Equatorial Guinea

Let me tell you some of the problems I have encountered in my Africa reading project. Number one is that not a huge amount of books have been published in English about many African countries, particularly smaller ones, particularly non-Anglophone smaller ones. Number two is that my library oftentimes has older African history books but does not have newer African history books, which I assume can be attributed to a shift in purchasing priorities. So the book I read for Equatorial Guinea (a teensy wee Hispanophone country) was Ibrahim Sundiata’s 1990 monograph Equatorial Guinea: Colonialism, State Terror, and the Search for Stability.

Guess what happened in Equatorial Guinea in 1996. They found oil. Black gold. Texas tea. Turns out having huge oil reserves can drastically change the course of a nation’s history.

Let me back up and tell you some of the stuff I learned from the actual book, however. Equatorial Guinea is a teeny wee country on Africa’s west coast and one of three African countries with “Guinea” in the name. (The other two are Guinea-Bissau and just plain old regular Guinea.) There’s a mainland bit of the country, which is called Rio Muni, and then there’s an island bit up by Cameroon called Bioko, and another island bit down below Sao Tome and Principe that’s called Annobon. It’s confusing. Here’s a picture.

If you are wondering why the country is so weirdly laid out, I can report that it’s basically down to the Spanish being rather disorganized colonizers and the Portuguese knowing what they were about. Sao Tome and Principe were uninhabited at the point of Portuguese colonization and had a lot of cultivable land, whereas Bioko was fiercely defended by its inhabitants, the Bubi, and neither it nor the other Equatorian islands had much available land for large-scale farming. Annobon and Corisco (Corisco is the yellow dot just slightly southwest of Rio Muni) were usefulish as entrepots, but not so longterm useful that Portugal wasn’t willing to sell them to Spain in 1777. Spain kind of didn’t realize this before buying them.

real footage of Spain after making this purchase

I was going to say “Get your act together, Spain!” But then I was like, wait, do I want the colonizing powers to get their act together? And then I was like, wait, but is it better if the colonizing powers don’t have their act together, or does that just fuck up the ultimate outcomes for the colonized countries? And then I remembered that it doesn’t matter because colonized nations are nearly always fucked. And also I can’t do a very good comparison yet because I don’t know anything about outcomes in Sao Tome and Principe.1

For a large chunk of the twentieth century, the Equatorial Guinean chief export was cacao, which was farmed on a small scale by the indigenous Bubi people, and on a large scale by a huge range of immigrants and migrant workers from nearby African countries (because there weren’t enough local workers to do it on a large scale). Cacao plantations had really horrible working conditions, and various other countries kept annoying Spain deeply by summoning their migrant workers back home or by investigating labor conditions and penalizing anyone who acquired migrant workers illegally; and then Spain would be on the hook for compensation payments.

In 1968, the country became independent, probably because Spain couldn’t be bothered providing financially for the country they’d spent the last two hundred years not being bothered about governing, and a guy called Macias Nguema came to power. He centralized power in his own office, outlawed competing political parties, and decreed himself President for Life.

I HAVE BEEN SAVING THIS GIF FOR JUST SUCH AN OCCASION

The great majority of educated Equatoguineans fled the country, with some estimates suggesting that the population declined by more than half during Nguema’s presidency/dictatorship. He targeted people who wore glasses and the minority Bubi population (remember them from a paragraph ago? They refused to work for shitty cacao plantations and did their own damn farming instead?), as he perceived those groups as being too intellectual. Also (I did not learn this from the book, I learned it from further online researches) he apparently committed mass murder in a football stadium while blasting a jaunty song I used to like but now find extremely creepy. It was his favorite song, but that doesn’t really explain much.

I am really sorry that these posts aren’t cheerier. Just, it turns out that when colonizing powers draw arbitrary national lines and skimp on education budgets for many decades, things become quite difficult for the resulting country. Also, it is difficult to shake off dictators once you have them, particularly if the dictators in question murder and exile the entire educated class of the country.

THIS POINTED STARE I AM DOING IS AIMED AT YOU, AMERICA. DO NOT PERMIT DICTATORING. DO NOT PERMIT ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM. IT WILL NOT BENEFIT ANYBODY IN THE END.

Anyway. Eventually there was a coup, and if you have been following along at home, you probably know it was even odds that the result of the coup against the dictator would just be a brand new dictator. The former dictator’s nephew, Teodoro Obiang, now the longest-running ruler in all of Africa. When Sundiata was writing his book, it seemed like Obiang would be less awful, and I guess once he dies and things change, we will have a better picture of how much and if he is indeed less awful. But corruption is still hella rampant, with the bulk of the country’s oil money going into Obiang’s pockets rather than improvements to the country, and dissent is really not tolerated at all.

Oh, I forgot to say also that when Macias (football stadium guy) was sentenced to execution, the cult of personality around him and the belief in his magic was so strong that no Equatoguineans would carry out the execution. Obiang’s Moroccan guard had to do it.

There you go. Now you know more about Equatorial Guinea than you knew before. It is all pretty sad but better to have more information than less information, right?

Next up: Old-time Zimbabwe! (By which I mean I am reading another oldish book, because even though it’s old it’s still supposed to be quite authoritative.) If you want to follow my progress on this mighty African reading project, here’s the main page. I am determined to read four histories of African countries this year, and hopefully five.

  1. I know that things went horribly awry in Angola and Mozambique, which are the other two Portuguese colonies I can think of right now, but my vague recollection is that those were Cold War proxy conflicts and not bumpy road to independence situations.

March Magics: The Lives of Christopher Chant

Did I ever tell you that The Lives of Christopher Chant was the first Diana Wynne Jones novel I ever loved? And did I ever tell you that when the seventh Harry Potter came out and I was feeling disappointed in Dumbledore, I went back and read The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life and Witch Week and Conrad’s Fate to experience a non-disappointing omniscient wizard man?

March Magics is upon us, hosted by the wonderful Kristen at We Be Reading, and I am celebrating this week with a reread of the book that made me certain (at age, like, twelve) that Diana Wynne Jones was going to become one of my favorite authors.

The Lives of Christopher Chant is not the book you’re supposed to read first in the Chrestomanci series, but it’s possibly the one I would recommend you to read first. It’s this or Witch Week, for sure. Our hero, Christopher, who will one day grow up to be the Chrestomanci of maddening vagueness and extravagant dressing gowns, is a little kid who walks through the multiverse in his dreams. When his Uncle Ralph discovers this, he enlists Christopher to do some experiments for him, and Christopher — who worships Uncle Ralph — agrees.

The Lives of Christopher Chant

The Lives of Christopher Chant does this narrative trick to which Diana Wynne Jones is very prone, where the child protagonist fundamentally misunderstands important things about himself, the world around him, and the choices he’s making. Some of these things are clear to the reader: If it weren’t immediately obvious that Uncle Ralph is a bad person who is taking advantage of Christopher’s unique skills, we could figure it out from Tacroy, who guides Christopher on his journeys through the dream world / multiverse. But other revelations were as much of a surprise to my young self as they were to Christopher, and a reminder — Diana Wynne Jones excels at these — that the world we see isn’t the only world there is.

Also, if you are the sort of person who cares about this, The Lives of Christopher Chant features probably my favorite of the Diana Wynne Jones cat. His name is Throgmorton.

Review: Certain Dark Things, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Would anyone here be interested in a compendium of books about mythic beasts by authors of color? Would that be a resource people would enjoy? Or does it already exist somewhere else and I should consult it myself to get All the Book Recs?

Any case, Certain Dark Things is a vampire story set in Mexico City by a Mexican-Canadian writer. In this world, there exist ten known species of vampires, of which we encounter three. The vampire girl Atl and her Doberman Cualli1 are on the run from the Necros vampires who killed her mother and sister. She doesn’t intend to enlist the aid of a street kid called Domingo, at least not for more than one drink, and she certainly doesn’t intend for him to get tangled up with the cops and gangsters and vampires who are chasing her.

Certain Dark Things

Okay, first up, Certain Dark Things is hella violent. There is a non-zero amount of tooth-ripping and face-shoot-offing. If you are a person who cannot handle tooth-ripping face-shoot-offing (which in retrospect I may be that kind of person but it’s too late to learn that lesson now), I may need to direct you to a less gory vampire story. The main vampire searched for Atl is a gross misogynist who fantasizes about doing violent sex things to Atl, which is also not the most fun to read. He does not, however, do any violent sex things to her in practice.

However, if faces getting shot off and silver shards being dug out of bloody human flesh by an unqualified veterinarian are not deal-breakers for you, there’s gold in these here hills. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s world-building is superb, a take on vampires and vampire rivalries that I’ve never seen before. Her Mexico City has long been a haven from vampires, which is why cop Ana Aguirre transferred there, and she’ll go so far as to ally herself with one of the city’s gangs if it means keeping Atl and other vampires from finding a place for themselves in the city. Meanwhile, Atl tells Domingo about her people’s descent from Aztecs and muses over the possibility of living in Brazil, where the native vampires glow in the dark. I was willing to live with some flesh-tearing in order to keep discovering new pockets of this fantasy world.

And now, a question: Which is scarier, vampires with wings who can fly, or vampires who glow in the dark? Or vampires who can shapeshift?

  1. I know that your immediate question is “Does the dog survive?” SPOILERS HERE: Yes, the dog survives. You will hit a certain point in the book where you think “That rat-fink Jenny, this dog is clearly dead!” but I promise you that no, the dog is not dead. The dog survives. END SPOILERS YOU ARE NOW FREE FROM SPOILERS.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.77: Books of the Sea and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History

I FORGOT IT WAS WEDNESDAY YESTERDAY. I apologize to everyone. Mardi Gras happened, and it’s not that I was out partying (I wasn’t, I’m an old lady curmudgeon), it’s just that I had time off work and it threw off my schedule. Sorry this is so late! You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

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1:26 – What We’re Reading
4:28 – Books of the Sea
25:40 – Donna Tartt’s The Secret History
43:26 – What We’re Reading for Next Time

Books Mentioned (in order of appearance)

Undermajordomo Minor, Patrick deWitt
The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
The Lives of Christopher Chant, Diana Wynne Jones (here’s the link to March Magics!)
Charmed Life, Diana Wynne Jones
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
THE ODYSSEY, Homer
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis
Captain Blood, Rafael Sabatini
This Is Not My Hat, Jon Klassen
Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
Drowned Ammet, Diana Wynne Jones
“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” David Foster Wallace
Barbarian Days, William Finnegan
The Wanderer, Sharon Creech
The Shadow of the Moon, M. M. Kaye

The Secret History, Donna Tartt

The Secret History

Agnes and the Hit Man, Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour

Review: Iron Cast, Destiny Soria

Oh friends, I needed this book so much. Iron Cast is a YA alternate history novel about two best friends who can do illegal magic and have fallen in with a gangster club on the eve of Prohibition. I liked it a ton, and it cheered me right the hell up in a week where I was feeling hopeless.

Iron Cast

Ada and Corinne are hemopaths: Corinne can create completely believable illusions by reciting poetry, while Ada can induce strong emotions with her music. They work for the gangster Johnny Dervish of the Cast Iron club, where they perform for crowds of regs (non-hemopaths) at night, carry off cons during the day, and receive shelter from the special forces that hunt hemopaths and carry them off to Havisham Asylum. Until Johnny Dervish is murdered.

If you liked The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, I feel good about recommending Iron Cast to you. At its heart is the friendship between these two girls, the quiet, practical Ada and the fierce, stubborn Corinne. Possibly my favorite thing about Iron Cast is the absolute confidence Corinne and Ada each felt in their friendship. Though they both have love interests, the stories begins and ends with their friendship. They are also both powerful hemopaths — we don’t realize exactly how powerful right at first — and it’s so much fun to see how their trust plays into the ways that they work together to Get Shit Done.

As far as I can tell, Iron Cast is a one-and-done, but I’d love to see more in this world. Soria has a knack for character, such that I’d gladly read a book about virtually any of the supporting characters. Even when we see very little of them, the characters clearly had lives and interests of their own, from the queer shapeshifter who runs a low-budget theater to Corinne’s wealthy brother making a politically advantageous marriage. It was to the point that when I realized how fully Iron Cast was wrapping up its plot, I was kind of disappointed. I wanted sequels, dammit! But I guess companion novels would be okay too.

All in all, an extremely fun YA fantasy novel with lots of adventures and lies and female friendships for you to sink your metaphorical teeth into.

My Name Is Roger Murdock: A Links Round-Up

Another Friday, another links round-up. This week I had some super good chili and spoke with a sternness to my elected senator at a town hall. What’s your week been like? Regardless I have brought you this links round-up for your enjoyment, and I hope that your weekend is full of sunshine and baby kisses.

There is an excellent kicker to this New York Times story about Neil Gaiman and his new book.

Why yes I WOULD care for a Frankenstein story by Victor Lavalle that also pulls in the Black Lives Matter movement. THANK YOU FOR ASKING.

Angelica Jade Bastien on Legion (mm, yes, this is the review I was waiting for).

Even when the world is garbage, I still enjoy a celebrity Twitter feud. Have you been following the one between Piers Morgan and JK Rowling? It’s gold, and Piers Morgan’s son weighing in is the best thing about it.

Bookstores fight hate.

Manjula Martin on never becoming famous for your writing.

You have to know about this territory called Neutral Moresnet that Belgium and Prussia owned jointly for a century. Zinc and Esperanto are involved.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has some feelings about La La Land and white dudes in jazz. Can I just say that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s encore career as a cultural critic is one of my favorite things in this life? Have I said that before? IT REMAINS TRUE.

The critical discourse around Jordan Peele’s new horror film Get Out has been ON POINT. Here’s Jordan Crucchiola at Vulture on how it makes “good” white ladies terrifying. Here’s Frederick McKindra, a Buzzfeed News Emerging Writer Fellow (yay for new critics!), on how the movie allows black men to be scared rather than scary. If you’ve seen this movie please get at me in the comments so I can ask you questions about how torturey it gets.

Stay brave!

Review: Memories of Ash, Intisar Khanani

AT LAST I have read the sequel to the wonderful Sunbolt! Intisar Khanani is a fantasy author who really deserves a good, let’s say, 75% more fame than she is currently receiving, so let’s all get on spreading the word far and wide, okay, team? Read the novella Sunbolt if you haven’t yet, and then get straight on to the superb sequel, Memories of Ash.

Memories of Ash

Our protagonist, Hitomi, is learning magic from the secretive, kindly mage Stormwind, with whom her vampire friend Val left her at the end of Sunbolt. Many of her memories of her former life are gone, and she is focused primarily on cultivating her powers and staying under the radar. All of her peace is shattered when the High Council (led by Hitomi’s old enemy Blackflame) summons Stormwind to stand trial for treason. Though Stormwind accepts her fate, Hitomi is determined to go after her and save her from unjust imprisonment and possible death.

If you are needing (as I am) some straight-ahead fantasy adventure stories, I can’t recommend Intisar Khanani’s work enough. Her worldbuilding here, as in the last book, is superb, everything from the limitations to Hitomi’s look-away charm to the differing societal norms for the desert nomads as opposed to the people of the Mekteb (the school where magicians get trained). Possibly my favorite thing about watching Hitomi travel to so many different locations is that Khanani seems to believe in the fundamental goodness of people. Wherever Hitomi goes and however slim her chances seem of rescuing Stormwind, she always meets people who are kind and good. At a time when the world feels less and less hospitable to strangers, Memories of Ash was a balm.

As with Sunbolt, this book ends in a satisfying way that nevertheless leaves the door open for many more adventures to come. Hitomi finds herself, at one point, in a land that’s been shattered by vicious magics, and she makes a promise to come back someday to try her hand at fixing it. Part of this is my current state of mind, but most of it is Khanani’s gorgeous world- and character-building: I absolutely cannot goddamn wait to see Hitomi throw her considerable energy and talent into healing the whole world.

Review: Monstress, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

I’m going to start keeping records on how many books that bloggers scream about for one million years before I get around to reading them, and then when I finally do read them, it’s like “Well I should have done this a while ago.” Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s book Monstress, which in my defense has been checked out steadily from my library since the trade paperback came out (but I didn’t put a hold on it so it’s still my own fault), is one of those.

Monstress

You see that cover? Every page of Monstress is of equivalent, if not greater, beauty to that cover. Sana Takeda’s art is beautiful and dreamy and gives this work of fantasy an extraordinarily epic feel. The detail on every page is incredible, her characters feel lived-in, and with all of that, she doesn’t elide the brutality our main character, Maika, both faces and dispenses in just about every issue. I was hard-pressed not to screen-cap every page for y’all, because the art is just that gorgeous.

Monstress has received a huge amount of attention, deservedly, for the art, but the writing is also wonderful. I was warned repeatedly that Monstress was quite violent, and it is, in the manner of a lot of the secondary world fantasy I’ve encountered in my life. At the same time, it’s — can I say really fun? Is that glib? Our protagonist, Maika, is fighting against something evil that lives inside her, all the while trying to escape the many forces in her world that will stop at nothing to find her; and yes, that’s a recipe for violence and mayhem in secondary world fantasy. Maika is searching for answers about her own past and her mother’s, and she has a thing many people want and she is a thing many people want, and she has to find the answers before the bad guys find her. So when I say fun, I mean that this is a familiar type of story, which I enjoy, and it’s wonderful to see it played out so skillfully, with such superb worldbuilding, with end-of-issue surprises that make me gasp yet still feel completely earned, and with characters whose arcs over the course of the series I’m excited for.

LOOK AT THIS ADORABLE FOX GIRL MAIKA TRAVELS WITH

Marjorie Liu has said that she has deliberately written a book of only women — and as soon as she said it, I was like, “…Oh yeah. Oh hey. There are no men in this book.” Not actually zero, but very, very few. The soldiers are women, the slaves are women, the witches are women. It’s part of what makes this story so incredible, because what we see are a multiplicity of women with different ideas and motives and values — you know, a whole bunch of women portrayed as full people. Many of them women of color. In a comic written by two women of color. Doesn’t it make your heart grow three sizes? It does mine.

AND SERIOUSLY, THIS ART.

Particularly when you remember that Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda do not share a language and have to communicate with each other via a translator, this is an extraordinary marriage of the vision of art and writing. I love this comic to shreds and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Review: Enter Title Here, Rahul Kanakia

Hands up everyone who’s been on the hunt for a thoroughly Slytherin YA heroine! If that’s what you’re after, Rahul Kanaki’s Enter Title Here is the book for you.

Enter Title Here

Enter Title Here is about a girl called Reshma who is first in her class (due to a lawsuit her parents filed when the school tried to change the system by which GPA was calculated) and badly wants to get into Stanford. She’s cynical enough about the system — ever since her parents got cheated by a Silicon Valley cutthroat lady — that she believes she has to have a “hook” to overcome her mediocre SAT scores. And she decides that her hook will be an agented novel that she will write over the course of the school year, all about a studious Indian American girl like herself who gets a boyfriend, makes friends with the popular kids, and goes to parties.

White people like to think we’re all emotionless study machines. They tell themselves that their kids might not do as well in school, but at least they know how to enjoy life. Well, I’ll spend a month enjoying life and then, oh, I expect it’ll “transform” me. I learned in English class that stories often end with the character having a staggering realization: an epiphany. And I expect to have one sometime right around September 28.

By the end of the novel, I’ll turn into a whimsical girl who harvests all the possible joy from each moment and lives a carefree existence and lets the future take care of itself and all that other bullshit.

Spoilers: That’s not exactly what happens.

Enter Title Here tries less than maybe any other YA novel I’ve ever read to make its protagonist likeable. Even when Reshma gets caught screwing up, she’s mainly sorry that she got caught and will have that much more of an obstacle in the way of her success. She’s cynical about her relationships — romantic, platonic, and parental — and even more cynical about the world she lives in. She’s cynical, but she’s not wrong: The goalposts for success in high school are clear, and she’s got a keen eye on how to meet them.

Kanakia does something really sensible in this book, given what an unreliable narrator Reshma is. (She lies about a lot of stuff that we only find out about when other characters do — and then Reshma says, oh yeah, I didn’t mention that before because it wasn’t a big deal.) It can be hard to tell what Reshma’s like as a person — where she’s all talk and where she’s absolutely living the way she says she’s living — so Kanakia has sensibly included a few characters who’ve got Reshma’s number. In her interactions with Alex and George and even the slightly-pitiful Aakash (whom Reshma selects to be her temporary boyfriend), we’re able to see Reshma’s loneliness, her honesty, her intensity, and her spots of vulnerability, in ways that she’s slightly concealing from us otherwise. It’s a neat trick in what might otherwise have been a rather cold-hearted book.

Huzzah Slytherins! (I’m not a Slytherin tho, I am a Ravenclaw, but still, Slytherins get a bum rap, and I liked Reshma.)

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep. 76: Forthcoming Literary Adaptations and the Hatening Continues

Happy Wednesday! This week’s episode is FULL OF THINGS, including another sea-or-space update (you’re welcome), our run-down of recent and forthcoming TV and movie adaptations of books, and the conclusion of the Second Annual Hatening. You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

What We’re Reading

Wildlife, Fiona Wood

(I also mentioned YA authors Melina Marchetta and Stephanie Perkins. Stephanie Perkins wrote Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and Isla and the Happily Ever After)

Equatorial Guinea: Colonialism, State Terror, and the Search for Stability, Ibrahim Sundiata
The Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins
City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg

Sea or Space Update

Learn more about this Mauritius gravity situation here!

Literary Adaptations

NO

Riverdale (CW)1
Emerald City (NBC)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

MAYBE

Legion (FX)

YESSSSSSSS

Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon)
A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)
The Dark Tower (movie!)
The Expanse (Syfy)
Powerless (NBC)
Murder on the Orient Express (movie!)
John Wick comic (this is a reverse one! movie-to-book adaptation!)
Logan (movie)

(I have been trying to get Whiskey Jenny to watch this heartwarming video of Patrick Stewart for years. She won’t watch it because she says she doesn’t want to cry.)

Second Annual Hatening, Part 2

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

For Next Time

The Secret History, Donna Tartt

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour

  1. Since recording the podcast, I saw this video with the actor who’s playing Jughead, where he says that the show isn’t going to make Jughead ace. Oh well. The CW has lots of other shows I can watch instead.