Diverse Books Tag

The marvelous Sharlene at Olduvai Reads tagged me for the Diverse Books Tag.

The Diverse Books Tag is a bit like a scavenger hunt. I will task you to find a book that fits a specific criteria and you will have to show us a book you have read or want to read.

If you can’t think of a book that fits the specific category, then I encourage you to go look for oneA quick Google search will provide you with many books that will fit the bill. (Also, Goodreads lists are your friends.) Find one you are genuinely interested in reading and move on to the next category.

Everyone can do this tag, even people who don’t own or haven’t read any books that fit the descriptions below. So there’s no excuse! The purpose of the tag is to promote the kinds of books that may not get a lot of attention in the book blogging community.

Find a book starring a lesbian character.

I choose my favorite of Helen Oyeyemi’s books, White is for Witching. It’s about a pair of twins who live in a haunted and xenophobic house. The girl twin, Miranda, goes off to Cambridge and gets involved with a black girl. The house is not happy about it.

Find a book with a Muslim protagonist.

Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead features a Canadian Muslim detective trying to solve a mystery relating to a possible Bosnian war criminal. This was obviously right up my alley, as I read very widely about genocides in history and their aftermaths. I enjoyed the mystery a lot and was excited to find that it’s the first in a series about this detective, Esa Khattak, and his right-hand woman, Rachel Getty.

Find a book set in Latin America.

A Latin America-set book on my TBR list that I can’t wait to read when it comes out next month is Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Here Comes the Sun, which is about three Jamaican women who fight against the installation of a new hotel in their community. It got a ton of buzz at BEA, and my pal Shaina raved about it, so I’m in!

Find a book about a person with a disability.

Do mental disorders count? If yes I am choosing Nathan Filer’s wonderful The Shock of the Fall, which made me cry many times like a tiny, tiny child. The depiction of what it’s like to live with schizophrenia is so beautifully done, without ever being patronizing or overly sentimental. I am tearing up now thinking of one moment in particular. Sniffle, sniffle.

Find a science fiction or fantasy book with a POC protagonist.

Don’t mind if I doooooo. A recent read that I enjoyed a lot, but didn’t get around to reviewing, was Nnedi Okorafor’s book Lagoon, in which a race of aliens makes their first contact in Lagos, Nigeria. All of the various protagonists trying to make sense of this bewildering new state of affairs are black Nigerians, and it’s a weird and spooky and excellent piece of scifi.

Find a book set in (or about) any country in Africa.

Jenny cracks her knuckles and does some jumping jacks in preparation, then remembers she should be reasonable about this and not get all crazy with it. Suffice it to say, I love reading books set in or about countries in Africa, and it is hard for me to pick just one.

I’m going to choose a book from a smaller press, Imran Coovadia’s Tales of the Metric System. This book (which I’m still waiting for my library to order for me!) is a novel about the changes in South African society over the last forty years. I have been given to understand that it deals with South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which I am extra interested in.

Find a book written by an Aboriginal or American Indian author.

Your recs for this category would be appreciated, as I didn’t have a ton of choices lined up. I’m choosing Ambelin Kwaymullina’s very enjoyable The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, a YA dystopian novel with (I’m delighted to report) a sequel to be published in America this year.

Find a book set in South Asia (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc.)

I really like Ru Freeman’s book On Sal Mal Lane, which I read a few years back. Set on a road in Sri Lanka at the outset of the Sri Lankan Civil War, it depicts a group of families (some Tamil, some Sinhalese, and some Burgher) dealing with the changing political and racial dynamics of their country. It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite authors, Rumer Godden, and was just altogether great.

Find a book with a biracial protagonist.

Everyone was crazy about Fran Ross’s Oreo last year, when the 1974 satirical novel was reprinted. It’s a comic novel about a mixed-race woman in Philadelphia and New York, and although it has been described as picaresque and that is not really my jam,1, I am excited for Oreo to become the exception to my picaresque hate.

Find a book starring a transgender character or about transgender issues.

For this one, I’m choosing Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl. Protagonist Amanda has just started at a new school and is falling in love with a boy named Grant; she badly wants to come out to him as trans, but fears how he will take it. I hear amazing things about this book and this author and can’t wait to try it!

  1. although I love the word! Picaresque! I wish it meant something awesomer.

Review: On Sal Mal Lane, Ru Freeman

I confess to being seduced into reading On Sal Mal Lane (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) by its cover. I am helpless in the face of vibrant blue with bronze highlights. And with the stylized children on the bottom. I couldn’t resist. Look at this here:

The Herath family moves into Sal Mal Lane before civil war breaks out in Sri Lanka. Their beauty and kindness to one and all bewilders and attracts the families in the lane: Old Mr. Niles, confined to his bed and dreadfully bored before Nihil Herath begins coming to talk to him; slow, careful Raju, who is devoted to the youngest daughter, Devi, born on an inauspicious day and thus widely considered to be Doomed; Sonna who is considered a thug but craves the friendship and approval of the Herath children, particularly good-girl Rashmi; his twin sisters Rose and Dolly whose acceptance into the Herath household baffles the close-minded Mrs. Silva down the road. Though Sinhalese live side by side with Tamil, the coming of the war threatens to divide the lane.

Mumsy compared On Sal Mal Lane to a Rumer Godden book, and although I wouldn’t have thought of the comparison on my own, it struck me as a very good one. Like Rumer Godden, Ru Freeman writes about the wrong ideas children get, but doesn’t make fun of them for getting such ideas. She remembers the seriousness of childhood, the way children take adult chatter in a spirit of magical thinking; but also children’s practicality and refusal, sometimes, to accept adult values that are not their own.

In he absence of what she termed concrete information, his mother placed the guitar on top of her almirah. It was a confiscation that was supposed to be honored by virtue of her having said so, but it was one designed to fail by virtue of her children’s joint understanding, unspoken but known, that it was a travesty to deprive their older brother of an instrument that belonged in his hands. That even Rashmi was outraged by the punishment was sufficient validation of their feeling that this was an injustice that could not be tolerated.

 

“We will take it in turns to get the guitar down from the almirah for Suren,” Rashmi declared.

Freeman’s also wonderful — effortlessly wonderful — at sibling dynamics. After the riots that leave two Tamil houses on Sal Mal Lane burned down, the Heraths wander over to a nearby lane where most of the residents were Tamil. The houses are covered in ash, and there is no sign of people there.

“Where did the people go?” Devi asked for them all.

 

“The people must have gone before they came,” Nihil said, and they all knew who that they were.

 

“Were the people saved?” Devi pressed on.

 

“How would we know?” Suren asked.

 

“The people were saved,” Rashmi said, deciding for them all on a version of a tale that they could live with. “They left and they took nothing, so they must be safe.”

 

None of them could know for sure if this was true, whether the inhabitants of Kalyani Avenue, just up the road from theirs, with nobody to speak for them, had survived, whether all of them were hiding in one of the houses into which they had not gone, or crouching in heaps on the floors of the refugee camps they had been told were set up in government buildings and schools and all the places of worship, the temples, mosques, churches, and kovils.

Ru Freeman writes her characters with incredible generosity: a tricky line to walk in some cases, looking for sympathy for unsympathetic characters without lapsing into pathos. Even Sonna, who runs with the Sinhalese gangs that terrorize Tamil households later in the book, is defined by his rebellious wish for the Heraths to become his friends; when he stops Nihil from wandering into the street, and Nihil looks at him with gratitude, he’s heart-wrenchingly desperate for the feeling that he’s a good person. Freeman is brilliant at putting in small, sad details that stop you from regarding anybody as a villain.

My one complaint is that Freeman overwrites to a degree. It feels like a new writer’s problem, like she doesn’t yet know whether she can fully trust her readers to pick up implications unless she spells them out in very long sentences. But it’s a minor gripe in an absolutely lovely book. If I hadn’t read a New York Times review complaining about it, I might never have noticed. Ru Freeman’s great, and I wish her the long and wonderful writing career she probably does not need me to wish her because it’s exactly what is inevitably going to happen.

They read it too: S. Krishna’s Books, Largehearted Boy. Did you read it? Leave me a note in the comments and I’ll link to your review too!