As part of the Trust’s celebration of Black History Month this October, the Wellbeing Reading Group decided not to focus on a single book at this month’s meeting. Instead, we asked our members to come along and tell us about their favourite book by a BAME author. We wanted to hear about books that had made us think, changed our minds, made us laugh or cry, or inspired us. And wow, did our readers deliver! Here were our recommendations.
Black and British: A forgotten history by David Olusoga. Recommended by 2 of the reading group, the author is of Nigerian descent and experienced prejudice from an early age. Now a historian and broadcaster, he reaches back to Roman Britain exploring the history of black British history. It covers slavery, the empire, and the experience of immigrants in the UK and much more. One of the questions we discussed was the subtitle- “A forgotten history”- forgotten by whom? Was it supressed rather than forgotten? The group talked about the wealth of lived experience there is in the UK amongst black British and immigrant families, and how important it is to capture and share that experience widely. There is a companion BBC series to the book https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/b082x0h6/black-and-british-a-forgotten-history
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. A Young Adult novel, this is the powerful story of A young black girl who lives in a poor black neighbourhood but goes to school in an affluent white area. She witnesses her best friend being killed by a police officer and the novel follows her struggle for justice. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the book has appeared several times on the American Library Association’s list of top 10 most challenged books (documented requests to remove books from schools or libraries). The book is thought provoking and emotional, and the author’s language shows the influence of her previous life as a teenage rapper. It’s also been produced as a very watchable film.
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman is another young adult novel, and reportedly it’s Stormzy’s favourite book. Set in a world where slavery was reversed and black people enslaved white people, this is really a story of star crossed lovers, of Romeo and Juliet. It starts a series of books showing the consequences of the decisions made by the main characters. Not just for teenagers, it’s turns preconceptions about our world on their head, within a cracking storyline. It’s also a BBC drama series.
The Vanishing half by Brit Bennett. Picked up by chance in a bookshop, this was the story of two light skinned black twin sisters in the south of America and the very different lives they live, one as black and one passing as white. The book is beautifully written, showing the contrast between the experiences of their two lives and how life treats them differently because of their colour. Even the woman living as a white person developed prejudice about black people, as she was scared that her secret would be discovered. At times a challenging read, the book offered a direct contrast between the two lives of the twin women.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. A book we’ve discussed before in reading group, this won the Booker Prize, and was universally lauded by our readers. Telling the stories of 12 very different women, mostly black and British, whose lives are intertwined, the chapters cover multiple generations and times. The book is joyful and celebratory, as well as offering food for thought on the experience of black women in the UK. This is a book we have passed on to others to read many times, always the sign of a winning read! Read our original review here https://geh.wordpress.ptfs-europe.co.uk/2019/10/15/reading-group-booker-prize-excitement/
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs had a huge impact on the reader recommending the 1861 book. Described as heart breaking but necessary, the work tells the life story of a female slave, the brutality of her treatment, abuse and sexual harassment by slavers, and her attempts to escape. An important work as it is written by gives a woman’s perspective, and tells of her eventual escape from slavery and success sin earning enough to buy the freedom of her children. Parts of the book detailing her hiding place in an attic reminded us of the Underground Railroad- another past wellbeing reading group novel.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams is the story of a young black woman starting her career in the city. She has low self esteem and works in a predominantly white environment where she is badly treated by men she sees both socially and in workplace. The description of the everyday life of her African family is vivid and evocative, and we see that her family also have prejudices. Taking us through her dysfunctional relationship with her mom, the story has a lot of humour. Witty and well written.
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour. Our reader hadn’t quite finished this novel- which we were kindly gifted copies of by the Reading Agency. They still described it as gripping and could see how it was building to a climax. This is a satirical novel about a young man who is the only black salesman at a start-up business. We read about his resilience to cope with people who are not inclusive, and at times the reader wanted to jump into the book to challenge the prejudices of the characters. When these challenges happen in the novel, it’s a real “hurrah” moment.
Other novels by BAME authors that we’ve read as a group include:
A rising man by Abir Mukherjee– a cop/buddy/crime novel set in 1919’s colonial India.
At night all blood is black by David Diop – a brutal, visceral, extraordinary novel about a Senegalese soldier in World War One. Read our review here https://geh.wordpress.ptfs-europe.co.uk/2021/08/05/at-night-all-blood-is-black-a-winner-with-the-geh-wellbeing-reading-group/
The underground railroad by Colson Whitehead. Read our review here- https://geh.wordpress.ptfs-europe.co.uk/2020/10/20/simply-swept-along-by-the-underground-railroad/
Most of these titles are in stock in the library, so please get in touch if you’d like to borrow them firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know your favourite reads from BAME authors- we love a book recommendation! For more about our wellbeing reading group click here, including the announcement of our next book!