Friday, July 19, 2013

This Is How You Lose Her

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I absolutely love Junot Diaz's prose. This is How You Lose Her is the Dominican author's third book. It is also the third time I've read his work and haven't been able to put it down (check out his books Drown  and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao ).
This book is a collection of short stories that center around a young Dominican man, and his complicated romantic or familial relationships with the women in his life. As someone with Caribbean heritage, who grew up in a working class family in the New York tri state area (Diaz grew up in New Jersey), I found myself identifying with and laughing at some of his protagonists' thoughts:
"While Rafa's hair was straight and glided through a comb like a Caribbean grandparent's dream, my hair still had enough of the African to condemn me to endless combings and out-of-this-world haircuts. My mother cut our hair every month, but this time when she put me in the chair my father told her not to bother." (pg  126)

"Only a b&%$h of color comes to Harvard to get pregnant. White women don't do that. Asian women don't do that. Only f&%$king Black and Latina women. Why go to all the trouble to get into Harvard just to get knocked up? You could have stayed on the block and done that s&%t." (pg 198)

But I don't want to suggest that the only people who "get" Diaz are those who are from an island and grew up in the inner city.  I truly think his work is relatable on a universal level, as it is down to earth, honest, and always entertaining. Presently, Diaz is a creative writing professor at MIT. I can only imagine that he's one of those "cool" professors with the fun class.

Are you a Junot Diaz fan? What do you think about his books?

Signing Off,

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade

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Hey All! As I might have shared in a previous post, I had the privilege of traveling to Ghana last summer thanks to a fellowship through my MBA program. I spent a month there, traveling the country, visiting historical sites, and working on a business project. All of it was amazing and life-changing. Who would've thought I'd get the chance to visit the Mother Land. I look forward to going back one day (sooner, rather than later, I hope). But while I was there, I visited the bookstore in the Accra Mall, and picked up this book. It's been sitting on my bookshelf for the last year, but I finally decided to pick it up and read it. I'm glad I did.

Ama is a story about the Atlantic slave trade that occurred between the 16th and 19th centuries, wherein Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and British slave traders enslaved millions of Africans, transporting them from the west African coast to the US, Latin America and the Caribbean. In the new lands, the slaves were sold to a plantation owner, given a new name, forced to quickly learn a new language, and put to work for the rest of their lives (which were not very long, given the hard labor, lack of sleep, abuse, and poor nutrition).
Photo courtesy of
Ama focuses on the story of one girl's journey, from a free young woman in Ghana to a slave in Brazil. Her original captors are a adversarial group of Africans who invade her village while most of the people are away at a funeral (she stayed behind to watch her baby brother). As her captors sell her to different owners throughout the story, they re-name her as they see fit. Her birth name was Nandzi, then she becomes Ama, then Pamela, then One-Eye (you'll find out why in the book). Because she's sold to so many masters before even leaving the African continent, she learns several languages, and becomes a useful interpreter to her European enslavers. Although she finds favor in their eyes in this respect, she also clashes with many evil men, and is raped and beaten many times, as well.

A significant portion of the book is dedicated to her time at a Dutch slave castle on the coast of Ghana, where she becomes one of the Dutch men's concubine (she actually develops feelings for him). Reading this part reminded me of the Dutch slave castle in Elmina that I visited while I was in Ghana. The fortress is still standing and in decent condition, given it's age. It also still has an eerie feel: while standing in the slave dungeon last summer, I couldn't help but wonder if my own ancestors had stood on this very spot. I was the first person in my family to return to Africa since my ancestors had been stolen away. I felt like I had come full circle, and was coming back to Africa to pay my respects to those who had come before me. It was an emotional experience for me. One of my White classmates made a comment about how sad African history (specifically the slave trade) is, but after I thought about it for a bit, I felt proud. When you have the opportunity to look at the slaves' living conditions, and hear about their mistreatment first hand, you realize how strong, mentally and physically, someone had to be in order to endure and survive that. So many Africans died (or committed suicide, understandably) in the process, but I wouldn't be here had my ancestors not survived. How did they do it? Just to know that I come from a line of exceptionally powerful people is inspiring to me. If they can overcome that, imagine what I can accomplish in my own life today...

My photo collection: Elmina Slave Castle entrance, Ghana
 My Photo Collection: Elmina Slave Castle rooftop, Ghana
 My Photo Collection: Elmina Slave Castle entrance to male slave dungeon, Ghana
My Photo Collection: Elmina Slave Castle "The Door of No Return', Ghana

Do you read books about your ancestry? What makes you most proud? Have you read Ama? Although I bought it in Ghana, I see it is available here in the US, too.

Signing Off,