Close your eyes and use your imagination to travel back in time. Picture a loved one, reading your favourite childhood book to you, a time when you felt safe, warm and protected, enchanted by the story being read to you. The cinematic experience that a book could be, with your parent, teacher or sibling using the different ranges and tones in their voices to bring it to life. Such bliss, much joy!
In a time where it feels like we are trekking head first through a sandstorm, we need more of this joy and audiobooks could be just the ticket. Some of the gal-dem team have picked out their favorite audiobooks for you to get stuck into over lockdown 2.0.
SHANICE DOVER – Head of Social media
Over the past few weeks, I’ve listened to three books that deal with the intricacies of familial grief. Of them all, The Death of Vivek Oji is the story that resonated most. Stories about family always pull me in. The messiness of them and delicateness of the various dynamics offers plenty to think about. When you throw something as bewildering as a death in the mix, a whole other layer of difficult feelings is unearthed. Because the title of the book boldly reveals the momentous event that the story revolves around, I thought I knew what to expect. Sadness, grief and reflections on the loss they suffered from those who survived the titular character. What I didn’t quite anticipate was just how masterfully Akwaeke Emezi would move through these themes. Among the mystery surrounding how Vivek died, we’re exposed to the lives of the many people in Vivek’s life. Hearing the subtle changes in the narrator’s tone as they voiced each character really brought them to life, deepening my connection to them and somehow making an already tender story even more heartfelt. It’s through their relationships, fiercely loving but painfully complex, that we come to know Vivek, and can fully feel the impact of the character’s death.
The rich exploration of identity is what made me gravitate towards Rainbow Milk. Telling the story of Jesse – a young, gay black man, raised in the Black Country as a Jehovah’s Witness, we follow him trying to navigate a new life in London after being turned away from his religious community due to his sexuality. Tackling the impacts that race, religion, sexuality and migration can all have on our sense of who we are is no small feat, especially when it’s all explored through one character’s experience. But that’s the beauty of Rainbow Milk. As challenging as it is for Jesse to navigate all of these intersecting identities, it’s a critical reminder that for so many of us, our selfness is complex. It’s built on a tangled web of various factors, pulling in everything from the beliefs and practices we have imposed on us from an early age to the ones we discover as we move through life independently. Knowing that Jesse’s story is a reflection of the author’s real-life both shatters and restores me. Despite the many hardships depicted in the book, the triumph of Jessee forging the path to the life he desperately craved and deserved was powerful and inspiring.
DIYORA SHADIJANOVA – First Persons Editor
Queenie was the perfect book to listen to when I was checked in to Heartbreak Hotel. It’s relatable, captivating and hearing the book instead of reading it felt like chatting to a mate. The text isn’t pretentious or overcomplicated and that’s what makes Candice Carty-Williams‘ writing so raw and accessible. I played it the first thing in the morning when my own head felt too cloudy, out on runs to stop myself thinking “how long left” as I spluttered every 10 metres in the park and when I went to sleep at night – just to hear a soothing and familiar voice to fall asleep to. Queenie’s storyline is proof that although stories of heartbreak can often feel unique, the feeling of longing and needing to be loved are universal. Although Queenie has sometimes been referred to as “the Black Bridget Jones”, the central character is in a league of her own. She’s unapologetically political, hilarious and complex. No offence, but Bridget Jones could never. Carty Williams’ debut is smart and striking – and hearing every word of it made it that much better.
My Sister, the Serial Killer was different from the books I’d normally read, as it was morbid and funny at the same time. Although on first glance the novel looks like it’s classic crime fiction, Oyinkan Braithwaite actually focuses more on themes of sisterhood, police corruption and romantic relationships – the horrifying murders somehow seem secondary to the plot. The author wastes no time in setting the scene. The grisly story begins with Korede, the protagonist, helping her sister Ayoola clean up after she has killed her third boyfriend in a row. With the characters’ speech read out loud in a strong Nigerian accent, the vivid story feels even more textured as an audiobook. I listened to the book while cooking dinner during late Autumn evenings – the story ploughed on as the darkness swallowed up the days earlier and earlier. As Korede described Ayoola’s sharp knife, I chopped up onions and garlic with my own, to throw into a sizzling pan for an easy pasta sauce. My Sister, the Serial Killer was the perfect read to accompany my non-eventful life, adding the type of drama to the dull nights I hope to never experience.
SOPHIA POWELL – Commercial Assistant
Through the Leopard’s Gaze is an autobiographical novel, depicting comedian Njambi McGrath’s life growing up in Kenya with amazing fervour. I was right next to her, experiencing the sounds and smells of the bustling city in more technicolour than I could have anticipated. Covering themes of gender, race and family, we hear of the author’s brutal attack at the hands of her overbearing and abusive father at 13 and the story leading up to her now comfortable married life in London. The actions of her father are later illuminated through details of the influence of British colonial rule. His hot-headed and violent nature transforms in Njambi’s eyes after she realises that his tendency to use violence as a method of control is a repetition of what he witnessed by British forces. With intergenerational trauma rife within the diaspora, it was insightful to see its impact delineated in such a direct and heartbreaking way, made all the more potent by hearing it in the author’s own voice
HAG is a collection of short stories in which authors retell folktales from their hometown (disclosure: it features a story written by gal-dem’s founder Liv Little). From green-skinned children to evil fairies and mermaids, I was hit with the uncanny feeling of being transported to fantastical worlds of my childhood. Except, this time around, the duelling lovers were lesbians and the women that fell in love with shapeshifting men were left to struggle as single mothers. The magic became that much more real. With many traditional folktales having been written hundreds of years ago, it’s easy to feel that they bear little relevance to life today – protagonists were white, straight and desired nuclear families with archaic gender roles. Stripping away these features meant that the lessons were brought to the forefront, without the distraction of feeling alienated. Fresh, modern and laced interesting perspectives, it was obvious how relevant these long-forgotten tales are today. Listening to them was a lot of fun! Each story was performed by actors, whose mastery of their voice had me gasping, cringing, laughing and enjoying every second.