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Seven books to get you in your feelings since we’re all a bit numb

Amy Baxter from bookworm bible Bad Form runs you through her emotive curated list of PoC authored books for this month.

30 Mar 2021

I love books. I work in books. I spend my spare time running a magazine about books “by Black, Asian, and racialised community writers”, called Bad Form. And if my past year surrounded with books has taught me anything, it’s the importance of a good one to help you process your own emotions. You can project your feelings onto the characters as a distraction.

Before we dive into this, I want to flag that some of these are new books, and some these are older books, but the glue that holds them together is they were born out of PoC talent. Supporting young diverse authors is so important, but so is celebrating those who have gone before. 

According to The Bookseller, in 2016, less than 200 books by British ‘BAME’ authors were published in the UK, and when an estimated 184,000 were published a few years prior one can imagine this is a tiny fraction. This proportion is rising steadily, mostly as a result of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, but like Cassie once said, the publishing industry still has “a long way to go”. 

A true story to make you miss your family

Brown Baby by Nikesh Shukla

I praise Nikesh and his writing constantly and without fatigue, but this book, his first memoir, I can say is truly something special. Brown Baby is an exploration of fatherhood, but really, it’s not just for parents, it’s for everyone. Nikesh’s short and pointed book is a brilliant tracing of his attempts to parent his own Brown baby, and discovery of the pitfalls of everyday life. How to talk to his daughter about race, and about gender, and about civic responsibility, and everything else a Brown baby will need to know. For anyone separated from their families in our current situation, this book is a reminder of what all loving families go through to support us. I think I’m going to go call my mum now.

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A true story to make you sob

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala 

Sonali Deraniyagala is a survivor of the 2004 Tsunami. This 2013 book begins with the horrifying wave: 30 feet high, moving at 25 mph, racing inland. And then: heartbreak. In Wave, Sonali narrates her unspeakable tragedy, loss of her two sons, her husband, and her parents. The grief, the anger, the sorrow, the sadness, it is, in some places, unbearable to read. Though Sonali goes on to trace her story of picking up the pieces, tells the lovely story of meeting her husband, and shares memories of her children, it is those first few chapters that will break you down entirely. A horrendous story, beautifully told, and a celebration of those lives lost.

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A story to make you frustrated

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan 

From the joint winner of the inaugural Merky Books Prize comes a dual history of the Ugandan Asians. Expelled from Uganda in 1972, many of the Ugandan Asians made their way over to the UK due to colonial residency permits and passports. Hafsa introduces us to present-day Sameer, a young high-flying lawyer who goes back to Uganda to find the answers to questions he isn’t sure of, and his grandfather Hasan, trying to hold together his family and his life in the 1960s. The history is true, but what will really get you grinding your teeth is the flaws in all of the characters. Sameer’s subtle anti-Blackness, and his family’s overt racism as he falls in love with a Black woman. His sister’s dedication to their family at any cost. Hasan’s clear failure to realise what is happening and treat people better, to save his family. The newly released and endlessly fascinating We Are All Birds of Uganda will make you want to throw your copy across the room.

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A true story to terrify you 

Inferno by Catherine Cho 

Catherine Cho’s memoir (2020) taps into your deepest fears. That your own mind can turn against you. That psychosis can set in, so real that you are truly unable to distinguish it from reality. That’s the story Catherine tells, of her postpartum psychosis. It tells of her two weeks in a psychiatric ward, weaving in the stories of her life, and how she got to that point. Seeing her baby’s eyes as the devil’s, losing all sense of time, seeing herself as her grandmother’s mother and her son’s child. It is ultimately, the story of love, her love for her son and her family. But this book will haunt you far after you put it down.

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A story to make you fall in love

Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola

You know what? Sometimes, you just need to feel sappy. You need a saccharine sweetness to make you smile at clouds and small babies and freshly baked bread. And that’s what Bolu Babalola’s Love in Colour provides in bucketloads. A collection of mythical tales from around the world, retold in Bolu’s signature snappy style, Love in Colour is as joyful a celebration of love in all its forms as I’ve ever seen. From West African folktales to Greek myths, Bolu capture the essence and excitement of falling in love and gifts it to you in a neat little hardback package. I’m smiling just thinking about it.

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A story to break your heart 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguru

As the winner of the Nobel prize for literature, Kazuo Ishiguru’s books always have some level of expectation attached to them. That the book you are about to read will be fantastic, make you think, and linger in your thoughts after you’ve read it. Never Let Me Go from 2010 is no exception – a seemingly banal story of a young girl at boarding school, Kazuo’s trademark semi-dystopian storyline sweeps you up in a not-quite-reality that will leave you broken. It’s difficult to introduce more of the plot without spoiling the twists entirely, but know that the book will raise you up to break you down again. Total heartbreak has never been more clearly achievable than by reading this book.

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A story to make you roll your eyes, but also very angry

White Tears / Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad

You may recognise the name Ruby Hamad from her viral Guardian Australia article “How White Women Use Strategic Tears to Silence Women of Colour.” In it, she writes. “Often, when I have attempted to speak to or confront a white woman about something she has said or done that has impacted me adversely, I am met with tearful denials and indignant accusations that I am hurting her. My confidence diminished and second-guessing myself, I either flare up in frustration at not being heard (which only seems to prove her point) or I back down immediately, apologising and consoling the very person causing me harm.” This book is an exploration of the phenomenon of “white tears” and their global history, from the effects of colonialism to modern culture. A frustrating but educational read, that’s not too long to feel monotonous.

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