debut fiction Posts

“The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois”

It has been more than a week since I finished reading the astonishing debut novel The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois by poet Honoree Fanonne Jeffers ( published by Harper Collins). I am still in awe of it. It is not going to dissipate for a long, long time. It is two-hundred years of African-American history told through the account of a fictional family based in Georgia. Bulk of the novel is narrated by or involves Ailey Pearl Garfield. A young girl, who along with her two sisters, have been reared in the North, in the City, but spend summers in the small Georgia town of Chicasetta. It is where their mother’s family have lived ever since their ancestors arrived from Africa in bondage. It was originally Indian land that was then appropriated by the white settlers. There is a slow, unfolding pace to the story. It is not just another black history narrated but the author builds upon the basic premise of scholar Du Bois when he wrote about the problem of race in America and what he called “double-consciousness”, a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. It is hard to encapsulate in a few lines the gist of this book except to say that it is a phenomenal account of history, it is fictional but it is built around actual events and people, and once done reading it, there is a magnificent plotting of a timeline that is not going to go away easily. It is a combination of historical events, evolution of language and a growing awareness amongst the youth to push back against the systemic racism that they encounter daily. It is also a sobering lesson on how not to blame their past for the present as the three sisters discover. At one level, their lives are representative of the manner in which narratives can be built. Either you blame your past for your present as the eldest sister Lydia did or you make the best of the opportunities that come your way as the other two sisters — Ailey and Coco did. Lydia became a drug addict and died of it. Ailey and Coco became an academic and a doctor, respectively. They chose to move on but not in a cold-hearted manner. They did not reject their past. Ailey studied it, understood her lineage and then developed it further to explore her identity.

After a while, none of the names make sense. But the rhythm of the text lulls one into being mesmerised by the story. In fact, Honoree said in an interview that her editor read all her poems and insisted on editing this text according to those poems:

My editor Erin Wicks is a genius, and the world needs to know.

She’s a young white woman, so I didn’t know how working with her would turn out. But she allowed me to be my full, authentic self. When the book was sold, I was afraid that somebody was going to try to make me be something else or explain myself to white readers. But she just kept pushing me to just keep it real.

But, yeah, the book that was sold was 450 pages.

I know this sounds cheesy, but Erin and I just have this miraculous simpatico [relationship] that I didn’t expect. She’s white and young, and I’m of a particular generation and from the Deep South. But she’s just really empathetic and kind. She’s aware of Black political issues. She’s just great. For example, Erin bought every single one of my poetry books and read them. So, when we started going through line edits, she could mimic my language and tone as she was condensing sentences.

The Love Song of W. E. B. Du Bois invokes the scholar all the time, especially in the well-chosen epigraphs to every section, but it is the writing that is astonishing. It is at the intersection of feminism, American history, women’s histories, identities, systemic racism, etc. It is an incredibly powerful novel that changes the reader once done reading it. Appropriately it won the National Book Critics Circle Award 2021 for fiction.

Most reviews of the book have been unable to share the story structure as it is impossible to do so. Apart from gushing about the beauty of the writing, magnificence of the tale and the sheer extraordinary craftsmanship, there is little else one can do.

Read The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois.

20 March 2022

“Brown Girls” by Daphne Palasi Andreades

“We leave, we leave, we leave. We always leave. It is in our blood to leave.

But perhaps it’s also in our blood to return.

Why did we ever believe home could only be one place? When existing in these bodies means holding many worlds within us.

At last, we see.” (P.137)


“Our weary mother, so practical and unimaginative — or so we believed. Who we were certain never had dreams.

How wrong we were.

But how could ‘We wanted to make a better life for ourselves — and you’— be a dream? How could a place be a dream? (Did we live up to their dreams? we wonder, uneasy.) Understand that we will never fully comprehend their dreams having come of age in this Promised Land.

Understand: We are their Promised Land.

Never in a million years would we have the courage to move to a foreign country on a dream, become fluent in a strange language, raise families on foreign soil, far from those we love. Raise children who often feel like reflections in foggy mirrors. Who, from the moment they learn to walk, are running further than they can see.

Resilient, strong, determined, our mother’s carved out homes of their own.

This, too, is in our blood.” ( p.181)


“In the Motherland ( Fatherland?), our speech is filled with holes. We don’t remember the words for many objects. Some of us flush with embarrassment when we must speak, humiliated by our ineptitude, our jumbled, strangely pronounced words. Some of us must rely on transaltors, human ( our cousins) and nonhuman ( apps on our smartphones). ‘What do you mean you never learned the language?’ is a question we are constantly asked. ‘You’re practically deaf and mute here!’ Harsh as it is, it’s true, and we hang our heads.

But some of us who have been our parents’ translators our entire lives — at parent-teacher conferences, banks, supermarkets — know how to communicate fluently. We discuss politics with our uncles and aunties.

All of us have cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who toggle with ease between various dialects and languages, English included. They apologise for their accents, but we don’t care — we are in awe of them and could listen to them speak all day.” ( p.126-7)


Debut novelist and Columbia University graduate, Daphne Palasi Andreades’s Brown Girls ( Fourth Estate, Harper Collins India) reads like a novel meant to be recited like a dramatic monologue. It is narrated by “a” narrator (or is it a bunch of young girls/women using the collective pronoun?) to describe their trajectory as ten-year-old girls on Brooklyn to women/wives/mothers. The girls in this group are Nadira (Pakistani), Anjali (Guyanese), Michaela ( Haitian), Naz (Ivory Coast) and Sophie (Filipino). But the narrator gets the slips created by others brilliantly while addressing the girls, their nationalities, identities and names are all mixed up. No one seems to care. Even the girls have learned to be immune to these slights. Later in the novel they remark of the daily violence they encounter in these small acts and have learned to build a life around it.

There was a brief period in contemporary American literature where ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) fiction was a category. Brown Girls and much else of recently published diaspora fiction disproves this fact. More often than not, young writers are sure of their identities, they are Americans first but are very aware of their ancestral identities. They may be self-affirmed “coconuts” but they recognise the power that they have if having this dual cultural perspective. They don’t feel culturally dislocated like previous generations. It is possible to navigate and develop a life. It may not be easy but it is possible.

Brown Girls is reminiscent of Elif Batuman’s The Idiot where the excellent craftsmanship of the writer seeps through the pages and the growth of the protagonist is reflected in the surety of writing and confident speeches. Similarly in “Brown Girls”, where at first the little girls are absorbing and watching the world around them but slowly through their teenage confusion and hormonal changes, they learn to understand themselves better. It too is reflected in the mix of scripts, languages and cultural experiences that the author brings to play in the final pages of the novel. She flits between Urdu, French, Hindi/Bollywood songs and American culture.

Brown Girls is utterly fabulous and has to be read in one gulp. Nothing else will do it justice.

30 Jan 2022

Book 20: 18 – 24 November 2018

Every Monday I post some of the books I have received in the previous week. Embedded in the book covers and post will also be links to buy the books on Amazon India. This post will be in addition to my regular blog posts and newsletter.

In today’s Book Post 20 included are some of the titles I received in the past few weeks and are worth mentioning and not necessarily confined to parcels received last week.

Enjoy reading!

24 November 2018

Sally Green, “Half Bad”

Sally Green, “Half Bad”

Half Bad, Sally Green“The great thing about hate is that it takes away everything else so that nothing else matters.” 
( p.196 Half Bad)

Sally Green’s debut novel, Half Bad is the first of a trilogy about a half-Black and half-White witch, Nathan Byrn, son of “you-know-who”. He has the surname of his mother’s husband, but his father is Marcus, the most feared black witch of all time.Half Bad is set in modern-day Great Britain where the witches co-exist with the people or Fains. They seem to live a normal life. As with most supernatural beings there is a rite of passage. For witches it is the Giving, at the age of seventeen they are given three gifts by an ancestor. They also have to drink the blood.

This is a young adult fantasy novel that is based on the premise that the world may be divided in to black and white, as in the case of witches, but in fact there are many grey areas. Even the White Witches are not as goody-goody and innocent as they have been made out to be over the centuries. The sinister and consistent persecution of Nathan by the Council of White Witches and the Hunters, leaves no doubt that white witches can also be cruel and vindictive.

This is a novel that surprisingly lives up to much of the pre-publicity hype. This story has to be consumed in one fell swoop. A debut novelist has to work hard for their manuscript to be accepted. In this case the story has been scripted sharply, it is pacy, there is violence ( even cannibalism) with horrific details but not for a moment does Sally Green lose her grasp of the storytelling. It is so clearly etched, almost cinematic. Film rights have already been sold to Fox 2000 with Karen Rosenfelt (Twilight, Percy Jackson, The Book Thief) producing it. The translation rights have been sold in 42 languages. The successful translation rights sales can be explained by the well-written story. It builds beautifully upon the fantastic landscape that is already set in the minds of young readers of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  The trailer for Half Bad is

Penguin Books has been proclaiming this to be the biggest debut of YA fiction for 2014. It probably is. Buying this book wont be a disappointment.

18 March 2014

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