“Red Flower, White Flower” by Jennifer Tseng – Review at The Rumpus

February 14, 2015 - Leave a Response

You can read the full review here.

Whenever I get my hands on a book of translated poems that includes the original, I am extra pleased. I let the Spanish, French, or Turkish imperfectly roll off my tongue, imagining what the poet was thinking and feeling as they wrote the poems. I read the English version and ponder it, but there is something about originals in the poet’s language that holds emotions or intent that even the best translators can never fully draw out.

Jennifer Tseng’s Red Flower, White Flower made me wish I could read Chinese characters to continue my usual practice. The translated poems are beautiful, relatively short, seemingly simple. I wonder what they would sound like in Chinese, what depth might be hidden in their true language. This is what I love about poetry, and Tseng has written the kinds of poems I love most to read, but I can only judge them in English and I fear this probably does not do them justice.

Advertisements

Los Maños: The Lads From Aragon

October 28, 2014 - Leave a Response
Los Maños: The Lads From Aragon, The story of an anti-Franco action group

Los Maños: The Lads From Aragon, The story of an anti-Franco action group

Disclaimer: I was lucky to receive a free copy of this book via the GoodReads First Reader program.

Los Maños is a small pamphlet-like book, more akin to a zine. It consists of two interviews with Mariano Aguayo Morán conducted by Freddy Gómez (the first, longer, interview) and Antonio Téllez (the second, shorter interview). As a leader in Los Maños, Aguayo Morán gives an excellent understanding of the formation and activism of the group in working against the Franco regime of Spain. Aguayo Morán is very humble and speaks little of his own actions, instead focusing on the ideas and actions of other members and the collective work.

What is disappointing about the book is that you must have a pretty good frame of reference for the situation in Spain under Franco in order to properly appreciate the interviews. The interviews are in some places a bit repetitive, but little of the history of Spain is included to contextualize the efforts. The book would have done well to have included a forward that would walk readers thru a basic history of Spain that led to Franco’s rule and what the intellectual and social arguments against him were. Instead it is assumed that readers are anarchists already and that we should be satisfied that Los Maños was a positive development in resistance just on the word of Aguayo Morán. For the uninitiated, which sadly is most people since history is not a strong suit of most readers, the book lacks context. This also makes it difficult for those who are activists now to connect historical actions and political theory to current contexts and needs.

As a text for those familiar with anarchist thought and anti-Franco action, this is a handy book to connect to the people behind the actions. Unfortunately, it is not an especially useful text for those new to social justice and action.

Hip Mama Magazine – 20th Anniversary Relaunch

July 23, 2014 - Leave a Response
Hip Mama magazine, Issue #54: The Relaunch; Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, Issue 68 Spring 2014; Vogue magazine, Issue 08449 March 2014

Hip Mama magazine, Issue #54: The Relaunch;
Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, Issue 68 Spring 2014;
Vogue magazine, Issue 08449 March 2014

Originally published 3/23/14 on the Aaminah Shakur blog

Like many artists and writers, I consume a lot of media. Although I don’t own a television, I keep up with a lot of mainstream television online, and I keep up with the conversations and critiques of a lot of shows that I do not even watch. Although I rarely make it to a movie theatre anymore, I use Netflix and Megashare very frequently. When it comes to written media, I’ll confess, I still love the tree-killing paper issues of magazines, zines, and books over online reading. Like many other artists and writers from marginalized communities, I have critiques and opinions about the media I see, and I try to make a habit of consuming and supporting the media that respects, honors, and reflects my own communities and other marginalized communities.

I will confess, one of my favorite items of mainstream media are wedding magazines and high fashion. I discontinued my Vogue subscription a few years ago because it seemed less and less relevant to my life as a queer, disabled, poor, person of color. I still pick up the “big” spring and autumn issues most years, and I bought the Nicki Minaj issue a few months ago. Wedding magazines are something I’ve been picking up pretty regularly over the last 6-9 months. This week I had quite a shock in the store and grabbed up Martha Stewart Weddings and Vogue because I was so impressed to see Black people on the covers. Granted, in both cases they are celebrities (John Legend in Weddings, Rihanna in Vogue), and I joked with a friend that their celebrity status is probably the only reason they made it on the cover, plus how convenient that the wedding magazine features a Black celebrity man rather than a Black woman. As I perused the Weddings issue, I noticed there were actually more Black people in ads than usual, a few Asian women in style spreads, and even a small section called The Palette” included a Black model! A few hours later, I started flipping through the Vogue and thought I must have entered a parallel universe! There are MULTIPLE examples of Black and Asian models throughout. There is even a Diesel Jeans ad with a beautiful Latin@ in a wheelchair!

So, you are probably asking yourself “what on earth does any of this have to do with Hip Mama???” The answer is that I believe Hip Mama is one of the magazines that set a standard that it has taken forever for mainstream media to catch up to, but it’s beginning to happen. The change has begun, and we can thank magazines and zines like Hip MamaShotgun Seamstressmake/shiftand Bandit. So, now that Hip Mama has relaunched for their 20th anniversary, I’d like to take a look at the first relaunch issue.

I’ll begin by confessing to be a big fan of Ariel Gore (the creator and editor), and I have to be honest that I’m definitely biased for Mai’a Williams, as one of my closest friends, who has a piece in the new issue.

Mai’a’s piece in the magazine is “Growing New Life After the Revolution,” a beautiful reflection on motherhood and change and revolution. Mai’a was in Cairo during the revolution, on the streets as a street medic with her toddler in tow. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Berlin (they have since returned to the U.S. for the first time in several years).

“When people tell me the revolution doesn’t matter – that it failed – I tell them that we are the revolution, and it fails when we do, and we fail when we give up.”

One of my favorite essays in the magazine is Shell Feijo’s “I’ll Take the Tramp Stamp With Sprinkles”, a reflection on body shaming, fat hate, and her intentional decision to have a fantastic cupcake as a “tramp stamp” tattoo to resist.

“That’s when I got my idea. I would get a tramp stamp. Not a fairy or a butterfly, not a rose garden across the top of my ass. No, I would get a big, fat, pink encased, cherry-on-top cupcake; a fat girl’s tramp stamp… I lay awake at night questioning every aspect of the tattoo and its meaning. After reading In the Night Kitchen to my kid one night, I dreamed of a troop of fat women marching across the night sky, cupcakes shining above their butts.”

The essay concludes with a cute magazine quiz to help you choose the “right” kind of tattoo for yourself.

Other essays cover issues of raising a family intentionally in tiny spaces, inter/multi-racial parenting, how-to on making vinaigrettes, healthy school lunches, stillbirth, the value of skill sharing, and of course reviews of books and important policy/law controversies.

Another essay I want to highlight is “Where are the Latina Mamas?” by Norell Martinez, discussing the lack of imagery of Latinas in birth-work and natural parenting marketing. This is an issue that is widely discussed amongst my friends and I, so much so that I once ran a blog collecting photos of parents of color baby-wearing precisely because it was so difficult to find contemporary photos.

“Is there something about Latina motherhood that is less valuable or meaningful in the marketing world? Why isn’t imagery in advertising an accurate reflection of social reality?”

Finally, Sarah Maria Medina presents an interview with Nehanda Abiodun, a political exile in Cuba from Harlem. I had never heard of Abiodun, so this was a fantastic opportunity for me to broaden my own knowledge base. Abiodun shares a lot of wisdom in the interview.

“If you don’t love people, you cannot struggle for long. You will not sustain the energy to continue to struggle, because the obstacles and the odds against us are great.”

The only disappointment I had with what is otherwise a fantastic relaunch of such a super important magazine is in the “Ask Punk Rock Miss Manners”. There are five questions and answers in this issue that overall showcase humor and some good advice. Unfortunately, I could not stomach the way one question was addressed from a genderqueer writer who is struggling with a friend who routinely and callously misgenders him. To be fair, you can’t control the language of the questioner, who initially referred to their friend as a “fag”. But the fact that Miss Manners repeated the use of derogatory language (not just once, but twice!) is disturbing. I further found the advice given on the subject to be less quality than desired, as it suggested that the questioner should simply be more patient with a friend. It seemed like a pretty flippant answer to a real problem. I can only hope that some better understanding of gender and microaggressions related to it might improve in future issues.

Hip Mama revolutionized how a lot of people of my generation viewed parenting, and the relaunch is terrifically diverse, fresh, modern, and relevant. I can’t wait to see what is coming next!

To subscribe to Hip Mama, go HERE.

The Iconoclast: Revolutionary Love Poems by Nadia Abou-Karr

January 20, 2014 - Leave a Response

“She wears controversy all over her body… I love the Iconoclast. I need her. Can’t wait to hear the next sacrilegious thing to escape her lips.”

My first, very late in life, introduction to zines was through poet and artist Nadia Abou-Karr. I was definitely on the older side of this amazing self-publishing art form that Abou-Karr was, in fact, a pioneer of in her teens. It was thru Abou-Karr and a few other shared friends that I learned about the rich history of zine-making and eventually began to make my own. It’s now been a few years since I last made a zine but I remain excited about the possibilities that zines present. Zines are fully self-published and can include written and visual work. While zines have long been a collage-makers dream, zine artists have creatively found ways to utilize their own photography and other art forms as well as found photos. Abou-Karr has been at the forefront of keeping zine-making fresh and original and with The Iconoclast: Revolutionary Love Poems, she gives us a beautiful and unique zine in her own style.

The Iconoclast is, as the title suggests, a collection of poems. But what does “revolutionary love” mean? Based on the poems included, it is clear that revolutionary love includes love of self as much as love of others. And for many women of color and otherwise marginalized women, perhaps self-love is the most revolutionary of all. Abou-Karr’s poetry challenges the notion that love is merely devotion to another, though there is plenty of evidence of that kind of love in the zine also. The most striking message in The Iconoclastis that love means stretching oneself, trying new things, challenging not only self but also society. After all, the Iconoclast is “a destroyer of… established conventions.” And sometimes those conventions are one’s own even.

“The coyote looks across a canyon

wide and deep

turning his back to family and tradition

to take a chance”

The poems included speak of self-value, loving another, devotion, and leaving a lover when self has been stifled by expectations or when people becomes disconnected. There is heartbreak and honesty and even a little brutality, but ultimately hope. Because revolutionary love always survives and loves again.

“a place to be loved, the worst place

the best place, the hard place,

the home space”

Visually, The Iconoclast is a mix of repeating images, self-portrait, and Abou-Karr’s own art. The mix of light and dark, one of the special aspects of a machine copied zine, is perfection and the poems jump off the page and demand to be read aloud and really felt in the heart of the reader.

The Iconoclast: Revolutionary Love Poems can be purchased direct from Nadia Abou-Karr HERE.

This review originally published at AaminahShakur.com 

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan by Ali Eterez

October 11, 2010 - One Response

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan

By Ali Eterez

2009 – Harper Collins

Non-fiction, Memoir

Have you ever read a work of fiction that was written so well, even if it took place in a future time or fantasy location, that you had to remind yourself that it was fiction and not real? Eterez’s memoir is non-fiction that is so fantastical that I spent most of the book reminding myself that it was supposed to be true and not some make-believe world. The title is a bit of a misrepresentation as well, as less than half of the book takes place in Pakistan. And while you might think that the hard-to-believe aspects of the book are those that take place in Pakistan, it is the descriptions of the U.S. that are the most difficult to reconcile.

That said, the writing is good and the story moves along at a reasonable pace. At times it is even funny, which in my opinion is an important part of any good memoir, that the author can laugh at some of their own past mistakes or noble-intended efforts. Unfortunately, humor cannot carry any book and one does expect deeper introspection and character growth eventually. And that is where this memoir fails miserably.

Starting off in Pakistan, where he was born, Eterez tells us about the covenant his parents made with Allah. They bargained that if granted a son they would dedicate his life to making him a great leader for Islam, a mythical-sounding tale that harkens back to Biblical covenants. Having gotten the son they prayed for, his parents’ first move was to take him with them to the Hajj, where, at just under a year old, he “followed the Prophet’s footsteps” by wandering out of their tent in the middle of the night, thereby taking his first steps and doing so in the Holy City. It is this fantastical covenant that provides the basis of his every future decision and forms his life-long desire to serve the “cause” of Islam.

If this all sounds a bit messianic and egotistical, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect out of this memoir. Bouncing quickly from mockery of traditional belief to immersion in a Saudi-based strict version of Islam and then to a hedonistic deflowering of as many Muslim girls as he can, Eterez manages to distill Islam down to nothing more than a joke while continuing to convince himself that he is somehow serving a great cause. The only saving grace to this is his roommate at the end of the book who tells him point blank that is what he is doing, and that he has managed to make an idol of Islam as a cause.

The most disappointing, and indeed, painful, aspect of this memoir is his seeming lack of shame while writing about the ways he has hurt many girls throughout his life. Beginning with his sexual assault of a servant girl at the age of seven, Eterez writes repeatedly of the ways that he used Islam to abuse young women and convince them to throw aside all morals for him before he shoved them to the side. He writes about these experiences in very explicit language and provides sexual imagery as if he were writing for Playboy. Sadly, considering the level of deceit and abuse in those situations, the explicit descriptions are not only tasteless by Islamic standards, but also potentially traumatic for survivors of abuse to read. Nowhere did I get a sense that he was sharing this in an attempt to be truthful while making a moral point. Instead it reads like braggadocio, and in the end there is no clear statement of guilt, shame, growth, or desire to make amends for the way he has sexually manipulated and cast aside women.

His efforts to misrepresent Islam begin early. For example, when the servant girl he assaulted tells his grandmother about the incident and he is punished by having to write lines for it, he says:

“As I finished my hundredth petition, I began loathing girls. Being nice to them upset Allah…”

 

After the family moves to the United States, he writes about his parents’ becoming “fundamentalists” but his description of their so-called “fundamentalism” is limited to their efforts to eat only halal meat, his mother’s preference to wear niqab when going out, and his father’s insistence on regular mosque attendance.

Thru several name and seeming-personality changes, Eterez reworks himself repeatedly to recommit himself as a leader of Islam. After 9-11 he makes a name for himself as a “reformer” of Islam and writes in his memoir about all the work he did to stand up, alone, against extremists. This is problematic since it implies that only those who believe Islam must change were vocal against terrorism. It also overemphasizes the influence he had on Muslims. While he did, in fact, become a mainstream media darling, he did so by disrespecting practicing Muslims of all sorts and mocking many traditional practices of Islam.

Reading this memoir, and having read some of his writing since the memoir, it is clear that Eterez has a strong ego and sense of self-importance, but not a very strong foothold in what he really believes. The danger in him being looked at as a leader, and therefore someone to emulate, is that when he expresses weak belief he isn’t only making himself a more relatable human, but suggesting that everything is open to mockery. In the method of his questioning he disrespects and laughs at those who are secure in their belief, and does not offer a truly moral alternative for those who are also seeking. 

This memoir was filled with ironies, but it was unclear if Eterez himself recognizes the irony or not. Instead, he seems to take himself too seriously and Islam not serious enough.

The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

September 21, 2010 - Leave a Response

The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

2007 – Jump at the Sun/Hyperian Books

Fiction – young adult

The Shadow Speaker is Okorafor’s second novel and the first book I’ve read by her. Although it was written and marketed specifically for young adults, it is an excellent read for adults as well.

Set in West Africa in 2070, The Shadow Speaker tells the story of Ejii, a teenager who bears the burden and blessing of being magical and having a role in saving the five worlds. In Ejii’s time, Earth has changed dramatically, including widespread magical abilities and openings to and migrations between different worlds. As a young girl, Ejii witnesses her tyrannical father beheaded by Jaa the Red Queen, who rules her village and is known for a ruthless pursuit of justice. Despite mixed feelings, Ejii’s communication with the shadows pushes her to follow Jaa towards confrontation with the leader of Ginen, a world vastly different from Earth. Along the way to Ginen, Ejii learns how to use her powers better and meets a new companion, Dikéogu, who is a runaway slave and a rain maker. After arriving in Ginen for what was supposed to be sort of peace conference, Ejii discovers that Jaa had no intention of compromising with the Ginen leader Chief Ette, nor did Chief Ette have any intention of peace. Ejii uses her newfound strengths to stop the beginnings of war and cause a pact to be signed by both sides to ensure cooperation.

The theme of The Shadow Speaker is best summed up after the pact is signed when Ejii tells Dikéogu

A taste for war eventually becomes an appetite.

 

The need to seek for cooperative and peaceful solutions to the problems that are created by an ever-changing world and mix of different peoples is a valuable lesson. Okorafor succeeds so well in promoting this message because she does not lie that it is easy to do, nor that it is simplistic.

With great detail and imaginative descriptions, Okorafor’s writing is lush, colorful and vivid. The Shadow Speaker is a pleasurable read, even as it causes you to think about the future and your part in creating it.

***

The next review will be of Okorafor’s first adult novel, Who Fears Death. You may also like to check out her first YA novel Zahrah the Windseeker.

Lady Q: The Rise and Fall of a Latin Queen

September 10, 2010 - One Response

Lady Q: The Rise & Fall of a Latin Queen – by Reymundo Sanchez and Sonia Rodriguez  (non-fiction/biography)

I was very interested in reading this book about a woman’s perspective on the gang life. My family affiliation was not with the Latin Kings and I myself was never in the gang, so I’ve always wondered how girls ended up actively involved and how it affected their lives.

It is important to note up front that while Sanchez gives Sonia Rodriguez (a pseudonym) equal billing as author, the book is written entirely by him, based on conversations with Rodriguez. This is important to know because it sets the stage for exactly why I ended up having problems with this book. To be fair, Sanchez was honest from the get go about his intent:

During my time as a gang member on the streets of teh Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago, I always wondered what made girls get involved in drugs, sex, and violence… Why did these girls choose to join a gang? I set out to locate at least one to find answers to my questions – to find one woman who was just as disgusted as I was by the loss of young lives to gang violence. (Prologue)

A few paragraphs later, describing his initial phone conversation with Rodriguez and how he sold her on telling him her story, Sanchez writes that he told her:

I’m calling because I want to write a book that tells about gang life from a female perspective. I know that your story will help save some little girls from the gang bullshit. Would you be interested in telling me your story?

And so begins the weakness of what could have been a great book. The most serious flaw of the book is that it is clear from page one that Sanchez is telling, and controlling, Rodriguez’s story.  The issue isn’t that Sanchez is a bad writer. But the book would have been so much more powerful if it had been told in the first person, in Rodriguez’s voice. Sanchez did not go into the project wanting to support a fellow former gang member to tell her story. He went in with an agenda: to use his status as an author to write a book about a fellow former gang member. Naturally, the book is also molded to meet the needs of his bigger agenda: to talk young women out of joining gangs. The second agenda point is a valid and noble desire, but is to a degree hampered by the first agenda point.

To begin with, there is the way Sanchez describes and writes of Rodriguez, aka Lady Q, and her family. It didn’t take me long at all to be uncomfortable and even angry at the stereotypes played up. On the very first page, Sanchez begins by describing Lady Q’s mother:

Marta was a stereotypical Puerto Rican woman: illiterate, uneducated, and unable to survive without a man – a welfare mother who had no ambition to improve her life. (Chapter 1)

And the judgementalism and misogynistic view of women continues like that throughout the 269 page book. While Sanchez writes about horrific things done to Rodriguez as a child, there is little if any analysis of the larger oppressions that created the environment she was raised in. Where Sanchez clearly judged Marta as a “bad” mother for living with one man after another, it seemed to me that perhaps Marta was seeking a better life for her children (including a disabled older sister of Rodriguez’s). As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Marta is not a nice person or a loving mother, but I still couldn’t help but to wonder what had made her into the woman she was and I certainly recognized the cycle of abuse that she lived in and perpetuated. Unfortunately, Rodriguez eventually continued that same cycle of living with abusive men who mistreated her and her children. While that cycle was acknowledged by Sanchez, there was an underlying current of “how could she not know better and do differently?” rather than empathy for how the cycles of domestic violence are so difficult to break.

The final pages of the book left me with a negative taste in my mouth when Sanchez wrote:

Although I scolded her on several occasions about her dependency on others, she failed to understand that people, even family, have their own problems and agendas to worry about…” (Afterward)

The paternalism inherent in his description of “scolding” a grown woman was disturbing. But then he went on:

It has helped her gain opportunities to better herself, but she’s squandered them all… On more than one occasion during my work with Sonia, I became upset with her over her refusal to understand the damage she was doing to her son. I tried to get through her head… Sonia agreed and promised, and promised and agreed, but did nothing. Chances to become independent came and went one after another, and she continues to live her life in fear of being thrown out onto the streets at any moment because of her inability to pay rent.

While I applaud Sanchez for getting out of the gang and building a life away from that entire lifestyle, it seems callous for him to have no sympathy for or understanding of how difficult it is to do so. Having loved ones who have also left the gang life, I realize that it is not a single decision that makes it possible, but a lifetime of ongoing difficult, and at times painful, decisions to move forward. As a former gang member it seems odd to me that Sanchez appears to think that because he has been successful there is no reason others might not be. It also seems to me that the burdens upon a woman (children, lack of self-worth, inability to trust or form loving relationships because of past trauma, etc.) might be unique and make it harder for women.

In between the prologue and afterward is a compelling and emotionally draining story of the life of a Puerto Rican girl who was molested, raped, lived with daily beatings, was forced to drop out of school and made seemingly horrible choices in an effort to survive. It seems that Rodriguez hid nothing from Sanchez, was open and honest, and hopeful that by telling her story it would, in fact, encourage girls to stay away from gangs and continue their education and build healthy lives. While telling girls to avoid gangs, however, no real solutions were proferred for how girls in similar conditions as Rodriguez grew up in could possibly survive any other way. No suggestions were offered for how the community could help to support girls struggling through the sorts of situations that Rodriguez lived with before she ever joined up with the Latin Kings. Telling girls who are routinely abused, attending low quality schools, living in gang-infested neighborhoods, and surrounded by others who use drugs in the same room where they are doing their homework that they should value their education and not be “stupid” seems hollow.

As a young girl I used to read John Benton books about girls who ran away from home and into lives of prostitution and drugs. The point of Benton books was the “redeeming power of Jesus Christ” that these girls found when Benton’s mission group “rescued” them off the streets and brought them upstate (New York) to minister to them. And yet what I got from those books was a desire for the freedom and glamour I thought those girls had by leaving their abusive parents and striking out on their own in the big city. Even as I read about their pimps abusing them, their overdoses, and suicide attempts, I missed out on the real lessons present in telling those stories. Reading Lady Q’s story I had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.

If this book can encourage even one young person to stay away from gangs, drugs, and early pregnancy, that is wonderful, and I really hope that is the result of the book. I understand that was the intention, and I think it is an important duty to our youth to try. It is my opinion though that girls would have related to Lady Q’s life and story much better if she had been allowed to tell it her own way and if the telling didn’t include so much judgement from a man.

Despite what may seem like a harsh review, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in understanding the lives of poor and marginalized girls and women of color, gang life, trauma and its effects, substance abuse, or criminal injustice. Also, despite my misgivings, I do think that this book could be very meaningful in talking with youth, especially girls/young women, about their options and the consequences of their decisions. I would recommend that it be read in a group setting and with intention of discussion of the issues presented, how girls relate to Lady Q’s story and what lessons they can take from her experience.

***

You may also be interested in the review written by my friend Bianca Laureano at VivirLatino. I must be honest that I agree 100% with Bianca’s criticisms and positive notes about the book, as well as her discussion about gangs. My experience has been that while there are definitely aspects to the gang life that are immoral and dangerous, little respect is given to the positives that coexist in gangs. One positive is the oft-mentioned “family” that gang members may be lacking outside the gang and I think Lady Q’s story really exemplifies that aspect even as it claims that it isn’t reliable. Compared to her blood family, the gang really was there for her in profound and meaningful ways. But it is also important to note that many gangs, including the Latin Kings, have been actively involved in trying to help their communities thru GED classes, breakfast programs, loan networks for families in need, neighborhood clean up and beautification projects, etc. It is worth noting that many gangs did not start out with the intention of being a blight on their community, and many gangs have grown away from drug peddling and rival killing and become forces for neighborhood solidarity and safety, often acting in a “self-policing” capacity in their communities.

I fully intend to read Reymundo Sanchez’s (also a pseudonym, by the way) personal autobiographies and look forward to seeing how he treats his own story. In case you may also be interested, please look them up.

My Bloody Life: The Making of a King

Once a King, Always a King: The Unmaking of a Latin King

To Honor God

March 14, 2009 - One Response

To Honor God
By Timothy Bowes
The Othello Press, Ltd.

“Between my soul and God stand my heart and my deeds.”

So begins brother Tim’s book, and he frequently goes back to this, like a refrain, as ultimately it is the truth that we each must center. To Honor God is one of the most lovely books I’ve ever read (and yes, it is true that I read, perhaps uncommon, A LOT of books) and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do so. I am even more grateful to count Timothy as a friend.

Batool Al-Toma, who wrote the forward, describes the book as

“…a moving account of a young man’s search for God set in the English and Scottish countryside, so full of manifestations of His Glory and Majesty, as well as on the well-trodden streets of London, making the account resonate with the concept of a British Islam.”

Do not, however, think that it will not resonate deeply with you no matter where you are from, nor that Tim is espousing a specifically “British Islam”.

Another sister elsewhere mentioned that the only “shortcoming” of the book is its focus on “intellectual matters” and not including sufficient “tender moments”. This, I disagree with.

The author’s stated purpose with the book was to present something to his Anglican Christian and deeply religious family to assist them in understanding his decision and happiness with choosing Islam rather than continuing their spiritual lineage. The book was not intended during its writing (of which I had the pleasure of witnessing to some degree) for a mass audience, nor was it intended to be a “conversion story”. Drawing parallels between his family’s beliefs and his own, and honestly discussing where beliefs diverge is the greatest strength, in my opinion, of the book. Tim has created an actual dialogue, sharing not only how he came to Islam, but also how the morals his parents instilled in him led him to this Way and how much we truly share in basic values. Unlike many conversion stories, Tim does not fall into “this is why my way is right and yours is all wrong” judgment, nor does he give a scandalous history so that we can congratulate ourselves on “saving” the biggest sinner. He was a well-grounded, respectful, and honorable man whose very personality and values coincided with the ideals of Islam. His family, upon reading the book, I am sure can still see the same son, brother, cousin, grandson, nephew, that they always knew, only now they can hopefully understand his growth pattern and have a clearer picture of what he actually believes and holds dear. I suspect they are realizing in their hearts that they continue to have much more in common with him than they suspected.

For as long as I’ve known Timothy, he has always been thoughtful and perhaps understated. Saying that he is shy explains why it is perhaps easier for him to write out what he most wants to say to his family rather than trying to have a face-to-face conversation. It is inspiring actually, because many of us struggle to answer questions posed in anger, wonder why our response is so emotional, and are embarrassed when we don’t even know what our answer should be at times. Reading this book helped me to process some of my failings in that regard and see a better way to present what I want and need to say to my loved ones.

This book arrived at a good time for me. I’ve been reading a lot of “not Islamic” (and even some un-Islamic) books lately and this book was a pleasure to sink into. The beauty of his prose, and the depth of his sincere advice, helped me to reconnect with what I love about Islam and what my duty is to Allah.

Critique & Review: The Jewel of Medina

March 7, 2009 - 15 Responses

The Jewel of Medina
By Sherry Jones
Beaufort Books

 

To start with, I direct you to my review of this book that is posted at Feminist Review. The audience at Feminist Review is obviously not the same audience at this blog, and I adhere to editorial guidelines regarding word count and the purpose of the review. Please do read that review first, as I don’t wish to be repetitive here but merely give more detail to my concerns, recognizing that Muslims in particular want to know what the truth is about the novel.

Read the rest of this entry »

An Ode to Book Cover Designers

February 17, 2009 - One Response

Via Abe Books

Beth Carswell writes briefly about the beauty of novel covers, essentially claiming that sometimes we can judge a book by the cover. She showcases 30 novels that are worth buying for the covers alone, including some classics like A Clockwork Orange, Beowulf, and The Poisonwood Bible. I’m sold.