Global Citizens Reading List
Late in 2016, I stumbled on a post on Global Citizens entitled, "16 Books From 2016 That All Global Citizens Should Read." As a lover of lists and all things reading and someone who wishes to be an informed and engaged global citizen, this post immediately called out to. I recorded all of the titles in my planner and requested several of them from the library that day.
Since then I've read three of them and a couple more checked out from the library. Here are my thoughts so far:
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
This immigrant story was described in one review as a combination of Americanah and The Help, and I found that to ring very true. The story was as engaging as it was heartbreaking. I was caught up in the story and read it very quickly, but its themes and issues have left me thinking about it weeks later. The author paints a vivid picture of immigrant life in New York City and the way undocumented workers' livelihoods are tied so closely with their employers. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the experience of coming to America from Africa. Or, who just wants to read a great story.
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer
I was so ready to devour this book, but I ended up having to push through to finish. The lure of librarians and African adventure gave me the impression I'd be reading a literary Indiana Jones tale. But the book ended up being much more about the radical Islamic jihad and hostile takeover of communities in northern Africa and Mali in particular. The book follows the real life story of a Malian man who gathers and preserves scattered manuscripts in a library in Timbuktu. These books are hundreds of years old and demonstrate a period of flourishing Islamic scholarship and culture in the region. Because of many of the book's secular content, Jihadis threaten to destroy them and with them, the history of the important Islamic thought. The librarians in the book must secretly evacuate the manuscripts to safety. The author makes the horror of living under Islamic terrorists very real. It's an important subject I need to learn more about, but it was difficult reading. I can't saw that I enjoyed the book, but I am glad that I read it.
My most significant takeaway from the book was the great importance of the ancient north African texts. For centuries, defenders of African enslavement supported their position with the argument that Africans were illiterate, uncivilized savages. They claimed that there were no great works of advanced thought from the continent and that this somehow proved that Africans were lesser human beings and therefore worthy of enslavement. Of course, this argument is grotesque and completely unacceptable even if it were true. But these texts disprove the argument and for a number of African-Americans mentioned in the book, that was deeply significant. I am grateful to the author for helping me understand this aspect of African history that I had not appreciated before.
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
This novel is told from the perspectives of four Jamaican women trying to make more of their lives in a poor part of the island. Once again, I found the subject matter of the book hard to get through. Many of the events depicted are tragic and several of the scenes were uncomfortable for me to read. I'm sure it depicts a reality that many Jamaicans and others face, and for that, I am glad I read the book. The dialogue in Jamaican dialect was hard to understand sometimes, but it got easier as I continued reading.
One scene in particular stood out to me. Two of the narrators are sisters who are fifteen years apart in age. Margot, the elder sister works ragged to send her younger sister, Thandie to school and on to a better, more prosperous life. At 30, Margot is used to being wiser and more sophisticated than her 15 year old sister. However, during one conversation, Margot is unnerved by Thandie's implication that something is too complicated for Margot to understand. As she begins to resent Thandie for this, she realizes that this is exactly what she has been working so hard for. She has been toiling for years solely for her sister's education and intellectual improvement. Margot wanted Thandie to surpass her so she could get a better job as a doctor or a lawyer and support Margot and their mother. Margot wanted the rewards of Thandie's education, but was unprepared for the emotional byproducts. When Thandie's advanced education and understanding begins to show in her conversations with her older sister, Margot is uncomfortable with the role reversal. Margot recognizes the contradiction in her thinking, but can't help feeling left behind. I loved this moment for its nuance and complexity. There are so many things we wish for, work hard for even, but don't fully appreciate the ramifications of until they are upon us. I would recommend this novel for that scene alone. It was powerful.
What globally minded books have you been reading lately?