Thoughts: The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett

liminal people

Taggert, the main character of Ayize Jama-Everett’s debut novel The Liminal People, is one of a growing number of people with supernatural powers, called the liminal people. Taggert’s power is his ability to heal, which also gives him the abilitiy to read body functions, change and stop them. The Liminal People reads like a superhero comic told in a noir prose style. Now, there are a lot of superhero stories in lots of mediums available at the moment, and I’m usually hesitant when it comes to this trope. But The Liminal People gripped me and drew me in, and I found Jama-Everett’s work manages to offer a fresh spin on the genre.

Taggert is part of the razorneck crew in Morocco, hired muscle to the mysterious and extremely dangerous Nordeen. When his ex-girlfriend calls for his help in finding her missing daughter, Taggert asks for leave and flies to London’s seedy underbelly. In a smart move, the author tells the story in the first person perspective from Taggert’s point of view. He presents something of an anti-hero, acting in a morally ambiguous area between his power as a healer and his work interrogating and harming others and liminal people with his abilities under Nordeen. His relationship with his boss is more of master-slave than mentor-mentee relationship, and over the course of the story, Taggert comes to seek freedom and his own version of a family.

In a genre that still loves white characters, a Black superhero main character is a welcome change. And not only is Taggert a complex character but he is furthermore allowed to be an anti-hero. I also loved the global aspect of the book, showing us characters of color as on the move and at home in different countries, travelling and making connections in all of them. The whole cast of characters is diverse and the author’s willingness to adress such issues as racism and slavery is one strong aspect of what sets The Liminal People apart from most superhero stories we are flooded with everyday. Because Taggert’s powers over bodies also means that he is capable of altering his appearance, and so he is very aware of how stature and lightening his skin tone allow for entering different spaces. This is a wonderful perspective from which to comment on issues of race and class. This is how you demonstrate the perspective of characters of color, the everyday issues, without it being the plot of the story.

I may have one or two nitpicks with Taggert’s approach to the female characters but overall this is a strong story with good pacing and wonderful world-building. Having the stomach for genre-typical violence is a requirement but other than that definitely recommended, I am looking forward to seeing this author and his stories grow. The one benefit to always being late to reading exciting books is that there’s already a sequel out. The second book is called The Liminal War and there’s also a spin-off, The Entropy of Bones, available already. This is the second novel I’ve read in a short time that was published by Small Beer Press. I’m happy to see some of their books offered on Scribd, so that I get to try them. I think I need to browse their catalogue!

The Liminal People counts towards the Diversity on the Shelf challenge as well as the #weirdathon.

What’s your favorite superpowers novel? 

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Thoughts: The Hairdresser of Harare

hairdresser

The hairdresser of Harare is Vimbai, the best in Mrs. Khumalo’s salon. Vimbai is unmarried with a young daughter, but with a place in a good neighborhood, a house help and her job, things are going well and her talent draws customers to the salon. That is until another hairdresser, the smooth-talking Dumisani starts at Mrs. Khumalo’s salon. Initially theratening her job security and losing Vimbai her role of queen bee, she loathes Dumisani, but slowly the start becoming friends and when Dumisani needs a place to stay, Vimbai becomes his landlady.

Huchu’s first novel is set in post-apartheid Zimbabwe during mounting economic problems and a 90% unemloyment rate. Vimbai and the other women in the salon are trading petrol and sugar and there are problems with white farmers trying to hang onto their farms after independence while government officials are seizing the property. These issues are very much present but the “issue” focus of The Hairdresser is on homosexuality, its illegality and views of gay men as “lower than pigs and dogs.”

I very much enjoy characters that are not easily likeable and Vimbai with her pride and some terrible mistakes is a complex character and it is great to see her grow and become more aware. Her views will often be hard to take but the author shows where she is coming from and presents the difficulty women like Vimbai experience at the hands of men.

While Vimbai and Dumisani become closer and Vimbai is enthusiastically embraced by his family, as readers we can see where their thoughts on their future diverge. Dumisani brings larger issues into Vimbai’s life and from there things begin to unravel. I feel that perhaps the ending could have benefitted from a few more pages, it is a bit sudden but perhaps the salon life and little power struggles between the hairdressers in the first half of the book were just that well-written. The novel has been described as “bittersweet,” and this is a fitting term, so enjoy this one but be prepared for some bitterness.

This is a difficult one to write about without spoiling too much! I hope you’ll give the book a try, I know I’ll look out for Tendai Huchu’s future works! I chose The Hairdresser of Harare for Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge and I think it might actually be the first book set in Zimbabwe and also written by a Zimbabwean author that I’ve read. But I do have another one, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, on my list.

Other thoughts:

Reading on a Rainy Day

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