Review: Posada-Offerings of Witness and Refuge by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

Review: Posada-Offerings of Witness and Refuge by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

posada

In the four sections of her first poetry collection, Posada- Offerings of Witness and Refuge, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo takes us with her through the multiple, imaginative and too real border spaces of migration, language and belonging. In the first part, she goes on a journey of remembering, collecting and reconstructing her family’s history. Starting with the stolen metate they brought from  Teocaltiche, Bermejo connects the memories and stories of her family, from Uncle Manny’s recollections of his tía Susana and her remedies to Bermejo’s mother who was “never gifted the story of her birth,” presenting in her work the “Pieces I’ve Gathered so Far.”

Part 2 demonstrates the way in which Bermejo draws inspiration from Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and others and appropriately explores gender roles and the relationships of the women in her family, from mothers and daughters in “Frida’s Monkey Nurse:”

I tie her to this world never knowing

where the other will spit her out, never knowing

 when it will finally swallow her whole

to her relationship with her grandmother, to whom this collection is dedicated, in “This Poem is for Nopales:”

Grandma, in the hospital room, when I kissed the fade of your cheek

to say goodbye, crisscrossing chin hairs caught my attention.

Now, when I look in the mirror and And hairs have bloomed overnight,

I think of roots. I think of you. I hope I can be a nopal woman too.

In part 3, “Things to Know for Compañer@s. A No More Deaths Volunteer Guide,” Bermejo draws on her work with the humanitarian organization No More Deaths, which gives medical aid and support along the border. Her poems bear witness to life and death on the migrant trail peppered with resilient cacti.

 Did you know?
 When barrel cacti become tombstones and their
 yellow starburst blooms offerings for the dead, you won’t be too cool to 
 belt Katy Perry songs.
Did you know?
Migrants are hurried over trails at night and without light. 
Their blisters are caused by continuous friction, muscle cramping by 
dehydration, vomiting by drinking bacteria ridden cow pond water, 
and those who move too slow are left behind.

In the last part, Bermejo pays witness to other/s’ stories of refuge and migration, connecting and piecing together similar and interrelated struggles from Arizona to Chavez Ravine to Gaza. She bears witness to tales of desperation, of refuge and migration and gives names and faces to those who too often remain just numbers to us. Posada is a fantastic, visceral debut collection of social justice poetry, not only exploring the different meanings of borders, but also providing safe spaces and comfort for those straddling them.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is a first generation Chicana. She is a 2016-2017 Steinbeck fellow and has received residencies with Hedgebrook, the Ragdale Foundation, and is a proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. In Los Angeles, she is a cofounder of Women Who Submit, a literary organization using social media and community events to empower women authors to submit work for publication, and curates the quarterly reading series HITCHED.

Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is out today! Go get it here.

6pic-addtogoodreads

Disclaimer: I was given an e-copy of this book by the publisher, Sundress Publications, but never fear I remain my opinionated self!

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Thoughts: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces #HHM

gabi-girl-in-pieces

Gabi has a lot on her plate. It’s her last year of high school but apart from classes and college applications, she also has to deal with a father who is fighting a losing battle with meth addiction, her friend Cindy getting pregnant (as a result of date rape, we learn later), her other best friend Sebastian coming out, as well as exploring her own sexuality and first relationships.

Isabel Quintero’s first novel Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, published by CincoPuntoPress, is a tour-de-force. The good thing about being blissfully ignorant about new releases and a lot of hype before joining twitter is that I mostly missed all the excitement and picked up this book only now because I vaguely remembered someone saying it was good and it being LatinX Heritage Month. So I got to skirt the overblown expectations trap, yay, but am totally doing this to you now with this review. #sorrynotsorry

If you’re into intersectional feminism (you better be!), then this book will make you want to get out your highlighters. Let me quote this section, which everyone else is apparently also quoting (google told me, but still thanks for the easy c&p)):

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

This excerpt really concisely introduces all the issues Quintero adresses in the novel and also drives home the point that Gabi lives at a very specific intersection of gender, race and ethnicity. So the novel explores one culture’s version of the double-standard, that of patriarchal machismo Mexican-American dichotomy of the virgen/puta. And Gabi has to realize that many women in her community have internalized this toxicity and police other women’s behavior and expression of sexuality (as they tend to, don’t get me started on this issue), her mother among them:

“for my mother, a woman’s whole value is what’s between her legs. And once a man has access to that, she has no more value.”

Part of this patriarchal view is also the refusal to accept homosexuality and Gabi’s friend Sebastian is thrown out by his parents when he comes out. On the other side of the coin we have the boys will be boys mentality, about which Gabi writes a scathing poem.

Gabi is furthermore not marked Mexican-American by her skin color, instead she is so light-skinned she can pass as white but as a result has to deal with feeling alienated at times. Since I basically have the opposite problem, this was an interesting change in perspective.

The book also shows Gabi’s acceptance when it comes to her body and she moves from regarding herself as a “fatgirl” to acceptance. There’s a terrible lack of “fativism” in books and hopefully this will change in coming years, but it’s another reason why I hope Gabi will be read and taught widely, so these young women will see themselves represented too.

I also loved was watching Gabi coming into her own as a poet, apart from the diary style of the novel, we also get to read Gabi’s poetry and her attempts at spoken word. Poetry is how Gabi finds a way to express and empower herself. Her words are sharp and to the point and you’ll want to pick up a poetry collection immediately after finishing this book (I’ll be gushing about one particular, exciting collection later this week, stay tuned!).

The language use is wonderfully done as well, I’m glad there’s no glossary and hardly any translations. Quintero makes me work for it and I gladly got out my rusty Spanish for beginners knowledge, and between knowing other romance language and guessing from context…no excuses people! I’m sure LatinX will love this book and the intermingling of English and Spanish…Spanglish? And us other readers do well to remember to work on our privilege.

It’s amazing that this is a first novel. It’s a book that will be taught in high schools and colleges everywhere!

Other thoughts:

Reading the End

Twinja Book Reviews

Life of a Female Bibliophile

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

5 On a Theme: Queer Horror

queer horror

Representation of queer characters in horror fiction and film was often fraught with problems in the best case scenarios, or outrightly hostile at worst. But in the last decades especially LGBTIQ+ writers have taken on the genre and created complex engagements with horror and queer identity away from the doom and gloom of earlier phobic depictions in the mainstream. Adressing intersecting notions of the queer and horror, the normative and the Other, these works ask us to rethink where we draw lines and how we make rigid transformative and fluid identities.

let the right one in

1. Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

This Swedish vampire story has been adapted to the big screen and been a popular read. 12 year old Oskar’s new friend Eli is a strange one and she only comes out at night. Let The Right One In notably deals with issues of Othering, pederasty and adolescent sexuality as well as the performance of binary gender identity.

affinity

2. Affinity by Sarah Waters

One of my favorite authors, Sarah Waters continuously writes engaging, addictive page-turners with lesbian characters. Affinity, once again set in Victorian London, depicts a complex relationship between Selina a jailed occultist and charity worker Margaret who visits the prisoners of the women’s ward.

gilda

3. The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

In the 1850s a young Black girl escapes from slavery and finds community in Gilda’s sisterhood of vampires. The Gilda Stories challenges notions of binary gender identity, sexuality and what it means to be a “monster.”

sea, swallow me

4. Sea, Swallow Me by Craig Laurance Gidney

This collection of short stories centers mostly around Black gay characters and combines horror with mythology from Africa to Japan. Reaching from the Antebellum South to the contemporary US, Gidney demonstrates how we are shaped by the intersections of faith,  race and sexuality. Just noticed that with the elements of mythology, fairy tales and the speculative, this could definitely be a good one for the Once Upon a Time challenge.

the drowning girl

5. The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan

This one is about India Morgan Phelps, called Imps by her friends, and her attempts to make sense of her encounters with mythical creates and her family’s history of mental illness. Framed as a Imps’ recordings of these encounters, the book is a meta-heavy work of intertextuality hinted at by the book’s subtitle: a memoir. The Drowning Girl also examines issues of gender performance and transformation in Imps’ friend Abalyn who is a transwoman.

Looking for more themed reading? Take a look at my previous 5 On a Theme post: Afro-German Literature.

Do you enjoy horror stories? What are your favorite scary books beyond the norm?

 

Reading Challenges 2016

books

I have to admit that I have a sort of off-again- on -again relationship with reading challenges. On the one hand, I hate assigned reading and feel immediately restricted in my reading choices, on the other hand I love the community effort in challenges and that they help me stick to reading resolutions, if I make them.

After finally getting back to blogging regularly halfway through 2015, I feel a bit more confident that I’m here to stay and I missed the book blogging community, so I want to participate in a few more events and challenges. So, for 2016 I want to commit to 2 all-year challenges and then see what smaller events happen during the year.

girl with the dragon tattoo readalong

I decided to start 2016 with a bang and catch up with one of the hyped books I still haven’t read. So for January wonderful Deepika of Worn Corners and I will be doing a readalong of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Everyone’s welcome to join in!

book riot

The 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge sounds fantastic. I’ve been following the 2015 challenge and it looked like a blast plus this one challenges you to read more diversely and outside your comfort zone and since I had a wonderful time exploring new genres this year, I want to continue in 2016. Here’s a list with the 24 tasks, which challenge you to read a collection of essays, a book from the Middle East and a book by/about a transgender person among others.

hosted-by-Akilah-@-The-Englishist1

Diversity on the Shelf Challenge, hosted by Akilah of The Englishist

I read a good amount of literature by and about People of Color already, but I’m going for 3/4 of all books I’ll read in 2016, so I thought I’d join in this important challenge. There’s 5 different levels, so everyone can take part really, and I’ve decided to go for the 5th Shelf: Read 25+ books.

Here’s 5 books on my tbr that would count for the challenge, but I know I’ll have lots of fun looking for all the works that would count for this challenge, so be prepared for more list posts.

9780756410193_TheBookof_Phoenix_JK.indd

dirty river

bambera

haritaworn

Ashala wolf

What’s important to me is to read books by authors of color and non-white non-Western authors and not just books where white authors include characters of color. Hopefully I’ll read mostly books that are intersectional in their approach and include other axes of oppression, such as gender, sexuality, disability and empire. And I’m sure there’ll be lots of fun books, I know now that I’ll definitely find such diverse books in fantasy and YA literature.

I think 2016 will be a great reading year. Have a wonderful start to the new year!!! And let me know about your reading plans in the comments!

Thoughts: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti-Nnedi-Okorafor

In Dr. Nnedi Okorafor’s short novella, the eponymous Binti is only 16 years old, when she leaves her family to be the first of the Himba people to go to Oomza University. Managing to get onto the ship to Oomza, Binti starts settling into her new reality, only to find herself in the middle of the ongoing war with the Meduse (I won’t go into the details here, don’t want to spoil anyone!). In this spin on the classic coming-of-age story, Okorafor takes on racism, colonialism and imperialism, and most importantly envisions a fantastic future that isn’t white-washed.

Okorafor takes the Himba people of the Namib desert and aspects of their culture with her into her future. Having to manage water carefully, they use otjize to clean their bodies to protect hair and skin from drying out. The mixture of ochre and butter fat is also a great part of aesthetics and beauty standards and shows their connection to the land. Google to see images of Himba covered in otjize and look at that gorgeous cover of the book.

The Himba people in the novella do not leave their land and prefer to look inwards, they are extremely innovative and knowledgeable about technology and mathematics. Binti’s father passed down this knowledge to his daughter, who became a masterful harmonizer at the young age of 12. It is this skill that has landed Binti a place at Oomza. Binti is determined to take her place Oomza University even though she knows she will have to give up her family and never be accepted home again. And so, when Binti leaves, she takes a big pot of otjize with her.

Otjize comes to play an important part in how Binti manages to navigate both her identity and her encounter with the Meduse. But before that, she is confronted with the gaze of the Khoush (this group remains vague, but it is clear that they are lighter-skinned and used to being the dominant group among humans), who find her otjize repellant, smelly and try to touch her hair. For some of you this might sounds familiar.

With such a short work, I think each plot point goes a long way, so I won’t talk more about what happens once the Meduse take over the ship. But I can only encourage you take join Binti on her journey! I absolutely loved Binti, so I’m glad there are a lot more books by Okorafor waiting for me. Happily, my copy of Lagoon arrived yesterday, so I don’t even have to wait!

Other thoughts:

booksreenchanted

Read Diverse Books

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

November is Sci-Fi Month! #RRSciFiMonth

scifimonth

Turns out I do have November reading plans after all! Sci-Fi November is the yearly excuse to completely binge on all things science fiction with official stamp of the internets. This year, Sci-Fi Month is hosted by Rinn @rinn reads and Lisa @Over the Effing Rainbow and let’s you run wild, books, games, tv, comics, it’s all sci-fi all the time.

As always one of my favorite things to do is make a list of books I want to read. Usually what I end up reading is maybe half of what was on my list, but TBRs are more like guidelines anyway! I’m not big on artificial genre distinctions, so maybe some of these are more speculative, fantasy or dystopian. On with it:

fifth season

I’m currently reading this brilliant book, I guess I would put this somewhere along sci-fi/fantasy. The Fifth Season is as wonderful as Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy, and I’ve been basically reading this one in slowmo, just because I don’t want to finish it. But, I guess I will do it for Sci-Fi Month.

lagoon

I also want to go through Nnedi’s backlist as slowly as possible, she’s become a fast favorite of mine with Binti. But, I’ll just have to read Lagoon for Sci-Fi Month (can you tell I’m making big sacrifices here 😉 ), because Lagos and aliens.

radiance

I’m nearly done with Carry On, so I think Radiance will be my next audiobook. It features a solar system Hollywood, a girl protagonist, and alternate history!

ann lecke

This one was on my November tbr anyway and I don’t wanna fall for the hype, but it does sound so good I cannot resist. Singing spaceship protagonist, gender, cool cultures, evil empire, yay!

Also, I’ve been wanting to watch Advantageous, and it’ll fit nicely with Sci-Fi Month. Here’s the trailer:

Are You a Science Fiction reader? Who Else is Participating in Sci-Fi Month?

Thoughts: An Instance of the Fingerpost

Iain Pears’ novel has been sitting on my tbr pile for quite a while, but this month I gave myself a push, motivated by Anna and Iris’ “longawaited-reads month”. Long awaited it was indeed, but I am so happy to have finally read the book.

 An Instance of the Fingerpost is a historical, scholarly (according to the blurbs) mystery set in 17th century England, mostly Oxford. Charles II is only just back on the throne, the country is still reeling from the civil war and everyone with at least a passing interest in power and politics is still scheming. The book consists of four narratives: The Venetian Marco da Cola, the student Jack Prescott, the cryptographer Dr. John Wallis and the archivist Anthony Wood. All write down their version of the events surrounding the murder of the Oxford don Grove, years after it happened, each contradicting the others’ narrative.

At the heart of the story, however, is Sarah Blundy, a young woman, who is caught up in the events and intrigues spun around her. She is from the lower classes, something of a herbalist, educated and holds progressive views on gender equality. As a result, she is alternately taken for a witch, a whore and a prophetess. The way she is treated is abysmal, but of course many of the attitudes regarding women are only articulated differently today. She was by far the most interesting character, but the prophetess thing threw me I have to admit. But then I couldn’t relate to the religious aspects at all.

What I was most excited about was the history of medicine, I always get a kick out of that. This is the time during which the Royal Society is beginning to emerge and Robert Boyle figures in this novel, too. It was fascinating to read a fictional account about how blood transfusion could have been first attempted and it is during the 17th century that methods are beginning to change from the humours approach and the set of the stars etc, to more “modern” approaches. In fact, the characters hold very different opinions on what is legitimate medicinal treatment and constantly argue in Aristotelian fashion.

 I don’t think this worked for me as a mystery, but I really enjoyed its other aspects so I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The first 100 pages were a bit hard going, but after I had oriented myself so to speak, I got really into it. I was scrambling to remember classes on English history, but in the end a bit of googling helped me picture the time and the connections between the historical characters better. Perhaps the blurbs are a bit misleading, this is not a page-turner, but this is one well-researched historical novel, nt some crap put together after glancing at a Wikipedia page and if you’re interested in 17th century politics, gender relations, religion and the history of medicine, I doubt that the amount of pages without instant gratification will bother you. Oh and it’s extremely well-written, too!

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link.