“The True History of Paradise” by Margaret Cezair-Thompson in a sense tells the history of Jamaica through the lives and experiences of a fictional character and her family. The book opens in 1981 when political violence tore Jamaica apart and created a state of emergency that resulted in many people fleeing the country. Jean Landing is a young woman of mixed heritage from a financially comfortable and politically connected family. Devastated by the violence that now plagues the country, Jean plans to emigrate to America. When her sister dies right as she prepares to leave, the loss of her family member and beloved country causes her to look back over her life and we also get some insight into the lives of her ancestors.
A review of “The Death of Vivek Oji” by Akwaeke Emezi, a novel that examines gender identity and cultural norms. In some ways, it’s a murder mystery where you as the reader have limited information about who or what killed Vivek. As the story unfolds, you learn about Vivek and how the family and friends around him navigate him being different. And also the circumstances that lead to his death.
“Welcome to Lagos” by Chibundu Onuzo is the story of five people from different parts of Nigerian society who flee the Niger Delta in hopes of better lives in Lagos. Instead they find themselves struggling to secure basics like employment, a place to live, and food. Largely ignored by society, they get caught up in a political scandal that threatens to upend their lives right when they finally find some degree of stability and comfort.
“The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” by James Weldon Johnson is the fictional account of a biracial man looking back over his life. The story is told in the first-person though the narrator remains unnamed and is never described physically. He tells of being born in the South and growing up in Connecticut where he learns that he is a very light-skinned biracial boy who some assume is White. As a young man he sets out on his own and travels to different parts of America and later Europe, recounting his experiences in Black and White society along the way.
Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut novel “We Cast a Shadow” is set in an unnamed Southern city in the not too distant future. American society has become more racially restrictive. To avoid the various prejudices suffered by Black people, some resort to “demelanization”, a painful procedure that removes physical traits associated with Black people. The book is a slightly off-beat dark comedy about a nameless narrator who goes to desperate lengths to shield his son from this race-based dystopian society.