Kiru Taye’s His Strength

I was really excited about the release of His Treasure, the first book in Kiru Taye’s historical romance series “Men of Valour, so much that I squeed. Sadly, I did not get to read and enjoy His Treasure because my life was in chaos around the time the book was released in December 2011. As calm returned, I stumbled across an excerpt from the second book in the series His Strength and immediately bought the book on Amazon. I started reading His Strength that night and found that I just had to continue reading, all notions of sleep forgotten.

I really enjoyed His Strength, it made me laugh, roll my eyes and shake in anticipation. I was just so caught up in Nneka and Ikem’s story.

His Strength is very fast paced, I loved the way the story started with Ikem calling out to Nneka on her way home from the stream. The space between the stream and the home, in my opinion, must have been a quintessential meeting place for would be lovers in African history. That and festive days, which was also portrayed in His Strength.

The characters were mostly well developed. Nneka is such a fascinating person, I had no difficulties picturing her in my mind. I liked that she was serious about gaining her freedom as a young widow, it was interesting the way her developing attraction and feelings for Ikem clashed with her desire for freedom. I also liked that Nneka initially viewed her (sexual) relationship with Ikem as a temporary thing, which according to so many people women never do. Though I am very much over the alpha male types in romance fiction, Ikem was definitely worthy of Nneka’s love. I like that she became his “strength” due to her strong will and courage, and I like that Ikem was open to her as well.

I am extremely pleased that the number of African historical romance authors is slowly growing. His Strength is vaguely set in pre-colonial Igboland and it was refreshing to read a book set in a culture that I’m familiar with. I did not have to run to Google when I came upon the reference to uli. His Strength is closer to home for me than Naa Shalman’s books set in pre-colonial Ghana. A tiny part of me wonders when/if there’ll be any historical romances set in Yorubaland pre-colonisation. However, this doesn’t really distress me because I can savour anything that deals with African history before European colonisation. I do not mind which corner of the continent they are set in as long as they positively portray Africans as whole human beings rather than employing the usual widespread stereotypes.

As for things I did not like in His Strength, well I am not too sure about the villain, Edozie, Nneka’s brother-in-law. I think it is somewhat a given for villains to be disliked, (sometimes I like villains though, e.g. Loki), but with Edozie I kept on wishing he wasn’t in the book at all. The presence of Edozie as a villain brought some action into the story, however I am still undecided about his character.

Next would be the length! I wished His Strength was longer but made up for that by reading the book twice before writing this post. Rather than gripe about the short length of His Strength I will be looking forward to more from Kiru Taye. I am especially eagerly awaiting her paranormal work in progress.

Pao by Kerry Young

Spoilers abound!

pao kerry young

Simply put, Pao is political history of Jamaica told through the eyes and life of ‘Uncle’ Pao Yang of Kingston’s Chinatown. Don’t expect anything more or less when reading Pao, I say this because from reading the blurb it is easy to believe that the book focuses on Pao’s relationship with Gloria and the struggles they face due to her profession, racial discrimination and class etc.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Pao. While Pao Yang isn’t really the best of male characters (he does come across as sexist, homophobic and unaware of his own privilege, not to mention he rapes his wife), Pao provides really interesting and relevant commentary on slavery, colonialism, post-colonialism, colourism, class and race relations in Jamaica. Pao really delves into a handful of issues. For example, instances of racism in the book not only show the kind of overt racism people of colour suffered at the hands of white people pre-Independence. There is also that of the Chinese towards Black Jamaicans even though Pao’s step-father Zhang schools Pao, telling him that Jamaicans and Chinese are the same due to poverty, oppression and exploitation and that they are ‘brothers in arms’. There are also glimpses of internalised racism as seen through Pao’s brother Xiuquan who is ashamed of being Chinese and is only happy after he leaves his family in Jamaica for America.

Another character that is first portrayed as having internalised racist views of herself is Mrs Cicely, the mother of Pao’s wife Fay. It’s fascinating that the book’s blurb mentions Fay Wong as the more respectable woman that Pao marries instead of Gloria. Yet Fay’s mother, Mrs Cicely is a Black woman. Through Fay, we are told that Mrs Cicely hates being black and abandoned her first child because he was not mixed race like her later children with Henry Wong. Mrs Cicely’s character is fully fleshed in the last pages of the book where she reveals the true reason she was ashamed of her first son, through her we also get to witness the kind of conflict that results from being a direct descendant of slaves. Mrs Cicely had lived her whole life trying to prove to ‘them’ that Black people were not all monsters and uncivilised.

Colourism (linked with class) is mentioned as well when Gloria, Pao’s mistress argues with him regarding the kind of school she wants to send their daughter. Gloria is dark-skinned, so is her and Pao’s daughter Esther. Esther to. Due to Esther’s complexion despite her mixed heritage, Pao is initially uncomfortable with sending her to the school Gloria suggests (the school he sends his children with his wife, Fay to). On the other hand Fay is light-skinned and is thus privileged to attend white-only venues before independence. Fay also comes from a wealthy family which adds to her privilege.

There were just so many issues properly analysed or just shown briefly in the book. For example, when Yang Pao arrives in Kingston and is promptly renamed Philip Yang by a British official at the port stuck out to me. Later on in the book, it is revealed that the same thing happened to Pao’s father-in-law, Henry Wong whose real name is Hong Zilong.

The main criticism I have for Pao is that after reading the book, I felt that some characters and situations were not fully developed. For example, Pao’s mother and Uncle Zhang, what was really going on between them? Was it love? Why did they wait so long to act on their feelings for each other? Also why did Pao’s brother, Xiuquan hate being Chinese? Why was Fay so angry at her mother, Mrs Cicely? I understood Fay’s anger and hatred for Pao though. Also Fay’s sister, did she really have feelings for Pao? So many questions!

Pao is written in dialect, this did not stop me from enjoying the book at all. I like that Kerry Young added a bibliography at the end. Overall, I found Pao funny, and entertaining. I’ve learnt a bit on Jamaica’s history and thanks to the bibliography I can continue learning more. At times the book had a mystery genre feel to it with Pao solving minor and major problems for all sorts of people. For those who are tired of books that have Chinese men and Black women in solely romantic situations, be prepared to be extremely pleased as Pao does not have much romance in it. The book is basically just about Uncle Pao living and taking care of Chinatown while observing Jamaica’s transition from a British colony to a fully independent nation and dealing with family issues.

In conclusion, here’s a video interview with Kerry Young and some quotes from Pao;

And even though we still struggling to sort ourselves out after the English come here three hundred years ago and set everything up so careful and tidy – Africans on the bottom, the Indians, the Chinese, English on top – I think we doing OK. But I wonder to myself how many other countries there are like Jamaica? How many other countries been through what we been through? How many of them still going through it like us? All because some long time back somebody decide to pick themselves up and sail halfway ’round the world to come colonize us. And it not just about the English and the slaves. It about the Americans and the money. (p. 266)

Because in the old days everybody could see that it was the British that was responsible for the slavery, whereas now it seem like we are the ones responsible for this mess we in. Nowadays it hard to see how we being controlled by foreign powers because this new kind of imperialism come wrapped in a cloak that look like help. (p 242-243)

‘You want to talk ’bout revolution, but this was never your revolution. You never been poor, not so poor you hungry; you never had to find yourself a job or put a roof over your head. You never needed to get yourself an education. You were never made to feel degraded and ignorant or worthless because of the colour of your skin, and have to stand there like a damn fool while them shut every door in your face, and while you watch even the most stupid white people moving up instead of you. You didn’t have to feel the shame of what been done to your people, and witness how that shame sit on your mother and father and brother and sister, and neighbour and acquaintance. No, you live in Chinatown all this long time because you was comfortable, and now you not so comfortable you have the choice and the money to go move to a mansion in Beverly Hills.’ (p. 245)

This is a post (mainly) about nipples

This post includes links that are NSFW

If you follow me on twitter and were online in the early hours of Christmas morning 2011 (GMT), you may have noticed @LeaBecca, @jolantru and I discussing nipples. In particular colonialism, body politics and how they affect nipple colour. You may want to read their write ups on the topic before continuing, Body Politics and White Skin, Pink Nipples.

So now you know that there is a ‘right’ colour of nipples. And that there are bleaching creams available to turn brown nipples lighter even as there are ‘brightening’ creams for the face and the body. That pink nipples are a sign of innocence and lack of sexual knowledge.

When I reblogged this anime style drawing of a brown-skinned, female character on Tumblr, I wrote ‘Finally the artist got the right nipple colour!’ because at that moment it struck me just how often I’d seen brown- and dark-skinned anime style characters drawn with pale, pink-ish nipples. There’s been a lot of discussion on how ethnicity is presented in anime and manga, on the ‘race’ of characters in anime and manga. It is relatively rare to see characters with darker skin tones in anime and manga, nevertheless they exist and several people of colour who enjoy watching anime and reading manga across the globe are happy that they exist.

But what happens when your favourite brown-skinned character takes of his or her clothes to reveal pink nipples? Take for example, this image of Miyuki from the anime Basquash!. What would you think? Initially, I thought this suggested that the brown-skinned characters are actually white-skinned characters in blackface. The implications of imperialism and body politics that affect brown-skinned women did not occur to me at that point. I was genuinely confused, I understand some brown-skinned characters look tanned (and are supposed to be tanned) but why would you draw a brown-skinned character that has locs or a huge Afro and colour their nipples pink?

The first time I recall noticing pink nipples on a brown-skinned character was when I came across one doujinshi with characters from Code Geass by Nekomata Naomi, a female hentai mangaka. When I saw the manga, ‘Brown New Wife’, I barely registered that the new wife had brown skin and pink nipples on the cover (mostly because I was squeeing over Nekomataya being a female hentai mangaka). I must have laughed shaking my head and wondered if these artists had seen brown women topless before? Or who knows there could be brown women with pink nipples in this world. I convinced myself that it was a one time thing. I did not want to ‘overreact’ and basically silenced my own criticism.

I joined Tumblr recently and it did not take long for me to come across this photo blog dedicated to brown-skinned females in anime. As I went through the archives and saw that when they were shown, most of the brown-skinned characters had pink nipples I grew disturbed. I was confused and not entirely sure how to react, so I saved the pictures for later discussion.

That was until I saw the art I reblogged. I was surprised at how relieved I felt to see that at least one artist got the colouring things right. I believe it was at that point that I decided it was okay to say something. I am glad that @LeaBecca and @jolantru had things to say as well. As I mentioned above, most of my earlier thoughts revolved around blackface. I wondered if all brown-skinned characters in anime, doujinshi and art are actually white-skinned characters in blackface or tans? I briefly entertained the idea that all of us brown-skinned people who have adored brown-skinned characters in anime and manga have been hoodwinked.

I still do not understand why an artist would draw a brown-skinned character and colour their nipples pink but now I know how they conform to white supremacist ideals by doing so. In a world that regularly extols white skin, straight hair, skinny figures, and now pink nipples, as beauty ideals colouring a brown-skinned character’s nipples pink plays into the idea that there is something wrong with the natural tones of brown-skinned women.

Signal Boost: Six and Fifty-Four!

Uche Obieri is a author who writes speculative fiction. Uche’s works are largely influenced by Nigeria in some way, mostly in names. Her short story Six and Fifty-Four is up for sale at the Amazon Kindle store for only £0.86.

Six and Fifty-Four is a “light yet satisfying sci-fi romance about Six, an android assassin forced to choose between work and something that could be love”.

I’ve been lucky enough to read Six and Fifty-Four and a few other works by Uche and I must say that I love her characters (and she writes kink so well! *sigh* Kink with Nigerian characters = awesome!)

Kindly support Uche by checking out her book, she is also offering to email free copies in any chosen format to those who want it.

If you’re interested in a free copy of Six and Fifty-Four, leave a comment below this post and I will let Uche know!