Book Review: Muslim Women are Everthing by Seema Yasmin

Islam is possibly the most diverse religion in the world. Expanding from East to West, North to South, it is the faith claimed by 1.8 billion people. But you wouldn’t know that by the Muslim fiction  being published. You wouldn’t expect a Catholic from The Philippines to see herself in a story about a Catholic Polish; so how can I, a Latina convert find representation in all these stories about South-East Asian Muslim girls being set up in arranged marriages?

Don’t get me wrong, I welcome Muslim stories though they represent almost exclusively South-East Asians and Arabs. But such skewed representation contributes to Islam being seen as a foreign religion in the West, one practiced only by South-East Asian and Arab immigrants. This image of Islam as un-American. But Islam has been here since the foundation of America. At the time of the Revolution, there were possibly 250k enslaved Muslims (mostly from West Africa) living in the US. Islam played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement. American icons such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali were unapologetically Muslim. But where are our stories about Black Muslims?

Dr. Seema Yasmin has you covered. Besides the beauty of this book, how encouraging and uplifting and inspirational these stories are about Muslim women across the globe, its diversity is probably its best asset. Muslim Women Are Everything: Danish punk singers, white Latinx rock stars, Iranian mathematicians, African writers, Black songwriters in America and so much more. They are of all races, cultures and backgrounds; and Yasin managed to even find representation within the wide range of beliefs in Islam: Sunni, Shia, Ahmadi, Five Percenters, etc. It is definitely a book I’d like my little one to read and understand that she can be ANYTHING an our faith is our comfort, not a burden.

Book Review: Carry: A Memoir on Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen.

Carry: A Memoir on Survival on Stolen Land, by Toni Jensen, is a memoir in essays, on a range of topics but with violence as a common theme. Domestic violence, settler violence; the violence of erasure; the violence of system racism; the violence of classism and white privilege, gun violence, violent crime, drug violence, and police violence. The brutal murder of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and so many others on the hands of police. All through her own experience as a Métis, as a survivor.

Possibly the most unique characteristic of this work is her emphasis on language, and her dissection of definitions. Language matters. How we represent our ideas and our reality matters. It has the power to change everything; and if there is one thing the reader will take with him/her/they at the end of the book, it might as well be the power of words.

The collection is beautifully narrated, and has a smooth flow to it, though one essay seems divorced from the preceding one, at the end, it all comes together to give us a picture of the America we live in and how it got to be the way it is. How we turned out to be so comfortable with the myth of individualism (even at the expense of public health during a pandemic), un-fact-checked conservatism; to divorcing domestic violence with other forms of violence, like mass shootings and crime to the expense of our women and young; to thinking of Native Americans as expendable, as disappearing. It is painful and sad and real. It is the America we don’t want to see, but we know it to be true. We hear it in family conversations over Thanksgiving, murmurs at work over diversity hires, and in traffic stop encounters with police.

I haven’t read a more current essay collection ever. Toni Jensen somehow managed to tackle all issues: domestic violence, sexual trafficking, policy brutality; classism, colorism and white privilege; gun violence, deprivation of land belonging to Native Americans; our uncomfortable relationship with racism and bigotry; mental health, poverty, crime, drug abuse and alcoholism; caring for our elders, how we tell our own history, fracking and so many more. I read more than 100 books a year, and I already know this will be my favorite book of 2020.

Book Review: Igifu

“Like it or not, the death of our loved ones has fueled us – not with hate, not with vengefulness, but with an energy that nothing can ever defeat. That strength lives in you too, don’t let anyone try to tell you to get over your loss, not if that means saying goodbye to your dead. You can’t: they’ll never leave you, they stay by your side to give you the courage to live, to triumph over obstacles” – Scholastique Mukasonga, Igifu.

Igifu, meaning hunger, it’s a collection of autobiographical stories surrounding the plight of Tutsis in Rwanda, before and after the 1994 genocide. But unlike “Cockroaches”, Mukasonga’s memoir, it doesn’t depict the terrible violence but focused on a diversity of interesting characters, their pain, resilience and hope. It’s funny and deep and we get this beautiful vignettes of Tutsis’ traditional way of life. I particularly enjoyed the story of Helena, the most beautiful Tutsi woman in the village, her rise and fall. I can not recommend Igifu enough.