ZOOMER Magazine

Zed: The Zoomer Book Club’s top three for Black History Month;

The transforma­tive power of stories can combat the forces of historical amnesia and call readers to action. This season, and especially during Black History Month, three remarkable new titles lead the conversati­on

- By Nathalie Atkinson

The Three Mothers > Anna Malaika Tubbs, doctoral candidate in sociology and a Gates Cambridge scholar (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), brings her fieldwork and research on the diversity of Black motherhood to bear in

The Three Mothers (Feb.

2). “While their sons have been credited with the success of Black resistance, the progressio­n of Black thought and the survival of the Black community, the three mothers who birthed and reared them have been erased,” she explains in the foreword of the group biography. “This book fights that erasure.” Their names are Alberta King, Berdis Baldwin and Louise Little, and they are the mothers of Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin and

Malcolm X respective­ly.

The famous offspring are figures often discussed together, so Malaika

Tubbs similarly entwines the formidable trio’s biographie­s (for example, upbringing­s in Georgia, Maryland and Grenada) and disparate experience­s to show how their faith, creativity and intellect shaped their sons’ views and actions. And seeing the United States evolve throughout their lives –

which span a century – enriches our understand­ing of generation­s of Black resistance, not only during the civil rights movement but the Depression, the Great Migration from the south to the north and the Harlem Renaissanc­e. The book’s epigraph sets the tone by quoting HaitianAme­rican writer Edwidge Danticat’s short story “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” about the Dominican Republic’s massacre of Haitian immigrants.

“Our mothers were the embers and we were the sparks. Our mothers were the flames and we were the blaze” is followed by George Floyd’s last words during his fatal arrest in Minneapoli­s in May: “Mama, I love you.” A welcome coda brings the discussion back to recent events, including #BlackLives­Matter, to underline how urgently history illuminate­s the present.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

> In her outstandin­g debut How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House (Jan. 26), Cherie Jones, who works as a lawyer in Barbados, likewise takes a multigener­ational view. Set in the summer of 1984, her novel explores the cycle of poverty and intimate partner violence in a fictional Barbadian resort town called Paradise. The title comes from a cautionary parable Wilma recounts to the granddaugh­ter she is raising in the hopes of keeping the promising young woman out of trouble. By the age of 18, however, Lala is soon pregnant, trapped in a volatile marriage to a brutal man and living in poverty. (Jones’s prose doesn’t flinch from bloody physical conflicts and has earned comparison­s to Jamaican writer Marlon James’s breakout A Brief History of Seven Killings, a fictionali­zed account of the attempted assassinat­ion of Bob Marley.)

When Lala goes into premature labour, it sets this harrowing neo-noir in motion. Several lives fatefully overlap in the aftermath of a violent crime that happens when Lala’s husband, Adan, a burglar, and his longtime friend, Tone, are on a job. Mira, a former sex worker to the tourist trade who married a wealthy client and moved to England, is inexorably drawn in while vacationin­g on the island. Told through their alternatin­g perspectiv­es (as well as others, like the local madam and the beat cop investigat­ing the homicide), the inner monologues flash back to what led to their choices. With empathy, the book lays bare the fear, bargaining and resignatio­n that infuse their daily existence. While it’s by no means a redemptive narrative, it ends on a hopeful note.

Gutter Child

> The eerie familiarit­y of Gutter Child is unsettling. Though its determined young heroine’s attempt to escape the horrors of an oppressive regime may bring to mind Cora from Colson Whitehead’s The Undergroun­d Railroad, Jael Richardson’s Gutter Child (Jan. 26) is more reminiscen­t of The Handmaid’s Tale – not in its totalitari­an particular­s but insofar as author Margaret Atwood has reminded us that every element of her dystopian novel has a true historical precedent.

Although it’s set in an imaginary apartheid country, Richardson – a culture journalist and the founder and artistic director of Brampton, Ont.’s Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) – has plumbed and remixed elements of Black and Indigenous history (like

Jim Crow laws in the U.S. and the Sixties Scoop in Canada) to create a nation ruled by settlers originally from an unknown Mainland. As colonizing forces in search of natural resources, the Mainlander­s vanquish the indigenous Sossi, rename them the Gutter people and issue an automatic financial debt they must work off. The Gutter people stand apart due to their darker skin colour and are branded, treated as subhuman and toil endlessly in an economic system designed to destroy them. It’s distressin­g enough to come with a trigger warning: “This book is a work of fiction that explores a perilous world rooted in injustice,” the author writes at the start, urging readers to pause and rest “as required” to process the story. It’s a gripping tale of rebellion and perseveran­ce, but it’s also about the psychologi­cal wounds of existing in a world where you are not wanted.

 ??  ?? Civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at home in Montgomery, Ala., 1956
Civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at home in Montgomery, Ala., 1956
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