Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, by Mary Seacole REVIEW

The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many LandsThe Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands by Mary Seacole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you public domain for another excellent, free book. The most interesting part of this book was Mrs. Seacole’s observations during her travels and her notions about race and discrimination. She was very proud of being Jamaican, but she was also proud of her “yellow” complexion. She loved the English, but knew that they were a conquering power. The writing has a sense of flirtation and hominess, but Mary Seacole was complicated. Her attitudes were an amalgamation of contradictions that were just down right interesting.

The biggest problem that I had with the book was that so much was left out about Mrs. Seacole’ financial dealings. Mary Seacole engaged in capitalist activities everywhere she went, but where did she get the seed money? Who paid for her first trip to England? What did she do there? Why was she there? How much of her services did she deny to men who couldn’t pay. The complete lack of disclosure left me with a feeling of impropriety. Also, the book contained absolutely nothing about Mrs. Seacole’s personal life. She told us that her first husband died, but, after that, she mentions absolutely nothing about romantic interests. Who was Sarah, a young woman who is documented to have joined her in Balaclava? Sara is rumored to be Seacole’s daughter, but there is no mention in the autobiography of Sarah at all, which is weird no matter who she was. Like I said before, Mary Seacole was a complicated woman. She wrote this book to make money, not to unburden her soul, but mostly everything that is known about Mary Seacole comes from this book. I wish that she would have left us with more.

In 2004, Mary Seacole was voted the ‘Greatest Black Briton’ in history, and I’d never heard of her. This book is worth at least four stars to me for introducing me to a person that I should have been teaching about right alongside Florence Nightingale. I would recommend this book to anyone who is unfamiliar with Mary Seacole. We should all have learned about her in World History. Shame on public education.

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Black No More by George Schuyler REVIEW

Black No More Black No More by George S. Schuyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this Harlem renaissance classic, Schuler mixes satire and science fiction for a unique blend of social commentary. Black No More is not often referred to as science fiction, but it is the first science-fiction work by an African-American writer.

By definition, a satire is supposed to be “over the top” funny. Here, Schuler’s jokes are mostly “in your face”, but just when you, as a reader, are feeling saturated by the humor, he switches it up and gives you something a little more subtle. For myself, I didn’t think that it was laugh out loud funny, but I found it extremely interesting. The irreverence he showed for the icons of his time, like DuBois was shocking, but I felt he made a good cases to justify his criticism.

Schulyer’s overarching themes are: (1) Racism is absurd; (2) Racism is used by capitalist elites to control the population. After reading this book, I did a little research on Schyuler, and I was shocked that shortly after writing this book, his political leanings took a 180 degree turn. Clearly, part of the agenda in writing Black No More was to garner support for, what was considered at the time, socialist ideas. Also, Schuler was very critical of the NAACP. Maybe his satire spoke more truth about who he was than anyone could have guessed. In Black No More he accused everyone of using racism to make money, but Schulyer seems to have done exactly that. He aligned himself with agendas that most would consider hostile to civil rights. For example, in 1968, in a radio broadcast Schuyler said, "In South Africa you have a system of apartheid. That's their business. I don’t think it’s the business of other people to change their society." He opposed Martin Luther King’s award of the Nobel Peace prize. Although, in Black No More, he was very critical of the NAACP, Schulyer worked for the NAACP from 1937-1944 as business manager.

Was any of the satire based on genuine conviction? He criticizes black men for their apparent rejection of black women, but at the time he wrote the book, he was married to the rich, white heiress, Josephine Lewis Cogdell. Schuyler became a staunch conservative, leaning extremely right, and he made a good living expounding his point of view. He may have switch sides in real life as easily as Max Disher turned into Matthew Fisher. It might be interesting to read one of his later books like Black and Conservative: the Autobiography of George Schuyler or Rac(e)Ing to the Right. I assume either would offer some explanation for his transformation.

Questioning Schuyler’s real opinions when he wrote this book is interesting, on an academic level to me, but does not change my perception of the book itself. It is well done. The book lacks depth, but that can be forgiven with a satire. I didn’t like the part of the ending involving the botched getaway. I thought it was little long and gory. When I read Black No More, it reminded me of Mat Johnson’s Pym. In a way, even the endings were similar. Johnson lost control of Pym in the same way I think Black got away from Schulyer. Both books offer irreverent, entertaining social commentary.

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Friday, January 1, 2016