Author: elenasquareeyes

READ THE WORLD – Madagascar: Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo

Translated by Allison M. Charette.

Fara and her father’s slave, Tsito, have been close since her father bought the boy after his forest village was destroyed. Now in Sahasoa, amongst the cattle and rice fields, everything is new for Tsito, and Fara at last has a companion. But as Tsito looks forward to the bright promise of freedom and Fara, backward to a dark, long-denied family history, a rift opens between them just as British Christian missionaries and French industrialists arrive and violence erupts across the country. Love and innocence fall away, and Tsito and Fara’s world becomes enveloped by tyranny, superstition, and fear.

Beyond the Rice Fields is the first novel published in Madagascar to be translated into English. I’ve had a lot of firsts in my Read the World Project but learning how so few works are translated into English (or any other language than the one it was written in) from various countries never ceases to surprise me.

You know the phrase “Never assume – it makes an ass out of u and me”? I definitely felt like that as I read Beyond the Rice Fields. My assumptions came over the race of Fara and Tsito. As it was a story of a slave owners’ daughter and her relationship with a slave, before reading Beyond the Rice Fields I presumed that Fara was white while Tsito was Black and it’d present a lot of extra problematic elements and power imbalances in a relationship like that. This wasn’t the case though as while naturally there was a power imbalance as Tsito was a slave, Fara and her family were also Black. There’s also the fact that they were both children when Tsito was brought into Fara’s home. Fara was seven and Tsito was nine, meaning that while Tsito certainly had jobs around the home to do they grew up together and he was treated more like family by Fara and her mother and grandmother, than just a slave. It’s a different look at the dynamic between slave and master compared to what I’d seen before, and seeing Tsito’s affection grow not just for Fara but for the other women in the family was sweet.

Beyond the Rice Fields is told from the perspectives of both Fara and Tsito and each perspective has a distinctive voice. It’s interesting how the chapters from Tsito’s point of view feature a lot more discussions on politics than Fara’s early on, though perhaps that’s to be expected as he’s a slave and has to be aware and consider the rules of society a lot of more as he tries to learn different skills in order to earn his freedom. With Fara, her chapters and perspective are a lot more focussed on emotions, she makes mistakes that Tsito never would as he’s had to be a lot more aware of the world than she has.

I think Beyond the Rice Fields spans almost twenty years as Fara and Tsito grow up together, grow a part and start to come back together. Naturally a lot of characters are mentioned throughout this time, some drop in and out of the story and as some have similar sounding names it can be hard to remember who is who especially as the novel doesn’t offer any context clues. It’s also difficult at times to judge how much time has passed and how old the characters are supposed to be. Sometimes a chapter begins with something along the lines of “that continued for ten yeas” which can be jarring as you suddenly need to age up the characters in your mind.

One of the most interesting yet also sometimes frustrating thing in Beyond the Rice Fields was the clash between religion and tradition. Beyond the Rice Fields is set in the 1800’s and as Christian missionaries attempt to convert the people; the backlash is extreme. The rituals that people have to go through to prove their innocence to any sins they’re accused of seem to be in such a way that they are doomed to fail. People are pretty much poisoned and if they can expel the poison that means they’re innocent? Those scenes are graphic and frustrating as it’s pure chance whether someone’s body can withstand the things it’s put through but the results are seen as concrete proof of someone’s innocence or guilt.

Beyond the Rice Fields is an interesting and compelling read. I enjoyed the dual perspectives as they both offered a lot of different ideas and experiences. The ever growing romance between Fara and Tsito was believable too and they were a relationship that I couldn’t help but root for even when a lot of things were working against them.

REVIEW: Prey (2022)

On the Great Plains in 1719, Naru (Amber Midthunder), a fierce and skilled Comanche tracker and wannabe hunter, discovers strange tracks in the forest. While some may think it’s a bear, she thinks it’s something else and as she tracks it, she encounters a highly evolved predator that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

Prey is a Predator prequel and to say that films featuring the Predator creature have been a bit of a mixed bag over the years would be an understatement. Thankfully Prey, is firmly in the good category when it comes to this franchise. It’s a film that really goes back to the basics; small group of people, remote location, inventive kills, and a great lead.

For the first 30 minutes or so the focus is on Naru, her relationship with her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), and how she’s a bit of an underdog and an outsider when it comes to her peers. Naru is a skilled tracker and is knowledgeable about medicine but what she wants is to be a hunter and respected by the other (male) hunters. Prey is a bit of a coming-of-age story in that aspect as Naru fights for respect and prestige as well as survival. It is a bit like any teen drama in that aspect but Amber Midthunder is so good and as the thrills and tension when Naru faces the Predator are there it’s easy to embrace that movie cliché.

It’s easy to like and empathise with Naru and she really goes through it as she fights to survive. She fails and struggles a lot but she learns something from every encounter she has with the Predator and learns to adapt.

Prey looks and sounds good too. The fact that it appears to have been shot on location makes everything feel more real (especially after a lot of more recent big action films never consistently looking quite right). While you don’t necessarily see all the kills in their bloody glory. the sound design is excellent and even if you don’t see blood or a brutalised body, you can easily imagine it thanks to the sounds of all the slicing, tearing, and impaling going on. The score by Sarah Schachner is great too and adds to the tension and the often-haunting atmosphere of the film.

Prey has great tension, a tight runtime, and an excellent lead making it a really engaging horror action film. Plus, it’s nice to watch an action film without a lot of humour that undercuts any dramatic or poignant moments. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Armenia: Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918 by Grigoris Balakian

Translated by Peter Balakian and Aris Sevag.

On April 24, 1915, the priest Grigoris Balakian was arrested along with some 250 other intellectuals and leaders of Constantinople’s Armenian community. It was the beginning of the Ottoman Turkish government’s systematic attempt to eliminate the Armenian people from Turkey; it was a campaign that continued through World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, by which time more than a million Armenians had been annihilated and expunged from their historic homeland. For Grigoris Balakian, himself condemned, it was also the beginning of a four-year ordeal during which he would bear witness to a seemingly endless caravan of blood.

The Armenian genocide isn’t something I’d even heard of before finding this book for my Read the World Project. While I learnt about WWI in school, it was naturally focused on Britain’s involvement and little time was spent on what other people and countries that weren’t part of the main Allied forces or Central powers were going through. In fact, I don’t think I even learnt that Turkey was allied with Germany in WWI, Austria-Hungary and Germany were the ones we learnt about.

Naturally based on the subject matter Armenian Golgotha is a very intense and bleak read. Reading about what the Armenian people went through, from intellectuals to the everyday person, was very hard at times. Photos were included throughout the book which were hard to look at.

It’s wrong to presume but somehow I thought that the Armenians would be killed as quickly as possible, but that was not the case. Women were raped, people starved to death or faced countless diseases, and when hundreds of people were murdered at once, it wasn’t quick. A quote that stuck with me was from a Turkish soldier, describing how people were massacred: “It’s wartime, and bullets are expensive. So, people grabbed whatever they could from their villages – axes, hatchets, scythes, sickles, clubs, hoes, pickaxes, shovels – and they did the killing accordingly.”

The way that Balakian recounts the horrors he witnessed treads a fine line between clinical and emotional. Armenian Golgotha is full of facts and insights into the political, historical, and cultural context of the genocide which is very interesting and is – unfortunately – a reference point to other atrocities that have happened since. While Balakian never shies away from what happened it’s clear to see how his experience affected him. How the suffering he saw and experienced shaped him, and how he was still able to trust those who had been ordered to hate him and his people. A few brave Turks, who, with some of their German allies working for the Baghdad Railway were one of the many people who helped Balakian escape, showing while it’s easy to tar a group of people with the same brush, there are those who are willing to resist terrible orders.

That was one of the many interesting things in Armenian Golgotha, Balakian was often incredulous that his fellow Armenians would trust what the Turkish government was saying or promising, and the same goes for a lot of Turkish police and military, after what they’d been through. But there was still the odd person, especially those far enough away from the governments influence that may be willing to help.

Armenian Golgotha is an important account of a tragedy that I knew nothing of. I’ve learnt a lot from this memoir and the time spent on explaining historical or political contexts to certain situations was very helpful. It’s a tough read but also a compelling one.

READ THE WORLD – Liechtenstein: The State in the Third Millennium by Hans-Adam II, The Reigning Prince of Liechtenstein

The State in the Third Millennium analyses the forces that have shaped human history in the past and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future. These include religions, ideologies, military technology and economics. Prince Hans-Adam explores ways to make the traditional democratic constitutional state both more democratic and more efficient. He also discusses strategies on how to realise worldwide the modern democratic constitutional state in the third millennium. He observes that citizens should no longer be viewed as servants of the state, but rather that states be converted into benevolent service companies which serve the people as their customers.

I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read a non-fiction book that wasn’t a memoir and was instead an in-depth look at a specific topic. Over the years as I’ve become more aware of the politics of my own country, the UK, and international politics I’ve had my own ideas of what I think makes a society or country work and what doesn’t so reading about what the monarch of one of the world’s smallest country’s thinks about this was super interesting. The State in the Third Millennium was written in a really simple and accessible way. Some big ideas are talked about and it covers everything from politics, history, religion, monarchies, and economics but I was never really lost.

I did prefer the first half of the book that was more about the history side of things and how historical examples of different states can guide us on how states succeed and fail today. It gives you the context for the latter half of the book which is the Prince’s suggestions as to what would make a successful state in the current millennium. The latter half was also more of the economics side of things which while still interesting, wasn’t the sort of thing I’m naturally interested so some of those ideas weren’t as easy for me to grasp and some I wasn’t sure I agreed with.

Out of all the books I’ve read for my Read the World Project I’d never have thought a book by the Prince of Liechtenstein would be one of the ones that really made me want to visit the country it’s about – but it did! It often uses Liechtenstein as an example for the various ways a state can be run and learning about how such a small country functions in relation to the rest of Europe and the World was fascinating. Also, how their monarchy work was especially interesting as it seemed like the people have a very different relationship to their royalty to what we do in the UK do to the British Royal Family. It’s like in Liechtenstein they’re not put on a pedestal and they’re a much more modern monarchy compared to the British one and that’s worked in their favour. I think the British monarchy could learn a lot about adapting to the modern world from the Liechtenstein monarchy but I’d doubt they (and the public/press reaction to them) would change any time soon.

I feel like I’ve used the word “interesting” a lot here but it’s true, I did find The State in the Third Millennium very interesting and very readable. It proposes interesting ideas about the future of countries depending how they’re run and provides specific examples of how different systems work, or don’t, depending on the country and the structure they’re built on. 4/5.

Magical Readathon: Autumn Equinox TBR

It’s the most wonderful time of year – meaning it’ll soon be August and Magical Readathon time! The Magical Readathon is the brainchild of Gi at BookRoast on YouTube and it’s time for the seconf lot of exams. Previously the Magical Readathon was based on Harry Potter and its exams but Gi has now created her own magical world and university and it’s truly impressive. Like the previous iteration of the Magical Readathon, the aim is to read books that fill the prompts for the subjects you need to pass in order to be able to do the magical career of your choice. Gi’s announcement video explains it all and she has a variety of documents that can guide you. This round of the Magical Readathon, the Autumn Equinox exams, is a month-long readathon through the entirety of August.

In these exams/readathon instead of reading one book per subject, there’s now three levels – Ordinary, Qualified, and Distinguished – and depending on what qualifications you need for your chosen career you might have to read one, two or three books for a subject.

As I keep forgetting what my character’s biography is I’m going to make a note of it here and now. I am a human from the urban area of Kerador. I’m in the Archivists Guild, my Legacy is Aitvaras which is the Phoenix God of Sky and Riches, and my conduit is bone – I like to think I have a bracelet made of bone.

Originally the career I was aiming for was Moon Warden (and that will still be my priority) but I’m also interested in being an Illusionist Rogue. For Moon Warden I need a Qualified in Astronomy and Restoration and an Ordinary in Elemental Studies and Spells & Incarnations which totals to six prompts/books. That’s definitely doable for me so I’m going to throw in the exams to become an Illusionist Rogue for an extra push. Those are a Distinguished in Art of Illusion, Ordinary in Psionics & Divination and Shapeshifting making it five more books/prompts.

Astronomy: Ordinary – Letter “L” in the title
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
Set in 1984 A Spare Life follows twins who are conjoined at the head, their life as they grow up considered freaks by even their family, and how they struggle to decide if they want to be surgically separated from one another.

Astronomy: Qualified – Books featuring archers/rangers
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
I’ve been rereading the Hunger Games books via audio from my library and I’m looking forward to finishing the series. Katniss is most definitely an archer so I’ve held off starting Mockingjay until August as it was the perfect book for this prompt.

Restoration: Ordinary – Single object the main focus on the cover
I, the Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos or Foxfire, Wolfskin and other Stories of Shapeshifting Women by Sharon Blackie
My first choice was I, the Supreme which is a fictionalised account of the nineteenth-century Paraguayan dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia but the pdf version of that looks a bit hard to read (formatting is all over the place) so if I don’t get another version before I need to read the prompt, I’ve got a short story collection of myths and fairy tales.

Restoration: Qualified – Oldest book on your TBR
Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo
Technically I probably have some books that have been on my TBR longer but as I’m trying to prioritise my Read the World Project books, I’m counting Beyond the Rice Fields as I got the ebook in August 2020 which was a while ago now. Beyond the Rice Fields is set in the nineteenth century and it’s about the relationship between a slave and his master’s daughter.

Elemental Studies: Ordinary – Start a book with a drink
Saga Volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
This could really be any book but as I reread volumes 1-5 of Saga in the Spring Equinox part of the Magical Readathon, I thought it’d be nice to carry on with the series during this readathon. I’ve previously read up to Volume 7 and it’s been nice revisiting this world and the characters and I’m looking forward to continuing.

Spells & Incarnations: Ordinary – Pick a book based on a random colour (blue)
Ali and Nino by Kurban Said
I used a random colour generator I found online and the colour it chose was blue which features heavily on the cover for Ali and Nino which is romance between a Muslim Azerbaijani boy and Christian Georgian girl in Baku in the years 1918–1920.

Shapeshifting: Ordinary – Book with wings on the cover
Saga Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Most volumes of Saga feature a character who has wings but only a few of them can you see the wings on the cover. This is the next volume I need to read and you can see Alana’s wings.

Art of Illusions: Ordinary – Book you don’t know much about
The Fury and Cries of Women by Angèle Rawiri
My read for Gabon is definitely one I don’t know a lot about. I think it follows a woman’s life through university, to marriage and motherhood and how she deals with all of that.

Art of Illusion: Qualified – Book under 300 pages
Saga Volume 8 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Again, it’s always a good idea to have short books/graphic novels/comics during a readathon and this volume will be all new to me.

Art of Illusion: Distinguished – Book based on a prompt from the Spring Equinox
Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan
I went for the Artificery prompt which was Earth setting. So, a contemporary YA about two ex-best friends going on a road trip so one of them can get an abortion fits the bill.

Psionics & Divination: Ordinary – Book featuring time travel
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
I don’t think I have any time travel books on my shelves but I searched my library and found The Psychology of Time Travel is available on audio. I usually can get through a couple of audiobooks a month so once I finish Mockingjay I’ll borrow and listen to this one.

Are you taking part in the latest Magical Readathon? If so, what’s on your TBR and what career are you aiming for?

READ THE WORLD – Niger: The Epic of Askia Mohammed by Thomas A. Hale and Nouhou Malio

Edited and translated by Thomas A. Hale and recounted by Nouhou Malio.

The Epic of Askia Mohammed is an oral epic about the Songhay Empire and its most famous leader. Songhay, approximately halfway between the present-day cities of Timbuktu in Mali and Niamey in Niger, became a political force beginning in 1463, under the leadership of Sonni Ali Ber. By the time of his death in 1492, the foundation had been laid for the development under Askia Mohammed of a complex system of administration, a well-equipped army and navy, and a network of large government-owned farms.

The Epic of Askia Mohammed is a very quick read thanks to how it’s written. As it’s a transcribed song or story, the language is pretty simple and to the point. It’s the story that would be told by older generations to younger ones to inform them of their history and so uses simple language and big events are often recounted like they’re listed in bullet points.

The story itself is broad as it covers decades of history. It’s not just about Askia Mohammed, though he is the main focus, but of the Songhay Empire as a whole which lasted for almost 130 years. It covers different kings, and battles, revenges and the conflicts over succession – a lot of the usual stuff in an Empire. The Epic of Askia Mohammed did remind me a bit of Chaka as that was a fictionalised account of a real king. While the format was different, they both face similar conflicts as rulers and they both have the vibe of being almost a folktale.

The copy of The Epic of Askia Mohammed I had has a lot of historical context and is full of annotations so any names, places, or words that might’ve been unusual are explained which is always helpful and allows for a deeper meaning of the story.

REVIEW: The Princess (2022)

When a strong-willed princess (Joey King) refuses to marry Julius (Dominic Cooper) her cruel suitor, her family is held hostage while she is locked in the tower of her father’s castle. To save her kingdom she must first save herself.

The Princess is one of those simple but fun action films. Its concept has probably been compared to The Raid or Dredd a lot already as instead of someone fighting their way up to the top of a tower, here our heroine is fighting her way down. Because the Princess is used to being underestimated. She was trained by her friend and mentor Linh (Veronica Ngo) in secret so when she wakes up and at the supposed mercy of her captors. She’s not going to wait to be rescued.

The action sequences are well-choreographed and fun as the Princess uses whatever comes to hand to fight before she actually gets her hand on some proper weapons. The lace from her dress or her hair pins become deadly weapons in her hands. She never shies away from an opponent even when so many of them are twice her size and it’s fun to see how she uses her size and speed against them.

The Princess has one of my favourite things in film when it comes to costuming. It’s where a character has one outfit for the entire film but over the course of the film it gets to look different thanks to what the character goes through. Sleeves are ripped off, skirts are caught and torn, various elements are added (some armour) or taken away (dainty shoes swapped for boots) and the evolution of the costume reflects the evolution of the character. With the Princess, she knows who she is and it’s how the costume becomes a reflection of that over time rather than discovering her true self. She wakes up in the tower in a beautiful, long white dress (clearly meant to be her wedding dress) and as she fights for her life it becomes more battered, bloody and well-suited for fighting hordes of mercenaries.

It’s honestly very therapeutic watching an angry young woman absolutely destroy dozens, if not hundreds, of men in her pursuit to save her family and to prevent herself from being forced to marry a sociopath. Sometimes it’s just nice to spend 90 minutes in a fantasy world where women can save the day and be near indestructible as they survive just about anything that could be thrown at them.

The Princess is a decent action film and one with women at its core. Julius’s henchwoman Moira (Olga Kurylenko) is more interesting than him, and the Princesses mother and sister are more rave and layered than her father the king. Then there’s Joey King in the titular role, she’s fierce and brave and fantastic. It is a shame that The Princess is one of the many 20th Century Fox films that has seemed to have been dumped on streaming services rather than get a cinema release since Disney bought the studio as it’se definitely one of those films that’d work well with a crowd. 3/5.

REVIEW: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

Narrated by Kate Reading.

Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.

First off, I’ve got to say how much I enjoyed the narrator for this book and while I’m sure I’d still have liked A Natural History of Dragons if I’d read a physical copy, the audiobook was brilliant and if/when I carry on with the series, I’ll definitely be doing so via the audiobooks. It brought Isabella’s story to life in a way I wasn’t expecting. The narrator had a wonderful old posh British lady kind of voice and it just worked. It was easy to imagine an elderly woman writing her memoir and throwing in the odd aside about what she’s learnt since and how her attitude towards certain things might’ve changed in the intervening years.

A Natural History of Dragons is a historical fantasy memoir of a fictional character who lives in a world that’s inhabited by dragons. I would say there is not that many dragons in a book titled A Natural History of Dragons but I didn’t mind that. Instead, it’s more character focused as a good portion of the novel is about Isabella’s childhood, how she became obsessed with natural history and dragons and how that hindered/helped her find a suitable man to marry. I liked how A Natural History of Dragons spent time building Isabella as a character and the world around her which often feels like a nineteenth century world. There’s a lot about the upper society and how Isabella doesn’t fit in with her interests and not being very lady-like but still knowing that she needs to marry in order to be a respectable daughter. I liked the struggles Isabella goes through personally just as much as her “professional” ones when she gets involved more with dragons. It’s interesting to see her straddle this line between respectability and following her passions and how love could possibly combine the too.

The main dragon stuff comes in the latter half of the book as Isabella gets to join an expedition to Vystrana. I really liked how while dragons were known and excepted creatures in this world, the people don’t know too much about them. Isabella and her fellow naturalists are what I presume were like the people who first started any animal in our world, especially potentially deadly ones like sharks. It’s clear in the beginning they don’t know a lot and some of their theories are wildly inaccurate while others are the basis of bigger discoveries. I liked how there’s references to things later in Isabella’s life throughout the book but especially when she comments on their research process or ideas and how they might’ve changed over time. I also appreciated the trial and error of their expedition and how Isabella gets into various scrapes due to her impulsiveness.

I really enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons. It’s a book I’ve seen around over the years but the fact it’s a fictionalised memoir did put me off a bit. I’m glad to say I’m wrong and that interesting narrative choice really works, especially via the audiobook. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD: Mali – The Fortunes of Wangrin by Amadou Hampâté Bâ

Translated by Aina Pavolini Taylor.

Set in the early 1900’s, The Fortunes of Wangrin follows the life of Wangrin, and interpreter for the French colonisers who hustles both the colonial French and his own people in order to make money and to get the life he wants.

Wangrin as a character is one of those loveable rogue kind of characters. He’s charming, corrupt, a grifter, and an opportunist. It’s admirable in a way how he thinks up these schemes that uses his privileged position of power, being an interpreter means he’s very close to high-ranking French officials and has access to the booking, records and other official documents that he can sneakily use as he wishes.

Part of Wangrin’s ultimate downfall – like almost any corrupt and opportunistic character – is that he’s greedy. He makes a lot of enemies, some with a lot more power than him, and when there’s moments where he should stop looking for the next big money-making scheme, or stop trying to manipulate someone one, he just ignores them and carries on. It’s like he’s so confident in his own abilities that he can’t foresee anyway what he’d lose.

I liked the fact that part of The Fortunes of Wangrin was set during the First World War. Being a Brit a lot of the media I’ve consumed featuring WWI is from a British or Western prospective but here, it’s seen from the French point of view, and from the point of view of the colonised. In history class we briefly learnt about how people of various British colonised countries were (or weren’t) involved in the conflict so seeing it from the French colonised citizens point of view was interesting. How Wangrin didn’t have to go and fight due to his job but so many other Black people were sent to the coast to fight but also for the white Frenchmen in charge, the day-to-day aspects of running this country wasn’t that affected by the war.

I liked how The Fortunes of Wangrin shows the realities of a colonised country. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a story set during the colonial period and seeing how Wangrin has to deal with white bureaucrats, and balance the religion and culture he grew up in with the new set ideals by the French was interesting. He’s smart and sneaky but that can’t always save him from the double standards imposed by the colonisers on him and his fellow countrymen.

The Fortunes of Wangrin is an interesting read. It’s also often surprisingly funny as Wangrin can be witty and talk himself out of conflicts in an amusing way. The humour makes it easier to read as some of the language and writing style can be a bit dry.

READ THE WORLD – São Tomé and Príncipe: Works by Alda Espírito Santopp, Tomás Medeiros, Olinda Beja, Conceição Limapp, and Albertino Bragançapp

This is where working at a university whose library boasts it has a copy of every book ever published in English, whether digitally or physically, comes in handy. This is where I found some texts for the smaller countries, or those that aren’t seen to have such a great field of literature or even if it has, it hasn’t been translated into English. Lusophone African Short Stories and Poetry after Independence: Decolonial Destinies edited and translated by Lamonte Aidoo and Daniel F. Silva brings together the works of poets, short story writers, and journalists, and charts the emergence and evolution of the national literatures of Portugal’s former African colonies, from 1975 to the present. It includes work from a variety of writers who work in different forms and genres and are from Angola, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé e Príncipe.

Lusophone African Short Stories and Poetry after Independence contains the work of five writers from São Tomé and Príncipe: Alda Espírito Santopp, Tomás Medeiros, Olinda Beja, Conceição Limapp, and Albertino Bragançapp. Each chapter on each writer starts with an introduction which is a short biography of that writer, giving extra context to their work and the place they grew up in. As for each writer there was only one short story or at most three poems, I decided to read them all.

Reading works from multiple writers helped show that even though they were all born in the same country and are connected by a shared heritage, their individual life experiences are what helped shaped them and their work. Some aspects of their identity are universal but others are not. There are differences in things like politics and identity due to where they lived if they moved away from São Tomé and Príncipe for a time, whether as a child or an adult, and even then, there are differences between growing up in Portugal and being an adult working in London.

One of my favourite poems I read by these writers was “Vision” by Olinda Beja. It’s about identity and how things were different for her growing up in Europe compared to Africa. The first line is “They wanted to make me European” and from there talks about the things she went through in order to “fit in” like having her hair straightened and she was even encouraged to fall in love with a white man so that “it would be guaranteed to the descendants of my generation the complete amnesia of blackness”. It’s a tough poem to read but an impactful one.

A lot of the works are about heritage, identity, and their home. Though there’s no doubt extra layers to her poems I didn’t pick up on (no matter how much poetry I’ve read during my Read the World Project, I’m still not that great with it) I really enjoyed how Alda Espírito Santopp described nature. “Beyond the Beach” and “Naked Island” both paint a vivid picture of life in São Tomé and Príncipe, from the people to the ocean and the trees. They’re beautiful poems.