Category Archives: Book Review

It’s Not About the Burqa

Mariam Khan, freelance writer, editor and feminist, has compiled essays from seventeen Muslim women in the UK, who challenge some of the stereotypical views we have about Muslim women and their communities.

How many of us look at Muslim women and think of oppression, silence, abuse and misogyny? I read this book because I wanted to hear from the Muslim woman herself, and It’s Not About the Burqa, though not representing ALL Muslim women, shed light on many issues I had never thought about. Issues that a lot of us do not care to consider. The women in this collection speak about feminism, racism, sex, sexuality, faith and other issues that concern Muslim women in the West.

Some of them take us through a journey of how they found their voice, and how they shed identities that were given to them by the communities they came from and the ones stamped on them by the rest of society. Sufiya Ahmed shares her experience of discovering Prophet Mohammed’s first wife, Khadija bint Khuwalid, who was not a silenced and oppressed housewife, but rather a successful businesswoman and the wealthiest merchant in Mecca at the time. Not only do you find such stories in the history of Islam women, but the essayists share how the Quran, contrary to the spread laws or rules of tyrannising women, supports and empowers women.

What I found the most interesting is how these Muslim women discuss the balance between identities, and how they’re expected to only be one thing, get rid of one to become the other. Things such as being queer and Muslim, being feminist and Muslim or being black and Muslim. I had never thought about it that much but it made me realise how mainstream feminism can be so damaging instead of freeing. For example, one essayist discussss how feminism talks about equality and liberation of all women, and yet will expect a Muslim woman to choose between her faith and being a feminist, which becomes pointless because it is doing the very thing it claims to fight against.

There’s also so much about how representation of Muslim women has gone wrong, in the way that it’s done by fashion designers, or on magazine covers, where what they are doing is representing a Western model and ideal of a hijabi. There is also the idea of representing only what Muslim women look like but when they have to speak for themselves, their vocal representation is not given a platform.

It’s Not About the Burqa also challenges members of their communities themselves, to stop doing things that give the rest of the world the wrong perception of the religion, giving them even more armour to attack their identities and their faith. They do not deny the existence of things such as misogyny, as they do exist in so many other cultures and religious communities.

I appreciate the honesty of the essayists in admitting their inability to speak for all Muslim women, because it’s impossible. They’re all different, from different communities and with different experiences and cultures. However, as Muslim women they should be able to create a platform where Muslim women are not spoken for. We cannot say Muslim women are silenced by their religion yet not give them a platform to speak.

This is a well written, edifying, enlightening and empowering book. It’s also light, you can breeze through it, it doesn’t burden you with complaints and noise. No, it’s bold and it challenges the narrative about Muslim women.

I want to say feminists will love this, which they’ll do, but I think anyone with good sense and who wants to see all people given a chance to be fairly represented, seen and heard will enjoy this.

It’s really not about the burqa, or the hijab, abaya or dupatta. It’s so much more.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila

‘The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria’

Two years after Book Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, Helon Habila travels to Chibok town, in Northern Nigeria, to track down the survivors and the bereaved families of the girls. On 14 April 2014, this once peaceful and sleepy town was rattled by the terrorist group Boko Haram when they took the girls, with only a few managing to escape on the way. When Habila visits the town he witnesses how ruined, sad, and depressing the place is – bullet holes on some houses, some roofs still burned down, and the abandoned street sides. It’s also not easy to get into Chibok as access is restricted.

On the day they took them, the Boko Haram members told the girls that they were soldiers, there to protect them from the terrorist group, and herded them into trucks. When Habila returns the second time to meet the girls who’d managed to jump off the trucks, they tell how the terrorists called them infidels and that they ought to be married. The terrorist’s ideology is against most aspects of modernization, Western influence, including Western education.

Habila’s account of this tragedy includes the state the parents are in. Some have died from stress-related illnesses, while some have carried funeral rites, seeking closure. Helon Habila also goes to the place that is the Heartland of Boko Haram and visits some of the landmarks in the Boko Haram war. His investigation has heart-breaking results, some revealing the state of displaced women in refugee camps, not all refugees but some are housewives impoverished by the war.

I learned a lot from this short yet powerful book. Habila’s account of this tragic story enlightens us on not only the kidnappings but also the way it was handled, the lack of concern for the masses, the manner in which an intense and sensitive issue like this can be mishandled in a place that is rife with corruption and focused on showcasing itself as an economic success.

Reading The Chibok Girls has also highlighted how the effects of terrorism spread out beyond the victims themselves. There’s a continuous pain that is left behind, permanent for most. There are still over a hundred girls missing, and the ones who were released carry scars with them. These girls were forced into sex slavery, starved, raped, abused, impregnated… I also learned how vulnerable women and girls are in times of war. However, another thing we may overlook, which I gathered from the account of one of the girls who managed to escape from the trucks, is how young boys are also recruited into the terrorist group and trained and turned into killers.

This is a heart-rending yet necessary book. In the midst of tired and recycled stories told in news reports, The Chibok Girls is much needed.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want, I know who is right and who is wrong.”

Hitler’s obsession with having a “pure” race lead to an unspeakable period of barbaric and brutal war against the Jews and other million others targeted for racial, ideological and political reasons. When he became Chancellor in 1933, he did not waste time in starting his anti-Jewish operation.

There was mass transportation to concentration camps where imprisonment, mass gassing, death from starvation and diseases, and other merciless crimes against humanity took place.

The years from 1942 to 1945 were a time when Jews from all over Europe were sent to these concentration camps and it is during these years that Anne Frank put down pen to paper to pour down her account of the time she spent in hiding with her family, another family of three and a friend.

Anne’s diary entries begin in June 1942, on her 13th birthday, about a month before they go into hiding. In July they go into hiding in a building where his father’s office is and here begins their two-year hiding.

Anne records the atmosphere in their dwelling, describing the environment itself, the food, the daily activities that are mostly reading and writing, and the rows that take place among them.

Below them, on the ground floor is a warehouse that is used during the day, and at that time they have to stay as quiet as possible to avoid getting caught. As grim and tragic as their circumstances are, Anne expresses hope and a positive outlook on life.

“I’ve found that there is always some beauty left — in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you.”

There are times when she writes about her pain, depression, crying herself to sleep but her writing still bursts with impressive wisdom, maturity, introspection, intelligence and wit.

Her diary shows her depth of feeling, things she doesn’t share with anyone else but feels so strongly about. Her opinions are strong and she has an independent mind, as well as a clear direction that she wishes to take after the war.

“I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”

There are many things to enjoy about this diary, especially Anne’s belief in freedom, despite the confines she and her family are in where freedom has been taken away from them.

She expresses a belief – freedom for people to live in peace and freedom of self. In the midst of fear of being discovered and taken away, she still shows courage and cheerfulness.

Her thirst for learning is unquenchable. She finds comfort in reading, learning and writing. In the depth of a miserable situation where the future is unpredictable and she has no idea about the other side of the war, she still commits to absorbing knowledge and creating.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

I enjoyed The Diary of a Young Girl because of how it can shift one’s perspective on their own suffering and worries. It’s inspiring and informative in the way that it takes you into her contemplation of the war. It’s also a good read for people who are interested in history and war.

The last diary entry is on 1 August 1944 and shortly after an informer tells on the family. Their place is raided and they’re taken away. Anne died in 1945. Only her father survived and when he returned after the war, he found the diary kept by his office workers. Anne had wanted to become a writer and to publish the diary, and her father published it in her memory.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Jazz by Toni Morrison

“What’s the world for you if you can’t make it up the way you want it?”

The early 20th century marked the growth of jazz music in America. In the 1920’s the music spread into parts such as New Orleans, and Harlem, the ‘City’ where we find the characters in Jazz. The music began way before it was labelled jazz, from the days of slavery when people would sing to pass time, to bleed away the sadness with their voices and to keep the African voice alive.

Louis Armstrong

What sets jazz music apart is the element of improvisation, which gives artists the ability to express themselves in any way they want, and still keep a soulful and enjoyable rhythm. This element is what I first noticed about the way this story mirrors the genre itself.

Middle-aged Joe Trace meets eighteen-year-old Dorcas when he’s selling cosmetics at her aunt’s place. Thereafter begins their affair and months later when Dorcas grows tired of him, he shoots her after following her to a party. Joe’s wife Violet arrives at the funeral and slashes the dead girl’s face with a knife. Some weeks after the funeral Violet starts visiting Dorcas’s aunt and the visits become regular. Meanwhile, Joe is lost in deep grief for this dead lover.     

Jazz music has travelled with black African-Americans, their experiences, struggles, pains, and joys, through song and dance. The narrator, whose identity we don’t know, tells the story and relates the scenes in the same change of notes, short and long, as in jazz music. We encounter the love triangle in many parts of the book, repeated in a way that reveals something new or reminds us of something we know.

Toni Morrison splits open the characters and feeds us the right pieces throughout the story, creating a sort of web that takes from their pasts and connects back to the present, to the love triangle and its tragedy. We discover pieces from these characters’ fractured identities and come to understand how they are connected without them knowing they are, and why they behave the way they do.

I read Sula before Jazz and whereas with the former I loved the story and the characters more, with the latter I absolutely loved the storytelling. It felt like I was reading a long beautiful poem. I do have to mention, however, that I had tried to read it about three times and couldn’t get past the first chapter and once I finally got into it I figured it was because you have to stay with the narrator and not get lost. For me, it required my full attention, unlike other books that I’ve read with less focus and could still follow.

Jazz is an unforgettable piece of art. It’s powerful literature that achieves the goal of leaving the reader moved and having learned something deep and valuable about the human condition, as good literature often does. The characters come to you in flesh and bone, and throughout the story, you taste their realness and hear their voices. Their individual stories, which the narrator reveals by travelling back and forth through time, become so palpable and make it possible for the reader to keep diving in for more and more.

Brilliant. Exquisite. Important.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Sula by Toni Morrison

Nel and Sula share an intense friendship while growing up in the neighbourhood of Bottom, the hills above the valley town of Medallion, Ohio. Nel comes from a neat and orderly home and a rigid and conventional family, while Sula comes from a disorderly household, a family of disregard for social conventions. Sula has a fiery spirit and can’t sustain any emotion for long while Nel appears to be more consistent. However, with their contrasting personalities, they both have distant mothers and both have an adventurous spirit, along with an urge to explore whatever beckons their curiosity and interest.

Sula comes from a family of strong and independent women who enjoyed maleness, and that enjoyment they took and did with it in their own design and rules. Sula’s grandmother Eva has a regular flock of male callers but for its own sake and not really to sleep with. Hannah, Sula’s mother, attaches no passion to her relationships with men and is into spontaneous sexual adventures with mostly friends’ and neighbours’ husbands.

Around the time that Nel marries, Sula goes off to study and returns ten years later on a peculiar day, which makes people suspicious of her. She hasn’t changed – still the same with her sharp tongue, feisty attitude and determined to live her own life by her own rules. Their friendship is broken when she betrays Nel. Sula is vilified by everyone and they believe that she leaves behind chaos wherever she passes. All these beliefs bring them together against one evil, and they start improving their family lives. When Sula is dying, Nel finally pays her a visit.

Sula is a provocative read that examines good and evil and confronts the idea of morality. It questions what we believe to be moral and not. We see good and evil as things that change with perspective and sometimes with convenience. For example, the married men who see no evil when they cheat on their wives and sleep with Sula but vilify her when she sleeps with white men.

I love the way Auntie Morrison shows us how the make-up of a home and a family, knits into the fabric of a person’s character. Just like her mother and grandmother, Sula shows a blatant disregard for social code and does whatever pleases her. We also get to witness friendships and the things that affect and influence them.

I absolutely love the way she brings out female independence, personal and sexual liberty, and individualism. The Peace women are unapologetically what they say they are and if anyone doesn’t like it they can go suck it. A lot of stories, especially set around the same period (1919 to mid-1960s) usually have docile women who took what they were given as their lot in life and readily accepted a position of belonging to men. The Peace women, even after a husband who left, one who died and a lover who disappears as soon as he sees signs of serious feelings, they belong to themselves.

“Lonely, ain’t it?
Yes, but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain’t that something? A secondhand lonely.”
― Toni Morrison, Sula

If you’ve read any of Auntie Morrison’s work then don’t expect any less. Her words are agents of transformation and her characters become a sort of transportation for the reader to a place of empowerment. As long ago as the story is set, it can easily speak in a language that our generation can understand. Sula is a powerful book – satisfying, heavy and intelligent.

Review: A Song Flung Up To Heaven by Dr Maya Angelou.

Before reading A Song Flung Up to Heaven, I had only read the beloved I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This was after I had found her poetry online, seen her in movies and watched her beautiful poetry videos. I read this right after watching her Netflix documentary, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise three times. Yes, three times. This book is the sixth in her autobiography series.

A Song Flung Up to Heaven begins with Dr Angelou returning to the States from Ghana, where she is leaving her son behind, and a husband she is separated from. She’s returning to work with Malcolm X at his foundation, the OAAU, but not long after her return and before she’s even had the opportunity to meet up with him, Malcolm is killed. Dr Maya shares her pain and grief, and the disappointment she had at people for their inaction.

Malcolm X. Image: This is Africa

She takes us from San Francisco after hearing the news, to Hawaii where she realises that singing for convenience does not help. She then leads us back to LA where we see how the American system seeps into the lives of black folks. As her story progresses we discover how her writing journey unfolds and we meet all the incredible people who helped her along the way, such as James Baldwin. Another tragedy finds her when just as she prepares to move to New York to go work with Martin Luther King, she receives the news that he has been killed.

Martin Luther King. Image: Brandeis

It’s Dr Angelou’s openness and honesty about her life that makes for such as wonderful read. I love her stories because of how they leave me when I’m done. She was a black woman, who had so many obstacles, tribulations, grief, and disappointments but she chose to confront the world with a different attitude. It’s inspiring. Her story also lets us in on the American people and what they went through, but not in a depressing fashion. Her intelligence and exuberant personality shine through in this account of her life. It’s incredible. It ends with her starting the first sentence of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Perfect!

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: A Song Flung Up to Heaven

Author: Maya Angelou

Published: 2002, Random House

Genre: Autobiography

Book Review: Tribes by Seth Godin

“We need you to lead us.”

The Internet has broken down geographical boundaries and made it easier to create movements, groups of people who share ideas, and spread messages of empowerment and growth. These groups are called tribes and they’re flourishing everywhere. Tribes is about these movements and the connections they have, the connections that need you as a leader to create a platform where they share the same belief and spread their ideas.

Seth Godin reminds us that these leaders of tribes can come from anywhere and can be anyone. The barriers of leadership have been brought down and it’s no longer left to top executives or managers to lead. And so, Godin asks, why not you? Why not now?

“I’m not sure where I’m going. I’ll lead.” – Emmanuelle Heyman

He recommends two things to create a movement – shared ideas and a way to communicate. Godin talks about being a heretic, an outsider, someone with novel ideas and someone willing to step forward to make a difference. He does agree that fear exists but that you should drown it out by telling yourself a different story. There is no way around discomfort but through it.

Just as he has mentioned in Linchpin, he reminds us again of the need to ditch the factory path. Tribes do remarkable things, they do innovative things and the marketplace rewards innovation. In Tribes he also strongly discourages sheep behaviour, or what he calls sheepwalking. Leaders of tribes initiate and where they’re told an idea is stupid or impossible, they go first.

I’ve read Purple Cow and Linchpin and this one is my favourite.

It addresses a problem that organisations have – people stuck in the status quo and being afraid to lead without authority. He provides effective solutions. In this fast-paced world where people are constantly in search of remarkable products and services, organizations need everyone, regardless of their position, to lead.

What I love about Seth Godin’s books, is the way he writes in a free and simple way. Anyone can understand. As a marketing guru one would expect his work to speak only to those with an ear trained for marketing but anyone, in any career, can grasp his message and most importantly, use it.

I’d recommend it for people who want to do away with mediocrity and are in search of a way to use their passion and vision to spread great ideas and change. If you want your product or service to really meet your customers’ needs and make sure that you build connections that lead to more connections, then grab a copy of Tribes. It will inspire you and change the way you see and do things.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

For more of his work, visit his webiste, Seth Godin

Title: Tribes

Author: Seth Godin

Published: Piatkus, 2008

Genre: Self-help

While We’re Hoarding Toilet Paper, Let’s Remember Some Self-Care

Reading ‘Body Mind Balancing’ by Osho

Using Your Mind To Heal Your Body

In the midst of global panic about the Coronavirus, let’s try to find a little light in the darkness and find out about ways we can achieve physical health and psychological wellbeing. The virus is a global threat but while sadly people have died, a lot more have recovered.

Keep that positive information in your mind before you start pressing the panic button. Also, remember that fear weakens your immune system and so even if positive spirits will not block the virus, strengthening your body and mind might make a difference and keep you sane.

Body Mind Balancing explores the deep connection between the mind and the body, and the effects of their (im)balance on our overall health. Osho teaches about the intelligence and wisdom of the body, our lack of awareness of it and how we don’t appreciate that enough, if not at all. We’ve been taught to separate the body and the mind, and these are one. The results have been many illnesses, misery and the absence of harmony.

The book talks about awareness of the body and the mind. The awareness of the miracle that is our body and to not only be aware of it when something is wrong, such as when we are sick. We should communicate with our bodies and befriend them, thank them and treat them well. Osho also emphasises the importance of listening to our bodies’ language. For example, when your body tells you to stop eating but you add one or two more because it tastes good. Your body has already communicated, and then you end up with discomfort in your body.

Another thing he talks about is suppression and that because of the body-mind connection, when you supress anything (emotion), in the body is a corresponding part that is affected. He discusses misery and joy – the former being a result that somewhere you’ve gone off-track, and the former resulting from your body being in rhythm.

Osho also gives advice on symptoms and solutions.

Here are some of them:

  • Sleeplessness – when you’re up and can’t sleep then you shouldn’t force it because sleep comes, it does not need to be forced or manipulated. It also means that your body is rested and if you say you feel tired it is all in the mind.
  • Shoulder and neck pain – he suggests deep tissue massage and acupuncture.
  • Hypochondria – he talks about the vicious circle of thinking too much about something being wrong with the body, resulting in the body falling ill and then thinking too much about the illness. One of the things he suggests is Naturopathy.
  • Negative feelings about the body – here he says that if you love your body, you take care of it more, you listen to it and become attuned to it. This results in it feeling and looking better.

He then speaks about meditation and its wonderful benefits, including healing and making you whole. There is a state of let-go that we need to learn, something that has been labelled laziness in this world of busyness and workaholics. There is a significant point he makes about competitiveness and how chasing what others have and are doing, does not serve us at all. He says that what we need is surrender. When we let go we can sit peacefully in a space of beauty and tranquillity, and find harmony of the body, mind and soul.

I hope that in the chaos and confusion of the pandemic that surrounds us, you’ll find ways that will help you stay centred, focused and calm. It is also vital to make sure that for any battle, like this virus, one needs to be prepared and strong, so take care of your body and take care of your mind.

Don’t forget to follow the guidelines on minimising the risk of getting the Coronavirus, for your health and safety and for others.

Take care of yourself!  ♥

Lessons from YOU ARE A BADASS by Jen Sincero

“How to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life.”

‘You Are a Badass’ promises to help you confront and change your self-sabotaging behaviour and creating a kick-ass life. Its chapters are filled with stories to inspire you and exercises to guide you through your badassery journey. She uses straight talk and humour to help you to get to understand yourself, improve the things that you can and accept those that you can’t change.

Here are some lessons I took away from the book:

  • “What you choose to focus on becomes your reality.”
  • Your faith should be greater than you fear.
  • “Growth ain’t for the weenies, but it is nowhere near as painful as living the life you’re living right now if you’re not really going for it.”
  • If you are able to have a fucked up perception of yourself, you are also able to have a brilliant one. Why choose the former?
  • “When we’re happy and all in love with ourselves, we can’t be bothered with the bullshit (our own or other people’s).”
  • Actions can reveal answers better than just sitting and thinking about them.
  • If you want to make changes in your life and get the things that you want, you’re going to have to take control of your thoughts.
  • When you live in a state of gratitude, it’s easy to believe that more great things are coming your way.
  • “So often when we say we’re unqualified for something, what we are really saying is that we’re too scared to try it, not that we can’t do it.”
  • “There is a big difference between walking around saying you want to make a million dollars a year, and having crystal clear intentions, fierce desire, and hell-bent action towards a specific goal.”

This book is a good reminder to us about our abilities to steer our lives in the direction we desire. If you usually have self-doubt, feel stuck or unable to see yourself in a place of success, wealth, happiness or thriving in whatever it is you want to do and have, it gives you a pinch to tell you to stop and tells you how to change and do better.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


Title: You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living And Awesome Life

Author: Jen Sincero

Published: 2013, Running Press Book Publishers

Genre: Self-help

Book Review: The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa

#Blessed

Bontle Tau is a fierce, beautiful, ambitious and street smart girl who uses her good looks and charm to secure a glamorous life from her blessers.

To keep the cash pouring in to maintain her lifestyle, she must maintain her physical appearance through beauty clinics and spas, be available when they want her and her heat button must always be ON. The expensive clothes, the penthouse in Sandton, VIP status in clubs, avalanche of expensive champagne, holiday trips and the luxury German machine she drives are all paid for by her looks and what she does with them.

She’s a not-so-academically-smart girl from Mamelodi with a dark family past and an unhealthy relationship with her ex, but she claims to be quite astute in what she calls MENcology. She’s also cunning and will go to great lengths for money and the things it buys. For a long time, she manages to maintain a sort of balance with more than two blessers and their demands.

The glamour starts to rust when the blesser she snatches from her friend enters her life, while her two other blessers have personal problems that wholly affect her opulent life. The family secret that’s long been buried comes out and her life takes on a chain of calamities.

The Blessed Girl delves deep into the blesser-blessee culture that appears so dazzling and desirable to many girls but has its downsides, much harsher for most than others. Through Bontle’s life, we see the depression, the drugs, and sacrifices that come into play in this kind of lifestyle. It also highlights the extreme things that young girls will do for this lifestyle when they don’t see any other option available.

There is also the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and it’s not just for the two parties, but also other blessees involved, as well as the spouses of these blessers. We also see how some families accept that kind of lifestyle because their daughters pay for that acceptance with money.

It’s a funny, simple and enjoyable read. If you’re South African or have been exposed to its culture you’ll enjoy it even better, because of the raw South African tone, lingo and characters. When I started the book, I felt the writing was dull and heavily laden with that South African attitude but as I went along I figured that it is part of the story’s makeup. It’s a very easy read, entertaining and insightful.

Title: The Blessed Girl

Author: Angela Makholwa

Published: Bloomsbury Publishing

Genre: General Fiction