“Beneath A Scarlet Sky” (author Mark Sullivan) – Emma’s Book Review 14 of 2020

Author Mark Sullivan said he was “at the lowest point of my life”. Coming close to taking his life one early evening, he took a pause for the sake of his family. A few hours later he learned about an Italian war story that was hardly believable. Sullivan called Pino Lella a few times and eventually persuaded Pino to see him in person. Sullivan flew to Italy. This was the first of many trips he made to Italy over a decade and the result is this incredible book, “Beneath A Scarlet Sky”.

The story starts in June 1943, right in the throes of World War II, in Milan. Pino has had a privileged life and is quite the ladies’ man. He is now 17 years old, just met the gorgeous Anna, and Allied bombs have destroyed his family home. Pino’s family send him off to the Northern mountains of Italy, near a little ski town called Madesimo, to live with an old friend Father Re at Casa Alpina, where another 40 boys, including his younger brother Mimo, have found refuge from the dangers of war.

Father Re sets Pino the immense task of hiking solo in the surrounding snowy mountains almost every day, about which Sullivan writes in such a vivid way that one would think he had been tasked with this physically challenging feat. While Pino is happy to have escaped the bombs of war in Milan, he becomes proud to be part of Father Re’s Underground Railroad that’s helping Jews escape over the Alps. Pino is chosen to be the one who guides these Jews through the treacherous alpine terrain, oftentimes risking his own life as he ensures the safety of those entrusted to his care. The daily nail-biting expeditions, eloquently described in Sullivan’s prose, are forever etched in my mind.

Eventually, it is time for Pino to return to Milan, but his family once again dictate his fate, forcing him to join the Germans, in order to protect his life. Now 18 years old, circumstance lands him the job of personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, and Pino ends up informally working as a spy for the Allies, which makes his seeming betrayal easier to stomach. Despite the horrendous experience of living within a war, which, aside from smell and sound, Sullivan captures in graphic detail, Pino is happy. He has found the love of his life, Anna, who happens to be the maid of General Leyers’ mistress.

While we all know the outcome of World War II, Pino’s story does not end the way one might expect. Sullivan will keep you on your proverbial toes right up to the last page of this book, pulling on every heart string and emotion deep within. Truly one of my favourite reads of all time.

P.S. I read this book at the start of Summer, but I’ve been so busy, I’ve not had time to write. I shall endeavour to get back to blogging on a regular basis now.

#Enough #BlackLivesMatter

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Imagine you’re driving home, solo or with other people in the car, from a party. You start to get a little sleepy, behind the wheel, but you continue to drive. Before you know it, you fall asleep, drive off the road and end up with your car totaled and, by the way, the jaw of the person in the passenger seat is now smashed. This happened to my parents more than fifty years ago, on a remote country road here in Jamaica. Imagine a worse case scenario. I would never been born and this piece would never have been written. Thank goodness there were no other cars, nor people, around on the road, otherwise there might have been fatalities. Imagine who else could have been hurt, or killed, had they been driving in a busy town or city.

Now imagine what would have happened had my parents pulled over and taken a nap. Not a damn thing. They would have had a nice little sleep, woken up and driven home. There would have been no accident. There would not have been multiple surgeries to fix my mum’s jaw, nor would she have scars on her neck from said surgeries. But what would have happened to them, had they decided to pull into a car park in a town or city and taken that hypothetical nap? What would have happened to them, had a police officer seen them taking the nap? Not a damn thing. What would have happened to them had all of this taken place in the USA, in a city like Atlanta, let’s say? Not a damn thing. My parents are white and, by the way, their eyes are brown.

Imagine this scenario. A black man decides to go and get some food after a party. He gets into his car and starts driving. Due to sleepiness, or being drunk, or both, he falls asleep and smashes into another car, killing the driver and passengers in the other car. He might even kill himself in the process. Were this to happen, the man would be at fault.

Now imagine this scenario. A black man, who has been at a party, starts driving his car to go and get some food. This black man pulls into a fast food car park, parks his car up and takes a nap. The next thing he knows, two white police officers are banging on his window. He is told to get out of the car. He is unarmed and the police discover that he is unarmed. An argument and a tussle occurs between the man and the police officers. The man grabs an officer’s Taser, which both officers know cannot and will not do a person any real harm, and runs away from the officers. While still running, the black man turns, points the harmless Taser at the officers, then faces forward to continue running away. One of the white police officers uses his shotgun to shoot the black man in the back, twice. The black man dies that night. The medical examiner declares Rayshard Brooks’ death a homicide. Rayshard Brooks was murdered. He was a black man and, by the way, his eyes were brown.

Why didn’t the white police officers simply call a cab to take this black man home or drive the man home themselves? You’re telling me a white man would not have been offered that courtesy and safety measure? What did the police officers think this black man was planning, while sleeping in his car? A restaurant robbery, whereby he would have brought grievous bodily harm to another human being? Do they believe he was resting there, waiting to pounce on some white police officers and bring them to their deaths? Really?! As I said above, a white man would not have had to succumb to such a fate as this black man. A white man would not have died in such an unjust way.

What if a woman had been parked up in her car and fallen asleep? Would she have suffered in the same way? We know a white woman would not have, but what about a black woman? Maybe.

What would people have thought had a woman, any woman, been sleeping and a man, any man, had broken into her car, climbed on top of her and raped her? I am pretty certain that every single police officer, white, black and brown, would agree how wrong that would have been. Why, then, are black men in the United States of America still unable to do something as simple as sleep in their cars without being at risk of losing their lives to white police officers? Would it have been better for Brooks to drive, fall asleep at the wheel, cause a major car accident and end up killing other people?

What would have happened if there had been a small white boy, with brown or blue eyes, asleep in the car? He would have been taken home safely. What would have happened if there had been a small black boy, with brown or blue eyes, asleep in the car? I’m willing to bet this kid would also have been taken home by the police officers. What will happen to this same black child when he becomes a teenager, or a man? Will he get home safely?

You know, there are many people who think Rayshard Brooks should not have run, but in light of the fact that, not so long ago, George Floyd, another black man, suffocated under the knee of another white police officer, not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of black men who have unjustly died at the “hands” of white police officers in the USA, what choice did he really have?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, as much as peaceful protests against racial inequities are the more desirable way to go, they have not worked. Revolutions are far more effective. It is going to take a worldwide revolution, which must include every single person who agrees that racism is wrong. The actions of activists are not enough. Even the supporters who remain timid or silent on the matter must stand up and loudly speak up, every single day, until “the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes.” #Enough #BlackLivesMatter

 

 

“Between Before & After” (author Maureen Doyle McQuerry – Emma’s Book Review 13 of 2020

Between Before & After

Molly is a teenager in the mid 1950s, living in San Jose, California. She and her younger brother, Angus, adore their Uncle Stephen, their mother’s younger brother. The siblings notice a subtle strain between their mother, Elaine, and Stephen, which at first appears to be based on his belief that he’s performed a miracle on a sick child and on Elaine’s rejection of his Christian God. However, Molly is a budding writer with natural investigative instincts, so she’s been gathering clues about her mother’s hidden past.

The author intertwines Molly’s road to uncovering Elaine Fitzgerald’s secrets with an account of her life in Brooklyn, New York, in 1919, soon after hers and Stephen’s mother, along with their baby sister, died. Their father has become a drunk, is hardly ever home and is unable to support them. Elaine is inherently protective of her baby brother and fortunately lands a job reading to the extremely wealthy father of May Gossley. The old man, Mr. Seward, has gone blind, but he has the uncanny knack of “seeing” everything that goes on in his mansion, where he lives with May, her husband and their son, Howie, who is a couple years older than Elaine. Mr. Seward quickly grasps how smart Elaine is and develops a soft spot for her. When he realizes that Elaine has a crush on his grandson, he warns her that she is better than him. Will Elaine take heed?

As McQuerry alternates between the tales of mother and daughter, expressing them in picturesque prose, she brings the relevance of the two time periods together seamlessly to a remarkable ending. Reflecting what is quoted on the front cover of this book, “Sometimes the most important story to discover is your own,’ Between Before & After is beautifully written.

emmasharptv@gmail.com

 

Loudly Act Against Racism!

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First Cousins: our nephew and our son, forever inseparable!

Imagine for a moment, if you will, this hypothetical scenario.

I am having a party in the USA for my entire family and all my closest friends. One by one, everyone leaves and heads home. My parents are white, they get home safely. Two of my white siblings have white spouses and they have white children – they walk/drive home safely. One of my white siblings is married to a black woman and they have two children. She is a doctor and happens to be busy treating a white man, who started a bar brawl earlier that evening. (By the way, he will end up being saved by this black doctor, he will not be charged for starting the fight, but the black man, with whom he was fighting, is arrested on site and charged – he ends up doing jail time!)

Back to my hypothetical scenario – my brother’s and sister-in-law’s two brown teenagers are out on the front lawn chatting and having fun. Two white cops are passing the house and see them. They question them on their “rights” to be in my yard, a predominantly white neighbourhood. From inside the house, I hear an argument ensue, so I go outside and manage to placate the police officers, assuring them that they do indeed have a “right” to be there. My husband’s family, who are black, Chinese and everything in between, some darker than others, begin to leave the party, one by one. Each one of them is stopped by the police and questioned as to why she or he is out and where she or he is going. My friends begin to leave. The white ones get home without any hindrances, my black friends are all stopped by the police at some point on their journeys home.

My husband’s family actually live in Trinidad & Tobago. We live in Jamaica. Our two boys are mixed, but they look white. Their six cousins living in Trinidad have much darker skin.

Imagine this scenario.

Each one of these eight young children, who are currently between the ages of seven and thirteen, all end up going to university in the USA in the future. If the country does not immediately address the deep-rooted racism that exists, imposing laws that not only prevent the “freedom” to be racist, but punish those who act on their racism, then six out of these eight children are in danger of racist slurs or attacks, and perhaps death. Even my own children, who look white and may not be harmed by direct said persecution, will suffer psychologically as they “watch” their flesh and blood being persecuted for the colour of their skin. If our family is lucky, each person will come out physically unscathed.

Remember I said one of my white brothers is married to a black doctor? They actually do live in the USA. Their brown children, like their black mother, will have to work so much harder than my white nieces and nephews, who also live in the USA, to prove their worth in this racist nation. They are “lucky” they are female and not black men, who at present can’t even safely walk down the street. How ironic this is, as white women often wish they could have the privileges of white men!

White women still have it far easier than black women, however.

These scenarios are repeated over and over again. Millions of black people in the USA are forced to live under the “freedom” of white people’s oppression.

In my own country, Jamaica, racism exists, but it’s wrapped up and “hidden” by a classist society. Now, bear with me as I loosely explain how the rankings work. Please note, there are always exceptions! If you’re white, you’re likely to be “trusted” by most, even if you don’t have much money. If you’re wealthy and white, you’ll probably be trusted by everyone. If you’re black and poor, you will not likely be trusted at all. If you’re black, have money and a respectable job, you’ll hold some ranking, but it would suit you infinitely better to be a successful lawyer, doctor or politician, the CEO or Managing Director of a company/bank, or a well-known, world class athlete or musician. And, by the way, some white people may still dislike or resent you! If you’re a deadbeat black man or woman, you’re screwed when it comes to privilege and entitlement. If you’re a deadbeat white man, you’ll be fine. If you’re a jobless white woman, it’ll be assumed that you hang on the arm of a wealthy white man.

The world over has varying degrees of racism. I’m quite sure that the majority of adults on this planet has either witnessed, suffered or subjected some form of racism. I’m also fairly certain that many children have as well, though some might not yet understand what it all means.

I don’t believe that humans are born racist. Racism is learned. The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never harm you,” is a pile of trollop! Racist language is absolutely dangerous. It leads to catastrophic actions, which are impossibly irreversible. The most recent consequence to centuries of racist rhetoric is the loss of George Floyd’s life, a result of the unconscionable actions of a white America police officer. Yet black people are supposed to quietly accept “Oops, we’re sorry about that!”? 

Sure, “hitting back” with disruptive demonstrations is inconvenient for police officers and many white people, but what else can one do when softer pleas have never worked?

To accept the “violent” backlash of black people is hard for some as “violence is not the answer”, but inequalities have rarely, if ever, been resolved peacefully. Revolutions are as old as time and have been documented countless times! 

In order to effect change when it comes to racial inequality, a revolution is necessary, despite how unpalatable it may be for many. Even white people who are not outwardly racist are complicit to this crime against humanity, by merely “staying quiet”. Silence speaks volumes. Imagine how loud actually acting against racism would be!

#enough #blacklivesmatter

emmasharptv@gmail.com

 

“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” (author Yuval Noah Harari) – Emma’s Book Review 12 of 2020

 

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I am not going to lie to you, guys, this book is long and it took me about five weeks to read! However, the history of humankind is fascinating, to say the least, and every single person on the planet should read Sapiens at least one time in their lifetime.  It is not written in complicated language (it’s just a lot of information to absorb!) and I guarantee it will get the neurons in your brain bouncing off one another, causing you to take pause in every notion you have previously had about humans, our place on Earth and how we have got to where we are today.

Harari walks us through the evolution of humanity. He starts with the Cognitive Revolution, which took place more than 70,000 years ago, flows into the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago, then explains how politics slowly unified humankind to form one global empire, and finally gets to the Scientific Revolution, which commenced in the 1500s.

Harari challenges our perceived ideas about objective facts, demonstrating that these so-called “facts” have been designed and invented by humans, therefore actually making them fiction. His argument is based off the immense capability Homo Sapiens have for imagination, which in turn gives rise to our ability to unite in large numbers and believe in the doctrines of religion, nationality, money and human rights. The problem with this is it also allows for humans to discriminate against people who do not follow the same line of imagination.

The one common denominator in our imagination is, of course, money. All 7.8 billion people on Earth believe in the objective power of money and there is no disputing its value to us, despite the fact that it is indeed fiction! Perhaps this is one reason why there has been little to no research into the history of human happiness. Indeed, Harari insists we are no happier today than we were in past eras, despite how much humans, our inventions and all our “conveniences” have evolved.

emmasharptv@gmail.com

 

 

 

Coping with #HomeQuarantine during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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My children and I have not been out in public since the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Honorable Andrew Holness, mandated all schools on the island to close on the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, 2020.  I am not superstitious, but it was quite uncanny that the first day of home quarantine, because of COVID-19, was to be Friday the thirteenth.

Seven weeks later and we are continuously trying to find a permanent groove at home.  To be honest, we are not short of things to do, but the ever-changing circumstances around the world, including Jamaica, are distressing distractions to say the least.  These are the very motivations for abiding by the hashtag #TanAYuhYard (stay at home), but the biggest challenge, for the kids and for me, is learning to cooperate at all times, because we simply do not get a break from one another.

The husband/father does, however, get his reprieve.  Well, I don’t know if ‘reprieve’ is the right word because he has to deal with the stressful reality of ensuring that all safety measures are practiced.  In order to keep his family as safe as possible, he must do everything he possibly can to avoid catching coronavirus and, in case he does become exposed to it and ends up being asymptomatic, he has the added responsibility of making sure he doesn’t pass it on to anyone with whom his path crosses.  (This should be the reality of every person who leaves their house, by the way).  After all, Hubby is the sole person in our household who goes out to work and shops for the necessities, such as groceries and my medicines, and man, am I grateful he has a job and can provide for us all!  The only downfall is that he moved into the guest room on March 13, as an added precaution, because I have pre-existing health conditions, which place me in the high-risk, vulnerable category.

I admit that in the first few weeks of #homequarantine I was resentful of Hubby.  Nothing much had changed for him, it seemed, and he certainly had no empathy for what the kids and I were experiencing.  I was the one home with the kids ALL the time, managing online school schedules, keeping the house tidy, playing with the younger one when he would have ordinarily had after-school activities, because his big brother was in school until late in the afternoon, managing the mental side of what was taking place, cooking three meals a day and then some!  Our sons have bottomless bellies, it seems.

Anyway, after a few weeks, I exploded.  I explained to said husband that while every person on the planet was affected by the outbreak of COVID-19 in some way, each one of our experiences was different and we would have to find a way to empathize with what one another was going through.  Well, that seemed to work.  I have learned to appreciate the pressures that he is under and he no longer assumes I’m having a grand old time, kicking up my feet at home and eating bonbons all day!  We have a smooth system now, with him taking over all the laundry, the washing up at night and the yard work.  Okay, I admit that he has always done those things to some extent, but he has really stepped up his game, which I completely appreciate.  In fact, I’d go as far as saying that I miss him terribly and living apart in the same house is now the most difficult part to cope with, during this COVID-19 pandemic.

emmasharptv@gmail.com

“Lest We Find Gold” (author Melanie Schwapp) – Emma’s Book Review 11 of 2020

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The acclaimed Jamaican author Melanie Schwapp writes this novel from the point of view of her protagonist, Milly Pratt, who goes from living a humble existence with her mother, amidst near poverty, to a golden life with her husband.

Schwapp seamlessly takes the character of Milly on as herself, so you feel as if it’s more a personal memoir than a work of fiction. However, it’s not written in chronological order, rather Milly haphazardly describes her experiences, often repeating herself in the process. This messiness matches the messiness of Milly’s life, even though only the reader is privy to this. The people who are actually in her life merely see a fortunate woman, not one being banged up by her husband.

As you read through the book, you will become incensed by the so-called “stupidity” or “carelessness” of women who let men have their cake and eat it too. This theme is no stranger to our own lives in Jamaica, nor to many women across the world, but when it’s depicted on the pages we pore over, it nauseatingly resonates and sticks to us. Whether this is because we have the knowledge of some form of abuse happening to others whom we know well, or to ourselves, the heaviness of it haunts the daily lives of so many. Ergo, Milly’s plight might pull your spirit down for a time, but hang in there and she might figure out where the actual gold lies.

emmasharptv@gmail.com

“Another Mother: A Memoir” (author Ross Kenneth Urken) – Emma’s Book Review 10 of 2020

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Another Mother is not only a memoir about the author’s life, but also includes a condensed biography of Dezna Sanderson, the woman hired by his parents to care for him and his sister when they were children.  Why would a Jewish American man growing up in Princeton, New Jersey, be so invested in discovering his Jamaican nanny’s past?

Before I started reading this book, I actually assumed one of Ross Urken’s parents, or at least one of his grandparents, must be from Jamaica.  He had recently hosted a book launch in Kingston, to which my own mother had been and purchased my copy, so it was a logical explanation for his deep connection to our country.

Once I had read a couple chapters, which (by the way) are named after some of Bob Marley’s lyrics, I realized that I had jumped to conclusions way too quickly – Urken is not part-Jamaican.  However, his keen interest in our island is clear as the Jamaican manners, patois and cuisine, which Dezna instilled on her young charge, are lovingly demonstrated in his prose.  In fact, what this author learned from her as a child, he carried straight into adulthood and proudly flits between the two throughout the book.

Amidst his literary prowess, it becomes apparent that once Dezna passed away, the adult Ross begins to pursue his quest to unravel the truth about Dezna’s past.  Through happenstance, Ross meets some Jamaican Jews in New York and uses this as an excuse to go to Jamaica on an exploration to find old Jewish graves across the land of wood and water.  When they hit Black River in St. Elizabeth, he sneaks off to meet some of Dezna’s children and so begins the journey to acquiring an entire new family he now calls his own.

Near the end of this story, but undoubtedly not the end of his life’s story, Ross makes reference to the book Are You My Mother?  Indeed, Dezna was his second mother, so I suppose Ross Kenneth Urken is part-Jamaican.

emmasharptv@gmail.com

“Someone” (author Alice McDermott) – Emma’s Book Review 9 of 2020 (a little late!)

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Firstly, I want to acknowledge and apologize for this tardy post.  It was my children’s mid-term break, then I had a week of my own intense work, and lastly we had our first case of COVID-19 in Jamaica, so our PM decided to close all schools (for which I completely grateful).  I have also been instructed to self-quarantine at home for at least 14 days due to my pre-existing autoimmune illness and the fact that I am on immunosuppressants.  So, now I am at home with two boys, 24 hours each day, homeschooling and trying to write!

Personally, I found this novel rather confusing and, as a result, it was difficult for me to fully engage in the wellbeing of the protagonist, Marie, who leads quite an ordinary life in Brooklyn, New York.   Alice McDermott, who is a critically acclaimed author, haphazardly jumps between Marie’s childhood, marriage, teenage years, motherhood and old age, taking most of the other characters with her as she does so, but nothing truly exciting happens.  I suppose that’s the point of the ordinary life led by Marie.

There is much merit in McDermott’s writing, however, as her descriptions of the people and surroundings in this novel are thorough and vivid.  Indeed, these were exactly what prevented me from giving it all up for another book.  I would recommend Someone to anyone who appreciates literary prose, but if you’re looking for something exciting to happen, this is not the novel for you.

emmasharptv@gmail.com

 

“A Woman is No Man” (author Etaf Rum) – Emma’s Book Review 8 of 2020

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Imagine being born in the land of the free, the United States of America, Brooklyn no less, but your grandparents still expect you to live by their Arab culture in which they grew up.  You are a teenage girl in high school, by the way, and college is not even an option because you must be married and sent off to live with your spouse’s family before it’s considered too late.  You’re lucky if you get to choose between several suitors, picked out by your family of course, because many girls are not graced with that privilege.  Moreover, it’s a privilege to be picked by a man’s family, especially if your family is poor, so it helps if you are attractive.

This is the life of 18 year old Deya, the eldest of four girls, and the year is 2008.  She desperately wants to go to college but her grandmother, Fareeda, refuses to entertain the idea because one must simply accept that a woman is no man.  After all, Fareeda herself has had to accept the plight of being someone’s wife, enduring domestic violence at a level incomprehensible to the rest of us.  Deya also desperately wishes she knew more about her mother, Isra, who supposedly died in a car accident with her father, Adam, and when she gets the opportunity, she chases after the truth at great risk.

Meanwhile, the author Etaf Rum takes the reader back to 1990 when 17 year old Palestinian, Isra, arrives in New York the day after her wedding to Adam, Fareeda’s son.  Their family fled poverty in Palestine some 15 years previously, and work tirelessly running a shop in Brooklyn.  Adam is the eldest of four children.  The youngest of Fareeda and Khaled’s kids is their only daughter, Sarah, who is expected to eventually suffer the same fate as every other female within their culture.  She and Isra become fast friends, bonding over forbidden books, which Isra hides in secret places of the dark basement bedroom that she and Adam share.

Isra comes to realise that the life of an Arab woman is no different in the United States.  She must still scrub the house clean, spend hours cooking for the men in the house and serve them when they return from work.  She does not have the freedom to even go shopping for food without her husband or father-in-law present.  Despite living to serve the men and be at their beck and call, baring a girl is dreaded amongst them all, so the resentment Fareeda feels towards Isra, when she keeps giving birth to girls, is insurmountable.  By the way, Isra is 22 years old when she is pregnant with her fourth girl, and is so emotionally and physically broken by Adam that she no longer has joy for her babies nor her books.

Despite the detailed descriptions of the oppressive lives of these women, you won’t want to put this novel down until you’ve reached the final word, when you’ll come to see that, indeed, a woman is no man.

emmasharptv@gmail.com