Zami-A New Spelling Of My Name

What do you do when your life’s story cannot be told within the confines of the autobiographical genre? Its simple, you create a complete new genre to depict your life. Genres are anyway just constructed categories to arbitrarily fit works of literature into water tight compartments leaving no room for them to be seen as fluid, independent works.

ZamiAudre Lorde did the exact same thing when she wrote, ‘Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name.’ It is an autobiographical text. But she coined the term, ‘biomythography’ to describe the book. In an interview, Lorde herself defined the term as having, ‘the elements of biography and history of myth. In other words, it’s fiction built from many sources. This is one way of expanding our vision.’ Further, Ted Warburton defined it as, ‘the weaving together of myth, history and biography in epic narrative form, a style of composition that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world.’ These two definitions are the best ways to define the ‘genre’ of ‘Zami: A…’

In the book, Lorde examines her life with all its ups and downs by intertwining incidents of her life with elements of the world around her. It is not just a retelling of a life, but a close examination of the life while also intermingling the historical aspects that might have affected her life. ‘Zami: A..” tells the story of a young Lorde who is a child of hard working black immigrants from Granada, living in New York in the 1940s/50s.. The earlier part of the book focuses on her childhood  and teenage years. The book is not the usual run of the mill bildungsroman type but rather a book that fuses the elements of poetry, fiction, autobiography, history and myth to tell an intricate story of her life in New York, in Harlem and later on when she moves to other places like Mexico. Throughout the narrative, Lorde has  juxtaposed the events in her life with significant events of American history such as the Great Depression, the World War II, the independence struggle of the British colonies, McCarthyism, the black freedom struggle etc. It gives you a sense of the larger world and a minute history lesson as well. It enables the reader to put the time frame in perspective. Through the lens of the broader events, Lorde reflects on her life, rethinks her political awakening, her understanding and acceptance of her sexuality, her femininity and her position as a minority in America. Her marginalisation creates in her a political impulse, a need to confront the mainstream hegemony on her own terms. Lorde chronicles her relationship with her family, their growing differences ideologically and otherwise, her numerous relationships with various women, her life in poverty, her life of constant struggle and pain, her close knit group of friends, the close sisterhood she developed as a student which enabled her to become independent and many other things.

Lorde admits in the book that is tough to be a coloured immigrant in Harlem, tougher to be a woman and even tougher to be a Black woman immigrant lesbian. She is a minority in all senses but throughout the book she never allows this to marginalise her further. She finds ways to deal with them and the best way is to accept her individuality. Instead of moping around about her minority status, Audre finds hope in many ways and one of the ways is through her community of female friends, companions, girlfriends, other politically like minded people etc. She never allows any of her pain to close herself to the world but rather reaches out to the world to find people like her and find solace and comfort which helps her to assuage her pain.

‘Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name’ is a tender yet tough look at the trials and tribulations Lorde faces as she grows up and comes into her own.

To read an e-version of the book, click here. 

Sources:

1) http://biomyth.wordpress.com/about/

2)http://www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Gomez/GomezIntr.html

Image:

1)http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/395220.Zami

 

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God‘ by Zora Neale Hurston is undoubtedly her best known novel. Published in 1937, it is a singular story of a black woman protagonist, Janie Crawford and the significant changes in her life. To write a women centric novel in that era is an achievement worth being entitled to.

The novel starts with Janie returning to her second husband’s town, Eatonville, after having runaway with Tea Cake, a man who was younger to her. The townspeople start gossiping and advise Pheoby  Watson, Janie’s close friend, to find out what has happened to Janie. Then Janie begins telling her story to Pheoby: Janie was married at the age of 16 to Logan Killicks by her grandmother, Nanny, so that Janie could have the security of a home . However, Janie never fell in love with him and ran away with another fellow named Joe Starks. Joe was an ambitious man who made Janie move to a new town called Eatonville where he did all he could to make the town prominent. He brought land, opened a store there and became the mayor. He ordered Janie to take care of the store but Janie was quite unhappy with that job. After Joe’s death, Janie fell head over heels in love with Tea Cake who was younger to her. They both loved each another immensely and moved to the Everglades in Florida. After Tea Cake’s death, Janie returned to Eatonville.

The story goes in good flow. The most positive aspect of the book is Janie’s strong willed characterization. She is not portrayed as a damsel in distress but rather as an intelligent, well minded personality. It is a feminist book that highlights a woman’s thoughts, ideas and feelings as well as emotions and problems. Another plus point of  ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God‘ is the usage of a dialect. Zora Hurston has not used the language which you and I use but the dialect in which the southern blacks spoke. This lends to authenticity to the story(However some readers who are not able to read the dialect may find the story irritating and incomprehensible).

Nonetheless, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is an excellent book, and provides insightful perspective.

Beloved

Toni Morrison’s books are never really uplifting. They are simply brutally honest and often heartbreaking. ‘Beloved‘, her fifth novel, is certainly no different. It is layered with such magnificently deep emotions and with utmost complexity that the book can be slightly disturbing. And that’s why I say that ‘Beloved’ is a great, well researched book but certainly not for weak hearted people who can’t swallow the bitterness of a book.

Sethe, a runaway slave, lives alone with her daughter, Denver, in 124, a house haunted by Sethe’s dead first daughter, Beloved. Set in the mid 1800s’ where an end to slavery’s era has brought numerous upheavals in the lives of former slaves-physical,social and emotional . Paul D is one such slave and his visit to 124 changes Sethe’s fortunes temporarily. When her daughter Beloved’s ghost or spirit (or whatever you want to call it) returns, the equation of normality that Sethe has formed for 18 years keeps turning until she is eventually completely devastated by Beloved’s actions.

Beloved‘ is a heartbreaking story where despair and depression hit you hard when you read through the myriad layer upon layer of hurt, injustice, and brutality all characters have faced in their lives. From the first page itself, Morrison thrusts the reader into the thick of things and then slowly yet in a hard-hitting way, reveals the flashbacks and the past that makes Sethe’s painful present. It exposes the reader to the different and highly complex emotions the characters constantly go through and to the fact that a lot of these emotions, perceived by society as ‘crazy’ are often formed by racism and discrimination only.

The only possible drawback I see is  the introduction of the magic realism, Beloved’s spirit. For me, it took away the gut wrenching reality that the book portrays. Otherwise the book is as A.S. Byatt said, “a magnificent achievement….an American masterpiece.”