Fiction I Read in 2019

Once again, I put together a list of the fiction that I read over the past year that I loved and want to recommend. I found that in doing so, both this year and last, I was reminded of what I learned through reading literature. Indigenous author Rebecca Roanhorse suggests that fiction, and especially science fiction, is important because “the future you imagine is the future you get.” She goes on to say: “for me, it is important to imagine a future that centers Native people,  that highlights our stories and our ideas and our languages, science, and art. Otherwise, the world suffers. Stuck in colonizing language and thought (Space conquest! Colonizing planets!) without considering that there might be another, better way.”

  • Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luiselli
    • A haunting, beautiful, and thoughtful book about colonialism and children taken from their families on the southern border
  • The Great Believers – Rebecca Makkai
    • A wrenching, powerful book about love, death, and politics that takes place across decades about the beginning of the AIDS crisis
  • Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor
    • Kids and magic, better than Harry Potter. I finished the first book and immediately downloaded the second from the library, Akata Warrior.
  • The Sympathizer  –  Viet Thanh Nguyen
    • I was a little slow on this one, in part because I was worried it was going to be reactionary, but I found this book to be satisfying politically and quite funny in parts. I wish everyone could read the section skewering Vietnam War movies.
  • Trail of Lightning – Rebecca Roanhorse
    • A quick-moving, adventurous read about monster killing. Also a thought provoking piece of literature that taught me in a new way (as I hoped it would) that representation really matters. Let’s hope there is a movie or TV option. I’m #50 on the waiting list for the next book.
  •  Brown Girl in the Ring – Nalo Hopkinson
    • Second book I have read and absolutely loved by this author of Black speculative fiction. my favorite part of this book might have been its insights into family dynamics although it is also leaving me thinking about the skills I should be building for the climate crisis.
  • Disoriental – Négar Djavadi
    • A story of a family and particularly one woman (a punk rock aficionado) in exile from Iran. A beautiful novel about state terror and family drama.
  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
    • I didn’t see the movie, so I don’t know how it compares. I really liked the book and felt like it was a good companion read to When They Call You a Terrorist; each covered certain things the other did not. I liked the emotional terrain and complexity of this book which used the power of fiction to tell another side of the story of police murder. If you want to know about the Black Lives Matter movement though, you should do further reading.
Picture of three women in an attic (the Vera sisters) looking at a large old book (the Book of Shadows).
The Vera sisters understand the power of a book.

What Terror Looks Like

More than one year after the post electoral crisis, the terror created by the murders of protestors is still palpable here. Many readers of this blog will be familiar with these killings because you participated last year in an open letter to the families of the victims.

A few days ago Karen Spring wrote this excellent essay on the continued impunity for the killings.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the events of December 2017 & January 2018 are hardly in the past for many Hondurans. These killings were mentioned to me without prompting at some of our site visits, and my general impression both from these weeks on the ground and following social media is of a people where terror has genuinely taken root. I keep thinking of the many histories I’ve read or watched about societies existing under terroristic regimes, and realizing that in this moment I’m visiting one of those societies. And knowing that my friends and others live in it every day.

Nor are these impressions and facts far removed from the United States. Impunity for murdering protestors and the terror it spreads is creating an exodus of people arriving everyday at our border. To say nothing of the direct and indirect support for this terror provided by the US government itself. One example: the US provides funding, training, and “vetting” for various police and military forces implicated in human rights abuses including murder. We are funding terror.

accompaniment at the graveside

Over the last several days I have been in Honduras with Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, meeting with the Movimiento Amplio por Dignidad y Justicia (MADJ, Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice) in several different sites and contexts.

It is not an exaggeration to say that many or maybe even all the folks we have met with have been through hell. We visited the Dignified Encampment for Water and for Life at Pajuiles, where participants became choked up telling us about how they were attacked brutally in August 2017 by members of the community further up the hill, who believe they will benefit from the dam project and who have been paid by the company . These water protectors, members of MADJ, also pointed to the nearby home of Geovanny Diaz Carcamo, who was brutally assassinated in front of his mother in the street in the post electoral conflict, January 2018.

From there we met with Magdalena, the widow of Ramón Fiallos, and other members of the Dignified Encampment in Defense of the Jilamito River. Ramón Fiallos was killed when he was shot with live ammunition at a protest and left without medical treatment. Magdalena told us how three days before his death, Ramón told her “If we have to die, I will die for a better Honduras with pride.” She told us that his words inspire her, and that through his death she has learned to lose her fear.

In the Tolupán community of San Francisco de Locomapa, we stood in solidarity alongside a fresh grave. Just one month ago two members of MADJ were murdered defending their pine forest, to which they have territorial rights recognized internationally as an indigenous tribe. The mountainside was burning all around us, an act of aggression against those resisting deforestation and looting, as we stood together. Here in this heavy place we were told by survivors that the struggle is very hard, but no one is crying. Everyone participating understands the risks and is ready to pay it. Words are hard to find in describing this moment standing with a small tribal community that has had 7 of its loved ones murdered over a struggle for natural resources since 2013.

Through these places we have been guided often by Martín Fernández who, as the effective longtime General Coordinator of MADJ, lives his life under ever present death threats. Everytime I say goodbye to Martín, I worry it will be the last.

As a group we have accompanied and met with these communities, humbly trying to offer some comfort through listening attentively to their stories and sharing in their pain as human beings. We have committed to share these stories with an often indifferent public in the United States who knowingly or unknowingly benefit from this theft of resources and life. None of it has ever seemed like enough. But I have written before about the small powerful webs of solidarity and continue to hope that although it is not, and can never be, enough, solidarity with others is the most powerful tool we have.

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How to take action in solidarity with the Honduran people

Saturday Rec: Even the Rain

Even the Rain – También la Lluvia

Pairs well with: all the other movies starring Gael García Bernal, a copy of the Open Veins of Latin America, a willingness to reflect on your own positionality in the world

This is a movie about colonialism and a movie about the Cochabamba water war. In fact, it’s a movie about some people who purport to make a movie about colonialism and in doing so perpetuate some really colonialist behaviors, which is the movie about colonialism that those of us who grew up benefiting from colonialism really need to see. And, somehow, as if that wasn’t a clever enough trope (and trust me, it really is), it’s also the best movie out there about the water war.

two men stare at each other. One man is in costume as an indigenous Taino man in the time of Columbus while the other wears a t-shirt.

Juan Carlos Aduviri and Gael Garcia Bernal in Even the Rain

And then, as if all of that wasn’t enough to make you go watch it now (but it should be), it’s also a movie starring Gael García Bernal!

Here are some other excellent movies starring Gael García Bernal:

  • No (and bring your cynical sense of humor – don’t be too North American while watching)
  • Neruda
  • Y Tu Mamá También
  • The Science of Sleep