Sunday, July 28, 2019

July/August 2019: What We'll Be Reading Next, Part II

"The swimming venue of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin."
by A. Levers, dated 2008
via Wikimedia Commons
ASIDE FROM the Humboldt travelogue, I've listened this summer to an audiobook of a modern journey: Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian - My Story of Rescue, Hope, and Triumph Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini's involuntary travels from Damascus, through Turkey and Greece, the Balkans and Austria, to Berlin. She grew up with her parents and two sisters — one older, one younger — in the suburbs, until their house became part of the war zone. Then they took shelter in the city of Damascus itself, which became increasingly precarious as bombs and shrapnel became risks in daily life. Her swimming ambitions were also endangered by a peacetime obstacle: girls were not strongly expected to become professional swimmers as grown women, since it was assumed that they would drop out of training to marry and have children. So her father (who had moved to Jordan to find work as a swimming coach, given the oversaturated job market in Syria) sent his two eldest daughters the money that would be needed to flee to Germany.

Yusra and her older sister Sara stayed in Turkey briefly, riding in a bus to the shore near Lesbos. Then, after a smuggler swan-dove overboard and abandoned a boat full of refugees with a motor that had stopped functioning and that lay too low in the water underneath their weight, they were stranded for hours near the Greek island without being able to reach it. To keep the boat from sinking, some of the refugees slipped overboard and held onto ropes, and nudged the prow of the boat so that it was pointed toward the Greek shore even if they could not propel the heavy vessel themselves. Yusra emphasizes that Sara was in the water as well as she was. What is more, a few fellow refugees also slipped overboard even though — unlike the Mardini sisters — they could not swim at all.

The journey from Lesbos (the boat was saved) through Hungary and Austria is a long story in which the generosity and the venality of strangers is absurdly intermingled. There is the degrading treatment and the brutality with which refugees' money is exploited even by 'respectable' authorities and individuals: money taken for substandard lodgings, tickets sold for trains which people are never permitted to take, beatings in Bulgarian forest escape routes by 'law and order,' etc. Even so, Yusra Mardini points out that those who could afford to travel over Greece into Europe were the lucky ones; those with no money at all are stranded in Turkey or Lebanon. There are also, by way of contrast, gifts of clothing, the offer of an Orthodox church as a night shelter, and other practical assistance. It is strange how all of these actions are natural to humanity, and it is a sign of strength that Yusra's head and heart seem to have accepted these contradictions without bitterness.

When Angela Merkel expressed the wish to handle asylum claims for all Syrian refugees in 2015, Germany became a comparatively welcoming country. Indeed Yusra saw cheering crowds at the station as she arrived across its borders. And yet life here was not perfect.

Mardini remembered the war trauma and was still losing friends who had stayed behind; and Berlin was not nearly as pretty or familiar as Damascus. Then her parents and her youngest sister hoped that German government policy would reunite them; then they were forced to abandon that hope at least temporarily. In the end they risked their necks smuggling themselves into Germany as well; they fortunately succeeded. Then her sister Sara performed the endless waiting for asylum claim processing at the LaGeSo in Berlin (the State Office for Health and Social Issues), which was one of many trials prepared by the German bureaucracy. Add the fact that the housing schemes, for instance, for refugees were at times negligent or even inhumane. Also, she did not want to accept charity all the time.

I'm worried that rejecting the label 'refugee' as Mardini does undermines the cause, although it's cheeky of me to speculate at all. While the press is undoubtedly wrong in finding Syrian refugees more presentable than, let's say, Sudanese refugees, I don't know if it helps to make flight respectable for anyone, if 'refugee' seems to remain to the end of this book as a degrading term for weak dependents rather than as a neutral term for individuals who seek to stay in another country because their own government will not protect them.

Her book is also about media frenzies. It starts with one or two interviews with reporters who bump into her while she's still traveling between the shore of Lesbos and the outskirts of Berlin, and who find to their delight that she speaks English. Some of these journalists use their skills and experience to assist her journey through the Balkans, which seems justified even if I'm uptight enough to worry about journalistic objectivity. But later, when Yusra is considered for the Olympics, other journalists bombard her and her German swimming coach with interview requests, waylay her so that she is afraid to leave her housing for fear of missing her morning training, ask impertinent and hurtful questions of her sister and, after hounding Yusra for the boat story for the thousandth time, then misrepresent the story so that she tows the boat to shore like Skippy the heroic dolphin. Yusra was just 17 years old when she took the boat from Turkey to Greece and, whether she inspires people or not, perhaps adults can find a spokesperson in a more ethical and thoughtful way, preserving something of her private sphere and respecting her age and her family.

Butterfly is aimed, I'd guess, at teenagers. But I enjoyed it as an adult. From a literary standpoint, the boilerplate descriptions of people (I think at least two different people have 'open faces' and others are helpfully described by hair colour) and the first-person, present-tense narration are bound to shock the snooty critic inside me. As for the narrator — Lameece Issaq — besides rendering the Arabic names perfectly, or so I assume, she does a brilliant job of the German language. She only mangles LaGeSo (lah-GAY-zoh) and Sonnenallee (ZON-nen-UH-lay), the street that is famous as a hotspot of Arabic-speaking Berliners; and I'd say that her sometimes boastful, upbeat athlete's tone, not out of place when describing the Olympic triumphs of Michael Phelps in the swimming lanes, is at times just a bit out of place when describing war.

Note: I was led to listen to this book by Emma Watson's "Our Shared Shelf" book club on Goodreads.

July/August 2019: What We'll Be Reading Next

Quick, illogical assumptions motivate me to state that I have not been terribly keen on any books that were published in July or are to be published in August.

Instead I have finished older books. Die Russland-Expedition: Von der Newa bis zum Altai, Humboldt's travels in Russia, winding up in a border station to China, then returning past German settlements founded by Catherine the Great, past Astrakhan, and through the Caspian Sea, braving an outbreak of anthrax and innumerable mosquitoes, were picturesquely set forth in later travelogues by Gustav Rose (a science professor who was a fellow traveller) and in Humboldt's letters.

The letters are not saintly, in my view. Humboldt writes to Count von Cancrin, the Russian government minister who granted his journey, in tones at times confident and friendly, at other times servile and toadying. His views in these letters are much more blissful than his views in letters to his brother and friends. His euphoria about Russian military victories against the Ottoman Empire also seems a little bloodthirsty now. I did roll my eyes a little at Humboldt's worries that he might be nominated for a prestigious position back in Berlin, which two hundred years later I'd characterize as a 'First World Problem.' Also, it's easier to sympathize with the mosquito problem, than with his boredom at being greeted by lengthy dinners and eager delegations wherever he goes.

Астрахань Городская клиническая больница №2 имени братьев Губиных (1838)
via Wikimedia Commons

AT ANY RATE, journeying and surveying the natural world through Siberia and back, experiencing a lifelong dream, Alexander von Humboldt was an emissary of the Russian government. Not only was it paying him a fabulous sum and gratifying a wish; it was also organizing transport with a lavish hand — teams of horses that were frequently changed out, etc., and military escorts, transported him over thousands of miles with an ease uncharacteristic of the times — and shelter.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Grimm Fairy Tales: The Star Talers

"Illustration of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale 'The Star Money'" (1862)
by Ludwig Richter (1803-1884)
via Wikimedia Commons

GROWING UP amongst the dark firs and bristling blackberry bushes, fragrant lilacs and apple trees, and the distant rushing of the wind in the hill where my family lived in Canada, I became immersed in the world of Grimm fairy tales. I would sit in the attic, where my siblings and I slept like contented nestlings as the nightlight shone from underneath the window, and imagine a fairy tale in old Europe with the help of Ludwig Richter's illustrations (frogs, ancient leafy trees, wells and courts and birds whose species were unfamiliar beyond the Atlantic) from the early 1860s. We had an expurgated edition that did not have all of the tales and was in modern High German, no regional German dialects as far as I recall.

I read, for example, The Star Money, "Die Sterntaler." It is as brief and as simply-cut as its heroine's shirt, because the Grimm brother who wrote it down was sketching a mere memory of the tale's plot.

It presents a main character and nameless wayfarers: a parentless figure who wanders through the world, who sees the woes of fellow-travellers and has the means to 'fix' them — so she does.

***
Es war einmal ein armes, kleines Mädchen, dem war Vater und Mutter gestorben, es hatte kein Haus mehr in dem es wohnen, und kein Bett mehr, in dem es schlafen konnte, und nichts mehr auf der Welt, als die Kleider, die es auf dem Leib trug, und ein Stückchen Brod in der Hand, das ihm ein Mitleidiger geschenkt hatte; es war aber gar fromm und gut. Da ging es hinaus, und unterwegs begegnete ihm ein armer Mann, der bat es so sehr um etwas zu essen, da gab es ihm das Stück Brod; dann ging es weiter, da kam ein Kind, und sagte: „es friert mich so an meinem Kopf, schenk mir doch etwas, das ich darum binde,“ da thät es seine Mütze ab und gab sie dem Kind. Und als es noch ein bischen gegangen war, da kam wieder ein Kind, und hatte kein Leibchen an, da gab es ihm seins; und noch weiter, da bat eins um ein Röcklein, das gab es auch von sich hin, endlich kam es in Wald, und es war schon dunkel geworden, da kam noch eins und bat um ein Hemdlein, und das fromme Mädchen dachte: es ist dunkele Nacht, da kannst du wohl dein Hemd weggeben, und gab es hin. Da fielen auf einmal die Sterne vom Himmel und waren lauter harte, blanke Thaler, und ob es gleich sein Hemdlein weggegeben, hatte es doch eins an, aber vom allerfeinsten Linnen, da sammelte es sich die Thaler hinein und ward reich für sein Lebtag.
THE FAIRY TALE is read as an allegory about the Christian's notion of charitable deeds.*

* See "Allegorie" in the Wikipedia article here.

It is a tale that, to my leftist mind, epitomizes the absurdity of the world before modern social security, where a girl could be abandoned by society and yet be forced by her conscience to rectify the world's inequality out of her slender means.

To the proto-feminist part of my mind, it is impressive that the tale's reward for kindness is financial independence at nobody else's expense rather than, let's say, a husband.

But I have to add: from a non-cynical, religious standpoint, the insistence that a kind gesture to meet the needs of others is never in vain and never unappreciated by God is touching, although it is implausible and difficult to realize.

*

There was once a poor, little girl. Her father and mother had died, she had no house left to live in, no bed to sleep in, and nothing in the world other than the clothes she wore on her body and a piece of bread in her hand, which a pitying person had given her. But she was pious and good. She went away then, and along the way she met a poor man who begged so much for something to eat that she gave him the piece of bread. Then she went further, and a child came, and it said, "I am so cold where my head is, please give me something that I can bind around it." So she took off her cap and gave it to the child. And when she had gone a little further, a child came again and had no jacket, so she gave it hers; and still further, a child begged for a frock and she also gave it hers. Finally she reached a forest, and it had already become dark. Another child came and begged her for a shirt, and the pious girl thought: 'It is dark night, so you may as well give your shirt,' and so she gave it. All at once the stars fell from the sky and were many hard, shining coins. And although she had given away her shirt, she had one on after all but this time it was made of the finest linen. So she gathered all of her coins into it and was wealthy for the rest of her life.
(Free translation, based in part on Margaret Hunt's version.)

"Das arme Mädchen (1812)" [Wikisource - in German]
"Grimm's Household Tales, Volume 2/The Star Money" [Wikisource]
"Die Sterntaler" [Wikipedia - in German]
"Star Money" [Wikipedia]

June 2019 In Books: What We'll Be Reading Next

In June, I haven't found many book appearances that greatly interest me, although it is absurd to say so. So I have been keeping my nose between pages of past works.

***

From Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins imprint)

American Street appeared in 2017. It is a young adult book about a teenage girl whose mother wants the two of them to emigrate to the United States. The mother is held back at the airport and transported to New Jersey to be detained by US border authorities, for a long while without being able to talk with her daughter. Fabiola Toussaint, the heroine, flies on to Detroit, where her aunt Jo and her three girl cousins accept her into their home.

Even her traumatic memories of the earthquake, gangs, and foreign interference, don't prevent Fabiola from recognizing that Haiti was perhaps a better, more homelike environment than America. She holds on fondly to her memories, the cooking, the language, and the voodoo beliefs and practices that her mother taught her. But she becomes familiar with America without antagonism. Fabiola speaks English instead of Creole at the behest of her aunt and tries to make a place for herself in the school that her cousins also attend.

American luxuries like plush carpets and new clothing, she had lived happily without before. They also lose their lustre when domestic violence, debt, and drug dealing are attached. The crime-fuelled American Dream hasn't brought joy to her aunt's family. Her aunt's husband is long dead, the bond between daughters and mother fraught; Fabiola begins to cook communal meals because no one else is doing it, for example, and I seem to remember that Aunt Jo struggles with addictions locked into her own room while her daughters pursue their own interests. Also, the teenager worries about what her relatives do to keep their lifestyle.

I felt that Fabiola's tale is targeted against American immigration policy. That indeed seems like a worthwhile target. But I think that the last few chapters manage to pack a remarkable multitude of plot — also, that the separation of a child from a parent is not very like the way it presented itself in my own life, i.e. extremely disorientating and weird, or as a deep and severe shock. But I guess we each have our own way of experiencing things, so perhaps it does not mean that the book is not as true-to-life in its dramatic moments as it feels very true in its nostalgia for a (second) home country and its ambivalence toward the mythology of the American Dream (I'm projecting here, because I don't recall the phrase 'American Dream' being used or criticized directly).

***

From Virago

The British feminist publisher Virago has tapped into the spirit of turning to classics during the 'silly season' of summer by — in May, not June — re-releasing a set of novels in colourfully patterned paperback editions by Hannah Wood and Yehrin Tong.

So I began reading Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. The author grew up in Florida, studied anthropology in the era of Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, and became famous as a (periodically rediscovered) novelist who wrote pioneeringly about African-American life. Written in the 1930s about a woman and her fate at the hands of the three men with whom she lives at three different stages of her life, Wikipedia reveals that this novel will not be a cheerful read.

***

I also need to read a brace of books that I found while browsing the shelves at the Kulturkaufhaus:
Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Half of a Yellow Sun
Maya Angelou - I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

After reading the first paragraph or two of a German translation (I think in the Piper Verlag) that's in the bookshelves of a library near the family apartment, I was really pleased with Halldór Laxness's Iceland's Bell and decided that I must read it too.
There was a time, it says in books, that the Icelandic people had only one national treasure: a bell.
Laxness is good, my mother said when I mentioned this to her, but a bit grim.

"Church in Mosfells valley, Iceland"
July 2005, by M. Morgner
via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0 license)
And I came home from an antiquarian bookshop with Helga Schalkhäuser's Riccardo Muti: Begegnungen und Gespräche, which at a glance looks like a distressingly hero-worshipping portrait of the Italian conductor, lord of La Scala opera house.

***

Meanwhile, I've read the rest of Ronald W. Clark's Einstein biography. Then I visited the street, Haberlandstraße, in a Jewish quarter of Berlin, where Einstein lived as a professor until he fled to the US in the mid-1930s, and where he and his wife Elsa invited guests in the 1920s.

Also, the biography led me to the American journalist Lincoln Barnett's 1940s lay-reader book on the Theory of Special Relativity, Theory of General Relativity, and the unified field theory: The Universe and Dr. Einstein. Heinz Haber's Gefangen in Raum und Zeit came next; it reminded me a bit of Voltaire's tale Micromégas. Now I'm reading Teilchen-Detektoren, a survey of different particle detectors (radioactive particles, electromagnetic waves) that were around in 1971. It is written for Physics students, so I expect to have a headache or two.

But progress is also being made in Alexander von Humboldt's Russian journeys.

Friday, May 24, 2019

In Brief: Aldous Huxley on the Uninformed Citizenry

From a foreword that Aldous Huxley wrote to A Brave New World, years after the book was first published in 1932:
"Great is the truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects, by lowering what Mr Churchill calls an 'iron curtain' between the masses and such facts or arguments as the local political bosses regard as undesirable, totalitarian propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have done by the most eloquent denunciations, the most compelling of logical rebuttals."

Sunday, May 05, 2019

May 2019 in Books: What We'll Be Reading Next

Illustration from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
by W. W. Denslow
via Wikimedia Commons

"2019 in books: what you'll be reading this year"
The Guardian,
Saturday, January 5, 2019

May 6th will be the 100th anniversary of the death of L. Frank Baum, the American children's author who wrote the Wizard of Oz books, mentions The Guardian. We still have perhaps two-thirds of the series in our bookshelves, so I might take a look at them again.

Walt Whitman, the poet who foisted upon us (indirectly) the film Dead Poets' Society and who inspired much other art by writing Leaves of Grass, was born 200 years ago on May 31st.

As far as new books appearing this month, I feel drawn to the reprint of Russian Émigré Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky, edited by Bryan Karetnyk, that Penguin Classics will be releasing tomorrow. Also, having enjoyed a New York-centred novel for teenagers, The Poet X, read on an audiobook by the author, Elizabeth Acevedo, I'm looking forward to With the Fire on High.

***

The Poet X (2018), which I read on the recommendation of a colleague, is a series of fictional autobiographical poems written by a Dominican daughter of a Catholic family. Xiomara's passion for writing, her growing skepticism of the Catholic religion of her upbringing, and her anxiousness to break free from the rigid repression of her mother's household to venture further in both writing and in a relationship with a boy classmate, drive her away from her old life.

If I were to have read all the verse that I listened to per audiobook in a paper book, it might have felt weaker, because the print lacks the momentum and the authenticity that the author's voice gave it.

The heart of the book is slam poetry anyway, however, so it naturally lends itself best to a spoken performance.

Skimming through the Amazon preview, however, I see that even in printed form it is already pithy:
My parents probably wanted a girl who would sit in the pews
wearing pretty florals and a soft smile.
They got combat boots and a mouth silent
until it's sharp as an island machete.
In terms of other Young Adult books I've listened to these past few months, I felt that Angie Thomas's On the Come Up and The Hate U Give — because they see the fictional southern American suburban "ghetto" of Garden Heights in a more detailed and encompassing way than Acevedo's Bronx — were more ambitious than Acevedo's book. But the principal characters in The Poet X are well and ably sketched, although the marginal 'extras' are a bit of a lost opportunity. For example:
Shake my head as even the drug dealers posted up
near the building smile more in the summer, their hard scowls
softening into glue-eyed stares in the direction

of the girls in summer dresses and short shorts
via Amazon.com
In On the Come Up or The Hate U Give, we're likely to be told about what the dealers' families are like, why they're selling drugs, who has the dealers under their thumb and how likely the dealers are to escape from gang affiliations and this livelihood if they want to escape.

We'll know which hobbies and childhood plans are stored on the other side of the line that separates law from law-breaking, where the dealers' ethical boundaries lie, where the balance is between joy at a generous income and distaste at its origin, what their family, friends, and neighbours think of their dealing, and what happens to the neighbourhood.

In Acevedo's book, as far as I recall the only thing we know is that they're sleazy and physically threatening. All of this is no reflection on her writing, because she might be just faithfully writing what she knew. But it is a little sad that given a complex neighbourhood, the depiction of its humanity does not extend further, and that the world is separated into the proverbial sheep and the goats.

I like logical prose and understated self-description and careful similes, so the poetry is often wasted on me. For example,

Jesus feels like a friend
I've had my whole childhood
who has suddenly become brand-new;
who invites himself over too often, who texts me too much.
This doesn't seem like an apt comparison to me, if I'm being fastidious.

I think that Acevedo's book is also firmly anchored in a conservative world where well-inclined teachers are authorities to appeal to and imitate, and one can leave poverty by 'obeying the rules.' In Thomas's books, the teachers can be good or bad, but in both cases certainly don't know everything. Also, she's likelier to think that 'the rules' suck or don't work. On Friday, American politician Ilhan Omar Twitter-posted a quotation from Malcolm X:

I just don't believe that when people are being unjustly oppressed that they should let someone else set rules for them by which they can come out from under that oppression.
via Amazon
Thomas mentions Malcolm X in The Hate U Give, and I think she'd approve of this quotation. She also seems to believe, refreshingly, that teenagers even at 16 have the right to chart their own paths and morality independently of the adults (relatives or non-relatives) in their environment. I was worried about Acevedo's book because — in contrast to my own experience, at least — the relationship with the mother seemed so toxic that I wasn't sure if it was redeemable; but Xiomara's path forward still lay closely bound with her family, although the author does not condemn her impulse to flee them for a while.

*


To switch from The Poet X to On the Come Up, On the Come Up also worried me for different reasons. It seems to accept the instant celebrity that dominates the internet age; I'd have expected Angie Thomas to turn against that.


Bri, On the Come Up's protagonist, has worked to become a rapper for years, filling notebooks with her verse. I guess she has therefore earned the confidence to put her rap forward on YouTube and on the radio, and to seek a record deal. But it surprises me a great deal that the adult professionals didn't require her to do more training, or to receive more input from mentors or other professionals, so that her career would be more solidly grounded and versatile.

Besides, I suspect that instant fame — which Bri experiences — is so psychologically damaging that I can't imagine why it is still tolerated. Reality TV stars, parents of a murdered child, high school students who survived a bullet, someone who was in an internet meme — all of these people face a remorseless artillery of publicity and comment, which surely amounts to psychological torture and journalistic malpractice. Thomas might have experience with this herself, because she rose to fame meteorically once The Hate U Give was appreciated and accepted for publication; although she is not as young as her heroine, she was not yet 30 at that time. But the main criticism of fame she offers in On the Come Up is that words can be twisted against a rapper (or author), to allege horrible or at least dangerous messages that were never intended. This can lead to violence by people who see such messages where none exist, and to personal and professional reprisals against the unfortunate rapper or author.

But, to end the carping criticism, Thomas's and Acevedo's books spotlight a part of the American experience I rarely see described with such a ring of truth and of affectionate, firsthand knowledge. That is why I'm pleased about Acevedo's new book, mentioned above, which is about teenage pregnancy and will appear on May 7th; and pleased about Thomas's remarks on Twitter that she is working on a new novel.

***

Friday, March 29, 2019

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People - (Very) Rough Notes

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Bloomsbury published it in Britain in 2017, it became a bit of a trans-Atlantic phenomenon, I read it because it was mentioned in Emma Watson's Our Shared Shelf book club, and now it has come out in a German-language translation. To celebrate, the German publisher Tropen Verlag held a book presentation event here in Berlin. I attended it on Wednesday, March 27th. The book is about racial bias in Britain and about how difficult it is for a black person to speak about racism, even with liberal people, because she or he will encounter so much resistance and misplaced guilt.

Apologies for the postmodernist presentation of these notes. In the end, I felt that it was the most direct and truthful representation of the event that I could muster; any attempt to string them together seemed to dump in more after-the-fact analysis that I can't be sure is accurate.

***
- 7 p.m.
- Dussmann Kulturkaufhaus, Friedrichstraße 90, in Berlin Mitte
- Friedrichstraße overground S-Bahn station, restaurants with glass façades, tourists, lights, after dark
- people milling about around islands of books segmented into genres, with stairs leading between 4 levels (5 including the café)
- stage in basement café (Kulturbühne?): capacity 200, overfilled
- overspill crowd in front of large video screen with good sound waiting to be let into basement, then realizing that we'd just be watching the screen, as previously announced on Facebook
- a portly older man in a suit grumbling that the high number of attendees was not good for security
- at least 2 ushers
- people sitting on the floor or standing in front of the screen
- young woman apologizing to friends for not joining them on time - she'd needed to finish work
- plurality of demographic likely young women, but plenty of young men and older men and women; no children except perhaps a baby that occasionally wailed
- at elevators and entrance to the English language books section, with vertical garden behind the screen

Image from Tropen Verlag [Klett-Cotta]


- Reni Eddo-Lodge sitting down with an elderly white German lady for the interview
- interviewer lists all the prizes the author had won, mentions that she had written a blog post and that it had gone viral (author later mentions that her blog was linked to Twitter, and it was the Twitter post that went viral and led to many people thanking her for saying what they'd been thinking)
- asks what was the conversation that was the breaking point and led to the book
- author replies that if one reads the chapter about all the frustrating conversations she had while being active in feminist circles, one would understand what led her to write it

- interviewer mentions that back in 1995 there was already a discussion about the repression of black voices in the feminist discourse (around a certain prize?)
- mention of author never having been taught about the British slave trade in school, just hearing about it in an elective course at university
- interviewer asks about author feeling isolated at university (a characterization the author takes issue with but that the interviewer insists is in the book) and wonders where the other black women were - they both talk about the bias that leads to there being very few black women in teaching roles at universities ('Let's say they shouldn't all get on the same airplane,' joked Reni Eddo-Lodge, before saying that there are about 20 [if I heard correctly])

- author stresses that she is not calling individual white people racists; she is saying that black people are disadvantaged by a system that people may not be conscious of. Black schoolchildren may be marked down by their teachers, for example, but this does not mean that the teachers are evil. It just means that they have a subconscious bias

- interviewer asks whether author felt frustrated that she had to use such violent language in her blog post to get her point across - author says that she does not feel her language was violent, perhaps "striking" [Note: reminded me of 'Angry Black Woman' stereotype, criticized e.g. by Audre Lorde in her 1981 speech "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism".]