Black History Month: Black Journalists

The inaugural issue of the first ever African American newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, appeared in March 1827.  Its stirring front-page editorial stated “Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations”, encapsulating the truth that the experiences, needs and ideas of black people could only be expressed through the voices, pens and printing presses of black people. Black journalism has a fascinating and illustrious history, through which a rich tradition of brilliant minds sought to wrest the narrative of black experience from the dominant white commentators, fight the battle against racism and advance the cause of liberation.

As the earliest journalists recognised, no war could be waged – whether against the slave trade, which would continue for another four decades after the birth of Freedom’s Journal, or against lynching, the deprivation of civil rights, racist miscarriages of justice, institutional racism in the criminal justice system, government, and society generally – without a press created by and for black people. Newspapers were the way for individuals and communities to communicate with each other and challenge the racist misinformation that distorted the reality they knew.
Campaigns of huge political importance were carried out through their pages, debates shaped, and injustice exposed. They also fulfilled people’s need for entertainment and leisure at a time when black people could only find themselves depicted in stereotypical caricatures in white media. In this month’s display of books from our Special Collection of Biographies at Kensington Central Library, we mark Black History Month by looking at the stories of some of the most fascinating figures in black journalism.

Picture one

Some of the biggest names in 20th century black literature, whose stories can be found in our collection, worked as journalists – the poet Langston Hughes was a columnist for Abbott’s Chicago Defender (see below), and the novelist Zora Neale Hurston [pic 1] was also a reporter (one of her most famous pieces of journalism was her reporting of the 1952 trial in Florida of Ruby McCollum, the black woman convicted of murdering the white doctor and “pillar of the community” who abused her over many years).

Picture two

Lorraine Hansberry, [pic 2] the writer of the celebrated play A Raisin in the Sun wrote for the black newspaper Freedom, which was published by legendary singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson. Claudia Jones [pic 3], who founded the Notting Hill Carnival, set up the UK’s first black newspaper, The West Indian Gazette.

Picture three

Anyone who has watched the wonderful Mangrove film in the Small Axe series of films by Steve McQueen will have seen the brief appearance of C.L.R. James, played by Derek Griffiths.

Picture four

James [pic 4] was one of the most important journalists and historians of the period; he immigrated to Lancashire from Trinidad in 1932 and subsequently moved to London, where he wrote for many newspapers and was a leading figure in Marxist politics.  In the late 50s James returned to Trinidad and became the editor of The Nation newspaper, though he spent the last years of his life back in the UK, living in Brixton. James was also an expert on cricket and was cricket correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (now the Guardian) in the early 1930s. Huge names of black history like W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey were also journalists, but in this blog post I would like to focus on a few names that may be less well known.

Picture five

Robert Sengstacke Abbott was born in Georgia, USA in 1868; his parents had been enslaved until not long before his birth. [pic 5]
After practising as a lawyer, in 1905 he founded The Chicago Defender newspaper, which went on to become the most widely read black-owned newspaper. Having himself made the journey from the South to Chicago, Abbott was passionate about what is known as “The Great Migration”, which saw many black people relocate from the Southern to the Northern United States to escape rural poverty and the horrific “Jim Crow” system of racial segregation.  (During the first wave of this, between 1916 and 1940, 1.6 million black people resettled in the North.)  Abbott used his newspaper to inspire others to make this journey, as he felt black people could have the opportunity to improve their circumstances only when they left the terrible conditions of the South behind. At the same time, he saw all too clearly that racism was also a huge problem in the North, and campaigned for equal civil rights, the end of discrimination in employment and education, and the end of persecution of mixed-race couples. Black railway porters, who in 1925 were to form the first official trade union led by African Americans, increased the paper’s circulation by distributing it on trains. It is estimated that at its most popular, the paper was read by four out of five of all black adults in the entire United States.  (The paper still thrives 116 years after Abbott founded it, though two years ago it became online only.) We have a rare early biography of Abbott, written in 1955 by another African American journalist, Roi Ottley, whose career took off in the 1930s and who went on to become the first African American correspondent to file reports on World War Two for major national newspapers.

Picture six

Born in Jamaica in 1941, Barbara Blake Hannah [pic 6] had been a TV newsreader and a contributor to a magazine run by her father Evon Blake (founder of the Press Association of Jamaica) before she arrived in the UK in 1964 and became a prolific journalist, her work being published in many national newspapers and magazines. In 1968 she became the first black reporter on Thames Television’s first regional news programme, London-based Today. Blake-Hannah interviewed many famous people, but what then transpired is a disgraceful indictment – viewers complained about having a black reporter on the programme, and rather than defending her, Thames Television dismissed her without explanation. She went on to work on a local news programme in Birmingham, commuting from London as no hotel in Birmingham would admit her. She also worked as a researcher on the BBC’s prestigious documentary series “Man Alive.”  In 1972, Blake-Hannah returned to Jamaica to work on the ground-breaking film The Harder they Come. She has written extensively about Rastafarianism and was the first Rastafarian senator in the Jamaican Parliament for three years in the 80s.  She is now the Chief Executive of the Jamaica Film Academy.  Her autobiography Growing Out: Black Hair & Black Pride In The Swinging Sixties came out in 2016 and describes her experience in the UK.

Picture seven

Una Marson [pic 7] was an extraordinary woman who dese. Born in 1905 in rural Jamaica, she escaped her strict upbringing (her father was a Baptist minister) and was already a prolific journalist, playwright and poet by the time she was in her early twenties (at 21 she was assistant editor of The Jamaica Critic and by 23 she had set up her own magazine, the first Jamaican woman ever to do so).  She came alone to the UK while still not yet 30 and threw herself into the world of black activism and feminism, travelled in Europe, the USA and Israel, and met such important figures as Paul Robeson and Haile Salassie. She worked alongside George Orwell as a BBC producer during the Second World War, the first ever black woman to be employed by the corporation.  From 1942 she produced the BBC radio programme Calling the West Indies; she recreated it as Caribbean Voices, which ran for 15 years and showcased the work of important literary figures including Derek Walcott and V. S. Naipaul.  She is considered to be the first major female Caribbean poet and a key voice in the development of feminism.

Picture eight

Finally, George Lamming, who is now 94 years old, was one of those who read Walcott’s poetry on Caribbean Voices produced by Una Marson. [pic 8] In 1951 he came to London from Barbados and began broadcasting for the BBC, and he wrote for the Barbadian magazine BIM. In the late 60s he embarked on an academic career in Jamaica and has been a visiting professor at universities throughout the USA and Australia.  His book In the Castle of My Skin was written during his first couple of years in the UK, and though often classified as a novel, it is included in our Special Collection of Biographies because it is considered to be an autobiographical evocation of Lamming’s childhood and youth in Barbados. It is an exquisitely written book, which gives a unique insight into his home island at a particular moment in its history.

This black history month, we hope you will enjoy finding out more about these and other unique individuals from the history of black journalism [pic 9], inextricably interwoven into the history of activism, literature, politics, and culture.

Picture nine

Don’t forget to check out our BioEpic podcast, available on all major podcast platforms- Claudia at Kensington Central Library.

Secrets and Lies

This month’s display from our Special Collection of Biographies at Kensington Central Library focuses on secrets and deceptions.  This is a rich subject for memoir, with many fascinating stories of people discovering family secrets that have been hidden for decades.  Sometimes the exposure of a secret takes long, painstaking excavation; sometimes a split second’s revelation overturns everything an individual thought they knew about their background or those closest to them.  Some secrets are never suspected until they are revealed; others resonate through suspicions and inconsistencies and sometimes pure gut feelings, until those concerned determine to find the truth.  

   Of course, there are fascinating stories of secrecy relating to warfare, diplomacy and the machinations of the State.  Espionage and covert surveillance could be the subject of a whole display in themselves, so I am not focussing on them in this one; neither am I going to look particularly at criminal conspiracies, or at the terrible stories of people having to hide their sexual orientation due to the persecutory laws of previous times, or at the false identities forced upon people by war and tyranny. Instead I am focussing on the secrets and lies played out within families; although these may touch on huge historical themes, the reasons for secrecy are connected to intimate and domestic relationships. 

   Some people’s whole personal lives seem to be secrets they wish to guard from the world.  This has often been true of the super-rich of twentieth century America, whose birth into situations that could never be “normal” has sometimes made them seek privacy to a pathological degree. If you are one of the richest women in the world, as the copper mining and railway heiress Huguette Clark was, your relationships with other people must inevitably be complicated. Clark progressively disappeared into a world almost no one could penetrate – apart from her personal nurse of 20 years, to whom she left over thirty million dollars in her will when she died in 2011 aged 104, triggering a legal battle involving several members of her family.  Doris Duke‘s billions came from the family tobacco and hydroelectric industries – she became literally the richest woman in the world upon her father’s death in 1925.  She stage-managed her life in a more sociable way than Clark, but her world was so full of strange unreliable characters that it is difficult to say what reality they could agree on. 

   For some people, deception becomes a lucrative career move.  As spiritualism and the investigation of psychic phenomena gained huge popularity in the late Victorian period, attracting the attention of serious scientists and philosophers, a host of fake mediums and illusionist fraudsters sprang up.  Ada Goodrich Freer was one of these, convincing many eminent intellectuals of her completely bogus psychic powers – her rise and fall is described in The Strange Story of Ada Goodrich Freer by Trevor Hall.  By the same author, The Strange Case of Edmund Gurney is a truly tragic one – so devoted was Gurney to the scientific study of the psychic phenomena in which he passionately believed, that he suspended disbelief of cynical tricksters not dissimilar to Freer, in ways that led to his complete humiliation, despair and death in 1888. 

   Sometimes parents hide secrets from their children and try to erase all clues, but like the spindle in the story of The Sleeping Beauty, some echo of the past will always be overlooked – sometimes in such plain sight that one wonders about subconscious motivations.  As a teenager, the eminent film critic Derek Malcolm chanced upon a book belonging to his father, which detailed the histories of important criminal cases. He was astonished to find his father’s name listed in the index, and further disturbed to find that all the pages relating to him had been torn out.  His memoir Family Secretsis a moving account of his efforts to piece together the buried story of his parents’ involvement in a violent drama which made legal history before he was born.  Diana Petre was the half sister of the distinguished writer and editor J. R. Ackerley – her unputdownable memoir The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerley describes growing up as part of the secret, unofficial family their respectable father created outside his marriage, an experience which left her with a lifelong obsession with secrecy and duality. 

   Julie Metz‘s life was shattered when her husband died suddenly in his forties, swinging a wrecking ball through what had been an idyllic family life complete with seemingly happy marriage, beloved daughter, affluent lifestyle and beautiful home.  After negotiating her first six months of agonising grief, Metz’s sense of loss was complicated, to put it mildly, by the discovery that her husband had at no time during their marriage been faithful to her, but had managed to conceal a series of long and sometimes concurrent affairs, in some cases with women she knew.  Her book Perfection is a beautifully written record of a journey through deepening levels of loss – the loss of an adored husband, and the loss of the sense she had had of who he actually was. 

   Some secrets require a particular kind of courage and honesty to uncover.  In the last couple of decades, as the children of Nazis pass into old age and confront last chances for confronting the past, and their grandchildren come of age, some have sought to find out the true extent of their forebears’ guilt with enormous courage.  It’s hard to imagine a more traumatic discovery about her family’s past, or a more shocking way to discover it, than the experience of Jennifer Teege.  Browsing in a library on an ordinary day, Teege found out for the first time that her maternal grandfather was none other than the concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth (played by Ralph Fiennes in the film Schindler’s List).  Plunged understandably into deep depression, Teege soon realised that she could not move forward without plunging herself into all the implications of this terrible, hitherto unsuspected truth.  She began to make sense of trails of emotional damage in her family, and writes brilliantly about the pain of confronting the fact that, as the daughter of an Austrian mother and a Nigerian father, as she states baldly in the title of her book, “My Grandfather would have Shot Me“.   Uwe Timm was a small boy when his older brother volunteered for the Waffen SS and was killed at the age of 19.  As an adult Timm read fragments of his brother’s diary and was haunted by the question of the extent of his involvement in atrocities.  The resulting memoir In My Brother’s Shadow is a moving example of the work of coming to terms with the scars of the past. 

   These are just some of the many books in our Special Collection of Biographies which tell the stories of secrets discovered and negotiated, and if you visit Kensington Central Library you can see many more as part of this display.  Of course there is always something compelling about the dramas and mysteries of other people’s lives, but reading about very different secrets and how they relate to different situations and impulses is not just riveting – it can also tell us some profound things about how human beings construct and communicate their identities, and at what cost. 

Claudia Jessop, Kensington Central Library 

Don’t forget to check out BioEpic, our monthly podcast delving into the lives of fascinating people and their impact on our world, through our Special Collection of Biographies. Available on Anchor, Spotify, Apple, Breaker and Pocketcasts. 

Zvezdana investigates the book of the week ‘Troubled Blood’ by Robert Galbraith

In a special Facebook event, Robert Galbraith in conversation with Mark Billingham, Galbraith, alias J K Rowling, was asked about ‘unreliable narrators’. 

One version of the crime in Troubled Blood comes from someone with a very warped perception of what happened. Do crime novels need unreliable narrators? 

J K Rowling’s answer was that “crime novels gain from having witnesses who do not perfectly recall, because that’s real life. People tend to remember things that interest them.” 

In preparation for the Book of the Week and my presentation of ‘Troubled Blood’, I visited Clerkenwell. For those who have not read the book, yet, Clerkenwell is the most important location for the latest Strike’s investigation. Forty years ago, a doctor, Margot Bamborough, disappeared from her surgery in Clerkenwell. She was supposed to meet a friend, Oonagh Kennedy, at the nearby pub – The Three Kings, but never arrived.  

As lockdown is lifting, shops and pubs opening, it would be quite probable that the filming of ‘Troubled Blood’ has started.  

True or not true, I do not know, but I can definitely inform you that I recorded some “suspicious” activities in Clerkenwell, in the early afternoon, on Wednesday, 28 April 2021. The Three Kings is still closed. The St James’ Church is under scaffoldings, but a filming on Clerkenwell Green is happening! 

Unfortunately, no signs of Tom Burke or Holliday Grainger. Even the location at Denmark Street did not prove productive.   

By Zvezdana, Your ‘unreliable reporter’.

Book Awards Announced Recently

With award season in full swing the longlist for the Women’s Fiction prize has been announced.

*Copies of the books are available for Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea Libraries.

To search the Kensington and Chelsea Libraries catalogue, click the link below: https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/

You can select and collect the book or alternatively many are available to download via our new Libby app or via Cloud Library.

This year’s longlist honours both new and well-established writers and a range of genres and themes – family (twins and siblings, mother-daughter relationships); motherhood; rural poverty and isolation; addiction; identity and belonging; race, class and gender; grief and happiness; coming-of-age and later life. The novels span a range of different global settings, from South London to Deep South US; Ghana, Hong Kong, Barbados, Brooklyn and a fantasy realm.

*some books will be available soon or are currently on a waiting list.

Shortlist to be announced 28th April Winner announced 7th July

BOOKSELLER “NIBBIES” AWARDS

The Bookseller has shortlisted its books of the year in various categories:

Fiction:

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

The Evening and the Morning – Ken Follett

The Lying Life of Adults – Elena Ferrante

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

The Mirror and the Light – Hilary Mantel

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett

Fiction: Debut

Exciting Times – Naosie Dolan

Ghosts – Dolly Alderton

Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart

The Girl with the Louding Voice – Abi Dare

Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid

Rainbow Milk  – Paul Mendez

Fiction: Crime and thriller:

The Guest List – Lucy Foley

Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

The Sentinal – Lee Child

The Patient Man – Joy Ellis

A Song for Dark Times – Ian Rankin

Audiobook:

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith

A Promised Land -Barack Obama

Grown Ups – Marion Keyes

Greenlights – Matthew Mcconaughy

Piranesi- Susanna Clarke

Think like a Monk – Jay Shetty

Sandman – Neil Gaiman

Non-Fiction: Narrative

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day by Captain Sir Tom Moore

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

Me And White Supremacy by Layla F Saad

Non-Fiction: Lifestyle

Not a Diet Book by James Smith

Skincare by Caroline Hirons

Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain

Think Like a Monk – Jay Shetty

Five Minute Mum: Give Me Five by Daisy Upton

What Mummy Makes by Rebecca Wilson

Check out these great titles from Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea Libraries.

YA (YOUNG ADULT) BOOK PRIZE 2021 SHORTLIST

10 titles have been nominated for The Bookseller’s YA book of the year, with the winner being announced on 6th May 2021 during the Hay festival. Wide ranging subjects feature in the books, and all titles are available from Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea libraries.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week, 1-7 March 2021

From Monday 1st to Sunday 7th March, join Beating Eating Disorders UK, to create a future where people experiencing binge eating disorder are met with understanding and compassion.

Binge eating disorder will affect one in fifty of us in our lifetime, it is the most common but least understood. It isn’t about being greedy or lacking in willpower, but a serious mental illness which many suffer with alone, often with the fear of how others might react the reason they don’t reach out for help.

 

We know the sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full and fast recovery. As well as campaigning to improve the services available, we recognise that we must raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder and encourage and empower people to act now no matter how long their symptoms have been present.

In March, during Eating Disorders Awareness Week you can start to help change that.

Watch their campaign video:

https://youtu.be/ZDAz6JTowxg

About eating disorders:

Around 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from these illnesses, many in secret. They are of all ages, genders and backgrounds – eating disorders do not discriminate.

Eating disorders include:

  • Bulimia
  • binge eating disorder
  • avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
  • other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED),
  • Anorexia, which tragically has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, though all eating disorders can be deadly.

While this is the worst-case scenario, there are many ways in which eating disorders severely affect the quality of life of both those suffering and those who care about them. They steal childhoods, devastate relationships and pull families apart. But, with the right treatment and support, recovery is possible.

 

“Only 1 in 4 receive the help and support they desperately need to recover from binge eating disorder. Without it, many struggle to get better and some even blame themselves. Sign up to receive your free fundraising pack to support our service for everyone affected by eating disorders.”

 

Why Binge Eating Disorder?

This is the first time a specific eating disorder has been chosen as the theme for Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Binge eating disorder is the most common but often the least understood. It is especially difficult to find treatment and our Helpline Advisors consistently hear that people with binge eating disorder experience significant shame and fear in reaching out for support.

Eating disorders are as diverse as the people they effect, and we are committed to make sure all of our communications and activities represent the broad communities we serve.

In November 2020, 29% of contacts to Beat’s Helpline were about binge eating disorder but only 6% of the media coverage we generated in the last year spoke specifically about binge eating disorder, there is little representation on the ‘your stories’ section on our website, and only 5 of our Ambassadors have lived experience of binge eating disorder. We’ve also never run a campaign that specifically asks for better treatment, despite repeatedly hearing about the particular difficulties people face.

We must challenge the unhelpful and damaging opinions so many people carry about the disorder so people living with this terrible mental illness can find kindness and compassion when they bravely reach out for help. We hope Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2021 will lay the first stone for this to happen.

Beating Eating Disorders UK welcome feedback for any of Beat’s activities and if you would like to do so please email comms@beateatingdisorders.org.uk.

To find out more about Bing Eating disorders, visit: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/types/binge-eating-disorder

 

Helplines:

Help for adults
The Beat Adult Helpline is open to anyone over 18. Parents, teachers or any concerned adults should call the adult helpline.
Helpline: 0808 801 0677
Email: help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Help for young people
The Beat Youthline is open to anyone under 18.
Youthline: 0808 801 0711
Email: fyp@beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Company information:

Beat is a charity registered in England and Wales (801343) and Scotland (SC039309). Beat became our working name in February 2007.

Our legally registered charity name is: Beat (Formerly Eating Disorders Association). Beat is a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales under number 2368495, with registered offices at Unit 1, 19 Rosary Road, Norwich NR1 1SZ. VAT Number: 700 285963.

Online Event- IT and Research on Friday 19 March 2021

Need help with your research? Not sure how to research? Trying to find online sources for your project? This might be the workshop for you!

 

The Workshop takes place on Friday 19th March 2021 at 11am to 12noon. To book your free tickets, please visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/it-research-workshop-tickets-137421199507 .

 

About this Event:

We understand that research can be a daunting and difficult task, here at Westminster Reference  Library, we’ve teamed up with the specialists at London South Bank University to give you some tips, tricks and advice on how to undertake your research and how to best utilise your online software!

 

Topics include:

  • An introductory digital skills session into Microsoft Office: including Word, PowerPoint and Excel!
  • Literature hunting – What is a journal article? How to use Google Scholar & learning how to evaluate information!
  • IT Security – Protecting your device and your files, avoiding dangerous sites and documents!

These workshops are designed for students, researchers or anyone working on a project that involves searching the internet for information. Whether you’re just starting or a more advanced researcher, we’ve got something for everyone!

Janice Johnson is the Digital Skills Training Manager at the Digital Skills Centre, London South Bank University. She has over 16 years’ experience teaching digital skills to staff, students and professional organisations.

Emma Perry is an Information Skills Librarian within the library at London South Bank University. Having worked there for over 8 years, her main role is to teach students in classes and one-to-ones about research, evaluating information and referencing.

Please note, this will be a Microsoft Teams meeting/Teams Broadcast,  and, although you do not have to have Microsoft Teams downloaded to your device, you will get a better experience if you have the app.

***Please avoid using Safari – we have had reports that Safari users have issues accessing Teams live broadcasts. Please try using Chrome or any other browser – most people who experience problems when signing in find them resolved if they try using a different browser. We are really sorry for the inconvenience this may cause and are working on finding a solution.

“Can You Run Away from Sorrow?” by Ivana Bajić-Hajduković 

To mark the International Migrants’ Day, RBKC libraries are organizing the talk that explores how emigration affects those left behind. Ivana Bajić-Hajduković, the social anthropologist and author will be joined at this talk by her colleague and friend, Dr Julie Botticello, an expert on migration and health and a Senior Lecturer at the University of East London.  This event is taking place on Friday 18 December from 6.30 to 7.30 pm and you can book your place here.  

 

“Can You Run Away from Sorrow?” is an anthropological study by Ivana Bajić-Hajduković.  The subtitle – “Mothers Left Behind in 1990s Belgrade” – tells us more about its content and I was intrigued to see how the 1990s collapse of Yugoslavia was presented. I agree with Ivana that it had “a profound impact on everyone, regardless of age, social status, or wealth”. I was personally involved, as well.  I lived in Yugoslavia for 32 years, struggled to survive one year in new Croatia, and came to London with my twenty-months old daughter from Croatia, in October 1992.  So, I can certainly relate to the context and issues the author researched.  

It was very interesting to see that she focused, not on those who left, but on those who stayed, mainly mothers left behind during their children’s exodus. Ivana Bajić-Hajduković’s book “highlights the poignancy and struggles of this invisible side of migration. The loss experienced by mothers left behind, their coping mechanisms, and their everyday practices are explored through the study of material culture. The study of everyday practices and engagement with the material world reveals incredibly rich and at times surprising insight about the relationships between mothers left behind and their migrant children. The gifts from children that mothers hold on to, the food they send to their migrant children, and the everyday rituals performed around their homes tell us more about how ordinary women experienced the collapse of the country than any history book documenting the unravelling of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.” 

I wondered why Ivana’s research concentrated on mothers. Why not on the wider family – fathers and siblings? She pointed out a significant gender imbalance she faced; as in most cases, the wives outlived their spouses, so the gender bias gave her research a different perspective. 

Reading “Can You Run Away from Sorrow?”  inspired me to rummage through my own memories – old photo albums and letters, that I still keep. It’s funny (perhaps ridiculous) to mention, but in winter 1992/93 the most precious and most sought-after food for me was, actually, real coffee. There were scarcely any proper coffee shops in London at that time. I will never forget how I was struck by the scent of coffee by Baker Street tube station. Like a cartoon character I drifted, levitated, following the smell. Everything else stopped! Whenever any one of my friends received a parcel “from home” containing ‘Minas’ or ‘Jacobs’ coffee, we shared it like medicine between us. 

The link between food and the past, memories who you are, or who you once were, are so powerful. Even stronger than how Marcel Proust describes. The food shortages in Serbia in 1990s did not prevent mothers to squirrel the favourite food of their children and send it in parcels to London, to Canada… As long as they could send something to keep the memories alive, not because their children were hungry. 

Ivana wrote: “A common theme throughout these cases is the relationship between memory and kinship. We mostly see mothers’ efforts to instil certain memories in their children and grandchildren through food. In these cases, eating food from one’s homeland was the closest one could get to ‘tasting home.’  Food in the context of nostalgia for home has been a subject of some excellent anthropological studies. However, in this particular case, we see how grandparents use food as a medium for conveying a specific kind of memory, not necessarily of themselves as individuals but of the extended family to which their children and grandchildren belonged, as well as memories of the tradition and culture of their ancestors.” 

Have you heard of ‘Embargo Cake’, ‘UNPROFOR Cake’, ‘Crazy Dough’, ‘Cake of nothing’…? The handwritten recipes were shown to the author as many informants told sad and funny stories from the 1990s, showing how resourceful the people were. The chapter is even more interesting, considering our own short-term food shortages this spring, during the first lockdown, when Jamie Oliver suggested some “lockdown” recipes. Nevertheless, bigger problems were caused by gradual change in interests in home-food. That rejection and acceptance of new habits, meant to mothers more; like losing their children for the second time. 

While doing her research, Ivana Bajić-Hajduković saw how the material culture of the home revealed more about the relationship between mothers and their migrant children than any conversation or interview ever could. Remembering Christmas fairs and fundraising events in my daughter’s primary school in London – sharing the memories, customs and traditions, favourite recipes, tasting food from Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, Turkey, Ghana, the Balkans, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, China…, I have realised how this anthropological study resonates with people from many different countries, nationalities, races.  This book extends geographical and disciplinary boundaries making it universal, genuine and relevant. 

 Zvezdana, Chelsea Library 

 

Books we love

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo 

Image of the book cover of Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Book cover of Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

This week’s book review is on Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo. Over to Fiona from Brompton Library to tell us more about this fantastic read! 

Three Women is a non-fiction book written as a novel, based on the lives of three women from different backgrounds. We hear from Lina, a bored suburban mother, Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student in North Dakota who becomes involved with her teacher, and Sloane, a successful restaurant owner from New York State whose husband has interesting sexual tastes.   

Taddeo spent eight years interviewing these women and becoming immersed in their lives.  The book explores the women’s emotional lives and their desires, showing how women keep themselves hidden and how they are judged by society.  As a piece of non-fiction written as fiction, it manages get into the inner lives of these women.  The external reality of their looks, their lives, and their selves are much less important than what is happening for them internally. Their perceptions of themselves and what they want are often in conflict with how society sees them and what it allows them to be and to have.   

I really enjoyed this book.  The stories are great, the characters are interesting and relatable, and I think what Taddeo has done is quite unique; having used real women, she keeps the authenticity of their stories and them as women, while making it into a very readable book.  My only criticism would be that the writing at points is a little clunky, but it didn’t stop me enjoying the book. 

Fiona, Brompton Library  

Three Women is available to borrow in our libraries and to download with your RBKC library card from cloudLibrary here

Have you read Three Women? What did you think? Let us know in the comments 

Recommended Reads

This week’s Book of the Week is A Streetcat Named Bob, by James Bowen. Fittingly, our theme this week is cats, so we have put together a list of feline-centred novels for you to flick through and enjoy!

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Recommended Reads

This week’s Book of the Week is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, which deals with racial abuse and trauma in 1940’s America. We have put together a list of similarly anti-racist titles for you to look through and borrow.

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