Thursday, April 9, 2020

That Hair

Title:  That Hair
Author:  Djaimilla Pereira de Almeida (author). Eric M B Becker (translator).
Publication Information:  Tin House Books. 2020. 200 pages.
ISBN:  1947793411 / 978-1947793415

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My mother cut my hair for the first time when I was six months old."

Favorite Quote:  "The truth is that the story of my curly hair intersects with the story of at least two countries and, by extension, the indirect story of the relations among several continents:  a geopolitics."

Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida was bornin 1982 in Luanda, the largest and capital city of Angola. She moved as a child and grew up near Lisbon, Portugal. In that respect, this fiction is semi-autobiographical.

Mila, the main character of the book, is the daughter of a black Angolan mother and a white Portuguese father. She is born in Luanda. The city was founded in 1597 by Portuguese explorers. The city and country have their own history of cultural mixing and colonialism. 

At the age of three, the family moves to Lisbon. The mix of heritage, race, geography, and culture is the story of Mila, and perhaps, Ms. Almeida's life.

This book tells this cultural story and a conversation about race, feminism, colonialism, and growing up black in Europe through the prism of Mila's curly hair. The term "ethnic hair" is not used in the book but can be found in today's marketing of hair products. It is this term that rings through my mind while reading this book because the term itself embodies a racial connotation. Every individual in this world has an ethnic heritage. So, what does the marketing mean? Clearly, some ethnicities and races are more "ethnic" than others. This becomes yet another example of the pervasive, systemic prejudices embedded in our social systems.

For me, this book is personal. My initial reason for reading it is the association with being a curly girl. I look for the products for "ethnic" hair although I do not fit the profile the advertisers market that term to. I have encountered situations in which my curly hair and the rest of my ethnic heritage have not gone together in people's minds. It has sometimes been another way of creating the "other" and the "different." Another reason for reading it is my own experience of being an immigrant as a child.

The story of this book is not mine or even close to mine. Yet, I feel as if I relate to it. I want to relate to it and perhaps see in it my own experience eloquently expressed. Isn't that one of the main reasons we read? To be completely transported away to a world we may never know or to see our own emotions and thoughts come to life in an author's words.

That being said, unfortunately, I struggle with the book itself. In some ways, its vignette approach reminded me of The House on Mango Street. However, this book is much more of a narrative with long, somewhat philosophical passages. It reads much more like an essay and commentary than a novel. Perhaps, that is the book, and perhaps that is the translation. Unfortunately, it leaves me somewhat disconnected with a story with which I expect to feel a strong emotional reaction.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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