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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

Good Talk by Mira Jacob | Thoughts

  Published in: 2019   ||   Format: ebook   ||   Location: US

One line review: What does it mean to be American if you have to constantly question your place, especially as a six year old?

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


When Mira Jacob's six-year-old son, Z, starts asking her some very difficult questions on race (Does the new President hate him? Can he make his hair like Michael Jackson's? Is it bad to be brown? Are white people afraid of brown people? Is daddy afraid of them?), she can't say that she has all the answers, and even when she did, that she was ready to discuss the answers. As a child of a first-generation Indian American mother and a Jewish father, Z's questions span many topics, many of them touching on identity, belonging, and acceptance by his country. Neither Mira nor her husband want to package the truth with a nice bow for Z even though they are tempted, but the truth is not pretty. How do you tell your child that yes, racism is a thing, some people are often favored above others simply because of the color of their skin - sometimes this disparity is so debilitating that often the one being suppressed has to compromise over and over again? 

I thought Mira did pretty well answering her son's questions. My daughter is beginning to comprehend that not all people are equal (usually by man-made social constructs) and I often find myself choosing between keeping her protected and ensuring she knows how to navigate the world. Why do they need to be mutually exclusive when it comes to the topic of race and privilege? So being able to live through Mira's experience was personally helpful. Even if you don't have a personal stake, you'll find Mira's book very enlightening - because, let's face it, it is a sad state of the world when kindergarteners and first-graders are questioning their place in society. 

Good Talk covers a lot of topics. It goes back and forth between the past and the present - about how her parents came to the US, the experience of being one of a handful of non-white students in her school in New Mexico, winning a DAR essay contest only to see raised eyebrows uncomfortable with the idea of a brown winner, being a brown person in post-9/11 New York, her parents' attempts to have her meet eligible bachelors and her many relationships with men and women. All of this adds a lot of rich context to the answers to Z's questions. On some levels, Mira's family's experiences in the US are very typical for immigrants - the search for belonging, the many questions about whether they deserved something, the racist taunts, and the never-ending requests to justify their right to be in the US. And on other levels, some of the experiences are uniquely Indian American, a perspective I was thankful for because there aren't a lot of books on this subject.

One of the hardest chapters I read was when she was at a party at her mother-in-law's house, as the lone colored person in the room. Some of the guests thought she was the help and gave her their dirty glasses and dishes to put away. What was worse was her in-laws thought she was over-reacting. It was mortifying just reading it - I almost wished I could "un-read" it. Mira treads the topic of her in-laws very delicately. They are Trump supporters through and through and this is a huge thorn in both her husband's and her relationship with them. Another of her chapters talks about how a lady with an idea for a story was very doubtful of Mira Jacob's abilities as a writer to be able to pull off a new book idea and that she would know so much about US history. 

Before I stop, let's talk about the format of the book for a minute. If you haven't seen this article before, which by the way, is where the idea for this book was born, it gives a good idea of how the book is laid out. Each page is a conversation between Mira and someone else (husband, son, mother, father, friends, or random strangers). I found this a very unique graphic memoir - the conversational format was a very interesting touch. It may not be for everyone but it definitely grew on me very fast. I may get my own copy both for the subject of this book but especially for that format. 

Have you read this book?