Monday, January 21, 2008
A Meltingpot Discovery at the Library
Let me start off by saying I go to the library at least once a week. I need my library fix like a junkie needs a drug. When I go, I usually don't even have a particular title in mind, the thrill for me is browsing through the shelves of new releases and stumbling on the perfect book for my mood at that moment. I have to remind myself many times not to be greedy and check out too many books at once, for now that I have children and a husband who sometimes expect some of my attention, I can't read three books at the same time like I used to (sigh).
Right now I'm into fiction. I'm looking for books that explore complex human relationships. Preferably there would be an element of race thrown into the mix. Often I have to settle for stories about White people because it seems like the majority of good contemporary fiction is written by and about, White women and men and their emotional landscape. Of course I know there are books that feature "others" but I think you understand my point...
Anyway, so imagine my delight and surprise when I came home to discover that the book I selected at last week's library run, Lost Hearts in Italy featured not only a Black female protagonist, but the author was Black as well. And it truly was a surprise because the summary of the story on the book jacket describes the main character Mira, as an "American" not an African-American. And while I see it now, upon first glance at the author photo on the back jacket, I assumed the author, Andrea Lee, was White.
I enjoyed the book, which examines the dissolution of a marriage when one person cheats. The action takes place all over the world actually but mostly in Rome. Issues of identity and living abroad and race --in a very small way -- are all explored. But there is no way this would be classified as a Black book or even, as they like to put on those little stickers in the library, of "African-American Interest."
I just wonder how much Andrea Lee had to fight to make sure that neither the cover of the book nor the flap copy indicated that Mira was a Black woman. Was it deliberate? Does she know or suspect that if a book has a Black person on the cover, White people won't read it? Is this even true (And Karrine "Video Vixen" Steffans doesn't count)anymore?
I for one will definitely be checking out Andrea Lee's other books, Sarah Phillips and Interesting Women. Although she lives in Italy, she is still a Black American writer with a beautiful writing voice and a keen eye for the complexities of race and culture both here and abroad.