Thank you readers for letting me know you are reading these missives. I have since corrected my erroneous belief that I was sending them into the black hole that is the world wild web.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
For the longest time, I knew of the Bechdel Test, but it never struck me to find out who this Bechdel was. Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist, brings to us a graphic novel that is the best of two worlds: the memoir and the comic book.
The author is a lesbian, and her father a closeted gay man prone to manic depressive behaviour. The novel attempts to illustrate their relationship through the lens of sexuality and the search for a happiness that is elusive. She also examines her parents’ marriage, with its open secrets and tolerance that could evaporate any minute. As she comes into her own during her time at college, she has to deal with her mother and father deciding on a divorce, her discoveries about her own sexuality, and the grief, or the curious absence of grief following her father’s death. The author believes her father’s death was a suicide, possibly brought along by her own admission of homosexuality.
This isn’t an easy story to get through, there are many difficult truths and an uncovering of a childhood that was buried in lies of omission. There is a literary quality to the work, which we might miss if we carelessly categorized Fun Home with graphic novels or comic books speaking about less serious concerns. I admit I found some of the writing difficult to understand, especially the references to Proust and classical literature. I did not know a few words too: humectant? scutwork? But this excites me, if I were being honest. New words have always been a pleasure.
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
You must know by now I like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books a bit too much. Dear Ijeawele is a short read, it need not have been published as a book, a long essay on a digital platform might have sufficed. But it is here, and it is acceptable to read feminist manifestos again, even if only to see how far we have fallen from our ideals.
This little book is in the form of a letter that she writes to her friend, who asks her how best to go about raising a feminist child. The fifteen suggestions are full of warmth and the honesty of lived experiences, and they do that wondrous thing of being rooted in a context while also making sense when taken out of that context.
I consider myself a feminist, and yet I catch myself defaulting to a patriarchal mode of thinking occasionally. It creeps up on me if I’m not careful, and it takes constant vigilance to shake off years of conditioning in a society that thrives on misogyny. I like to recalibrate myself often, and make sure I continue to have uncomfortable conversations, with myself and with those around me.
Sometimes I see young people thinking of traditional gender roles as charming or romantic. They are dismissive of feminism, which I think comes from having more choice than the women who came before them. But feminism is for everyone, and Adichie makes her case thoroughly.