Being a fan of SF/Fantasy I’d go with Octavia E Butler’s classic, ‘Kindred’. It’s an extraordinarily moving and resonant story of an African-American woman sent back through time from the late 1970s to meet her ancestors in the early 1800s. Butler is a writer of exceptional power and beauty, a multiple Hugo and Nebula award winner, and well worth seeking out. And ‘Kindred’ is as powerful today as it was in 1979 when it was written.
On the subject of recent dates - We have here in the UK, quite rightly, been critically examining our history regarding slavery. To put this in perspective however, I suggest a visit to Suakin, in Sudan. There is a chilling museum there on the site of the last LEGAL slave market, which closed only in 1945. Trade in black Africans by Arabs. And let's not kid ourselves that this trade has stopped, albeit no longer legal.
Fully aware that modern slavery remains a major problem. I've been researching the subject quite a bit, both from the perspective of human trafficking (my novel), and South East Asia. I was the team leader for an evaluation of support to the former Soviet Union. A component included anti-trafficking (human and drugs). Plus there is the issue of migrant labour in the Middle East, much of which can be classified as modern slavery. Not to forget the UK today
Not American but Ordinary People by Diana Evans, about middle-class Black Londoners, impressed me a lot. Incidentally it has a scene written by an omniscient narrator - interesting for anyone wondering if omniscient narration still exists in contemporary novels :) It's a heartwrenching scene too - the effects of knife crime in London.
Not a novel but Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch is interesting about growing up mixed race in Britain and wondering where you most belong. Again a middle-class perspective, informative about how some traditional British social structures work.
Again not a novel but a short story: 'Sonny's Blues' by James Baldwin, set in 1950s New York. The writing is just the bee's knees. Here's the opening:
"I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work. I read it, and I couldn't believe it, and I read it again. Then perhaps I just stared at it, at the newsprint spelling out his name, spelling out the story. I stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside."
There are three metaphors, I think, for being a man of colour in the US, and just in the first few lines.
It's in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, but I think you can find it elsewhere too.
Thank you Libby. I'm very interested in London issues and your recomendations are going into my reading list. I found a link to Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin here.A great story with a distinctive voice, just shows how you can say important things with simple words, the theme melts with the structure. Bee's knees indeed...
Here are a couple of books that I would recommend, all of which have been published in the last 5 years:
Blackassby A. Igoni Barrett - The story begins when Furo Wariboko, a young Nigerian man living in Lagos, wakes up in the morning to go to a job interview. After waking up, he discovers that he's turned into a white man with pale skin, red hair and green eyes. The only remnant of his former self is his black ass. The novel explores what it's like for a black man to gain white privilege in the biggest city in Africa.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James - It's a story of post-colonial Jamaica told over several decades and by a dozen narrators. The story looks at gang warfare, the political corruption in Jamaica that was present from the moment it gained independence, the attempted assassination of Bob Marley before the Smile Jamaica Concert on December 5, 1976, and its aftermath, which includes a foray into the crack wars of New York City in the 1980's. The novel won several awards including the 2015 Man Booker Prize. I highly recommend it. Although, you should be warned that it's really violent. It can feel at times like James is to writing what Tarantino is to film.
I should also note that his latest novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, is on my list of books I intend to read this summer. It has been said that it is the first book in a planned trilogy of an epic fantasy quest full of monsters, sex and violence, set in a mythic version of ancient Africa. It has also been characterized by Lucy Feldman, the Books Editor of TIME Magazine, as "an African Game of Thrones."
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams - The story of Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old Jamaican Brit living in London who is having the worst year of her life. The story explores interracial relationships, what it is like to be viewed as nothing more than a sex object, what it is like to be the token black person at the office, and what it is like to come from a troubled home and how the suppressed trauma from that history can come back to haunt you as an adult.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid - I have not yet read this book, but it's on my short list for books I intend to read over the summer. If I had it my way, I'd be reading it right now, but all the copies at the library are out and there were over 30 holds placed on it before I put mine in. It's the story of a young African-American woman who is accused of kidnapping the 3-year old white girl that she is babysitting, and the events that follow it. The book is supposed to delve into the themes of interracial relations, privilege, wealth, and millennial anxieties. It has also been described as "a satire of the white pursuit of wokeness." It has receive a heaping amount of praise in the press. I was convinced it would be a good read after I saw Reid interviewed by Trevor Noah a few months ago.
I recently read 'A Drop of Midnight' by Jason Diakite. It is the memoir of a mixed race Swedish rapper who takes time to research his father's roots in New York and the southern states. It is a very personal story and you get a sense of his awareness being awakened as he travels.The relationship with his father and uncles is also very interesting as they show no desire to revisit the past that he seeks. He then gets an entirely different perspective when he tracks down relatives stateside.
The book is way off my usual reading list but i found it very interesting and moving at times. It is a very human scale story.