Winter Book Reviews Part I: Junot Diaz, Anouar Majid & Matt Ruff

Over the holidays I’ve been eating books like crazy in an attempt to catch up on 2012 and a few older works. In the next few posts, I’ll share my thoughts on some of these thought-provoking pieces of literature and history:

We Are All Moors by Anouar Majid —

Politicians and ideologues may continue to appeal to national essences based on imagined ethnicities or races to exclude new groups of undesirables, but there is, in the end, no escaping the fact that “we are all Moors,” that we are all minorities in a world of diversities. It is high time we banish the specter of the Moor from our consciousness and embrace the differences that enrich us all. It is far more sensible to start preparing for a new golden age when every human being on earth and every cultural tradition will be embraced with the love and care now accorded to any species threatened with extinction. For the margin between life and death seems to have narrowed considerably in the last few years.

We Are All Moors by Anouar Majid

It has its inconsistencies and prejudices, but Anouar Majid’s “We Are All Moors” is able to (somewhat) successfully illuminate the problems of modernity’s nation-state with the historical context of Isabella and Ferdinand’s Spanish Inquisition and commission of Columbus to discover the “new world.” 1492, he demonstrates, was at the center of a pivotal period in history from which concepts of the minority/Other, racism (and its anti-Semitic/Islamophobic ties), nationality, and intolerance burgeoned into the modern era. Sometimes Majid’s writing drags on for pages reiterating rather than synthesizing dry historical records, but while it seems tedious the history itself is fascinating. He presents a glut of evidence demonstrating the interconnections between seemingly disparate histories of religions and cultures (Christians and Muslims, Muslims and Jews, “Moors” and Spaniards, and best of all Latinos and Muslims yeaaaah!!!). In particular, I found Majid’s take on the traditional “Moros y cristianos” festival in Spain illustrated a powerful means of using art to place people in the shoes of the Other, to recognize the interdependencies of our cultural histories — that “we are all Moors.” Collectively, we can thereby eliminate the concept of the Other all-together and, in some small way, tackle the host of problems posed by modernity and the nation-state. Not a brilliant read, but occasionally eye-opening. Worth a look. I’d give it a little under 4 stars, maybe 3.8 or so.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz 

Courtesy: USA Today
Courtesy: USA Today

Despite the bad reviews I’ve been getting from family and friends, I actually thought it was pretty good. Not “Oscar Wao”-level, but still pretty dope. “This Is How You Lose Her” is to “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” what “The Hobbit” is to Peter Jackson’s original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy — it’s not as awesome, but to set it to those standards is just unfair. Even so, “This Is How You Lose Her” is better than “Drown” and probably one of my favorite books of the year. His narrator’s voice is so awesomely macho-man, and yet, in perpetrating that awesome manliness, the book is a biting indictment of the alpha male. Basically, all men are screwed-up, sexist, misogynistic m–f–rs who perpetrate our patriarchal society, so get your shiz together guys. There’s not much plot, and the threads of emotion and events from each story to the next sometimes work (amazingly well), sometimes don’t — but many of the individual stories (especially the finale) carry themselves. Like “The Hobbit,” don’t treat it as a plotted narrative arc but instead enjoy the ride with its wonders, horrors, and interesting characters along the way. Diaz is laugh-out-loud hilarious and engaging as ever, but also moving, tragic, and, for brief moments, uplifting. If you haven’t read Diaz yet, read “Oscar Wao.” If you have, read this one. 4 stars.

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff —

Bad Monkeys - Matt Ruff

Matt Ruff’s “Bad Monkeys” was not as well-written or thought-provoking as I’d anticipated, but it’s a thrilling, quirky, and often comic ride that offers a few interesting questions about the divorce of morality and law (in modernity) and the meaning of the unending “battle between good and evil,” with a topsy-turvy finale that puts readers on their heads. With its offbeat protagonist, captivating dialogue, and heart-pulsing action scenes, it would make a pretty awesome movie. Not as original as I’d hoped, though, but still offers some food for thought and it’s a fun read — I’d put it somewhere between 3.5 – 4.0 stars.

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