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Book Reviews: Black History Month

26 October 15 words: Book Reviews
It's Black History Month, so we're dedicating this batch of reviews to activist George Oswald Powe
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Jamaicans in Nottingham:
Narratives and Reflections

Norma Gregory
£14.99 (Hansib)
Norma Gregory was born in Notts but is very much in touch with her Jamaican parentage and African heritage. This diverse range of oral testimonies functions as a social document that celebrates the individuals and institutions who have helped shape Nottingham’s multicultural identity. They range from a Lord Mayor and Church of England minister, to a typist and coal miner. The collection brings a much-needed human dimension to immigration. Desmond Wilson was able to endure 26 days at sea, negotiate a ferry crossing, train and taxi travel, but couldn’t figure out how to enter his new lodgings. “Tell me some ting, how you get inna dis ya place?” he asked a local man. “You got to go up and ring the doorbell.” In combining reflections on the past as well as the present, the author has subtly put forward a challenge to youth: How are you gonna shape the future? James Walker  

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Powe Meets Africanus
Panya Banjoko/Conor Boyle
Free (Shintin)
The final issue of Dawn of the Unread has a cinematic quality to the drawings, with some interesting angle shots in the panels. The narrative raises an important question: Why have all of the featured writers in the serial so far been white – where are all of the black authors? George Africanus, a former slave-turned-entrepreneur, takes up this challenge when a flyer for the comic lands on his recently discovered grave in St Mary’s Church. Incensed, he goes on a quest to find inspirational black figures and encounters George Powe, an RAF pilot who would later pen Don’t Blame the Blacks. There’s even an appearance by Mouthy Poets, suggesting the future is in safe hands. This neatly wraps up the serial and leaves you feeling positive. The recent naming of a tram after Africanus and a plaque celebrating his former home suggests various organisations in the city are helping to redress the balance. Sam Smith

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The Queer Diary Of Mordred Vienna
Russell Christie
£7.99 (IDQ)
Alan, Dan and Christian hit San Francisco in the early nineties, finding money to be made as stage performers for discerning clientele. Such performances involved losing whatever clothing they were wearing and demonstrating the ancient dance of the five-finger knuckle shuffle for an appreciative audience. They meet an artist, Mordred Vienna, whose art involves things like a live appendectomy, and slowly they progress, not altogether convincingly, towards mainstream success and validation. Scenes of Hollywood deals being made and virtual reality tech don’t convince, especially considering the timeframe of the story. But the heart of the book is in the characters, the things Christie has to say about identity and how we define ourselves in relation to others, and it’s here that Christie finds much stronger ground. His characters are touchingly vulnerable, complex, erotically charged and educational in their use of bear-shaped, two-pint bubble-bath bottles. Robin Lewis

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Tainted
Stephen Williams
£3.59 (Kindle Edition)
Set in a dilapidated seaside town, Stephen Williams’ apocalyptic horror novel, Tainted, has all the right ingredients of contemporary dark fantasy fiction: angels, demons, a tragic love triangle and lashings of blood and gore. The novel’s protagonist, Isobel, is afflicted by disturbing nightmares and apocalyptic visions that blacken her eyes in which she feels herself burn alive and watches the world burn with her. Isobel’s visions are close to tipping her over the edge when she discovers that she’s not alone; Jake, the loner that regularly drinks at her bar, has the nightmares too. Bound by their shared dark secret, Isobel and Jake quickly fall in love, but are just as quickly shaken up by the arrival of Ramona, a beautiful angel that unveils the truth behind their visions. Tainted is a whirlwind of drama, and the novel’s characters are just as fiery as the flames that surround them. Helen Frear

If you like books as much as we do, visit the Nottingham City of Literature website and show your support for the UNESCO bid. You'll get the chance to upload a selfie and feel dead important. Goo on then.

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