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When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy – a review

Author:
when i hit you

By Anna Hill

Content warnings: domestic and sexual violence

When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy is the first book I’ve read from the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year (you can see the whole longlist and the newly released shortlist here), and it has certainly set a high standard.

I’ve never read anything from Kandasamy before but after reading this I will be picking up her other works. I originally heard about When I Hit You when it was being talked about last year with its full title When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife. I was really drawn to it because women, writing, and survival all interest me. The book has a pretty simple plot; it’s about a young wife leaving her marriage with an abusive leftist man. As a survivor of sexual violence I always struggle to figure out if I want to read things that I know will contain some traumatic experiences similar to my own because I’m searching for other ways to explore, survive, and escape from my own life, or out of a place of self destruction – out of an impulse to consume media that I know will be triggering for me. But the way this novel sets itself up – saying from the beginning that the unnamed main character gets out of her marriage – allowed me to read, and even enjoy, the narrative, and to find a kind of sisterhood within the pages, despite our very different experiences.

The reading experience, far from triggering me, was actually surprising, at points funny, and ultimately hopeful. The tone of the novel was something I was absolutely not expecting: it’s this clear-sighted voice, which at times is poetic and at others has a kind of astute dry humour. In part it was the tone of this novel that allowed me to read it, and to read it as fast as I did. There are these accurate, painfully funny moments scattered throughout the entire novel. The opening can provide some kind of glimpse into the irreverence of the narrator and the way she creates in-jokes between her and the reader; when talking about how her mother retells her escape she notes that, “this is how my story of Young Woman as a Runaway Daughter became, in effect, the great battle of My Mother versus the Head Lice”.

As the subtitle would suggest, this book is not just one about domestic violence, it’s also about the act of writing itself and the way that fiction and stories can help you escape. The narrator thinks during an episode of violence from her husband that “I just have to wait for this to end and I can write again”. The instruments of fiction allow an escape from the abuse which is such a relatable impulse, and a really interesting one. Kandasamy is so eloquent about the way that writing your own story and crafting a narrative is an empowering and sometimes life-saving tool, with the young wife talking about her impulse to survive as her “restless urge to tell a story”. This desperate wish propels her out of the pain, and offers her a balm. When she is writing a poem about the situation she says “the poem is the healing, I tell him. It’s by writing this that I can get over it.”

Another aspect of the book that I wasn’t expecting was the way it ruthlessly presents men on the left’s deep misogyny and “distilled hypocrisy”. The abusive husband at one point writes a poem which articulates the horrendous and almost laughable approach to violence against women that they have:

When I hit you,

Comrade Lenin weeps.”

Like so many Leftist men he uses left ideologies as “a cover for his own sadism” – always presuming his own integrity is superior, his own violence is called for – “in this marriage in which I’m beaten, he is the poet”. Later on, the novel covers the difficulty in calling out abusive political men and how consistently people ask you to find kind things to say about abusers. When I Hit You exposes some of the ways that the left wing specifically (but also people in general) facilitate and allow domestic and sexual violence against women – and how it refuses to genuinely listen to women alongside feminist critique.

The novel intensely and clearly debunks myths about victim blaming throughout; why and how women stay in abusive relationships, who is vulnerable to abuse, and even how abuse is underplayed and how the outside world (and language itself) refuses to intervene. In my paperback copy of When I Hit You, one of the reviews of the novel is included at the back, and I’d like to end my review by sharing some of it. The review is formatted as a list of people who should read the book and this is part of number three:

Women who have escaped or those who need to know they have a right to”

This is such a kind book to us. Kandasamy’s affectionate concern for her fellow survivors triumphs over any editorial demands of explicit sensationalism. Trigger warnings are folded in gently at the beginning; I was married to a rapist, he beat me, I left and am living still. This is not the kind of binary story that says the only acceptable survival is escape or death – every tiny rebellion, every pragmatic compromise is documented, meticulously, as the victory it is. Kandasamy understands that winning sometimes looks like just coping.

(emphasis mine)                          

In case you do want to read this and you’re a survivor, as this review and the quoted one covers there’s obviously a general warning for the whole book of domestic violence. More specifically (in the paperback version) there is a mention of sexual violence against the narrator as a child on page 60 and intense description of rape from page 163 in depth for about 20 pages. Please do take care and remember that you don’t have to finish the book if you can’t!

PBG’s Top Queer/Feminist books 2017

Author:
1 we are never meeting in real life the militant baker samantha irby jes baker

By Anna Hill

Do you like feminist and queer books? I’ve read some really incredible stuff this year – some are just new to me in 2017 and some were published in 2017!

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samanth Irby

I read this at the very beginning of the summer and it was so enjoyable, incredibly funny and heart warming. It had me crying and laughing regularly. I also loved the honesty with which Samantha Irby talked about her life as a marginalised person – the book is a collection of personal essays basically talking informally about Irby’s life as a queer poor fat black woman and about life (lessons) in general. Some of it was so relatable! Some of it was a little heartbreaking and tender in this very self-depreciating voice.

Irby is so so funny and I would 100% recommend this to everyone but especially people who enjoy reading memoirs by women. There is some cissexism, especially in the first chapter and ableist slurs used throughout as well as some depictions of abuse, vomiting and drug/alcohol use.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

This is such an incredible book!! It’s a mix of memoir and queer theory and it focuses a lot on pregnancy and motherhood. Nelson’s style is really poetic and the work she does in making space for motherhood to realise its queer potential is really beautiful, and I personally found it pretty accessible.

Her work comes down to a discussion about caring, how we care, who cares for us – that’s something we all need to consider within our lives. Never to undermine or erase carers or care work but also to see the radical potential mothering has. I really think all feminists should read this and also all queer theorists – most of whom love to misogynistically disregard mothers as heteronormative and disregard people with wombs as irrelevant to true queer futures!! Which they aren’t!!

Sea-witch Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Never Angel North

Sea-Witch Volume 1: May She Lay us Waste is an experimental trans-memoir graphic novel about love, community, girl-ness and pain. It speaks to the experience of Sara and the time she spent living inside a witch god named Sea-Witch. It’s also about family and Sea-Witch’s community of sisters and the 78 Men Who Cause Pain (78MWCP) via making laws and being cops and fighting against so called monsters like Sea-Witch. The story is told through scribbles and sigils, words, quotes, drawings and photographs.

Sea-Witch Volume 2: Girldirt Angelfog is just as weird, interesting and beautiful as the first one! Both are so expansive and monstrous, creative and painful, confusing and challenging. The second volume continues Sara’s journey but linear narratives aren’t particularly important to Never Angel North, who is such a fearless breathless author.

These books are for all the freaks who love mythology and all the sapphic witches and lovers of the sea. Its for all the people invested in caring for one another and in creating and sharing hope even in the face of holding pain.

I was lucky enough to read the second volume via pdf because I support Never on patreon, I would just say its difficult to content warn for this series because it so tumultuous and open but there is definite discussion about trauma and pain laced throughout both volumes. I’m so excited for the third volume to come out in 2018!!!

Small Beauty by Jia Qing Wilson-Yang

Small Beauty is a short but poignant and affecting novel about grief, processing and ghosts. The book tells the soft and introspective story of Mei, a mixed race trans girl, whilst she is mourning and evolving, unearthing the lives and deaths of some of her relatives. Its also about this deep love and community, about support and identity, rage and, yes, sorrow too. The writing is subtle and quiet and lyrical – I marked so many of its pages because I found it so beautiful.

The novel is an own voices story and it consistently refuses to cater to cisgender people, Mei isn’t forced into narratives that eroticise or fetishise or simplify what being trans is like and Mei and all the other characters, including a transphobic dyke, are treated with forgiveness and represented with nuance. It’s a book for folks who are growing but not grown and for those who are new to adulthood. Content warnings for grief and death as well as a depiction of a transmisogynistic physical assault on pages 66-67.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

This year I became invested and interested in care and mothering in a way I never was before and as such I couldn’t resist listening (via audiobook) to this novel about a woman named Yejide and her husband, Akin, trying to get pregnant and have a family together.

This was on the shortlist for the baileys women prize for fiction and that’s how I became aware of it, and I’m glad I did! It’s a very readable book chronicling tragedies and peaks in Yejide’s attempts to create a family and its complex representations of the behaviours and wishes of people are interesting and emotional. The prose is animated and so is the dialogue – it’s a very enthralling if sorrowful read. 

Power And Magic : The Queer Witch Comic Anthology edited by Joamette Gil

I loved this comic anthology so much!! All the comics are centered around queer witches, were made by women, demigirls and bigender writers and illustrators of colour. The 15 different comics all vary in tone and size. Some are adorable and sweet and others are sad but powerful or healing and kind, they cover themes of love, community, family and recovery.

My favourites were Your Heart Is An Apple by Nivedita Sekar which was a fairytale inspired love story including an ex-mermaid who was now a cane user and a girl with an apple for a heart. I cried at its utter loveliness. I also really enjoyed As The Roots Undo by Joamette Gil, especially the line “They called her witch. I called her moon.” And lastly the tender and gorgeous Songbird for a vulture by Naomi Franquiz. There are content warnings for each story on the contents page.

Here’s to a 2018 filled with beautiful, educational and healing reading!! If you want to diversify your reading in the new year you could continue looking for suggestions via this list of books to be published in 2018 by women of colour!

PBG’s Best of 2017: Young Adult Fiction

Author:
sophia1

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

The Young Adult (YA) community in particular has been blessed this year with some wonderful and diverse reads, though all we’ve really heard about is John Green’s latest (which, granted, is pretty fantastic). It seems a shame that many talented writers and their incredible stories may have been overlooked because a few of the big names had releases this year, so here’s a few in case you missed them.

Wing Jones – Katherine Webber

sophia2

Wing Jones will warm your heart, and break it. It’s about a girl caught between worlds. It’s about a girl who loves to run. It’s about a girl who doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t entirely know what she wants to do sometimes. It’s about a family navigating a tragedy, navigating their differences, navigating love. It’s about brothers and sisters, about friendship, about passion, about race, about love, about growing up. It’s about everything.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

sophia3

No doubt you’ve at least heard in passing about The Hate U Give by now. Amandla Stenberg loves it and is set to star in the movie adaptation. Everyone who cares about YA has been talking about it. If you’re wondering why… well. It’s inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It is relevant and important, particularly in Trump’s America. It manages to be funny, though the subject matter is not at all light. It’s excellently written. It will make you think. It’s incredible.

It Only Happens in the Movies – Holly Bourne

sophia4

We love Holly Bourne. She brought the Spinster Club – our best friends – into our lives, made us feel angry and empowered and happy and sad and triumphant and vindicated and so many other things with that trilogy. Her latest book, It Only Happens in the Movies is equally wonderful, and deals with a whole range of issues such as mental health, addiction, divorce, and relationships. The main character, Audrey, navigates her parents’ separation and supporting her alcoholic mother alongside her own love life, school, and friendships. The book also examines romantic-comedies with a critical feminist eye, whilst also admitting its love for the genre and feeling incredibly cinematic in itself. Vivid writing, lovable or at least sympathetic characters, plenty of poignancy and laughter. A true treasure of a book.

A Change Is Gonna Come

sophia5

A Change Is Gonna Come is an anthology featuring prominent YA authors alongside new voices, and all of them are BAME writers. It is filled with stories and poetry, and centres on the theme of ‘change’ – and it is certainly something which will spark change. In itself, it signposts a change – it is proof that there are people in publishing who genuinely care, who know not just what we want but what we need as a community of readers. There’s something for everyone in this collection, whether you’re into contemporary fiction, dystopian, or historical; whether you want to hear about love, anger, politics, or all of the above. This is a special book which will be well worth your time.

See our pick of the best music of 2017 here, and the best film and TV of 2017 here.

4 Body positive books to read right now

Author:
bopo1

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

Body positivity – or ‘bo-po’ – has been gaining mainstream momentum in this past year. In some moments, this has seemed wonderful. It is heart-warming and inspiring to be able to scroll through Instagram and see people showing their bodies some appreciation. Conversations have been started in publications and between people that wouldn’t be expected. More people have started to see the problems with the ‘clean eating’ movement, and started saying ‘fuck you, I eat what I want’ to diet culture.

Unfortunately, the body positive movement that has sprung from Instagram has a huge problem – pun intended. The issue is that fat positivity and fat liberation is a movement that has existed for several decades, and it is now being swept aside. The work of fat activists has been overlooked and undermined, and the radical faces of the movement have been replaced by those already privileged in society. The bodies of white, thin or curvy cisgender women are more palatable to the wider world than those of fat people, queer people, and people of colour – but ‘body positivity’ that doesn’t include marginalised bodies isn’t doing the necessary work.

Reading is my favourite tool for learning and growing, as well as something I enjoy as entertainment. Reading anti-diet culture books, fat positive memoirs and feminist fiction has been instrumental to me in reprogramming my brain. I wanted to share some of my favourites, in the hopes that others will support the work of fat activists and learn from them too.

Every Body Yoga – Jessamyn Stanley

bopo1

I love yoga and believe in its value, but I recognise the problems with the mainstream movement. It has turned into a competition, a fitness trend, and something which can feel very exclusive. I love Jessamyn because she isn’t afraid to explain how that doesn’t fit with the philosophy of yoga. She makes it feel like something that everyone and anyone can practice, should they want to – because anyone and everyone CAN. This book provides easy to follow basic yoga poses and routines which are focused on emotional healing. She details how a practice can be done from home – making it accessible to those without the funds for classes at a fancy studio – and shows that yoga isn’t about being ‘good at it’. She is honest about her own challenges with some poses, and provides encouragement and wisdom throughout. It’s wonderful. Jessamyn is wonderful.

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls – Jes Baker

bopo2

Jes Baker – aka The Militant Baker – is my favourite person on the internet. She’s honest and vulnerable about mental health. She posts gorgeous and fabulous outfit posts. She’s unapologetic about living her life, and gives the middle finger to anyone who has a problem with it. She is funny and smart and thoughtful, providing a platform for other marginalised folks through her own work. Her first book is basically a bible, one that I pick up again and again when I need a boost and reminder to not give in to the bullshit. It’s one for people new to fat liberation, and for those who are more familiar with the movement. Read it. It’ll tell you what you need to hear.

Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got A Life – Kelsey Miller

bopo3

You may have heard of Kelsey Miller. She writes for the popular site Refinery29, and started a column called The Anti-Diet Project. You should check that out, too.
Her memoir is astonishingly funny as it is painful and relatable. For me, personally, it was the first book I read that put intuitive eating into context and helped me to understand it. Reading about a real person – someone who had been in a similar headspace to me – and their journey was invaluable, as it showed it to be imperfect and complicated and ever-changing. It made the journey tangible, and feel more possible.

Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love & Fashion – Virgie Tovar

bopo4

This is an anthology of essays and stories from a diverse group of people about their experiences in their bodies. There’s pieces on learning to love your fat body, finding fat community, fashion as power, sex and pleasure, giving up dieting, and so much more. It’s all well written, and it provides a window into experiences we don’t hear enough about – even though they’re hardly uncommon experiences.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There’s great fat-positive fiction, there’s academic work in fat studies, there are memoirs and essay collections galore. Fat liberation isn’t a small movement, just an overlooked one. These books are good places to start. They will show you the way to other activists, other work, and more fat babe radness.

The literature of hope #2

Author:
hope-painting

By Anna Hill

Sorry for the 8 month break this series took, but hope is a pretty scarce resource when the whole world is on fire. But I’m back and ready to share some hopeful bits and bobs with you. Hopefully you can find something that nourishes you and renews your faith in yourself and your community.

Happy playland – webseries

If you like musicals and queer girl love this is the webseries for you!! Made by the incredible candle wasters (who previously have made adaptations of the Shakespeare plays a midsummer nights dream and much ado about nothing), it explores billie, cris and zara’s relationships as they work at Happy Playland – a kids playground in its last few weeks of being open. Its also about anxiety and following your dreams and is so wholesome! Definitely an incredibly cute relief to the absolute horror that being alive is.

Amandla Stenberg’s video on Teen Vogue – “You Are Here”

Amandla has made this really sweet and calming video. It’s a very soothing thing to watch. Its also a lovely reminder to check in with yourself about how you are and how your body is doing. A space for you to listen to Amandla’s voice and remember that you deserve self kindness and comfort.

W.I.T.C.H. PDX

W.I.T.C.H PDX is a branch of an international witch conspiracy fighting against oppression of all kinds, inspired by the 1960s group of the same name. From their website:

A SINGLE WITCH IS A DANGEROUS OUTLIER. A COVEN IS A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH. AN INTERNATIONAL CIRCLE OF WITCHES IS UNSTOPPABLE.

WE AIM TO USE OUR POWER TO FIGHT INJUSTICE IN ALL ITS INTERSECTIONAL FORMS, AND HELP DISMANTLE THE WHITE SUPREMACIST PATRIARCHAL SYSTEM THAT PERPETRATES IT.

WE WILL NOT CONFORM. WE WILL NOT OBEY. WE WILL NOT BE SILENT.

They even have information about how to set up your own W.I.T.C.H. group, with three simple rules: you must be anonymous, intersectional and differentiate your group with the name of your city – so if that sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to do it! There is so much power in witchcraft and community!

On top of their general inspiring amazingness they also fairly recently came out with a zine which I proceeded to print and stick to my walls! I would definitely recommend you do so too!!

radical softness by soofiya

this tiny poetry book is full of vulnerable, poignant poems and inspiring images. It’s about survival and self love, post traumatic stress disorder, resistance, domestic violence, gardens and swimming and much more. Its also funny too – one of my favourite poems is this one:

I prayed to Allah

to make me special.

I wanted superpowers

Telekinesis.

God gave me a hormonal imbalance

I think if you like rupi kaur’s book milk and honey that you will enjoy this collection too!

Audre Lorde – A litany for survival poem

(it’s the first poem in the pdf file this link takes you to)

my favourite lines are the last three, but the whole poem is a glorious reminder of how we have survived and how resilient we are. How we can get through this because we have!!

So it is better to speak

remembering

we were never meant to survive

I hope you found these helpful! Sending you resistance and power!!

You can read the first literature of hope post here.

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