Diversity, Diversity

Knots: A Woman’s Return to Somalia

As a teacher who works with refugees and immigrants, primarily from Burma and Somalia, I try to read up on historical and current events of my students’ respective countries. One of the challenges is finding novels written by Somali authors either about Somalis in Somalia or in their new lands.  I researched a few books to see what I could get at the library and was pleasantly surprised with a few listings. The first one I’ve read is Nuruddin Farah’s Knots. He appears to be a prolific author with Somalia-centric stories especially regarding the diaspora. This one centers on Cambara, a Somali-born woman and aspiring actress/writer who grew up first in Somalia and later, Canada, who then returns to Mogadishu to find herself.

The worst thing about this book is that the writing style takes a while to become used to. Much of the first chapter packs so much detail and information into each sentence that it was difficult to have any sustained reading. It very nearly forced me to stop reading the book entirely and return this one and his other one to the library ASAP. However, my desire to see if it could improve won out and I continued reading. Thankfully, not every sentence and certainly not every chapter is so information-dense.

The main and supporting characters start out as nearly entirely unlikeable, the whole lot of them. They are flawed people in bad situations, which definitely make their flaws more glaring. The more I read it, the more I wanted to understand how each character became the person with those particular flaws.

Farah does give glimpses here and there of character development through Cambara’s voice and memories and her suppositions of why things have happened – but little perspective from anyone else. The novel is written in first-person present-tense, so everything is shown as it is happening or Cambara remembering something because of what is currently happening. Ultimately, I found the characters to be overwhelmingly petty, selfish, and cruel. The background information gave insight but didn’t help the characters become likeable.

There is constant tension, especially between Cambara and her cousin, Zaak. They clearly despise each other but there are some awkward moments where it definitely seems like their mutual animosity is much muddier as the story goes on. The way they treat each other embroils other characters into their stories – and neither one is able to take responsibility for worsening any situation they are in.

This story has a lot of promise in it: a woman from the Somali diaspora seeks to heal personal wounds by returning to her homeland to daringly recover family property from warlords. The few glimpses into what her wounds are, her motivations, and the desire to recover from them are good, but too far and few between. Everything is lost in the long-winded, dense sentences and the character flaws that get in the way of plot development. At least the dialogue tends to be brief and illuminating – it’s unfortunate that even the dialogue is broken up by impossible sentences. Cambara’s lengthy internal reactions during dialogue will lose plenty of readers.

In all honesty, it was difficult to think of something I liked best about the novel. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the story is that Cambara forges much-needed relationships with other women in her time of need. These relationships are the reason for whatever happiness befalls Cambara, if the reader can successfully slog through every other part of the book. This is a reading I’d recommend to people only if they seek a challenging, lofty novel. It is definitely not a light book to read in an afternoon.

Book Reviews, Diversity

A River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma by Thant Myint-U

In teaching largely refugee populations, one of my top priorities is to learn more about the histories and cultures of my students. This is essential in connecting with them as the basis of any good educational system is relationship. In Minnesota, we have a large population of Somali, Karen, and Hmong refugees, whether first, second, or third generation. There are plenty of other refugee and immigrant populations from every continent. It’s really a melting pot!

When I worked in adult teaching, many of my students were from Burma and ethnically Karen. I learned a great deal about Burma and the Karen in many different and deeply personal ways. Because of this, I was excited to discover the book A River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma by Thant Myint-U. As an avid history fan, I was eager to read this and learn even more about what my students were telling me about.

Thant Myint-U was raised in the US amidst Burmese political academics, which is evident in the course his life has taken. In the preface, he discusses his graduate work in modern history. His thesis focused on 19th-century history of Burma and this book is somewhat an extension of that, seeing the time period on through to more recent events and how events that occurred 200 years ago have rippled through now, both for Burma as a whole and with familial accounts.

Here is a man, an author, who very clearly cares about the country of his family and what has led up the current political climate. This book, his first, gives a great analytic overview of the history, colonialism’s effects on Burma’s development as a country, and modern perspectives. It is rather evident that it is written by an academic, which makes sense as Thant Myint-U has a Ph.D. and works in academia, and is heavily involved with humanitarian work and politics (with over two decades of experience in peacebuilding, research, and political advising). Even so, it was an easy, beautiful, intriguing read.

I doubt I could pick a favorite part of the book as I was so thoroughly engaged in his historical analysis, the way he describes people and events, and really–the learning. It’s relatable, especially for history buffs (and even if you’re not!). However, as it is an overview, there are things that are either left out or not discussed as thoroughly. I think that is only because what he could do with these items would each be an extra full-length book on their own.

If you enjoy colonial history, politics, or academic works, this is a book for you. It doesn’t read as a stuffy book in the slightest, so if you’re reading for fun (even while learning), this is also a book for you. If you’re looking to be introduced to the country, again, this book is for you. Basically, I definitely recommend it. Happy reading!

Book Reviews, Diversity, Uncategorized

The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

I first picked up The Shadow Speaker because I have recently become an avid fan of Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, recent Hugo award winner for her novella, Binti. Not only was I intrigued by the fact that her stories of magical realism set in Africa (whether partially or wholly) but I was also excited by her featuring girls coming of age and into their own power. The Shadow Speaker does not disappoint. This full-length novel centers on Ejii, a 14-year-old Muslim Nigerian girl living in 2070. She also happens to be able to speak to shadows, for which she receives lessons in fluency and ability.  It’s a story of her journey from a girl uncertain of her abilities and place in the world to standing up for what’s right.

I wish I knew before I started reading got most of the way through it that this is a sequel to Zahara The Windseeker. Likely, that story has certain things in it that could shed some light on this book. However, it worked well enough on its own that reading the first book will only add to it. Nothing in this book was really confusing without having read the first book.

Being what this story is, a coming-of-age story, much of the character development does occur for the main protagonist. It’s a story through her lens and her journey to tell. And it’s done really well. Her development doesn’t have any surprises that come too soon, she doesn’t grow in ways that are unnatural to her or too early for her, even as there are some missteps and her uncertainty of her role in life. At one point, she must literally journey on her own from her home to another city in order to become an apprentice.

Along the way, she meets Dikeougu, a boy about her age. After Ejii, he is the one to go through the most change. What’s believable about them is that they don’t change at the same rate or for the same reason – they are their own people with separate desires and needs and changes that must happen. The other characters in the story are there to either help Ejii (or Dikeougu), like her mom, her instructor, her friends, even her abusive half-brother, or they serve to be the counterpoint to Ejii. While we understand each of the character’s motives and they react predictably, they don’t change or grow in the way that Ejii and Dikeougu do. In a way, it makes the changes they go through more acute.

The story in of itself is very cool. It’s at once familiar and new. The familiarity is in the journey Ejii undertakes, the new is in the combination of interesting characters, changes in the world that make it different from ours, and an introduction to worlds vastly different from our own, but with people not so different from us. The crux of the story is very familiar – violence versus peace, environmentalism, anger and fear versus love, and self-acceptance all play a role in the plot. It’s what each character does in response to the events as they unfold that make it interesting and vivid.

Okorafor-Mbachu is skilled at making this relatable, which is important especially for teens who reading this. She is able to take these magical elements, explain and present them in such a way that it is utterly normal even if daunting in certain instances, and make it easy for the reader to access the story. The one major hang-up I have about this particular novel is that Ejii carries something similar to a tablet but we only see two pages as though she has written something on it as a journal entry. It pulled me right out of the story since it happened only the one time and seemed out of place. Also, as a personal preference, I would have loved more information on the races she encountered in one of the other worlds.

Overall,  

for each one, you can have more than one thing. (keep it together tho… all the good about character, then all the bad) But alternating good and bad, and ending with the best, helps soften the blow while still telling the negative parts you need to tell to be honest

Diversity

Binti: A Short SpecFic Delight

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is, at its core, a fantastic blend of a coming-of-age story by way of scary interstellar journeys and new friendships that overcome prior prejudice. The fact that it is a short story means that there’s a lot going on in a short amount of time – which Okorafor does a really great job with, but at the same time, the reader can be left with wanting more. There are certain aspects of the story that beg questions left unanswered. For those who love reading full-length novels with plenty of world-building, this could be rather annoying. On the flip side, this kind of teasing adds little details that enrich the story and provide a means for the reader to let our imaginations run wild.

Given the shortness of the story, character development clearly has to be quick. Binti, the main character,  shows us a society rife with oppressive, prejudicial attitudes, mostly directed at her because of her tribal affiliation and, more broadly, towards humans.She is able to be the sole ambassador for both her tribe and for humanity to overturn these attitudes and this is the means through which she develops as a character. She is able to feel comfortable in her skin because of this role and because of the pride instilled in her by her family. Her confidence in her mathematical and musical skills ends up helping her gain a more thorough confidence in herself.

As lovely as it is to see her transformative experience and character development, there are only snippets of other characters’ development. This can make it more powerful to see, but also gives us such a narrow glimpse into their development. Again, this can be a positive given that it’s a short story, but a negative for those who prefer delving deep. Character development outside of Binti’s self-growth is shown only in snapshots. Most of this is seen through her eyes, including the character development of groups of people: the human oppressors of Binti’s ethnic group and the scary, nearly mythical aliens, the Meduse. Each interaction Binti has with other people, whether on a one-on-one or group level, exposes what the world is like much more than it shines a light on the character development of anyone other than Binti. If society can be treated as a character, the development of it as such is highlighted this way and is done very effectively. Okwe, one of the Meduse, is the only other character who nears the level of individual character development that Binti does, in that we see motivation and change in him for better or for worse.

The Himba, Binti’s ethnic group, are ostracized by nearly every human group, but especially the Khoush. Binti is traveling from Earth to a university a 20-day journey in space away. The Meduse are the boogeymen of the galaxy and no one intends to see one – only tell scary stories of them. The parallels of her forging friendship with first the Khoush and then the Meduse bring the personal to the global and even to the galactic levels of peacemaking over war.   

The storyline moves quite seamlessly and is engaging enough that it is difficult to put down. The story is easily read in a couple hours at most, which is rather nice. In the age of highly-detailed fantasy sagas, it is a breath of fresh air to read such an engaging, quick story. Even so, there are two or three spots that could have used a little more fleshing out, whether it’s world-building or background knowledge, for a clearer picture of the plot. It isn’t that there are any glaring holes, because there aren’t, only that there are places that could benefit from a bit of additional detail.

Overall, this is a must-read for any fan of Science Fiction. It is also great for those looking for diversity as it is a woman of color writing a story featuring a black female protagonist. The message of compassion and communication to change people’s minds, to avert bloodshed and to use one’s difference and knowledge and otherness to build bridges to cross-cultural understanding is one worth reading in this space journey.

Book Reviews, Diversity

Hauntings, Folklore, and Logic

My favorite kind of novels include writers as protagonists, the supernatural and folklore, and mystery. Natsuhiko Kyokogu’s The Summer of the Ubume certainly has this trifecta. This mystery fantasy, first in a series of nine, is the reason for the Mephisto Prize.  Kyokogu’s first novel follows freelance writer, Tatsumi Sekiguchi, as he’s presented with an unusual case of childhood acquaintances, sisters Kyoko and Ryoko Kuonji. Ryoko comes to ask him for help regarding her sister, who apparently has been pregnant for twenty months despite her husband being missing for even longer. Sekiguchi, in turn, enlists the help of his bookkeeper Buddhist priest exorcist friend, Akhiko Chuzenji, Chuzenji’s sister, and certain members of the police force to help investigate real world and supernatural causes of this unusual problem.

This thrilling, sometimes horrific, completely engaging story is a detailed juxtaposition of modern and folklore, logic and faith. However, the hardest thing in reading this is the very beginning. It took me a week just to get through the first scene because it hits the ground running in philosophical discussion. However, this is a key discussion and once I finished that first scene, I couldn’t put the book down.

Sekiguchi felt very much like a stand-in for the reader, albeit two-dimensional. The reader is able to react to the events in the book as though the reader is in the book, which helps the story move along but does little to develop Sekiguchi. The greater development comes through Chuzenji as the plot moves forward. In fact, it is almost as though this is a vehicle for Chuzenji to be the real protagonist but viewed through the eyes of Sekiguchi. The Kuonji sisters, and to an extent their family, are the center of tragedy and mystery and it they who have to undergo a thorough check into their secrets and pain.

The suspense from him discovering more and more about the events leading up to this atypically lengthy and quite strange pregnancy more than makes up for the lack of meaningful development of Sekiguchi. The plot is so layered with depth and intrigue that it isn’t so bothersome – it’s as though we, the readers, are in the thick of it with him, discovering whether Kyoko is haunted by an ubume or not. That is, if you don’t mind heady philosophy and detailed history. Chuzenji is a very intellectual person who, despite being an exorcist, doesn’t actually believe that possessions really occur. He operates in a world of superstition and the supernatural and uses logic and a keen understanding of psychology to do his work.

Some may be intimidated by this if they’re looking for action heavy books. However, I found these details and philosophy to be tempered well by action and sleuthing. I loved the blend of psychology and superstition: we as humans are met with something we don’t understand and try to explain it in supernatural terms. Yet, how much of that is actually our brains just processing pain, trauma, or stress? Where’s the line between our brain filling in the gaps and actual supernatural phenomena? This is a great read that seeks to answer that.

It’s unfortunate this is the only one of the nine translated into English so far, but he does have other books in English unrelated to the series, including graphic novels. Loups-Garous is one that has also been turned into a fantastic anime.

Book Reviews, Diversity

A Story of Independence Versus Filial Duty

I am a person who totally judges books by their covers, despite all the warnings. Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai is one such book – though I was intrigued more by the title than anything (even with a gorgeous book design). It pulled me in even more with the jacket description of the novel. It’s a realistic fiction set in 1920s Ceylon – when Sri Lanka was ruled by the British – focusing on Balendran and his niece, Annalukshmi. Balendran is a gay man married to a woman and raising a family while his niece wishes to pursue her dreams. The hardest thing for me about reading the book was that sometimes it was difficult for me to keep track of the very developed story arcs for both of the main protagonists. While it is an interesting take and I definitely enjoy alternating points of view in stories, this could easily have been two novels set in the same ‘verse.

What’s interesting is that we do get to see two viewpoints from someone who is already established, Balendran, and someone who is just starting her journey, Annalukshmi. Her story mirrors what I suspect was her uncle’s early struggle to fulfill his role in society and do what was expected. Both have, in their twenties, a choice in front of them and how they approach the choice is affected by generation, gender, economics, and sexuality. Even as I believe it could have been separate novels, the contrast of how they approach life and constraints and opportunity is illuminating. In some ways, as a reader, the desire to yell at them to stand up more for themselves can be pretty strong for most of the novel. And it’s not even just these two – it’s other members of their family as well. When any of them do, it’s quite satisfying; however, I’d say it’s a testament to how well we are able to identify with the struggle to balance expectations and self-fulfillment. It is always easier to see characters in a book saying or doing the thing we wish they wouldn’t say or do but falling into the same trap ourselves.

Neither of them really fit the mold of their filial and cultural expectations, but they have a desire to not let their families down while staying true to themselves. Given the era it was set, it is no surprise that this is the conflict that drives the story. The attitudes exhibited during every interaction eloquently sum up the resolve of Annalukshmi and Balendran to stay on their respective courses or not and it moves along at such a pace that it’s a difficult story to put down. I found myself constantly wanting to know what was going to happen next, how Anna and Bala (as they are affectionately called, among other names of respect), will react, be challenged, or challenge others.

This is a novel that makes you pay attention to every bit of dialogue, every adjective, every feeling and action that occurs in the story lest you miss something. It definitely utilizes language patterns common around 100 years ago in terms of formality, which may be a turn-off for some people. However, Selvadurai uses this dialogue and, at times lofty exposition, to really round out his characters in such distinct ways. He writes so we empathize with every character, see the surroundings, and in many ways experience the book with our senses. It may frustrate us how long it takes us to get to the climax of the story but it is ever so worth it because we are made fully aware of motives, personality, and all the reasons why the climax’s resolution works the way it does.

Selvadurai grew up in Sri Lanka before living in Canada and it is clear he still has strong ties to his home country. The novel was simultaneously illuminating regarding cultural and historical differences from 2016 US as well as adept at pulling me into all-too-familiar struggles, loves, pain, and joy.

Book Reviews, Diversity

A Trio of Stories from Francophone Africa

When I was perusing the local county’s library’s online collection from the comfort of my home (it is basically winter in Minnesota, after all), the book Fools, Thieves, and Other Dreamers: Stories from Francophone Africa caught my eye. I read it, and I’m so glad I did. Upon opening the first pages, I learned the book was a project overseen by the French Embassy and the Zimbabwe International Book Fair that wanted to focus on Francophone literature and make it accessible to Anglophone readers and writers. The University of Zimbabwe had an important role in the translation of these stories.  With a story each from Seydi Sow, Florent Couao-Zotti, and Abdourahman Ali Waberi, these are compelling writings that highlight problems individuals and societies face. This is definitely a read for those who enjoy stories that make you think but don’t have a ton of time to read.

The first story, From the Depths of a Well, is written by Senegalese author Seydi Sow. The story presents us with the problem right from the beginning: several people are trapped in a well and have to figure out how to save themselves. Each person represents different facets of society: two governmental officials, a judge, and a civilian. There’s a chance for each one to present a case as to why they should be the first one out who could bring back help to rescue the others. Deeply philosophical in nature, this is really a story of society’s ills and individual’s distrust of others embodied by each of the characters. They are so well-crafted, you wonder how the immediate problem of getting out of the well will be solved and are made to think of how this is a reflection of the state of the world today. This was my favorite of the trio.

The second story, Small Hells on Street Corners, by Beninese author and teacher Florent Couao-Zotti, also starts strong; this time with an action-packed scene. Where Sow’s story is adeptly and firmly philosophical and civilian-vs-The Man, Couao-Zotti’s story is clearly a tale of economics, poverty, and greed – especially its effects on kids. Fear is prevalent in the story, palpable and the the driving force of the unnamed boy-thief. The hardest part of reading this was the change in viewpoint. It took me a while to really get the hang of it. Police are trying to figure out who the boy-thief is and seek to catch him while the boy-thief seeks to get away. He undergoes some pretty horrific things due to the corruption and greed of the city. From what I gather, there is also an interrogation occurring – whether of the boy-thief or not is a little unclear.

Finally, The Fool’s Gallery by Djibouti’s Abdourahman Ali Waberi. Here is an author who gorgeously describes every detail so we are fully entrenched in the same surroundings as the characters. The story here focuses on addiction and its harrowing effects on not only the addicted but on their loved ones as well. His descriptions of not only the setting, but of people, motives, and how he characterizes different types of addicts is really rather stunning. It’s clear he has a poet’s heart.

Three incredibly different stories from different authors and countries tied together first by language, second by continent, and third by holding no punches. We are made to think, feel, and be illuminated by these stories. Read it in a day or read each story with several days in between reading to really give you time to ponder them. It’s often used at the University of Zimbabwe as part of the curriculum – and that’s a class I’d love to sit in. I’ve got at least one full-length novel in my library pile by Wari. It’d be interesting to see what other works these authors have to offer.

Diversity

Poetry from Djibouti’s Celebrated Abdourahman A Waberi

I first heard for Abdourahman A. Waberi when I purchased The United States of Africa as a gift, though I hadn’t read anything by him until recently. A native of Djibouti, he’s a professor of writing and literature mainly in France, but also has taught in the USA, Germany, and other places. Several of his books have been translated into English, but he writes in French. Novels, poems, short stories, essays, and academic work all are tackled in his portfolio.

The collection of poems is titled The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper. Published in French in 2013 and translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson in 2015,

highlights writings over a span of twenty years, even though it is one of his later publications.. They don’t follow a particular set form, except to say they are each quite short and free verse–many are not longer than a stanza, some are as few as a couple of lines. He himself states in the preface that these poems are meant to be economic and, specifically, avoiding excess (page xiv).

Oftentimes, poets have a particular geography in which they write or select a set of poems around a place for which they have an affinity, for whatever reason. It is clear that though he hasn’t lived primarily in Djibouti in 30 years, he still loves and celebrates it. This collection is a definite homage to his homeland. Not only does he describe the landscape, but also includes the night sky, insight to the people there, the interplay between the three as well as the emotional landscape within and interpersonal relationships. Even if the physical place doesn’t show up in every poem, it’s still there.

He adores simplicity and economy of words and rejects excess in this collection – from the outset, as mentioned, he was intentional in this goal. Being able to revel in life without excess is evident throughout.The way he introduces the collection reveals a connection to the land of his ancestors and their migratory patterns – a life unencumbered by many of the material things many hoard in today’s age. He seems to find freedom in that kind of existence as well as beauty and wants to share it with readers as best he can.

In reading these poems, it is evident he is well-educated and is thus able to connect the imagery and spirit of Djibouti to western audiences. Even so, he is at times artistic and tangible in his renderings of the landscape and people (and his emotional connection to them or between them), and in others, very ethereal, metaphorical, and lofty in his descriptions. These are not poems to be read swiftly, one after the other, but instead to be read and then mentally and emotionally digested to grasp the whole of it. Some people prefer their poems plain and easily accessible; if you are one of them, this collection is not for you. For those who like working for your poetry reading, this is definitely for you to read immediately.

Book Reviews, Diversity

Sisters of a Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology

Speculative fiction is a term I’m still grappling with as a reader in terms of its scope. It often includes Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but can include one-off stories as well that don’t neatly fit into any particular category. Sisters of the Revolution, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, is a collection of 29 such stories published just two years ago. Each one is written with a blend of feminism and either sci-fi, fantasy, or horror. Several of the authors included, like Kelley Eskeridge, Nnedi Okorafor, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Octavia Butler, made it an obvious choice to read.

Each one has a different approach to feminist stories within speculative fiction, from women’s words being so powerful she has to be locked up, to adult children imprisoning their mothers, to horror in theater, to feminist power being developed through intentional legend-creation, to the power of words used by women to garner respect, to scientist stories, and more. It deals with the relationships between women and other women, women and their families, women and employment, and women and society and expectations.

Some are excerpts from longer stories, but most are considered short stories in their own rights. They alternate between horrific, far-fetched, and surreally too close to what could happen for comfort. The contemplation of what it means to be a woman in different ways, if subtle changes were made to our experiences of the world, makes most of the stories quite engaging. Unfortunately, there were a few that were far too speculative for my liking – without much grounding in the real world or the realm of possibility.

The snapshots into these self-contained worlds are fascinating. One of the awesome things about this collection is that each author in here has such a distinct style. I always worry about repetitiveness with collections of short stories around a common theme, but this absolutely works. The breadth of what is considered speculative definitely helps with this aspect. Some are quite long, others are pretty short, and the rest are right in the middle for length, and each one is so distinct from the others in both style and content.

By and large, they were well-developed so that it seemed that each story was complete, without needing much more context than was provided. There were a couple that had hardly any context, making it difficult to follow. Mostly, though, they were pretty good with providing the right kind of details surrounding internal struggles, the environment the women waded through, and their relationships. They felt, mostly, like complete and complex characters with fully developed motivations, fears, loves, interests, and reactions to the uniqueness of their situation.

This is one of the better anthologies I’ve seen in terms of consistency in quality – yes there are a few I didn’t care for, but overall, I felt totally immersed in the stories, in the message, in the characters, and wanting to read more. For me, that says enough to recommend it to others. And maybe the ones I didn’t like would be adored by others.

Book Reviews, Diversity

Poems New and Collected by Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska was a poet and essayist born in Poland in the 1920s. As you can imagine, her life was not always easy. At the time of WWII, a number of Polish people were forced into labor by the Nazis, which she was able to avoid by working as a railroad clerk. During the time of the occupation, she had to study in secret and also started doing art and writing. Once the war ended, she published a number of writings. She was also part of Poland’s socialist party, but only for maybe twenty years before denouncing her earlier political writings. Even so, she was active in both writing, book reviews, other literary involvements, and political activism. She eventually won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  

This is a collection of poems written over a 40-year span, from 1957 to 1997. Some were new at the time of the publication; others, of course, had been around a while longer. Other books came after, even one that was posthumously published in 2012, not long after her death. Her poems typically follow free verse, but also have (in English) a number of rhymes or alliterations.

She didn’t shy away from politics, philosophy, theology, the harsh and the beauty of everyday life, but also shows a love of nature, and of music, and of life. It is clear she loved writing and loved words, the sound of them, the feel of them, and how it could make people think and feel. While there isn’t a specific place in mind, in terms of geography, it’s more a map of humanity and our dark, lovely, terrifying, gorgeous, funny nature. Her poetry sheds light on all of them and shines it quite well. They expose us, for better or for worse.

Some poems are utterly gorgeous; others devastatingly simple but oh-so-deep. She can bring the reader right to the place or the feeling or the sound she is writing about in every poem, without fail. If you’re a fan of poetry, Szymborska is a must read.