Today we have Waqas Naeem, director Desi Writers’ Lounge, with his top picks for the year.
Outline by Rachel Cusk (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/January 2015); Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau/July 2015)
Rachel Cusk’s Outline is a riveting read. I was fascinated by its premise, the flow of the writing, and the elaborate conversations that make up the bulk of the novel. Cusk has presented, with such uniqueness and subtlety, the idea that our identities can also take shape if we separate ourselves, willingly or forcibly, from what we are not rather than proclaim what we are. Outline explores the distinction by looking at questions of reality, life and human behaviour in grand discourses. I loved the pace and sense of melancholy in the book. Cusk’s investment in the peripheral, supporting characters that exist around the story’s narrator is admirable. I found Outline to be a strong, well-executed book that is aesthetically delightful and thought-provoking.
The other book that moved me this year was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Here is a relevant and powerful treatise on black existence in contemporary United States. Coates unapologetically and aggressively identifies the historical oppression and subjugation of the lives of blacks, a people which, if Coates’s description in relation to “White America” is extended to the rest of the world, could possibly include all those who have experienced domination and disembodiment by colonizers and despots in the past and present. The book, written in the form of a letter to Coates’s 14-year-old son, is heartrending and insightful. It locates the progress of America in the violent exploitation of humans, in pillage, loot and plunder, in taking away from blacks the right to govern their bodies because without taking it away violently the socioeconomic machinery built on racism and slavery could not work. Through this argument, the book explains the destruction of black bodies in modern America as a tradition, as heritage. For the non-American reader, Between the World and Me is somewhat an anti-imperialist document, I think, because just like Coates tries to answer the question of how to live free in a black body in America with an absence of hope but the wisdom of understanding the immensity of the struggle to lead a conscious life, the question of how to resist global hegemony might only lead to the answer, to borrow Coates’s words, that “the struggle, in and of itself, has meaning.”