Coming up on the 2020 election, I’ll be including an action that you can take to make a difference at the top of every post. Today, I encourage you all to learn about the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), which would help protect the right to vote of Black and other minority Americans. These protections, enshrined in the original Voting Rights Act of 1965, were gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder. Sign the Color of Change petition & ask your Congressperson to pass the VRAA!
This was a short but surprisingly heavy read. As an Indian-American woman, I don’t think that I’ve ever read a book by anyone who shares my identity other than Jhumpa Lahiri. A lot of the fiction I’ve read that includes Indian-American characters inevitably includes a storyline about hyphenated-American kids “assimilating” to American society, which, to me, makes no sense, especially if the character was born in the U.S. So I was really excited to read Good Talk, written in the form of a conversation between Mira Jacob and her young son, Z, about the experience of being born and raised and alive in America as an Indian-American woman. I didn’t relate to the book that much, which is fine, but I have to admit, a bit disappointing.
I know that it’s foolish to assume that every book written by an Indian-American woman will automatically relate to my life. After all, white people don’t go around relating to every white character in every book with casts full of them. Jacob presents herself as a unique individual; born in 1973 in Albuquerque, she grew up in a much different world than I did in the 2000s and early 2010s in San Francisco. And I really enjoyed reading about her personal journey: struggling to finding a career as a writer, moving to New York City in her 20’s, meeting and marrying her husband. This book is about Jacob’s personal life story: that’s what makes it a memoir. But it’s very difficult to divorce her personal story from race, which makes sense, because well, it’s hard to divorce any person of color’s story from the effects of their race. What worries me is that, although she presents this book as a journey through her unique struggle to understand what it means to be brown in America, my own experience with being brown in America has taught me that many white people tend to believe that all brown and Black people have the same views and life experiences, which is not at all true.
Jacob’s experiences with race and racism are very different from mine; our views differ in some places, too. For example, Jacob tells Z at one point that brown and Black people can’t be racist, because racism is about power. I agree that racism is about power; it’s undeniably so. But brown people certainly can be and are racist and anti-Black; Asian-Americans in particular are simultaneously the victims of racism as well as the beneficiaries. While Asian-Americans may not be the racial group in power, individual Asian-Americans can and do have privilege, and, thereby, power in everyday situations. Jacob illustrates this herself in the sections on colorism and interracial dating.
While I appreciated the graphic novel format (reminiscent of Maus by Art Spiegelman and the March trilogy by John Lewis), I didn’t find the mixed-media style very engaging. The book essentially consisted of the same images of the characters mixed up to reflect different situations, and overlayed over different images of locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. While I loved the glimpse into New York, having also moved there in my late teens/early twenties, the facial expressions of the characters rarely–if ever–changed, which, to me, defeated the purpose of having illustrations in the first place.
For the most part, however, this was a fairly enjoyable read, and I really liked the way Jacob conveyed her story through anecdotes in her life. I especially enjoyed her story about a bark-mitzvah at her white in-laws’ place (tbh I’ll love any story that includes multiple dogs), and her struggle to explain racism in America to her mixed-race son when his paternal grandparents become Trump supporters. However, I’m not sure that this was thought-provoking enough or well-written enough for it to be a 4- or 5-star read.
3/5 Wagging Tails
This review is part of my Quarantine Reads series, which explores the various books I’ve been reading to keep myself occupied this quarantine. You can also see all of my quarantine reads, ranked.
Cover image from Book Pairings