04 August 2009

Book Review: The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin

I've only read one other memoir in the past, when I read The Aquariums of Pyongyang by North Korean defector Kang Chol-Hwan. So, I didn't really know what to expect when I picked up this book from the library.

Little did I know that I would enjoy this piece of literature very much. It tells the story of the childhood of Staceyann Chin, who is a Jamaican poet and activist who resides in New York City. Before picking up this book, I never heard of her, and I initially thought that this would be all girly and feminine stuff. The library has a hardcover copy of the book, but the jacket is always thrown away, so I only saw the red spine and the white hardcover. When I searched what the cover looked like, it was pink, and there was a picture of a little girl on it, it made me second-guess my decision to borrow it. But, as always, once I borrow it, I won't return it until I read it.

So yeah, I started this about 4 days ago. And I was just pulled into it completely. It tells of how the author grew up in Jamaica, with no parents, her mother abandoning her to relatives, and her father not even willing to acknowledge her paternity. The relatives in turn are too dogmatic and unloving, and in every situation the author finds her, she is in the wrong, whether it was wearing a bathing suit (the relative thinks it is a bikini when it is not), or whether it is being raped by older male cousins (the relative thinks that the author invited the rape). It is a culture that I myself do not want to be in, this dogmatic, one-track-minded culture in which one is found in the wrong every time because of disbelief in God or being sinful or because one doesn't want to shut up.

Most of the time, when reading this, I felt how the author must have felt, when she tries to reason to the people around her, to no avail, because the heads of those people are just shut off. Reasoning didn't do anything for her, it just landed plenty of whips on her ass with the belt. There were plenty of occasions in which the author found herself dealing with situations in which truth was established because someone older and having more authority said so, and not the empirical method.

Believe it or not, this is one of the few books that I never wanted to end. As I was finishing this book, I often wondered what happened next, after her discovery of her sexuality and being fine with it, after the frustrated gang rape, after the immigration to New York, what happens next?

Life is unfair. For some, it can be more unfair than others. However, this book shows that if one is determined, one can get out and improve oneself.

See my other book reviews here.

(Another View, from my DC Memorials Series)

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