10 books selected by Robert Kazandjian
If we are truly serious about expressing solidarity and understanding with people, then we need to know their stories. But knowing their stories is not enough. We need to hear their voices.
Augustown by Kei Miller
Augustown is my favourite kind of novel; super specific and at the same time full of universal truths. In 1982, in Augustown, Kingston, six year-old Kaia returns home from school with his dreadlocks cut. In 1920, preacher man Alexander Bedward has prophesied that he will physically fly up and away to heaven. Our deceased narrator tells us the stories of her hometown from a place in the sky. She asks us “whether this story is about the kinds of people you have never taken the time to believe in.”
Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin
James Baldwin is the GOAT. Going to Meet the Man is an incredible collection of short stories relating to anti-Black racism in the United States. And Sonny’s Blues is, in my humble opinion, the greatest short story ever written. Told through the eyes of Sonny’s Harlem schoolteacher brother, it explores the idea of the transformative power of music in the face of great suffering.
Jazz by Toni Morrison
OK I said Baldwin is the GOAT. Toni Morrison is the other GOAT. Of all her novels, Jazz was the one I knew the least about before I opened it and in my opinion it is Morrison’s best work. 1920s Harlem. A safe(r) space where Black women and men from the American south carve out their identities away from the white menace. A murderous love triangle told from various perspectives. All set to the rhythms of the Jazz age.
Massacre at El Mozote by Mark Danner
Mark Danner’s narrative journalism, described as ‘a parable of the cold war,’ reconstructs the 1981 massacre of villagers in El Mozote, El Salvador by U.S trained Salvadoran soldiers. The killings were covered up and the crime denied by the Reagan administration. Danner’s work speaks truth to power and ensures the voices of the victims are not forgotten.
My Brother’s Road by Markar Melkonian
This biography / memoir of American-born Armenian revolutionary Monte Melkonian makes my list because Monte embodied the belief that nobody is free unless we are all free. He abandoned his life in California, witnessed the Iranian revolution, fought against the Israelis as a pro-Palestinian guerrilla fighter in Southern Lebanon before going on to command Armenian troops in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Prisoner to the Streets by Robyn Travis
If I were you, I’d swerve the plethora of writing about young people and violence by lofty scholars and read Robyn Travis’s memoir instead. Robyn was very much about that road life. He leaves no stone unturned as he reflects on his journey from childhood to adulthood in North and East London, the wide-ranging factors that informed the choices he made that kept him on road and the realisation that set him free.
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Safak
I’d had this book on my shelf for a long time before I opened it. I guess I was sceptical of a Turkish author’s take on my people’s suffering. In fact, Elif Safak was accused by her government of ‘insulting Turkishness’ for her work and threatened with jail. The novel explores identity and memory, centring on the Kazanci and Tchakhmakhchian families and their connection through the Armenian Genocide.
The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat
When dealing with historical crimes of monstrous scale, the sheer number of lives lost can almost dilute the fact every death is an individual, unique tragedy. Danticat’s The Farming of Bones is a tragic love story that unfolds in the midst of the genocidal 1937 Parsley Massacre, in which Rafael Trujillo ordered his troops to murder Haitians working in the Dominican Republic’s northern border area.
Women, Race, Class by Angela Davis
The copy I have at home is my mum’s, from 1982; a reminder to those who need reminding that Black women have been doing intersectionality from the very beginning. Davis’s essays join the dots between sexism, racism and the development of class consciousness.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
To be honest, Kafka on the Shore doesn’t really fit with the theme of my list. I’ve included it because of the profound effect it had on me, at a time when I was suffering with depression. The novel features two interrelated plots. One tells the story of Kafka, a 15-year old runaway who finds sanctuary in a library. The other chronicles the adventures of Nakata, expert lost-cat-finder. I was carried away by the fluidity of Murakami’s writing and Kafka’s loneliness mirrored my own, and suddenly I didn’t feel so alone.
Robert Kazandjian is an educator and writer. He works with vulnerable children in North London. His writing seeks to challenge inequality, in all its guises. He has previously written for Ceasefire Magazine on racism in Israel, gender politics and hip hop music, and the necessity of Armenian Genocide recognition. He blogs poetry at makemymark.tumblr.com. He cites Douglas Dunn, Pablo Neruda, James Baldwin and Nas as major influences. He tweets from @RKazandjian
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