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Nonfiction Review: Black Is the Body

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Book By Book

I recently read a collection of essays titled Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard, a selection for Booktopia 2020 (a wonderful book event now sadly cancelled, though a Livestream event is planned). I am disappointed that I won’t be able to meet Emily in May now because her personal essays are insightful, thoughtful, and entertaining.

The author has led an interesting life, growing up African American in the South, going to an Ivy League college and moving to the very white state of Vermont, marrying a white man, and adopting two little girls from Ethiopia. Bernard’s interconnected personal essays cover a wide range of topics from her stunning recounting of being stabbed during a violent crime to her experiences teaching African American literature to a mostly white student body to what it’s like having white friends to the ordeals of adopting their daughters. Throughout the essays, she weaves in pieces of her history, her family, and her own thoughts on these topics, describing her own unique point of view. Most intriguingly, Bernard is direct and honest in her writing, addressing topics that are often not discussed openly, especially among mixed groups. She tackles racism head-on, including her own sometimes confusing or ambiguous feelings. As the subtitle suggests, she also digs into her mother’s and grandmother’s experiences in a segregated South and most interestingly, her daughters’ unique perspectives in growing up as Africans who became American citizens and live among mostly people who look very different from them.

The result is an immersive and engrossing life story told through a series of vignettes. Bernard’s thoughtful musings on race in America invite the reader to also think carefully and openly about a topic we are too often told to be blind to. She is opening up her life to readers and welcoming them to consider these topics and issues with her. She worries that perhaps she thinks too much about race, though she is surrounded by its effects every day. Her writing style is engaging and open, sharing amusing stories as well as her deepest thoughts and intimate experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this thought-provoking and unique look into both one interesting life and our society as a whole.

218 pages, Vintage Books

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