What Happens When Politicians Get Creative

Sure, politics can seem like little more than a popularity contest where participants frequently promise more than they can deliver. But in a world beset by life-or-death challenges ranging from COVID-19 and climate change to sectarian violence and hunger, some leaders are trying something different.

In today’s Daily Dose, we’re looking at the innovative steps political leaders around the world are taking to try to fundamentally reset the destinies of their nations — from a Caribbean prime minister who’s building a republic out of a former colony to a Kosovar mayor bridging ethnic tensions with language and culture.

You might not agree with everything they’re trying. And it’s likely not all of these initiatives will succeed. But the world needs bold, new ideas, and these officials are leading the way.

HUNGER

Seeds of Change

The island nation of Singapore brings in more than 90% of its food from abroad, and that’s not normally a problem. But the pandemic’s disruption of global supply chains forced the wealthy city-state to recognize the food insecurity it could face in future crises. Now, seeds of change are sprouting under an initiative led by the country’s National Parks Board and former Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee. Called Gardening With Edibles, the program involves sending out seeds to residents so they can grow fruits and vegetables on their tiny balconies. It’s part of the country’s wider “30 by 30” initiative: to meet 30% of its nutritional needs domestically by 2030. As of March, the initiative had sent out nearly half a million seed packets.

The Masterclass

To make sure legions of new amateur gardeners aren’t left guessing, Singapore’s National Parks Board has released instructional videos on how to sow and harvest the produce. Those who sign up don’t get to choose their seeds, but the plants were selected to reflect the ingredients in traditional Singaporean dishes, like stir-fried cai xin and kangkong belacan. Part of the rollout also means doubling the number of community gardens by 2030, since growing vegetables on a windowsill or balcony can get cramped, and space on the island is at a premium. Additionally, Lee’s pushing an initiative aimed at getting developers of residential apartments to increase green spaces, like rooftop gardens and wall landscaping — providing the additional benefit of cooling ambient temperatures.

Invisible Enemy

While still in its infancy as an independent nation, Bangladesh suffered a major famine in 1974, when an estimated 1.5 million people died. Today, the country that former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once derisively dismissed as a “basket case” has emerged as a success story against food shortages. Between 2000 and 2015, it cut chronic hunger by half, though a sixth of the country’s population remains food insecure. Now, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is focusing on the next big threat to food supplies: antimicrobial resistance, (AMR), in which microbes, by evolving over time, no longer respond to medicine. She’s warning the world of the risk of future pandemics because of this phenomenon and the threat it poses to food security. Will richer nations listen before it’s too late?

Fishing for Nutrition

It’s not just about having enough food; it’s also about having the right nutrition. Hasina has been encouraging Bangladesh’s youth to take to fish farming. Not only is it an opportunity for self-employment, she has said, but it’s a way of locally shoring up her nation’s food supply. Her government is reportedly focusing on increasing fish production while providing food for farmers and fisherfolk to make sure they don’t fall into financial hardship, as well as organizing collateral-free loans for those looking to set up a fishing enterprise.

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POLICY AND ECONOMY

The Crypto King

Creative? Yes. Effective? Only time will tell. El Salvador has made headlines after burgeoning authoritarian and down-with-the-kids President Nayib Bukele made Bitcoin legal tender in the Central American country. It’s been permitted since early September. But that doesn’t mean all businesses are obligated to accept it as payment. Bukele’s vision is a libertarian dream: He has argued that he wants citizens to have access to a market-governed currency instead of being reliant on the U.S. dollar, which is also legal tender. And at least in theory, it should be easier and safer to access money virtually.

Rollout Rumbles

But Bukele’s bold move hasn’t had the smoothest launch. Bitcoin initially took a beating in the markets soon after formally becoming legal tender on Sept. 7, before recovering. There’s also been significant pushback from Salvadorans, many of whom are concerned about Bitcoin’s volatility — it’s a fickle friend — and the potential for it to be used in money laundering. The state launched an official digital wallet, called Chivo, with $30 worth of bitcoin preloaded, but since its introduction, it’s been beset by glitches. Some users didn’t get the $30 and couldn’t use ATMs or even access their wallet. And now the president is urging Salvadorans to “buy the dips,”  by joining him in currency speculation. Sink or swim, the outcome of this experiment could mean big changes for a country in which 70% of the population doesn’t have access to banking services.

The Republican

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle aren’t the only ones severing ties with the British monarchy. Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, elected in 2018, has announced her intention to remove the queen as the island nation’s head of state to make the country a republic by Nov. 30. Speaking to Vogue, Mottley described the decision as “accepting responsibility for who we are,” rather than any ill will toward the royal family. The next few months will see the crystallization of a new constitution, as current Governor-General Dame Sandra Mason is poised to become Barbados’ first local head of state as president.

Marriage Equality by Popular Vote

But Mottley’s a change-maker in more ways than one: She also has marriage equality in her sights. She’s spoken about how, as “A country that was forged in its modern incarnation in the experiment of racism and discrimination,” Barbados can’t now willingly discriminate against its own citizens. Her plan includes first making same-sex civil unions legal, then holding a referendum on same-sex marriage. LGBTQ groups and activists aren’t that confident, however, saying that building equality would take a lot more than civil unions and warning that it may be too early for a marriage referendum.

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INTEGRATION AND EQUALITY

Breaking the Language Barrier

As an ethnic Albanian, Qëndron Kastrati, the mayor of Kamenica, Kosovo, doesn’t speak much Serbian. But along with a growing number of others in his area, he’s learning — thanks to language exchange classes his municipality set up to bridge ethnic and cultural tensions. The vast majority of Kosovars are Albanian, following violent conflict in the late 1990s that prompted many Serbs to leave. Those who remain live largely separate from Albanians, and language and culture barriers perpetuate historic rifts. The course includes visits to sites of religious and cultural importance for both sides. More than 100 people have joined the program, and Kastrati hopes to expand its reach, while other towns are borrowing his idea.

Taking on Teachers

But Kastrati’s ideas are also controversial. The first-time mayor has set out to reform education in his city, where some schools only had one pupil, and ordered 19 schools shut in 2019. Teachers and parents clapped back, pointedly attending the closed schools. Kastrati has nonetheless stood his ground. And last year, then-Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti — who had earlier criticized the Kamenica mayor — praised him for pushing for education reforms even as he urged him to seek a compromise with his critics.

Freedom Zone Activist

It takes guts to be an openly gay, atheist, feminist and pro-European politician in an increasingly conservative Poland ruled by the right-wing Law and Justice party. Yet it’s a stand that Robert Biedroń has been taking for years. A member of the European Parliament and a candidate in his nation’s 2020 presidential election, Biedroń advocated for a project to fight back against Poland’s proliferating “LGBTQ-free zones,” where local authorities have, since 2019, vowed to prevent pro-LGBTQ policies. Biedroń tabled a resolution before the European Parliament arguing that the bloc instead become an “LGBTQ freedom” zone. The resolution passed, though some regions have opted to lose their EU funding rather than comply.

Red-Haired Solidarity

In March, Biedroń appeared on one of Poland’s biggest current affairs TV shows with dyed tomato-red hair. “This is my manifesto” he said, explaining that it’s his sign of support for young people dealing with a lack of access to sex education. Poland’s social history is interwoven with a lack of sex education, leading to perpetuated stereotypes, homophobia, inequality for women and minorities — and increasingly, physical violence. Biedroń said that from that day and for the foreseeable future, he will have red hair in solidarity with “this great, goddamn injustice” that mostly affects children.

Butterfly Effect: Merkel’s Last Act Shows Democracy at Work

Chaotic. Uncertain. Unsteady. These are just some of the words the American and British press have used to describe Germany’s immediate future after Sunday’s elections threw up a fractured mandate. Indeed, for the first time in five federal elections and 16 years, Angela Merkel was not on the ballot when Germany voted for its next government.

But Merkel, who had declared in 2018 that she wouldn’t run again for the post of chancellor, isn’t done: She is now poised to handhold Germany by overseeing a smooth transition of power, very possibly to her political rivals, the Social Democratic Party (SPD). And what might seem like a political scramble for power to countries with a two-party system could actually hold valuable lessons in democracy for the U.S., in a week when Congressional Democrats and Republicans are sparring over everything from infrastructure to a potential government shutdown.  

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union–led alliance came second to the Social Democrats in the election. Both CDU leader Armin Laschet and the SPD’s chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz have said they’ll try to form coalition governments with the two next-biggest parties, the Greens and the pro-market Free Democrats.     

Olaf Scholz In ARD Summer Interview

Olaf Scholz, chancellor candidate of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, attends the annual ARD television summer interview.

Source Omer Messinger/Getty

While both leading parties engage in alliance negotiations — and these could drag on for months — Merkel will stay in office. Yet the prospect of the losing party’s incumbent head of state holding power during a political transition isn’t sparking any anxiety, as it has in recent times in the U.S. and as would undoubtedly happen in other deeply divided major democracies like India and Brazil. Instead, Merkel remains more popular than most other world leaders even after four terms. And even her fiercest political opponents know that she will peacefully hand over power to Scholz if he is able to cobble together a governing coalition.

That peaceful democratic transitions are even worth discussing is a pointer to the times we live in. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is trying to discredit the country’s election system — yes, the same one that brought him to power three years ago — ahead of 2022’s vote, as criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic rocks the support he has enjoyed. He has refused to commit to handing over power if he loses.

In India, the world’s largest democracy, it’s the center-left that’s guilty of conspiracy theories. Opposition parties have often alleged that electronic voting machines used by the country can be hacked, and have insinuated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election wins are in part the result of such crimes. No one has presented conclusive evidence of large-scale tampering of electronic voting machines in India.

And the memories of Jan. 6 — when far-right supporters of then-President Donald Trump attacked the Capitol seeking to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election win by Congress — are still fresh for most of us.

Against that backdrop, Merkel’s otherwise unremarkable final political act — the transfer of power to Germany’s next chancellor, whoever it is — should serve as a reminder of how mature leaders and stable democracies work.

But there are other vital takeaways from Germany’s election. Yes, it might take months before the country has a fresh government. However, the fact that the biggest parties know that they can’t hope to come to power on their own helps soften rough, extremist edges. Compromise is not a dirty word but a process of give-and-take that keeps all sides in check.

Consider this: Germany has never had a government run by a single pre-election alliance since reunification three decades ago. Merkel might be the world’s most prominent leader of the 21st century, but each of her four governments has been a coalition — mostly with her principal rivals, the SPD. Helmut Kohl, Germany’s longest-running leader, never had an absolute majority. Go back further, and you’ll find that West Germany’s last single-party government was in 1961.

That means that the SPD and the Greens, both of which want to expand labor rights if they come to power, are hoping to form a government with the staunchly pro-business Free Democrats. None of these parties will get everything they want, but Germany will get a government that represents a consensus that’s acceptable to all of them — and so, presumably, to their voters.

Armin Laschet Campaigns In Thuringia

Armin Laschet, chancellor candidate of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, speaks to his supporters as he campaigns.

Source Jens Schlueter/Getty

This isn’t just some German quirk. Iceland, Norway and Sweden, the three countries that rank at the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, have only had coalition governments for several decades now, with no single party close to commanding a majority on its own. It’s the same story with the Middle East’s only true democracy, Israel. Perhaps what America needs is a multiparty system.

And if you want more evidence of how Germany’s election has shown a political alternative different from the polarization we’re seeing in the U.S. and many other key democracies, look no further than the fate of the major parties. The democratic socialists, Die Linke, and the far-right Alternative for Germany, both lost votes and seats. The SPD and the CDU, both centrist parties with a fundamental allegiance to Europe and a commitment to the Transatlantic partnership, are the country’s biggest political formations.

To be sure, filling Merkel’s shoes won’t be easy for either Scholz or Laschet. But they know that if they can fit into them, they’ll have Germany behind them. Sunday’s vote has shown that even in 2021, moderate policies have their appeal and that the centrist footprint can grow. Merkel’s party might have lost, but her vision has won.

The Wonderful World of Wellness

Our bodies are supermachines that perform a host of complex tasks, most of which are beyond our comprehension. But supermachines are still machines and as such are prone to breakdowns in the absence of routine maintenance and software upgrades. This is where wellness and other health sciences come in, helping our bodies maximize their potential.

In today’s Daily Dose, we meet fascinating entrepreneurs inspired by old customs, highlight the traditional treatments that influenced them and bust a series of myths that have circulated for years in the wellness and diet industries.

STEER CLEAR OF THESE MYTHS

All Cholesterol Is Bad

For years, wellness experts have parroted on radio and TV and in books that cholesterol is an enemy of good health. As it turns out, even though too much low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or LDL, can lead to a risk of heart disease, having high levels of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s because HDL cholesterol is flushed from the body. Eating whole grains and high-fiber fruit can help lower your LDL levels, which will improve your ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol.

Sunblock Secret

If you’re hitting the beach or stepping out on a hot sunny day, you know you should apply sunscreen, then slather on more every couple of hours after that. And indeed, applying sunblock in those situations will help reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature aging. But here’s the plot twist: We should use sunscreen every day, not just on those that are sunny. “Unless you are completely shaded and protected from the sun, you still need sunscreen on cloudy days,” says Jonathan Leventhal, an onco-dermatologist at Yale Medicine. Oh, and even if you have dark skin, you should still be using sunblock.

Fat Into Muscle

In a world where fatphobia is increasingly enveloping us, it’s normal to be told that if you put in the work in the gym to convert fat into muscle, you can achieve a conventionally attractive body type. But as London-based trainer Hollie Grant says, “This is akin to saying you can turn a dog into a cat.” Swapping fat for muscle is hard. Muscles are built by consuming a protein-rich diet and undertaking strength training. So if you’re aiming to lose that extra flab, good for you. Just don’t expect to gain a six-pack in the process.

Microwaving Kills Nutrients

You’ve definitely heard this one: Heating food in the microwave — one of the most utilitarian inventions created in the past century, if you ask me — saps it of its nutrients. However, scientists at Harvard and Cornell universities have countered by pointing out that while cooking by any method does indeed destroy some nutrients, “microwave cooking is actually one of the least likely forms of cooking” to do so.

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WELLNESS REVOLUTIONARIES

Joycee Awojoodu

In 2011, the Nigerian-American entrepreneur quit her job at a Fortune 500 company in the energy sector and moved to Nigeria to work for the government as a ministerial adviser. Four years later, she launched Oríkì, a natural skincare luxury brand named after a Yoruba word that means “your crown, heritage and inspiration.” Awojoodu, whose products cater to both men and women, works with small farms across the value chain in Nigeria and other African countries to source raw materials. The business also includes a luxury spa and men’s grooming parlor. At a time when many global luxury products ignore the specific skin and hair types of African ethnicities, can Awojoodu’s homegrown secrets offer a fix?

Atiya Wells

The Baltimore-based pediatric nurse is leading an outdoor camping revolution for people of color, a group that has largely been excluded from hiking. As a young woman growing up in Newark, New Jersey, Wells didn’t go on her first hike until she was in her 20s, and she quickly realized that she was usually one of only a few people of color present at these outdoor excursions. Now, Backyard Basecamp, Wells’ environmental organization, is offering racial minority families a retreat on a 10-acre green space just outside Baltimore. The idea is to connect them with nature and create more equitable access to green space overall.

Stephanie Zheng

The 25-year-old serial entrepreneur and aesthetician is the founder and CEO of Mount Lai, a beauty brand that’s taking traditional Chinese medicine to international audiences. The business is named after Mount Penglai, a mythical land with the secret to eternal youth. Zheng was inspired to start the brand by her grandmother, who performed traditional wellness rituals such as jade rolling and gua sha face scraping for decades. But it was at New York University’s Stern School of Business where she learned modern finance and marketing skills. Zheng’s entrepreneurial streak was evident early — she started her first business, an online jewelry store, at the age of 15. Today, Mount Lai’s products are stocked at major U.S. outlets like Sephora.

Charlyn Kentaro

While working and studying law in Cape Town, the Ugandan entrepreneur was drawn to create products for Africa’s growing natural hair movement after struggling to find natural styling products for her own hair. Now, she’s among a handful of women driving that movement, helping the continent overcome colonial and racial stereotypes. The Good Hair Collective, the hair care line of her brand Kentaro Handmade Organics, uses shea butter and other essential oils to help African women take care of their natural hair without having to worry about harmful chemicals or contend with expensive, imported ingredients.

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TRADITIONAL WELLNESS PRACTICES

Ayurveda

This more than 3,000-year-old wellness tradition originating in India literally means “science of life” in Sanskrit. It preaches relaxation, meditation, cleansing, connecting with nature and more while eschewing the use of chemicals. The diet promoted by Ayurveda is believed to be extremely beneficial in preventing hair loss and strengthening hair. Additionally, Ayurvedic herbs are also prescribed to help cure digestion problems and skin issues and to help speed up metabolism. Western medicine is now exploring whether one, turmeric, helps reduce inflammation and whether another herb, ashwagandha, is useful in the treatment of neurological disorders like depression and epilepsy.

Muti

Native to Southern Africa, this alternative therapy gets its name from the Zulu word umuthi, meaning “tree.” Its purported uses vary from (failed) attempts at bringing luck to the South African team at the 2010 soccer World Cup to supposedly treating erectile dysfunction and sexually transmitted diseases. Animal parts and herbs are central to muti. Many South Africans are quietly dismissive of the practice, but they’ve heard enough stories of how it has helped save lives and even aided in prison escapes to know better than to forcefully dispute its powers.

Curanderismo

Centuries after the Spanish colonization of Latin America, this form of folk healing emerged as a combination of the traditional healing practices of Aztec, Maya and Inca people, and foreign Catholic rites. Called curanderismo, it derives its name from the Spanish verb curar, or “cure,” and has served as an antidote to illnesses that were often believed to be punishment meted out by displeased gods. Practitioners are referred to as curanderos and they are active even now, offering herbs, prayers and massages to followers across Central and South America, the U.S. and beyond.

12 Books You Need to Read

Summer is coming to a close in the Northern Hemisphere. But as the evenings draw in and temperatures fall, there’s never been a better time to curl up with a book and enter a world not of your own making.

The international literary world has never been as diverse — or downright interesting — as it is today. That’s why we’ve collated for you, dearest OZY reader, some of the best new reads from Argentina to Zimbabwe and many fascinating places in between. Read on because we guarantee you this: There’s no list as interesting as ours.

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‘Transcendent Kingdom,’ by Yaa Gyasi

Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi’s debut 2016 novel Homegoing was a rousing success. Her second, Transcendent Kingdom, is equally soul-shattering and provocative. It follows the life of Stanford University neuroscience researcher Gifty, whose family moved from Ghana to Alabama before she was born. Gifty’s story unfolds as she reckons with that history and each family member’s impact on how she understands and relates to the world around her. One of her most formative experiences is her brother’s death from a heroin overdose. In order to understand him, Gifty conducts addiction research on mice. The novel is a nuanced portrayal of Gifty’s struggle with science, reason and religion. In the end, she is forced to contend with the idea that none of those things on their own is sufficient to explain our world.

‘The Other Black Girl,’ by Zakiya Dalila Harris

When 26-year-old Nella Rogers realizes that another Black woman will be working alongside her at Wagner Books in New York City, she is excited and a little nervous. Finally, she isn’t the only Black girl on her office floor. But soon Nella finds herself sliding into a competition she never sought and uncovers the sinister underbelly of the career she’s fought so hard for. The novel is Zakiya Dalia Harris’ first and is based on her own experiences working at a Manhattan publishing house. The book is a thoughtful examination of the lasting impacts of microaggressions and fleeting commitment to diversity made by corporations in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

‘Cold Wind: A Mystery,’ by Paige Shelton

What is it about mystery narratives set in cold places? Place doubles as a character in Paige Shelton’s second book in the Alaska Wild series. Having survived a slippery slope on Thin Ice, protagonist Beth Rivers has been laying low in Benedict, Alaska. Just as she is adapting to her new home and getting back some of that mystery writer mojo, a mudslide unearths chilling small town secrets. One frozen body, two young girls who do not speak and a world of atmospheric intrigue. Reader, remember to brr . . . eathe.

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out of africa

‘At Night All Blood Is Black,’ by David Diop

There are hundreds of novels that deal with the tragedy and violence of World War I. But At Night All Blood Is Black, by Senegalese-French author David Diop, pulls back the curtain to reveal the forgotten lives of West African soldiers. The novel chronicles the journey of a Senegalese soldier named Alfa Ndiaye into madness while fighting in the trenches for the French. He adopts the ritual of chopping off the hands of enemy soldiers to avenge his friend’s death. It is a mesmerizing ride through the atrocities and lawlessness of war alongside Diop’s protagonist. First published in French in 2018, the English version, translated by Anna Moschovakis, won the 2021 International Booker Prize.

‘The Promise,’ by Damon Galgut

If you’re a fan of South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and his bleak outlook on life, you’re sure to love Damon Galgut. Though love is perhaps not the right word. The writer doesn’t shy from the uncomfortable, and depicts South Africa’s still searing race relations with sharp and unforgiving clarity. His on-topic latest novel, The Promise, is an unflinching look at the country’s current debate over white-owned land and how to right the wrongs of history. The narrative centers on an estranged white farming family and moves from 1980s apartheid into the current democratic era as the country evolves. You’ll find no spoilers here, but the ending of this highly disturbing novel will probably leave you with more questions than answers. The Promise was longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.

‘This Mournable Body,’ by Tsitsi Dangarembga

This novel was shortlisted for last year’s Booker and its Zimbabwean feminist author was awarded the prestigious PEN Pinter Prize as “a voice of hope we all need to hear.” Dangarembga rose to fame with her 1988 novel Nervous Conditions, which focused on a young girl and her anorexic cousin in 1960s Rhodesia. Both chafe against the stifling patriarchal society in which they grow up. In This Mournable Body, Dangarembga, who was arrested last year for protesting against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, revisits her characters in a post-independence Zimbabwe. The PEN committee lauded Dangarembga for her “ability to capture and communicate vital truths even amidst times of upheaval.”

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to england

‘The Wife Upstairs,’ by Rachel Hawkins

There’s a gated community for ultra elites, a young broke girl with a haunted past and a handsome widower who may be battling ghosts of his own. Fans of Jane Eyre — and fence-sitters too — should give this modern, winking ode to the 1847 classic a chance. Sharp, stormy and rife with new-age Gothic romance, The Wife Upstairs is not quite a retelling, though it shows off customary parallels with Charlotte Brontë’s story. Luckily, the plot comes bearing delicious twists and turns that keep you from getting too comfortable. Enter if you fancy the uncanny feeling of losing your way in a maze made to resemble your favorite place. You’ll come away with a quick fix, and maybe even some reimagined power dynamics!

‘Klara and the Sun,’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is another on the Booker Prize longlist, but if you’re a fan of Remains of the Day — Ishiguro’s novel set in early 20th-century England focused on the unspoken love between the butler and housekeeper in an English manor — his new book will be quite a departure. The Japanese-born British writer, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2017, turns his attention to artificial intelligence in Klara and the Sun. Here, an android narrator, an “Artificial Friend” for a teenager, observes the humans around her. This novel has more in common with clone romance Never Let Me Go, and the Booker judging panel has called it a “genuinely innocent, ego-less perspective on the strange behavior of humans obsessed and wounded by power, status and fear.”

‘Who’s Loving You: Love Stories by Women of Colour’

Edited by British author Sareeta Domingo, this collection of short stories delivers what it promises: the glorious mess of love as experienced by women of color. As with any such collection, there’s a chance that some narratives will stick with you while others slide away, or even sit uneasily. But between a multicultural mix of emerging voices and literary prize-winners, it’s hard not to marvel at the age-old yet radical attempt to make sense of the plurality of love. If you’re wondering, this book is not all strawberries and kisses. There’s grief, identity, family, the strangeness of diasporas and an unflinching vocabulary of desire. In short: a heart so earnest you’ll want to love it just for having written itself out.

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and beyond

‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed,’ by Mariana Enríquez

Set against the backdrop of contemporary Argentina, Mariana Enríquez’s unsettling anthology of short stories will enthrall and sometimes horrify you. Each story has a compelling undercurrent tied to far-reaching subjects, such as morality or modern-day femininity. In one story, two teenage girls can’t accept the death of their idol and do some wild things to keep his memory alive. In another, a woman becomes sexually obsessed with heartbeats. The Argentinian author is known for her mastery of horror and for bending the rules into a convoluted, hazy moral landscape. Enríquez’s writing will have you questioning the line between the real and imaginary, and rethinking just how precarious it can be.

‘Whereabouts,’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

Is there anything Jhumpa Lahiri can’t do? Not only did the American author of Indian descent win the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, she went to live in Rome to learn Italian for fun and is now writing in that language. Her latest work is the first author-translated book ever published by Knopf, which credits it with signaling “a bold shift of style and sensibility.” Many of Lahiri’s previous novels and short stories focus on the lives of Indians and Indian Americans, but her new novel centers on an unnamed Roman narrator over the period of a year. “Translation, to me, is metamorphosis,” Lahiri says. “It is a kind of radical re-creation of the work.”

‘Where the Wild Ladies Are,’ by Aoko Matsuda and Polly Barton (Translator)

From emotional ghosts to real ones, in literature, the call of the wild is hard to ignore. Especially if it involves a band of feisty women who are both haunted and haunting. Aoko Matsuda delves into Japan’s tradition of supernatural folklore and reinterprets it with feminist candor. The result? A tapestry of interlinked short stories that deal in humor and wistfulness, glass ceilings and body positivity. Few things are spookier than the patriarchy’s need to strip women of their visibility . . . until they speak up — in this case as their own stereotype of vengeful female spirits. Is it fiction? Is it a metaphor? Decide for yourself in gems such as Smartening Up, The Peony Lanterns and Quite a Catch.

Latin America Is Defining the New Cool

When it comes to popular depictions of Latin America and its culture, shallow stereotypes of what is a profoundly diverse region abound. Which is why, to truly get Latino culture, you need to tune out of popular — and often sadly inaccurate — tropes and tune in to today’s Daily Dose. 

Indigenous rappers, quinoa sushi and cannabis-infused teas are transforming Latin America’s cultural and gastronomic landscape even as brave activists work to preserve the region’s astonishing natural beauty. Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by diving deeper than just salsa rhythms, Caribbean beaches and pisco sours for a sensory journey to a stunning part of the world that’s in flux. I should know: I’m from Argentina.

Watch

These films offer a window into the beautiful but gritty reality that defines life for many of the region’s people.

Don’t Cry for Me

There’s a myth that we Argentines are smug and dramatic. Check out classics Nine Queens and Wild Tales and decide for yourself. The films are the closest you’ll get to a fly-on-the-wall perspective of Buenos Aires’ culture and the quirky personalities of its locals, the porteños. In Nine Queens, superstar Ricardo Darín (Google him) plays a professional hustler who tricks people to make a bit of extra cash as he trains his mysterious new protégé. The actor also stars in Wild Tales, a series of six stories in which Argentines take their deepest frustrations over everything, from unfair parking tickets to cheating grooms and abusive bosses to extreme — and hilarious, levels.

Mind the Mexican Gap

You might have watched Alfonso Cuarón’s spectacular Roma, a black-and-white sublime tale of how two women (one Indigenous and one of white European descent) separated by 500 years of brutal colonial history experience the political turmoil of 1970s Mexico. But did you know the award-winning director hid messages in the story? Here’s one: When Cleo, who works as a maid, tells her boyfriend, Fermín, that she is pregnant, he dismisses her and screams “pinche gata,” a derogatory word middle-class people use to insult domestic workers. His using the expression signals how he feels he’s moved up the social ladder as soon as he joined a right-wing urban militia group and immediately started looking down on her.

‘7 Boxes’

Landlocked Paraguay is not particularly well known for its film industry, which is why this rare, yet wonderful, thriller is a must-watch for insights into this Spanish-Guaraní bilingual nation. The story: A 17-year-old market seller is offered $100 (30% of a month’s minimum wage) to transport seven sealed boxes to the opposite side of town. The condition: He cannot look inside. What he doesn’t know is that by accepting the deal, he instantly becomes involved in a mysterious crime. The film takes you through some of the most marginalized (and tourist-free) areas of Paraguay’s capital, Asunción, for a glimpse of what life is really like for its residents.

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Hear

You might know Latin America for its salsa, tango and reggaeton, but if you want to know what the local jukebox is playing right now, check these artists out.

Feminist Reggaeton

Made überpopular by the likes of Maluma, J Balvin and Karol G, reggaeton’s dancehall-meets-hip-hop-with-a Latin-twist rhythm is having its moment. But some of its more noxious elements are also being challenged — from within. A tribe of feminist artists has taken the style’s contagious beats, scratched the offensive language and replaced it with lyrics that speak to a new generation of women and girls. Among them, Torta Golosa is one to watch. This Chilean duo has embraced a male-dominated music genre to sing about gay rights, sex, abortion and their country’s social uprising.

Say What?

A new wave of Indigenous artists are also grabbing the microphone that’s long been denied to them, offering a unique take on old classics, elevated by their own new sounds. Take Kunumi MC. This Brazilian Indigenous artist mixes Guaraní with Portuguese and ancestral instruments with modern beats to sing about some of the many environmental issues affecting the Amazon. On the same train is 19-year-old Renata Flores, an artist who became famous for singing modern songs in her native Quechua, the language of the Inca empire that is still spoken in modern-day Peru. Now the queen of Inka trap, she raps about the struggles of Indigenous peoples, particularly women.

Trapping Millions

Counting soccer superstar Lionel Messi among his fans and amassing hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, 23-year-old Valentín Oliva — aka WOS DS3 — is the king of the Argentine music scene. Oliva is leading a generation of freestylers who have taken elements of the traditional payadores, artists who used to tell stories by improvising lyrics, and has added rap rhythms. His moment of glory came in 2019 when he released his debut album, Canguro, which criticizes the local political class and social inequality in his country. With a Latin Grammy nomination under his belt and a new album recorded during lockdown, you best get ready to hear a lot more from this trailblazer.

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Taste

Close your eyes, take a big bite and savor the region’s outstanding cuisine.

Arepas

There are several long-standing culinary fights in Latin America, and the origin of these ground maize flatbreads is my favorite. Both Colombia and Venezuela fight over ownership of what has been a staple in both countries since before colonial times. But it is the millions of Venezuelans who fled their country’s economic and humanitarian crises over the past decade who have recently made the cornmeal cakes popular across the world. Now you can find this yummy yet healthy street food (it’s gluten-free) in most Latin American countries — with each giving it a local twist.

Hipster Mate

There is a Spanish saying that goes “as Uruguayan as mate,” and a short stroll around any town of this small nation will prove it right. Mate, a drink traditionally made by pouring water into an herb-filled wood pot and drinking it with a straw, is widely popular in the southern corner of Latin America. But no one can beat the Uruguayan appetite for mate. The average Uruguayan consumes nearly 20 pounds of the drink every year. Now a new wave of hipsters is reinventing the traditional beverage (whose origins go back to Syria and Lebanon) by adding new herbs and even mixing it with cannabis.

Quinoa Sushi

Forget Mexico and Brazil, Latin America’s kitchen is in Peru. The gastronomic powerhouse has established itself as the home of one of the most exciting fusion cuisines in the world. It’s much more than the sum of its parts. Nikkei, as the style is called after the Japanese word for migrants and their descendants, is a cuisine that developed over generations, mixing Peru’s traditionally rich dishes with Japanese techniques. Think sashimi with spicy Latin sauces, quinoa-based sushi and Japanese curry-flavored Peruvian empanadas.

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PROTECT

Latin America’s gorgeousness is under threat. These brave women are standing tall to defend it.

Marina Silva (Brazil)

Growing up in a rubber tapper community in the Amazon forests, Silva (pictured above) taught herself to read and write at the age of 16, earned a university degree and began campaigning against deforestation. She later became Brazil’s minister for the environment before taking a seat as the first woman from her community in the senate. For a while in 2014, she even appeared poised to upset then-President Dilma Rousseff in federal elections. Frustrated with politics, Silva eventually returned to activism and is a leading voice against President Jair Bolsonaro’s lax environmental policies — in 2019, record-breaking fires turned over 17 million acres of Amazon rainforest into ash. She says the way to tackle deforestation is to combat illegal land occupation, create conservation areas for Indigenous communities, and invest in solar and wind power.

Luz Mery Panche (Colombia)

Defending the environment can be a dangerous job in Latin America. In Colombia, it can be lethal. But none of that discourages this Nasa Indigenous woman, who has been campaigning for decades to protect Colombia’s Amazon forests. Trained as an engineer, the 44-year-old says the problem is that authorities see the forest and land as a home to resources such as gold and oil to be exploited rather than protected. “As Nasa peoples, we see earth as our mother. It is our duty and mission to care for it,” Panche told Distintas Latitudes.

Bertha Zuñiga (Honduras)

Carrying one of the most respected names in the world of environmental protection, the 30-year-old is a daughter of Berta Cáceres, the activist who was murdered in Honduras in 2016. Today, Zuñiga carries her mother’s torch in a country that’s particularly dangerous for environmental activists. A descendant of the Lenca Indigenous people, she’s trying to draw the world’s attention to the crisis in Honduras, urging global firms to think twice before investing in a country with a troubling human rights record. 

Meet the Man Making Opera History

When you think of jazz, what comes to mind? Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” John Coltrane’s version of “In a Sentimental Mood” or perhaps it’s Miles Davis’ entire Kind of Blue album? Jazz was born in America and has, in a relatively short time, taken the world by storm … just like opera. I’ve seen a few operas in my time. My favorites have been Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, along with Giacomo Puccini’s  Madama Butterfly and La Bohème. Luckily for lovers of jazz, opera or both, Terence Blanchard has created an opera for the history books.

The synergy between jazz and opera is well understood by this New Orleans native. Blanchard studied composition as a child at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and was taught to never separate the two music genres. His teachers, including Roger Dickerson and Ellis Marsalis, taught that the worlds of jazz and opera were a reflection of the time and the communities in which they were created. “Jazz was a logical extension of the classical world of harmony and rhythm, so I never saw them as that separate,” Blanchard says. “The separation came from narrow-mindedness of people who did either just jazz or just classical and did not look at the other side. But not for me.”

While Blanchard’s foundation was laid in the Big Easy, his musical tastes and talents have taken him around the world. Most jazz lovers know Blanchard’s extensive work as a trumpeter with an impressive body of work. From studio albums to myriad movie soundtracks, Blanchard has created the scores for numerous films. If you’ve felt tense watching Inside Man and 25th Hour or reflective experiencing One Night in Miami and Harriet, you can thank Blanchard’s detailed and sweeping arrangements.

Many fans know Blanchard from his long-term collaborations with American filmmaker Spike Lee. The two have collaborated extensively through the decades on 17 films, including Jungle Fever, Mo Better Blues, Malcolm X and 4 Little Girls. Blanchard’s mastery of the trumpet, piano and composition has helped bring to life many facets of African American life in Lee’s films — not to mention earning two Oscar nominations for scoring 2018’s BlacKkKlansman and 2020’s Da 5 Bloods.

On Sept. 27, the Met Opera will stage Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, an adaptation of fellow Louisianan and New York Times journalist Charles Blow’s 2014 memoir. This will be the first production in the Met’s 138-year history created by an African American. We met recently to discuss this groundbreaking achievement. The following has been edited for clarity and space.

Greer: What are you most excited to see when the curtains rise on Sept. 27?

Blanchard: I am so excited for the audience to experience the brilliance of Camille Brown’s choreography, the co-directing of Jim Robinson, the [libretto] work by Kasi Lemmons, and all of the incredibly talented dancers and singers in the entire production … I can’t wait for people to see themselves on the Met stage. I am excited for people to experience their culture on the Met stage.

Greer: Who will you be thinking of when the show debuts? Directing and creating this opera will place you among trailblazing icons like baseball’s Jackie Robinson and tennis’ Althea Gibson.

Blanchard: I’ll be thinking of all of the talented and qualified composers, musicians and teachers who never had this opportunity available to them. I’ll also be thinking of all of the teachers and mentors who assisted me in getting to this moment.

Greer: We’re both teachers, and I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but can the same be said of albums? With your new album Absence (Blue Note Records) coming out, do you have a favorite you’ve created?

Blanchard: I don’t have a favorite. I really don’t. And my work ethic stems from my father. He sold insurance during the day, came home, took a nap and then worked as a hospital orderly at night. He’d then take a nap before going back to work to sell insurance. He had an adding machine by the bed where he was constantly working and in the middle of all of that, he would work on music. I said that would never be me (laughter), but when you’re doing what you love it doesn’t feel like work. If a great opportunity comes my way, I have to make time for it. It’s just created a body of work that I can look at later. It’s all about being in the moment. And constantly moving forward. I want to have these experiences and constantly grow as a person and an artist.

For those interested in seeing this historic opera, visit www.metopera.org. Tickets start at $37 and the show runs on select nights from Sept. 27 to Oct. 23.  Masks required.

Hey Neighbor! Imagine a World Beyond Borders

If the problem is the U.S. border with Mexico, is the solution an alligator-filled moat? In 2019, former President Donald Trump reportedly asked aides to explore that idea. In a response worthy of Jonathan Swift, defense strategist and author Peter W. Singer worked out the costs of replacing border fences with a moat filled with alligators and snakes. Spoiler alert: It’s surprisingly doable, costing $2.5 billion to acquire the reptiles and $1.8 billion a year to maintain them as a “border force.”

If that’s a bizarre solution, recent reports that U.S. border agents on horseback grabbed and whipped at Haitian migrants on the southern border suggest an even more inhumane approach. As hundreds of thousands of Afghans seeking asylum add to the global refugee crisis, today’s Daily Dose traces the evolution of America’s policy toward migrants, identifies what the future could look like and introduces you to some of the world’s more surprising border battles.

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Rethinking Borders?

The Merkel Model

Germany votes today to elect a new government that, for the first time since 2005, will not be headed by Angela Merkel. Yet the German chancellor’s legacy will continue to echo far beyond her country’s borders. In the summer of 2015, after a flood of refugees from Syria and other conflict-ridden nations risked death on the open seas to reach Europe, countries like Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia pushed them out. Then Merkel stepped in, opening the borders of Europe’s largest economy to 1.7 million asylum applicants by 2019. Now the world is facing a fresh refugee crisis as Afghans flee their Taliban-ruled country. So far, the U.S. and other nations have agreed to take in tens of thousands of asylum-seekers. But as their numbers rise, will governments remain as resolute as Merkel once was?

Dream Turned ‘Disaster’

Former Marine General Leonard Chapman’s first order of business when he became the head of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1973 was to seal off the border with Mexico. Chapman had previously served in Vietnam and was haunted by his inability to enforce South Vietnam’s borders. But Chapman’s push to secure America’s borders did nothing to stem the flow of migrants. By 1979, immigration had returned to pre-1965 levels — when controls were much looser — and continued to rise dramatically. In 1976, Chapman described a “growing, silent invasion of illegal aliens” as a phenomenon that could become a “national disaster.” Fast forward four decades and there’s a consensus among experts that even the most sophisticated physical barriers rarely work to stop immigration.

Robo-Borders?

5G and self-driving cars go together like a GPS-bridled horse and artificial intelligence-controlled carriage. Autonomous vehicles rely on signals received through wireless networks to find out when the road in front of you will zag. But what if your network drops momentarily because the operator changes as you cross a border? You don’t want to be the latest self-driving car crash headline. Luckily, the European Union is building 5G highways at border crossings to realize its vision of unencumbered travel across international frontiers. It’s spending $47 million on pilot projects at crossings between Greece and Turkey, Spain and Portugal and Italy and Austria so that future travelers don’t need to worry about borders — or drivers.

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Blockchain Guard

Helpless and desperate migrants are rarely the most dangerous illegal actors at America’s borders. By hacking systems and changing data about shipments, sophisticated transnational crime groups can sneak illegal goods into American ports. Now the Department of Homeland Security is using blockchain technology to guard against this threat. Transactions made on a blockchain are theoretically tamper-proof. The tech could also allow people to cross borders without passports — while certifying their identity and keeping a record of their movements that can’t be adulterated. You could even include and store information about a traveler’s COVID-19 vaccination status on the digital passport.

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Cities Are the Real Nations

But the future could look very different. The explosion of megacities — cities that have more than 10 million residents — is redefining the idea of borders, argues international relations expert Parag Khanna. “In a megacity world, countries can be suburbs of cities,” he says. By 2030, we will have 50 megacity clusters, most of them in Africa and Asia. Cities like Lagos, Nigeria, have made neighboring countries like Benin into economically dependent suburbs. Country borders will become far less important when you commute across them every day to get to work in a megacity. Just ask those who commute across state lines from New Jersey to New York every day.

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Ain’t No Border High Enough

Viral Visitors

COVID-19 and its variants don’t need visas. Zoonotic viruses — which jump from animals to humans — are already adept at crossing borders. Currently, 60% of new infectious diseases originate in animals and that’s only going to increase as wild areas shrink, pushing people and animals closer together. Disease outbreaks were found to be more likely in areas with recent deforestation from industrial logging. A study published in 2017 determined that preventing the destruction of forests can help guard against new outbreaks. Building and maintaining a border between wild and populated areas by expanding national parks or preserving the natural areas bordering cities has become more critical than ever.

One Toke Over the Line

Trafficking marijuana between states is a booming business. One of Colorado’s largest-ever busts came from a group known as “The Syndicate,” which took advantage of the state’s legalization laws to grow weed and distribute it throughout the U.S. Colorado authorities charged 32 individuals and seized $10 million in cash from members of the cooperative. In 2018, law enforcement officials revealed that they had nabbed Colorado-grown weed in 34 states, proving that state borders don’t matter much when moving herb. The legal to illegal flow has even started to cross national borders. In a poetic turn of events, weed from California is being trafficked into Mexico, where the market for California-grown weed has exploded. Strains of marijuana that go for $150 an ounce stateside sell for $500 an ounce south of the border.

Mediterranean Menace

There are few journeys more dangerous than the one that thousands of migrants make each year from sub-Saharan Africa toward Europe, via Libya. If they pass through the town of Bani Walid in northern Libya, they might never make it out alive: It’s a city-sized torture chamber where human traffickers hold migrants until their loved ones cough up ransom. Meanwhile, Europe is working with Libyan militias to effectively stop migrants who are risking life and limb to reach its shores. Under international maritime law, ships are supposed to rescue those in distress out at sea. In the first three weeks of February 2021, more than 3,100 migrants were rescued at sea while crossing the Mediterranean. But a record number of them are on track to be returned to Libya this year. ​​None of that will stop migrants from trying again . . . and again.

Bitcoin in Afghanistan

Amid the chaos following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, some residents are turning to cryptocurrency to weather the country’s deepening economic crisis. For 22-year-old Farhan Hotak, his cryptocurrency wallet represents the hope that he can remain dialed in to the global economy instead of being restricted by a border closely monitored by the Taliban. It’s a way for Hotak to preserve his family’s wealth despite the economic collapse that has caused banks in Kabul to close and run out of cash. Google trends showed a surge in searches about cryptocurrency before Kabul fell to the Taliban. The Islamist group has promised to allow Afghans to travel freely in the future, but young people like Hotak aren’t so sure. They trust Bitcoin more than battle-hardened militants who’ve reneged on other pledges.

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Bizarre Borders

Alternate Realities

Google and other mapmakers are guilty of changing borders based on the viewer’s country of origin. That’s because Google adapts to the rules, regulations and preferences of the host country. South Korean users of Google Maps see the “East Sea,” while “Sea of Japan” appears for users in its namesake nation. In India, online maps show national borders that fully contain Kashmir, even though much of that region is actually controlled by Pakistan — an on-the-ground reality depicted by maps elsewhere. Then there’s the confusing Line of Actual Control that’s the de facto boundary between India and China in the Himalayas. The problem? The two sides don’t agree on where the line actually sits — with each defining it in a way that theoretically gives itself more territory.

Frontiers in Porcelain

Don’t mess with Dutch women, especially over public toilets. When 23-year-old Geerte Piening was fined for peeing discreetly in public in 2015, a judge told her she should have used Amsterdam’s public urinals, designed exclusively for men. Thus the hashtag #hoedan (“but how”) was born. It’s a movement that saw Dutch women crossing the gender boundary, contorting themselves into increasingly ridiculous postures to attempt to pee in the men’s public bathrooms. A report last year found that the number of women’s toilets was still not equal to that of men’s, so the excruciating wait continues.

What’s the Time?

If you ever feel like you deserve a redo of your day, you could always cross the International Date Line. For example, if you live on the Russian island of Big Diomede, you can paddle just 2.4 miles to the American island of Little Diomede — and go back to yesterday. The distance can even be crossed on foot during the winter when the Bering Strait freezes over. Conversely, if you feel like skipping a day, you could head from Little Diomede to Big Diomede. But be warned, aspiring time travelers: Conditions on the islands are pretty harsh. The summertime temperatures average from 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and range from 6 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. Brr!

Food Wars

Falafel originated in ancient Egypt thousands of years ago before spreading throughout the Middle East. Traces of the beans used to make the dish have been found in Egyptian tombs that date back nearly 4,000 years. Yet today it’s a symbol of the cultural conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. Falafel became popular in the newly formed Israel after World War II. Some Palestinians feel that Israel claimed falafel as its invention to legitimize its statehood in the predominantly Arab Levant. They also think that Israel’s campaign to make falafel its own with catchy songs or by designating it Israel’s national dish erases their history.

12 Books You Need To Read

Summer is coming to a close in the Northern Hemisphere. But as the evenings draw in and temperatures fall, there’s never been a better time to curl up with a book and enter a world not of your own making. The international literary world has never been as diverse — or downright interesting — as it is today. That’s why we’ve collated for you, dearest OZY reader, some of the best new reads from Argentina to Zimbabwe and many fascinating places in between. Read on because we guarantee you this: There’s no list as interesting as ours.

AMERICAN READS

‘Transcendent Kingdom,’ by Yaa Gyasi

Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi’s debut 2016 novel Homegoing was a rousing success. Her second, Transcendent Kingdom, is equally soul-shattering and provocative. It follows the life of Stanford University neuroscience researcher Gifty, whose family moved from Ghana to Alabama before she was born. Gifty’s story unfolds as she reckons with that history and each family member’s impact on how she understands and relates to the world around her. One of her most formative experiences is her brother’s death from a heroin overdose. In order to understand him, Gifty conducts addiction research on mice. The novel is a nuanced portrayal of Gifty’s struggle with science, reason and religion. In the end, she is forced to contend with the idea that none of those things on their own is sufficient to explain our world.

‘The Other Black Girl,’ by Zakiya Dalila Harris

When 26-year-old Nella Rogers realizes that another Black woman will be working alongside her at Wagner Books in New York City, she is excited and a little nervous. Finally, she isn’t the only Black girl on her office floor. But soon Nella finds herself sliding into a competition she never sought and uncovers the sinister underbelly of the career she’s fought so hard for. The novel is Zakiya Dalia Harris’ first and is based on her own experiences working at a Manhattan publishing house. The book is a thoughtful examination of the lasting impacts of microaggressions and fleeting commitment to diversity made by corporations in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

‘Cold Wind: A Mystery,’ by Paige Shelton

What is it about mystery narratives set in cold places? Place doubles as a character in Paige Shelton’s second book in the Alaska Wild series. Having survived a slippery slope on Thin Ice, protagonist Beth Rivers has been laying low in Benedict, Alaska. Just as she is adapting to her new home and getting back some of that mystery writer mojo, a mudslide unearths chilling small town secrets. One frozen body, two young girls who do not speak and a world of atmospheric intrigue. Reader, remember to brr . . . eathe.

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OUT OF AFRICA

‘At Night All Blood Is Black,’ by David Diop

There are hundreds of novels that deal with the tragedy and violence of World War I. But At Night All Blood is Black by Senegalese-French author David Diop, pulls back the curtain to reveal the forgotten lives of West African soldiers. The novel chronicles the journey of a Senegalese soldier named Alfa Ndiaye into madness while fighting in the trenches for the French. He adopts the ritual of chopping off the hands of enemy soldiers to avenge his friend’s death. It is a mesmerizing ride through the atrocities and lawlessness of war alongside Diop’s protagonist. First published in French in 2018, the English version, translated by Anna Moschovakis, won the 2021 International Booker Prize.

‘The Promise,’ by Damon Galgut

If you’re a fan of South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and his bleak outlook on life, you’re sure to love Damon Galgut. Though love is perhaps not the right word. The writer doesn’t shy from the uncomfortable, and depicts South Africa’s still searing race relations with sharp and unforgiving clarity. His on-topic latest novel, The Promise, is an unflinching look at the country’s current debate over white-owned land and how to right the wrongs of history. The narrative centers on an estranged white farming family and moves from 1980s apartheid into the current democratic era as the country evolves. You’ll find no spoilers here, but the ending of this highly disturbing novel will probably leave you with more questions than answers. The Promise was longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.

‘This Mournable Body,’ by Tsitsi Dangarembga

This novel was shortlisted for last year’s Booker and its Zimbabwean feminist author was awarded the prestigious PEN Pinter Prize as “a voice of hope we all need to hear.” Dangarembga rose to fame with her 1988 novel Nervous Conditions, which focused on a young girl and her anorexic cousin in 1960s Rhodesia. Both chafe against the stifling patriarchal society in which they grow up. In This Mournable Body, Dangarembga, who was arrested last year for protesting against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, revisits her characters in a post-independence Zimbabwe. The PEN committee lauded Dangarembga for her “ability to capture and communicate vital truths even amidst times of upheaval.”

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TO ENGLAND

‘The Wife Upstairs,’ by Rachel Hawkins

There’s a gated community for ultra elites, a young broke girl with a haunted past and a handsome widower who may be battling ghosts of his own. Fans of Jane Eyre — and fence-sitters too — should give this modern, winking ode to the 1847 classic a chance. Sharp, stormy and rife with new-age Gothic romance, The Wife Upstairs is not quite a retelling, though it shows off customary parallels with Charlotte Brontë’s story. Luckily, the plot comes bearing delicious twists and turns that keep you from getting too comfortable. Enter if you fancy the uncanny feeling of losing your way in a maze made to resemble your favorite place. You’ll come away with a quick fix, and maybe even some reimagined power dynamics!

‘Klara and the Sun,’ by Kazuo Ishigaru

This is another on the Booker Prize longlist, but if you’re a fan of Remains of the Day — Ishigaru’s novel set in early 20th-century England focused on the unspoken love between the butler and housekeeper in an English manor — his new book will be quite a departure. The Japanese-born British writer, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2017, turns his attention to artificial intelligence in Klara and the Sun. Here, an android narrator, an “Artificial Friend” for a teenager, observes the humans around her. This novel has more in common with clone romance Never Let Me Go, and the Booker judging panel has called it a “genuinely innocent, ego-less perspective on the strange behavior of humans obsessed and wounded by power, status and fear.”

‘Who’s Loving You: Love Stories by Women of Colour’

Edited by British author Sareeta Domingo, this collection of short stories delivers what it promises: the glorious mess of love as experienced by women of color. As with any such collection, there’s a chance that some narratives will stick with you while others slide away, or even sit uneasily. But between a multicultural mix of emerging voices and literary prize-winners, it’s hard not to marvel at the age-old yet radical attempt to make sense of the plurality of love. If you’re wondering, this book is not all strawberries and kisses. There’s grief, identity, family, the strangeness of diasporas and an unflinching vocabulary of desire. In short: a heart so earnest, you’ll want to love it just for having written itself out.

AND BEYOND

‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed,’ by Mariana Enríquez

Set against the backdrop of contemporary Argentina, Mariana Enríquez’s unsettling anthology of short stories will enthrall and sometimes horrify you. Each story has a compelling undercurrent tied to far-reaching subjects, such as morality or modern-day femininity. In one story, two teenage girls can’t accept the death of their idol and do some wild things to keep his memory alive. In another, a woman becomes sexually obsessed with heartbeats. The Argentinian author is known for her mastery of horror and for bending the rules into a convoluted, hazy moral landscape. Enríquez’s writing will have you questioning the line between the real and imaginary, and rethinking just how precarious it can be.

‘Whereabouts,’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

Is there anything Jhumpa Lahiri can’t do? Not only did the American author of Indian descent win the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, she went to live in Rome to learn Italian for fun and is now writing in that language. Her latest work is the first author-translated book ever published by Knopf, which credits it with signaling “a bold shift of style and sensibility.” Many of Lahiri’s previous novels and short stories focus on the lives of Indians and Indian Americans, but her new novel centers on an unnamed Roman narrator over the period of a year. “Translation, to me, is metamorphosis,” Lahiri says. “It is a kind of radical re-creation of the work.”

‘Where the Wild Ladies Are,’ by Aoko Matsuda and Polly Barton (Translator)

From emotional ghosts to real ones, in literature, the call of the wild is hard to ignore. Especially if it involves a band of feisty women who are both haunted and haunting. Aoko Matsuda delves into Japan’s tradition of supernatural folklore and reinterprets it with feminist candor. The result? A tapestry of interlinked short stories that deal in humor and wistfulness, glass ceilings and body positivity. Few things are spookier than the patriarchy’s need to strip women of their visibility . . . until they speak up — in this case as their own stereotype of vengeful female spirits. Is it fiction? Is it a metaphor? Decide for yourself in gems such as Smartening Up, The Peony Lanterns and Quite a Catch.