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CountryDamsel will review this book.
It’s a glimpse into a world that very few Canadians can participate in. It is a Black world where cheerleading, football, and romance take center stage, a world where young Black African Americans take immense satisfaction in an all Black college. During the first part of the book, I found the youthfulness, and debate around sex before marriage wearisome. White Chocolate by Henrietta Elmore-Smith picks up when the plot moves toward an inter-racial relationship.
The author wrote the book in script format. Initially, I thought her intention was to encourage this book for a theatrical production. Then I realized there was no other format to present dialogue between 20-21 year olds. The exchanges consist of nappy one-liners that would make the quote system of he said, she said very stilted. The dialogues detailed the slight nuances between girlfriends, and the fierce female competition for male attentions. Through these talks, I could understand the core belief systems of two college girls in Louisana, United States. The main character Pontia stayed with me because I had eavesdropped on her daily thoughts and dialogues making her so real.
Pontia struggles in a relationship with a black football player drafted for the next NFL season. The relationship is pushed forward by Dominique’s desperate need to complete the sexual act. This is not an easy task for Pontia’s code of honor dictates to only “do it” on her wedding night. In college life, sexual encounters are the norm. Elmore-Smith writes these scenes tastefully from a female perspective.
Conversations between Pontia and her jock boyfriend, Dominique, are cut before real communication can begin. For example, her boyfriend questions her loyalty to her girlfriend. The conversation could have explored Pontia, her values, and therefore a basis of the couple’s relationship. When she starts to explain, he pins her with “S’cuse me, I know this really nice restaurant and we have reservation there and I want to show you off.” Instead of her boyfriend being interested in who she is and her personal values, he is more interested in showing her off. The couple never explores each other’s characters in contrast with Dominiqueâ€™s focused desire to explore her body. Elmore-Smith skillfully illustrates how her main character is valued for her body.
When a secret admirer enters her life, Pontia’s life takes a spin towards opportunities. He turns out to be a man who listens, a man who has actual conversations with her, a man who tries to do what she would like to do. Every person has a lesson to learn in life. I think Pontia’s lesson is to make herself heard and valued by her loved ones. Dominique does not hear her, although he does value her appearance. The secret admirer listens to her. Their emails, telephone calls, and three dates probably compile more character exploration of each other than her “lengthy” relationship with Dominique.
Toward the beginning of the book after a fight with Dominique, Pontia says, “I don’t know if a sweet little voice can come out of my mouth right now.” Her mother warned her that “jocks like unlimited female attention.” She felt these early warnings, but her immaturity blinded her skill level to interpret such warnings. For a college setting, Elmore-Smith gets the attitude right, the naivetÃ©, the sex exploration, small tiffs, misunderstandings, and stiff competition for the opposite sex. It is a life where looks and physical performance matter. It is also a sports world where becoming a doctor who specializes in sports medicine is impressive.
Pontia thinks she is controlling herself and her destiny. However, her trade-off to hold off with sex pulls her into a relationship that is purely about sex, financial security, and a priority towards a black relationship. She heeds not her own warning at the beginning of the book, “think long you can think wrong.” Pontia never asks to see Dominique’s parents, nor does he offer. He finally meets her parents on New Year’s Eve, 18 hours before one of the major “bowl” football games on New Year’s Day. He puts her on the spot by proposing in front of her family, obviously he is worried about rejection. Her family is thrilled that he is black. Her brother who plans to specialize in sports medicine sees opportunity for his future. I found the whole development of Pontia’s relationship with Dominique painful. When he pins her with a marriage proposal, does she say no, embarrass him, and ruin his mental state for the football game just hours away?
The main character is more focused on style than substance. When Dominique finally expresses his views of Blacks’ progression in society, Pontia thinks to herself about how he expressed his views. It was not about what he said; her admiration came from how he said. For Pontia, it is about style, not substance. Then for a 20-21 year old, Elmore-Smith has her character at the proper maturity level.
There is some preaching in this book like Black achievements in the United States. Pontia’s mother tells her that in the Black Americans’ search for equality, black women never thought that equality would mean white women dating black men. This “unforeseen” equality was quite an adjustment for black women. Elmore-Smith purposely leaves out the equality development of black women dating white men. However, the author pulls the concept into play at another time. Pontiac’s brother states that he has never dated a white woman, but then concludes that black women are different from the norm. I am not a fan of judging before experiencing. Reminds me of people who slam the Harry Potter series for Christian reasons without reading any of the books!
I am unhappy with the ending, although I hope Pontia will re-think what is best for her. Her name is from a class of butterflies sought after by collectors. By not doing what is best for herself, I feel she is being pinned to a butterfly frame, collected for her body rather than for her soul.
Paula will review this book instead.
By Annette Lapointe
Reviewed by CountryDamsel
Have you ever met someone who does everything you disagree with and yet with whom you still understand and sympathize? I have. I met Rowan. In this novel I learned to like a drug dealer and petty thief. Fate, in the form of his father's mental illness, â€œstealsâ€ Rowan's father, changes his mother, the only female main character in the book, and changes Rowan's course in life. Later in life, mental illness takes yet another important figure away, Rowan's first-love. But mental illness is not the only important issue dealt with in this novel. In fact very few important issues are left out in this novel, issues all Canadians hear about just from listening to CBC. Some of the issues are marijuana and drug use; crime in youth, gay and lesbian relations; as well as previously mentioned mental health. This is a novel very relevant to our times.
Most the novel is set in small town Saskatchewan, except for a few formative years spent on the west Coast. Those of us from Saskatchewan will relate to the images of Saskatoon, Northern Saskatchewan and rural Saskatchewan. Saskatchewanians understand long bus rides with a driver named Earl on potholed roads to barely existing schools in barely existing towns. We also relate to the necessity of the internet, even if it is dial-up, to keep in touch with the rest of the world. In Rowan's words:
He's discovered there are two worlds out here. The one he recognized first is scattered, nearly empty. One person every two miles, hunkered in the prairie, close and surrounded by rusting hunks of machinery and the shells of mobile homes. Thinly connected by wires and never filled. The world he found more recently is crowded. â€¦ shrank to the size of a fifteen-inch monitor, and it's impossibly full.â€ Pg 18
I love Lapointe's gritty and frank writing style. Stolen, a Giller Prize Nominee, is a strong-black-coffee-straight-up type novel. Or maybe something even stronger! This is a story of acceptance. Perhaps a story of how experiences make us what we are. There is suspense in this novel but an important part of the novel is also a love story. Rowan is a man who could hold many labels in our mind and not all labels with good connotations either. And yet â€“ we learn to see beyond the label.
I like many things about this book but as a Christian, I found exception in the gay love affair. The author treated Rowan's love affair with respect, showing the relationship starting small and growing. But the details were more than I wanted to know.
This is not a book I would recommend to my mother-in-law. But if you're looking for a candid, gritty tale that causes you to question your preconceived notions, this is it.
CountryDamsel will review this book.
Paula will review this book.
If you always wanted to understand chakras, Circles in the Sand will step you through the seven themes. But I would recommend pulling a chakra chart off the internet before reading E.J. “Samadhi” Whitehouse’s first page. Whitehouse writes her autobiography from 1974 at age 17 over a 25 year span. Using a visual graphic for each chakra, Whitehouse links each story element with a chakra. I would have preferred simple identification of first chakra, second chakra, etc instead of visual graphics. I had to consult the legend to identify which visual with which chakra, then on to how a chakra related to the story.
Chakras are energy wheels, whether meta- or biophysical, located in seven different body sectors: root of the body (Coccyx Perineum), spleen, stomach, heart, throat, brow, and crown. Each chakra has an associated colour, psychological functions, emotions, glands, body parts and physical dysfunctions. For example, if you have a particular type of illness like diabetes, you would have a problem with your third chakra located in the stomach. If you work on the psychological functions of your third chakra, then you may ameliorate the disease of diabetes. The psychological functions are around personal power, will, knowledge, wit, laughter, mental clarity, humour, optimism, self-control, curiousity, and awareness. So then knowledge on the foods you are eating, and self-control with the types of food you eat can ease the physical dysfunction of diabetes.
Conversely, if you have intense guilt problems with some of your past history, you should focus on the fourth chakra of the heart. This would identify potential physical dysfunctions such as high blood pressure, lethargy, asthma, emphysema, or chest pain, to name a few. Work and mediation on all areas of the fourth chakra could hamper any physical dysfunctions. Further, some chakras experts recommend focused mediation and work on each chakra to minimize or nullify any physical dysfunctions.
Whitehouse’s book can be a case study on discussing chakras and understanding its layered meanings within her autobiographical experiences. On page 316, she summarizes all her illnesses and how each illness works into each chakra. I wished her various illnesses could have been weaved more into the book, such as she did with her heart surgery. Then Whitehouse and the reader could have delved deeper into the chakra theory. But this book is not written as a chakra teaching tool but as an autobiography.
I found the first part of the book painfully hard to read. I could feel the writer’s pain and bewilderment with her family. There appeared to be very little interaction with the eight other siblings, or at least that was related in the book. Whitehouse does point out that all of the children have problems, not surprisingly as everyone has problems. But I would have liked to hear more about the other siblings, their problems, their hierarchy, and their roles within the family. For example, this last child who was adopted by Whitehouses’ mother and father, what is the story behind that child and his entrance into the family? Many times, I was left with more questions than answers. Since the author concluded her book at age 42, there is much more of her life to live, and to understand.
Growing up in a family with eight children would have been tremendously difficult. Having all the children survive intact, meaning alive, is a miracle, for any family. After giving up her baby for adoption, Whitehouse felt internal damage from her parentsâ€™ handling of her pregnancy and her forced adoption. Then she had to ward off her father’s incestuous advances resulting in more emotional, psychological, and physiological damages. Throughout the book, the author focused on her father’s behaviour as central to all her problems. But if we timeline her illnesses, the physiological damages Whitehouse experienced started much earlier. Using the chakra theory in conjunction with her childhood illnesses, her father’s behaviour was a pivotal point, but not the root of her problems.
Just after Whitehouse’s heart surgery at age 36, other siblings suddenly remembered sexual abuse, and not only from Dad. This would have been a time for Whitehouse to tell us more about her siblings. The opportunity is attempted but lost. She says, “I was stunned, surprised, and angry. All these years, and no one had truly supported or honoured me, and now, half my siblings laid claims to abuse. No one called to say they now understood because they, too, were abused. It was as if the “Dad-thing” had never happened with me, because now, it was all about them. I didn’t want sympathy — I just want to be part of my family — I just wanted to be heard. I couldn’t stand it.” Then she hurtfully responds, “they seemed to deliberately keep me out of the situation and their confrontations with Mom and Dad.”
Of course, it was all about them! Of course, each sibling would keep others out of his/her confrontations with the parents! Involving the whole family would have opened a Pandora’s box. She should have been thankful that the other siblings had finally found the strength to remember and confront. Her siblings confessions confirmed Whitehouse’ experiences with her father. It was a time to be thankful that none of her siblings asked her to be there for the confrontations. It was a time to be thankful that she had been strong enough to say no to her father.
I did not always agree with what she thought was her self-control in dealing with her father. When her father remarked incestuously and snidely, she thought she exhibited self-control in clamming up. I wanted her to scream at him, and tell him in outright terms what she thought. The only time she appeared to confront is in letters. I did get tired of her written explanations to her father and other family members. I understand she wrote to resolve her inner turmoil. When other family members revealed her writings, she was surprised, shocked and hurt. I kept saying, “No! No! Don’t send it!” In a dysfunctional family, a written or taped confession is a hefty weight to add to power dynamics. It will be used at sometime, and not in the way an author intends.
Control is a major theme running throughout the book. Every family member attempts to control each other. Towards the end of the book, we see and understand how the mother controls. Then it made me wonder about the whole relationship between the parents especially since the father was a former alcoholic. I also wondered about the relationships between the siblings. Which parent really pushed Whitehouse to put her child up for adoption? What was the hierarchy in the family? What were the power dynamics? Did she look like her mother when her mother was young? What did Whitehouse think her father needed from her, beside sex? Was he looking for understanding and compassion that he felt he could find in his daughter? The author hinted at details that remained unanswered. Details that I thought were important. Details that I thought would help me understand why.
Whitehouse wanted a confession from her father admitting his incestuous attempts, and asking her forgiveness. No one can control what another person does, such as admitting guilt and accepting blame; we can only control our own choices and behaviours. I believe the author has not forgiven herself for that time in Montreal. I believe she did admirably well warding off her father’s advances in the hotel. It was time to tell herself that back in that moment she was a good person and did well.
Christianity, or at least the version related by Whitehouse, is also all about control. She brilliantly exemplifies Christianity’s control tendencies with her experience as a fundamentalist missionary-in-training in Switzerland, her missionary work in Lebanon and Israel, and then her deprogramming experience sponsored by her parents. Control is full of paternalistic power and authority. The religious groups and parents mistakenly believed that they knew what was best for Whitehouse; Whitehouse also believed that others knew best. Within those external boundaries, Whitehouse tried to control her life and work within the system. Should she have worked within the box, or should she have exploded outside the box?
Whitehouse provides us with two other major themes: peace and conflict. Being in the midst of the Middle East conflict, she would have seen that peace does not come from ‘ignoring conflict’. Her personal life and travel experiences illustrate both states of mind/being. When she was given a exclusive tour of the Palestinian refuge camp, she decided to keep that experience to herself instead of sharing with the missionary group. I think it was an opportunity lost in NOT telling the others exactly what she had seen, heard and felt while walking through that misery. What could have been gained? What might have developed with the individual observations shared among the missionary group? By NOT telling them, nothing was gained.
After watching the cultures clash in the Middle East, I wished she could have pulled these experiences into learning how to deal with her father. When he confronted her in the kitchen, she clammed up thereby ‘ignoring conflict’. Just as she clammed up and ignored the conflict after walking through the refugee camp. Was it an opportunity lost in NOT telling him exactly what she thought, alone in that kitchen? One thing we can be sure of is by NOT telling him in that moment, nothing was gained, not even peace within herself.
Does peace come only from confrontation? Middle East history should scream no to violent, physical confrontation. I think peace comes when we have peace within ourselves. Do victims of crime find peace in criminal trials? Does the victim find peace when the justice system finds the criminal guilty? Do we find peace when we demand others to accept blame and responsibility? Or does a person find peace when she realizes she did the very best she could at the time with her skills, experiences and abilities evident in that snapshot of time?
When it comes to her life, I find that Whitehouse looks at her glass as half-empty rather than half-full. She can find much to be thankful for. And in that action she will find peace within herself. She can be thankful that she put her child up for adoption instead of having to grow up with dysfunction relatives. She can be thankful she was not a teenage mother struggling to raise a child, understand, and cope with her family. She can be thankful that her father incestuous advances stopped at that, and did not move to the actual stage of physical contact. She can be thankful for the strength she had at the time that helped her to say that, ‘it’s not right’. She can be thankful that she had the desire to travel, instead of being bound to an everyday existence in close proximity with her parents. Although her earlier life holds much sadness, Whitehouse has much to be thankful for in her past.
I enjoyed the second part of her book once she starts to travel. Whitehouse contracts to work in hospital administration in the Middle East. She vividly paints the culture, her travel adventures, the daily grind, and personal struggles. I almost felt part of her exploration of the dramatic landscape and the emotional rollercoasters between two cultures. She describes the interactions between men and women, the trials of women eating in restaurants, the torments of non-Arabic friends who love paternalistic Arab men, and tours to spots that I can only dream about.
The theme of control, external and internal, is illustrated again with Whitehouse’s travels to the Middle East. A Muslim girlfriend believed that women should be held responsible for men’s lust. Whitehouse aptly responds, “How the religious law convinced women that it was entirely their fault for men’s lust is beyond me, but convinced they were… Personal accountability on a man’s part was a totally foreign concept that she couldn’t wrap her mind around. It reminded me of Christianity’s foundational belief in Eve being responsible for Adam’s choice to eat the apple.” And that was the gem for me as a reader! Whitehouse’s familiarity with both religions, Christianity and Islam, paralleled the fundamental bases between two sects: how both religions absolve men of personal responsibility and place the blame on women!
This same flaw parallels in her personal life. Her father demonstrated how he could absolve himself of responsibility and place the blame on his daughter. Whitehouse tried desperately to get her father to admit personal responsibility and accept personal blame for his actions towards her. This is the crux of her dilemma and her struggle. In many of her interactions in the Middle East, this control issue played out repeatedly. Whitehouse sought to understand the patterns through a counsellor. Understanding grew when she broke her big toe and could no longer run away! Interestingly, the first or “root” chakra has the feet as one of the associated body parts. When the root of her body had trouble, she was finally able to understand the root patterns of her life.
It is easy to use hindsight to analyze a person’s past, easier than having to live through it. Readers can glimpse missed opportunities for understanding and growth. We can see how the larger social struggles reflect in her private struggles. Moving with the author along the chakra theory, we can glimpse inter-relationships in her life. Finally perhaps, we can reflect and gain some understanding of our own lives.
If you would like to review this book, your book club must be listed with our website, and regularly updated. Please send us an email as listed in this link.
- Have you always wondered why you need a sugar fix?
- Is your weight gain more than you desire?
- Do you live to eat; rather than eat to live?
- Do you wonder about food additives, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, and genetically modified foods?
- Do you wonder about the taste of tomatoes you bought at the store?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, then it is time to pick up this book, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. This cookbook is packed full of information and recipes based on a dentist, Dr. Weston Price. In the 1930s, Price travelled the world studying “native” populations who lived on local foods, untouched by processed foods such as our white refined sugar. He found good health and similarities in their foods.
Can you recall paintings and photographs of the North American aboriginal when the white culture first encountered and explored the continent? The aboriginals had beautiful facial bone structure and strong, white teeth. The aboriginals must have been doing something right. No need for dentists unless you cracked a tooth on a bone or nut!!
Why do people who pick raw sugar cane have such remarkable teeth? Did you know they lunch on that sugar cane as they labour? The secret is that the sugar was in a raw, unrefined state, not all like the refined sugar we consume.
The secret to better living and better health is to consume foods that are as close to their natural raw state as possible. If you can’t reproduce it at home on a small scale, then don’t eat it.
This means a return to butter, whole wheat flour (preferably freshly ground from organic wheat), unprocessed sugar, sea salt, and olive oil. If you can only make one change, then change your oil.
Changing these five basic ingredients is only the start of your food adventures. But it is a major shift. Fallon will take you on a world of discovery answering many of the questions that you answered yes to above.
I always thought I was an emotional eater. But now I believe my body was craving nutrients that were not to be found in the processed foods. So I ate more and more. Now, since changing to the “natural” five basic ingredients, I am no longer heading to the pantry like before!
History is a teacher. Let’s look back at people who did things right. You will change your life.
Suitability for a book club discussion?
This is definitely not a book for discussion. But the wider issue of what we eat and what we should eat could be a very interesting discussion. This book does not advocate vegetarianism, instead it encompasses a balanced approach to all basic food groups. Dr. Weston Price and this book are forerunners to the latest hit by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet Oz.
I am willing to review this book.