Thursday, December 20, 2018

Josephine Baker's Last Dance

Josephine Baker's Last DanceJosephine Baker's Last Dance by Sherry Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why read a fictional biography? Sometimes, there is no choice: biographies may be out of date, or nonexistent. When they are available, they may be too linear to capture more than the facts, just the facts, ma'am.

There are biographies of Josephine Baker, the "Black Pearl," if the reader wants to know who, what where, and when. I doubt there ever will be one that captures the wild energy, the passionate spirit, and the artistry that came together in this spectacular woman the way Sherry Jones has done. She has shown us the how and why, and filled in the spaces - the beauty and the ugliness, both - that underlay the public spectacle of the glittering international star.

The Josephine Baker who sailed to Paris in 1925 had already powered through enough personal suffering and systemic racism to flatten most people. But, with unlimited talent and drive, she escaped initial rejections in the United States ("too skinny and too dark") by landing a job that took her to the integrated world of Paris. There, her breakthrough abandon and energy in "La Danse de Sauvage," clad only in a skirt made of faux bananas, brought artistic acclaim and access to all she ever wished for: the extravagant lifestyle, a starring role at the Folies Bergere, a film career. She searched endlessly for love while hobnobbing with Colette, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, and the rest of the expatriates.

Her dreams of Europe changed as Brownshirts and Nazis came to her shows and made their vicious intentions clear. A return to New York showed her that not even her fame could break through the racism, and she returned to Europe, disillusioned.

She continued to sing and dance and act the role as an international sensation, but used her position to work as a spy and pilot for the Resistance, facing mortal danger in the name of freedom. After the war, she shifted her focus to challenge racial discrimination wherever her career took her, despite personal heartaches and ill health. Back in America, she forced nighclubs to integrate if they wanted her to sing, she called attention to African-Americans on Death Row who were victims of racist justice, and she participated in very public and challenging actions with the NAACP.

The happiest day of her life, she said, was when she participated with Joan Baez and others, introducing Rev. Martin Luther King before he gave his speech, "I have a dream." Later, she created a Rainbow Tribe by adopting twelve children, demonstrating how beautiful a multi-ethnic world could be.

All of the episodes in this gritty and granular novel are set as her memories during her last performance, celebrating fifty years of stardom in Paris. The reader will come away breathless with admiration for the power and energy of Josephine Baker's life, and how she used her fame to better the world. Watching videos on YouTube is a pale introduction to this groundbreaking woman. The reader's imagination will be well-served by this stunning novel.

Five stars, because only five are available. 

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Goodbye and thank you

Not long after the previous post, my home was flooded. Housemate and I are back home now, and making progress on the house. I apologize for neglecting TeaReads all this time. I think it's best to say goodbye to my readers. There is still much work to be done at home, and I cannot give this blog the attention it deserves. Thank you for your kind attention, and good bye.
- - Moon Rani

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Booking Through Thursday, 4.September

I" was looking through books yesterday at the shops and saw all the Twilight books, which I know basically nothing about. What I do know is that I’m beginning to feel like I’m the *only* person who knows nothing about them.

"Despite being almost broke and trying to save money, I almost bought the expensive book (Australian book prices are often completely nutty) just because I felt the need to be ‘up’ on what everyone else was reading.

"Have you ever felt pressured to read something because ‘everyone else’ was reading it? Have you ever given in and read the book(s) in question or do you resist? If you are a reviewer, etc, do you feel it’s your duty to keep up on current trends?"

When I was in junior high school, all the girls were abuzz over the Little House books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was one of the unpopular girls, so it was awhile before I even learned the name of the series. After giving it exactly one try, I found the books too tame and easy for my tastes, so I returned them to the library. Was that peer pressure, or was it curiosity?

That was the first time I jumped on the bandwagon. The second time was when I joined a social group and read reference after reference to the Dune series, by Frank Herbert, in the monthly newsletters. I wanted at least an idea of what everyone talked about, so I tried one. It was love at first sight. The first three books entertained me for hours. Again, I think it was curiosity, not peer pressure.

Nowadays, though, I tend to resist bandwagon jumping at all, in anything. Why? I don't know. Perhaps there is little attraction to being or doing what the crowd is or does; the Road Less Traveled, don'tcha know. I am somewhat curious about things that "everybody" likes, and about a great many other things too, but I am very selective, now.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

My feline family

The smallest member of my feline family of three is Tucket. She and her sister, Lindy, will turn one year old at the autumnal equinox.
Tucket is a wobbler, like her sister. Unlike Lindy, Tucket has other problems, too. If there is such a thing as autism among cats, that may well be among her disabilities. She avoids eye contact, for example, and is adjusting, gradually, to being handled. It took about four months for her to allow Housemate to handle her. She seemed to find him overstimulating what with his beard and large (to her) teeth and hearty manner. But now Tucket loves Housemate, and makes frequent bids for his attention. When he comes home from work and relaxes on the sofa, Tucket puts on a show of strength, might and derring-do just for him. She thrashes her mousy, she runs, she tumbles, she leaps - - and she glances his way frequently to make sure he notices.
Tucket seemed to have found all sensory stimuli overpowering, but she is getting used to them over time. I felt that way when I was small, and still do, though not as much. We allow her to take things at her own pace, and that seems to be the right touch.
Lindy and Tucket have what we call mousies. They're covered in fake fur, with little, red, felt ears and little, pink, felt noses. They rattle. The kittens love these things. Tucket, in particular, loves hers so much that she puts them in her food bowl, and then, showing perfect logic, into the litter box. One morning I found that they had skinned a mousy and thrown its fur into the litterbox, leaving the plastic body on the floor like some barbaric warning to the other mousies. On another occasion, Tucket was so sure I had a mousy as we lay on the bed that she "watched" it fly into the air and come back down into my hand. The thing was...there was no mousy, just her vivid imagination as I mimed flipping the toy.
Tucket is fond of visiting things around the house. She can be found gazing at the glowing, blue numbers on Housemate's digital clock, patting the telephone or gazing at her buddy, the toilet plunger, as it stands in the corner. Whenever we can't find her, we look in the bathroom.
Tucket got a dollop of ice cream on Housemate's birthday this week. She lapped it up in the kitchen while we adjourned to another room. Minutes later, Tucket charged into the room where we were, hollering in her distinctive voice and shaking head briskly - - another victim of an ice cream headache, we figure.
Sometimes she's called Inspector Tucket because she watches everything and everyone intensely. She likes to look directly into the air vent in the bathroom and checks frequently to see if air is coming out. We always know when she's been doing that because she comes out blinking and dry-eyed. Housemate and I figure the Inspector is trying to solve The Case of the Air From the Hole in the Floor.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day

invisible swimming pool
more animals

Enjoy that last dip in the pool!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Booking Through Thursday, 28.August 2008

"If you’re anything like me, one of your favorite reasons to read is for the story. Not for the character development and interaction. Not because of the descriptive, emotive powers of the writer. Not because of deep, literary meaning hidden beneath layers of metaphor. (Even though those are all good things.) No … it’s because you want to know what happens next?

"Or, um, is it just me?"

Whether fiction or nonfiction, the thing that drives my interest is "what happens next," most of the time. In nonfiction where I know the basics of the story, I read to learn all the details. In fiction, I read not only for the plot, but also for the beauty and depth and richness of the language. A good plot cannot, for me, make up for clumsy or poor writing. I'll toss a book aside before I'll plod through mediocrity. I must confess to feeling this way about nonfiction, too. If a writer wants me to invest my time and interest, he has to produce something worth my while in more ways than one.
As a teenager, I put up with bad writing in order to see how the plots came out, but I skimmed along enough to glean the essentials only. I was more tolerant, then.
But I'll tell you something that really frosts my flakes: absurd twists in the tales. I go crazy when I invest time in a book only to have a plot resolution come completely out of left field. I understand that writers want to have clever plot twists, unable to be guessed, but do me a favor! Please, folks, don't insult us readers by pulling the ol' "it was all a dream" ending or something equally ridiculous.