Visiting The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia
A Spark Of White Fire (The Celestial Trilogy #1) by Sangu Mandanna {review}

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard {review}

Black Is The Body

Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Essays


My Review - 4 Stars

The first few chapters were more academic in tone, which can be harder for me as a reader. But then Bernard delved more into her story and I was blown away.

This is not a linear memoir and the stories aren’t always connected in obvious ways. But they do have power and I’m very glad I read each essay. Towards the end, Bernard notes: “In every scar there’s a story. The salve is the telling itself.” And I think that sums up this book rather well. It’s not just Bernard’s story but that of her mother and grandmother. She explores her and their experiences as Black women, as well as her perspective as a professor of African American Studies. I tend to favor more intimate stories compared to an academic approach but I still learned from the more clinical chapters.

The chapters exploring infertility and adoption especially stood out to me. Her perspective as Black American woman and her white husband adopting internationally is invaluable. The twins’ adoption story was wild! There were so many layers and they’re spread out through the book in a way that really works, honing in on the details as needed and then zooming out for a more global perspective. Bernard and her husband approach the adoption that stands out from many of the narratives out there. “Some stories about adoption emphasize poverty or lack; a child unwanted or abandoned, a lost history. The stories we tell our girls are about bounty. You are adored on two continents, I tell them.”

I also really liked the way she interrogated her choice to live in Vermont. What works, what doesn’t. The questions she’s asked herself for years. Vermont’s pluses, as well as it’s difficulties for her as a person of color. She also looks at the concept of home and as someone who is still figuring that out, it really resonated with me. I’ll be thinking about this book for some time.

A note of caution: Bernard does spend the first chapter discussing being stabbed by a stranger. It was not racially motivated. She does go into detail about what happened and the aftermath of her recovery.

Additional CW: racism, microaggressions, references to lynching



An extraordinary, exquisitely written memoir (of sorts) that looks at race--in a fearless, penetrating, honest, true way--in twelve telltale, connected, deeply personal essays that explore, up-close, the complexities and paradoxes, the haunting memories and ambushing realities of growing up black in the South with a family name inherited from a white man, of getting a PhD from Yale, of marrying a white man from the North, of adopting two babies from Ethiopia, of teaching at a white college and living in America's New England today. 

"I am black--and brown, too," writes Emily Bernard. "Brown is the body I was born into. Black is the body of the stories I tell."
And the storytelling, and the mystery of Bernard's storytelling, of getting to the truth, begins with a stabbing in a New England college town. Bernard writes how, when she was a graduate student at Yale, she walked into a coffee shop and, along with six other people, was randomly attacked by a stranger with a knife ("I remember making the decision not to let the oddness of this stranger bother me"). "I was not stabbed because I was black," she writes (the attacker was white), "but I have always viewed the violence I survived as a metaphor for the violent encounter that has generally characterized American race relations. There was no connection between us, yet we were suddenly and irreparably bound by a knife, an attachment that cost us both: him, his freedom; me, my wholeness."
Bernard explores how that bizarre act of violence set her free and unleashed the storyteller in her ("The equation of writing and regeneration is fundamental to black American experience"). 
She writes in Black Is the Body how each of the essays goes beyond a narrative of black innocence and white guilt, how each is anchored in a mystery, and how each sets out to discover a new way of telling the truth as the author has lived it. "Blackness is an art, not a science. It is a paradox: intangible and visceral; a situation and a story. It is the thread that connects these essays, but its significance as an experience emerges randomly, unpredictably . . . Race is the story of my life, and therefore black is the body of this book."
And what most interests Bernard is looking at "blackness at its borders, where it meets whiteness in fear and hope, in anguish and love."


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