2 out of 4 stars
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It all starts when an artist, Oba, decides to open an art school of sorts in the Bronx. A place for kids who have talents in music, painting, and art in general. But that’s not all of it. The book is about Oba, his family, his friends, and people he knows one way or another. What I’m trying to say is that it’s not a book about just one character; it’s about the Bronx and the people who live in it through the years. How does that work? How does Mwalim manage to tell all these people’s stories all in one book? Magic? You have to read the book and see for yourself.
Land of the Black Squirrels is Mwalim's first novel. Mwalim, or Morgan James Peters, has a BA in Music, and you see that musical knowledge all through his book. Land of the Black Squirrels is a book about music, about life, and about much much more than that. It contains multitudes if I dare say. However, it is not flawless, and its flaws do appear to be vital.
I didn’t know who was telling me the story. It seemed like a third-person kind of narrative, but then there were instances of “I mean,” or other uses of “I” that puzzled me. Was it third-person or first-person? It wasn't clear. What’s clear is that someone is telling us the stories of these people. An outsider, who knows everything about everybody yet doesn't share a single thing about themselves.
There were so many people involved in this book that it got confusing at times. Plus, some of these characters have two or three names or nicknames, and the author uses all of them, which causes a lot of confusion. Additionally, there is no definite order in the telling of the stories. For example, you are reading about Oba in one chapter, and in the next, you suddenly move onto Atif's story in 2016. That was pretty disorganized. I think it would have been better if Mwalim finished with Oba's (Calvin's) story first, then moved on to Chappie or Atif. Or better yet, finish with the older generation (Oba, Chappie, The B Man), then move on to the kids. As it is, the way the story was recounted seemed mostly chaotic to me. And even though I liked their stories, I couldn’t bring myself to concentrate and remember all the names, and that was definitely a negative point for the story.
Considering the confusing state of the book and the numerous grammatical errors, typos, and punctuation mistakes, I have decided to give this book 2 out of 4 stars. Leaving aside those factors, I firmly believe the story is interesting. It’s a story of life in the Bronx over the years. However, Land of the Black Squirrels could definitely benefit from a professional editor’s revision and some structural changes as well.
If you like Black Literature, if you’re interested in music (particularly jazz), if you enjoy history and stories that cover more than one generation’s history, Land of the Black Squirrels is the book for you.
Land of the Black Squirrels
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