2 out of 4 stars
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Mixed Blessings by J.M. Muse follows four major characters and their encounters with racism. The novel opens with Kimberly. She lives with her mother, an American of Jewish descent, and at the beginning of the novel, prepares for a one-week visit to her Mexican father in Juarez. She is a girl with simple dreams, to be loved and led to happiness.
Kublai Khan is a black man of no mean repute. A minister of the house of Jeremiah, he quotes from both the Bible and Koran to persuade his congregation into his schemes of redesigning the demography in America. He seeks to improve the standing of blacks in the American society by increasing the mixed race population. Among his schemes –firmly supported by Reverend Hung Suk of the World Energy Church of Seoul– are arranged marriages and birthing centres as well as designing commercials to create awareness among the black community. Hoshiko Star Mathews is Japanese, with a black father. She seeks to convince racist judges, in a Japanese beauty contest, of the depth of her Japanese roots.
Jeremy Talbert, friend to Sidney, who died in a jail cell after being arrested in a play-fight with Jeremy. Jeremy believes they were treated differently because of their colour, as Jeremy appears white while Sidney appears black even though both boys were African-American. Jeremy’s story is taken over by Reverend Rufus Harper and Kublai Khan, and fashioned to become the centre of a sensational movement, tagged #Iamblack.
What I liked most about the book is the character of Chaka, Kublai Khan’s girlfriend. In the midst of the many stereotypes Muse allowed in his novel, Chaka is portrayed as smart and decisive, despite her alliance with Kublai Khan's questionable plans. I consider her one of the few well-developed characters in the book.
What I dislike most about the book is that it failed to deliver on many of the things it promised. When I read the description, I pictured a book depicting the little nuances of racism, and imagined Kimberly a more active character. Many of the characters could have been better developed. Kimberly’s visit to Mexico,for example, could have given us a chance to know her and her father’s side of the family better, but the week-long visit was summarised into one evening’s events. I feel Muse tried to squeeze too much into one short book.
I’ll give this book a 2 out of 4 stars rating. While it succeeded in showing the strength of religion, hero-worship and the media in influencing society, for a book whose major theme is racism, it represented far too many stereotypes. An example is Star’s character. She connives with her aunt to kill the Judge considered the hindrance to her success in a beauty contest, yet she coughs politely (I don’t even know what that is) and nibbles at food like a polite rabbit during a meet-up with her aunt, owns a cat that, of all things, just had to be described as well-behaved, and sleeps with her aunt's husband, without any motive at all! Also, nine hundred and eighty-seven South Korean brides about to be married off to complete strangers could not furnish more than eight sentences depicting them as nothing but pliant followers of Reverend Hung.
I do not strongly recommend this book, for reasons I’ve mentioned earlier, and because it contains erotic scenes and sexual assault. Nonetheless, people interested in reading about religion as a tool to fight racism can find an interesting perspective in the book.
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