February is the shortest month of the year, especially since 2022 doesn’t get the benefit of a leap day. The brevity of this winter month may pose a challenge to the lofty reading goals of many — made in the New Year’s spirit — as assignments for spring classes pile up. However, a quality book offers much-needed respite from the unrelenting academic grind during what promises to be a cold and dreary month.
Besides, there’s a great deal to celebrate this month. Between Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14 and Black History Month extending over the whole of February, this month brings with it ample opportunity to appreciate the work of Black authors, whether old or new, and experience love in all its beauty and depth from another perspective. February’s book club picks explore the strength of love, ranging from the familial to romantic kind, and detail the different realities faced by those navigating emotional relationships.
“Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo
Bernardine Evaristo, one of Britain’s most celebrated Black authors, was awarded the 2019 Booker Prize for “Girl, Woman, Other,” which is her eighth work of fiction. Similar to her seven previous books, this novel explores aspects of the African diaspora — the collection of communities around the world descended from people native to Africa. Evaristo gives special attention to the interconnectedness of Black British women’s struggles to carve out spaces for themselves in society. The complexity of friendships and relationships between Black women in contemporary Britain is a recurring theme, as “Girl, Woman, Other” strives to portray the ways in which politics permeate and shape identity.
The story’s plot unfurls from the perspective of multiple characters who seem to live worlds apart, despite all residing in Britain during the same time. Amma, a Black lesbian playwright enjoying her recent acclaim, is the central character — her narrative serves as the jumping off point from which voices commonly othered begin to chime in. Amma’s daughter, Yazz, struggles with being the product of a modern, unconventional relationship, while Amma’s friend, Dominique, navigates an abusive relationship. Characters enter and exit freely throughout the novel — fast-paced despite its length, thanks to Evaristo’s fluid and poetic writing style — but shared aspects of their identities linger in one another’s stories.
“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones
Tayari Jones’ fourth novel “An American Marriage” was met with considerable praise upon its release in 2018, awarded an NAACP Image Award and promptly selected for Oprah’s Book Club. After researching the intersection of criminal justice and race for months on end, Jones set out to write a book focused on one person’s encounter with the criminal justice system and the ramifications it has for their loved ones. “An American Marriage” is more complex than a love story, as the three main characters are simultaneously bound and separated by forces they have no control over.
The novel follows Celestial and Roy, a newlywed Black couple who seem to have promising futures ahead. However, their lives come crashing down when Roy is falsely accused of a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Despite her fiercely independent nature, Celestial finds herself lonely and turns to Andre, her childhood best friend and best man at her wedding, for support. The story unravels from the perspective of each main character, giving shape to a heartbreaking account of love, injustice and betrayal.
“The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation” by Anna Malaika Tubbs
Scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs’ literary debut quickly became a New York Times bestseller, and for good reason. It’s hard to believe that such a book was only just released in 2021 given the prominence of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin in American history. However, the crux of Tubbs’ novel rests on the erasure of the women who raised these legendary men — relegated to the footnotes of their sons’ lives not only as mothers, but as Black women marginalized by society at large.
Across 250-some pages, “The Three Mothers” reconceives the lives of Alberta King, Louise Little and Berdis Baldwin, bringing to bear the inextricable connection between the example they set for their sons and the monumental figures their sons became. Each of these women were active in the fight against injustice through and outside of raising their sons — Alberta established women’s coalitions, Louise worked as a branch secretary for Marcus Garvey’s Black nationalist organization and Berdis wrote letters urging her son to choose love and forgiveness over hatred. Tubbs’ novel threads these women’s lives together masterfully, with the finished product being a stirring tribute to the strength of mothers’ love.