Saturday, October 18, 2014


 In the summer or autumn of 1989, I began  to read Doris Lessing, intermittently. 
As she is a prolific writer,  I got her books from the local library.  I read her novels in sequence, as they had been written.    I started with her first novel,  The Grass Is Singing, then proceeded to the big fat tome,  African Stories, then onto the Martha Quest novels, five in all.  Amid reading the novels,  I purchased a slender,  burgundy paperback copy of her essays—entitled A Small Personal Voice—and read all of that.
Tucked in the book of essays was the introduction to The Golden Notebook.   A creative manifesto,  the introduction explained  the thoughts,  feelings and ideas that went into the writing of  this ground-breaking 1962 novel about Anna, a writer who captures the essence of her life in her notebooks.  In addition, Ms.  Lessing  discussed  the novel’s themes, motifs, her inspiration and writing process. 

By the following summer, Nelson Mandela was touring the US.  "Mandela is in Atlanta," I wrote in my journal, in awe.  Everyone was giddy with excitement.   "We are at a juncture of history," Mandela said. So  I began reading up on South Africa and Mandela, to educate myself.

Also, I wrote :  "I have a new idea for a novel.  Something stunning and beautiful.   I'd have to research the countrysides . . . .—I guess.  I read Lessing and she is so specific in her  descriptions—nature, leaves, etc.  .  .  ." 

It was a Faulknerian summer—long, languid, hot.  That July 4th, we sat in the backyard.   A turquoise umbrella gave us shade.  Fire sparklers lit up the air.

I had purchased my own paperback copy of The Golden Notebook, with its peach-and-black cover and a pencil sketch of Doris Lessing, in profile.  And, once I started reading, I knew it was good.  I'd known she  was a good writer, but this novel  confirmed it.  I was a bit annoyed, though,  that she was so rational, cerebral and analytical. 

But most of the time she was on target—not about me personally, but for many women.  

I did not like the Free Women section—not enough to read more than once.  It's hard to say why.  Maybe that it seemed so artificial, so perfect.  They did not seem like real women.   Or any of the women I knew.  But perhaps that was the point: the novel was artifice.  Life was raw, messy, shambolic, with a seemingly random pattern that is hard to discern when you’re living it, and more difficult to convey in a work of art. 

However, I liked the other sections.  In The Golden Notebook, Lessing  conjures so many different tones and characters.  It's hard not to think of it as a tour de force.  During this time, I remembered that she had once been asked why her novels mostly have no black Africans.   She answered that she did not wish to portray a character infused with her own white African  limitations.  For Ms.  Lessing, it would have been inauthentic  to give the character thoughts and feelings she had no scope of knowing.

Even so, I was fascinated by Africa as she described it.  As a young woman with a stubborn artistic sentiment and sensibility, she lived in cloying surroundings  she describes as a "backwater."  Rebelliously, she dropped out of school as a teenager,  then set about, at turns, rambling the African steppes—strewn with kopje trees—and  educating herself in The Novel.

Ms. Lessing  writes of this time in some of her autobiographical essays.  Later, she escaped to the city, got a job as a  secretary and began her first novel.

I did not realize it then, but I had claimed Doris Lessing  as my literary mentor.

So reading  The Golden Notebook  changed my life.  Thereafter, I regarded the novel and novel-writing in a different way.  I learned I could say anything and not make things all neat and pretty in my writings.  There was beauty in the truth, to paraphrase Keats and author Anchee Min.

When I began writing my second  novel, I felt I could say the unsayable.   I could show the verboten, the hidden.  I could know the unknowable and share dark nebulous areas of the spirit—the sublime and the subliminal.  The consciousness of beauty and the super-consciousness of one woman's life.  I sought to get all the tiny details correct—foods, historic details, vernacular.  I wanted to create a world for the reader, and re-create a world for myself—on the page and on the pc screen.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

For more info about Doris Lessing and her writings, visit and

Note:  At one time regarded as controversial, The Golden Notebook may contain topics offensive to some.

Friday, August 1, 2014


Chinese Cinderella  is the vivid memoir of Dr.  Adeline Yen's bitter and lonely childhood.   She had four brothers and two sisters, but her days were lonely as she was alienated from her family because they blamed her for her mother's death.   She was bullied and tormented and physically abused, and experienced  “a dreadful  loneliness.”

This book is mostly set in Shanghai, China, during the years of Japanese occupation.   At the time, young Adeline's father was a wealthy businessman.   Soon after his first wife's death, he  married Adeline's stepmother--a young, sophisticated, cruel  woman,  who was merciless,  even as she was kind to her own children.

Dr. Yen's tone and writing are, in my estimation, pitch-perfect.   With beautiful prose, she  creates the setting, dialogue, pacing, and descriptions that depict little Adeline's quandary--she was a brilliant, well-behaved little girl among people who had no appreciation for her gifts and talents. 

This book is sure to draw any reader in.  It's certainly the most poignant book I've read this year. Little Adeline was remarkably tough and showed great character and spirit.  Chinese Cinderella is a book about a triumphant little girl.  Though it's a book almost anyone with a heart will appreciate, I especially recommend it for schools and YA book clubs. (Countless scenes could start  great discussions with young adults.)

Chinese Cinderella is destined to be a classic.--Yolanda A.  Reid



Saturday, May 31, 2014


As summer approaches, I’ve begun making a list of books I’d like to read this summer.  My summer reading list  this year is separate from the never-ending list of novels, memoirs, and biographies that I usually accumulate.  So I read the book synopsis, critics’ and readers’ reviews,  as I make up my mind about the book.  Often, I will surf  through the author’s website. 

These are the books on my summer reading list, so far:

1—The Invention  of  Wings  by Sue Monk Kidd--This title kept crossing my path: online book clubs, e-forums.  It seems everyone is either reading,  or has read,  The Invention  of  Wings; so I decided to read it as well.  I’ve read the first couple of chapters.  To me, the first page is stunning and beautifully-written.

2—Beautiful Day  by Elin Hildebrand.  I’ve read  and liked the first chapter.  Beautiful Day  is the story of a wedding, a bride, a groom and the notebook the bride’s late mother left her.  This story begins with the bride’s  mother’s notes for the wedding preparations, and details of their lives unfurl.   So I’m pretty sure I’ll get to read it this summer.

3-Chinese Cinderella  by Adeline Yen Mah--This memoir is the author's vivid recounting of her childhood in Shanghai, China.  She had a cruel stepmother, but also had no family support or encouragement.  Dr.  Mah blames Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, for the cruel treatment girls received in China.  In Dr. Mah's case, her mother died while giving birth to her, so little Adeline's fate was sealed from that moment.

4—The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt--This book is over seven-hundred pages (rivaling War  and  Peace--which is one thousand pages, or more).  A few months ago, I read the synopsis and about 3 chapters of this book.  I was smitten.  I decided then that I’d put  The Goldfinch on my list.  And that was before it won a Pulitzer Prize.  My hope is that this novel about art, mystery, and a youngster’s life of hard knocks will sustain me.  I just have to remember that I managed to read War  and  Peace, so I can do this!

5—Mastering  the  Art of French Eating by Ann Mah.  I read Mah’s first novel, Kitchen Chinese, and liked it. This, her second book, is a food memoir on her forays into French food and  culture.  I love food memoirs, so this should be a fun  read. Check out my review of Kitchen Chinese at

6—Hope Runs  by Claire Diaz-Ortiz--This memoir chronicles Diaz-Ortiz’ trip to Kenya.  There she met a young boy nicknamed  “Sammy” in an orphanage.  Samuel Ikua Gachagua (“Sammy”) is the co-author, in chapters that alternate.  This memoir--described in the subtitle as a tale of “Redemption”--ought to be a really interesting and inspirational read.

7—An American Girl In Italy  by Aubrey Dionne.  I read the author’s article on the inspiration for this novel.  She herself travelled through Italy.  Since I love reading travel memoirs and novels set in exotic locations, I look forward to reading  An American Girl In Italy.

8—100 Places Every Woman  Should Go  by Stephanie Elizondo Griest.  I loved Griest’s first memoir, Around  the Bloc, in which she chronicles her peripatetic journeys through Russia, China, and Mexico.  100 Places Every Woman  Should Go  purports to be a travel guide for any woman who wants to globetrot.  It should be an informative and fun read!  To read my review of  Around  the Bloc, go to

9—Ines  of  the  Soul  by Isabel Allende.  I’m a fan of Isabel Allende’s writings. Infused with both reality and magical realism, her work has inspired me.  Ines  of  the  Soul  is actually a historical ‘novel’ based on the life of Ines Suarez, a 19th Century woman who helped found and colonize Santiago, Chile.  Sounds interesting!

10—Rat Girl: A Memoir by Kristin Hersh.  To me, the title alone is intriguing.  The book description promises a book about a life filled with isolation and longing.  Kristin Hersh is a musician, songwriter, and a member of the rock band Throwing Muses.  Rat Girl  inspired a ‘musical’ of sorts by the same name.

Bear in mind, this is a list of my intentions.  I’ve no idea what I’ll have actually read by summer’s end.

--Yolanda A.  Reid