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Not to be Overlooked

By Natalia Alvarez and Gurnish Kaur

Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of The (Other) You by Joyce Carol Oates and White Tears and Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad.

Joyce Carol Oates, The (Other) You

I think mostly anyone would agree it is perfectly normal to imagine how life would be altered if you had chosen a different path at one point or another. Our decisions are impossible to change once made yet almost as impossible to resist imagining. Focusing on these endless possibilities can be fun at times, but it can also become harmful if reality starts to take a backseat. This reflection on alternate destinies has become more popularised in recent years in many different forms including big movie franchises like the ever-growing Marvel-verse and popular literature like Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library. This is also explored in Joyce Carol Oates’ recent short story collection The (Other) You. Published in February 2021 by Ecco Press, The (Other) You is a captivating fourteen-story collection spanning less than 300 pages and meant to engage readers in the thought-provoking idea of altering your destiny. These fourteen stories are split into two sections, both of which act as a reflection of sorts for the other.

The first section of stories deals more heavily with the alternate destinies concept. Some of these stories include a man on the brink of retirement revisiting an Italian city from his youth to find it is no longer the paradise he remembers. They also include a woman moving around a city anonymously, using this to her advantage for dark purposes. A common theme for this section is the use of psychological twists that highlight the consequences of meddling with reality. This leads us to the second set of stories which showcases characters that are forced to confront their realities. This is seen when a couple performs their mundane everyday tasks after the shock of losing a baby, and when a community is faced with the effects of climate change all around them.

Each of these stories offers a unique perspective on the way we live our lives and the way our imagination can become harmful if allowed to spin too out of control. Oates is a master at blending reality with the metaphysical to create plots that are equally compelling and enlightening. While at times this collection can become overly doom and gloomy, Oates does such a wonderful job that I found it impossible for there to have been any other way to write these stories. If this is a genre you find yourself gravitating towards, I would recommend giving The (Other) You a try, especially as we enter the prime doom and gloom months!

Ruby Hamad, White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color

Shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards under the “Multicultural NSW” category, White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color is a critique on the weaponisation of white supremacy and patriarchy.

After the publication of her The Guardian article “How White Women Use Strategic Tears to Silence Women of Color” Hamad forced open a global discourse about the treatment of women of Colour with white womanhood. Ruby Hamad supports her claims using a range of case studies from Black women being excluded from suffragette parades, meetings, and activism in 1913 to the media villainization of Arabs as “religious fanatics.”

Hamad includes an abundance of evidence of “brown scars” through featured interviews with women across the western world. Hamad includes the voices of Native Indian, Asian, Black, Arab and Aboriginal women so harmoniously without dismissing the struggle of each group. Hamad creates a strong leading tone throughout the book and allows the reader to reflect and absorb the reality she is displaying.

This is important for readers. This is important for white readers. I say this as a Brown woman myself – this gave me the validation that the racism I face is not because of me but the whiteness that has engulfed our society. More importantly, for white women to read this book will help break down the wall of white privilege and supremacy that colonialism has built.

I have never loved a title of a non-fiction book so much: White Tears/Brown Scars describes the epitome of how “feminism” actually seems to feel like white feminism. Brown women like myself, Ruby Hamad and thousands across the world are openly having this conversation but we need white women to listen without the tears.

I highly recommend this non-fiction read to everyone regardless of race or gender. Ruby Hamad’s writing is accessible and is a starting point for building a real allyship. Tears are temporary but scars are a permanent reminder of oppression to us Brown women.

This book will forever hold a place in my heart, so thank you Ruby Hamad.

Tears can be wiped away, but scars last a lifetime. And at what cost can we achieve feminism… at the cost of Brown scars?



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