Week-end Book Review: This Thing Called the Future by J.L. Powers

Sunday, November 18th, 2012


J.L. Powers,
This Thing Called the Future
Cinco Puntos Press, 2011.

Ages: 12+

Fourteen-year old Khosi lives with her grandmother, Gogo, and five-year-old sister, Zi, in the township of Imbali, a settlement created during apartheid when blacks were not allowed to live in the nearby city of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.  Her parents fought in the struggle to end apartheid and, while they have no regrets, they want better opportunities and education for their children who face an uncertain future. Apartheid is over, but poverty is still rampant, and so many young people are dying from “the disease of these days,” a euphemism for AIDS.

Khosi’s mother commutes each week to Greytown where she works as a schoolteacher.  Her father, who cannot afford to pay the lobolo, or bride price, to marry her mother, lives with his own mother in Durban, an hour away. Khosi loves and respects all her elders and tries her best to honor them, but that is not always possible.  Her mother “believes in the things of white men, science and God only,” while Gogo, a Christian also, still believes in the old ways of the Zulu.  This is just one of the tensions with which Khosi grapples.  She is no longer a child, but not yet an adult, which means facing new responsibilities and making choices of her own.

Khosi realizes that men have begun to notice her in a way that is both exciting and dangerous.  Her best friend, Thandi, plays up her sexuality and dates older men, a fact that worries Khosi who understands how AIDS is spread.  Khosi’s own romantic interest is Little Man, a school friend she believes she can trust, but she’s not sure how to proceed with this relationship.  She would like to discuss it with her mother, but she has been staying in Greytown even over the weekends lately and has lost a worrying amount of weight.

Meanwhile, the next door neighbor claims Khosi’s mother robbed her of her late husband’s insurance settlement.  The neighbor has joined forces with the witch Gogo has been warning Khosi to avoid ever since she could remember.  When Khosi and Gogo consult the sangoma, a traditional Zulu faith healer, Khosi feels herself drawn to the old ways though she knows her mother would disapprove. As Khosi works through the ordinary trials of adolescence while trying to balance the expectations of her elders, it becomes clear that her mother’s illness is far more serious than she had first admitted.

J.L. Powers is also known for her 2007 novel, The Confessional, which deals with racial tension and immigration on the U.S./Mexico border.  With This Thing Called the Future she has created a memorable character with whom readers will easily identify, and has thrown into relief the complexity of issues facing the young people of South Africa today.

Abigail Sawyer
November, 2012

PaperTigers’ Global Voices: René Colato Laínez (USA/El Salvador)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

The War in El Salvador ~ by René Colato Laínez

 When I was a child in El Salvador, I went to school, recited poetry, played with my friends and won a hula-hoop contest on national television. I might say that I had a normal childhood. But then, everything was upside down. For many days the school closed because of civil revolts. The radio and the television always talked about the army, guerrillas and the revolution in the country. The mad game came to El Salvador. The country was involved in a terrible civil war.

As I child, I did not really understand what was really going on. I asked myself many times, Why? Why were they doing this to the country? Before the war, when I heard a “boom”,  I clapped and jumped up a down. It was the sound of the fireworks for Christmas. A “boom” meant that Christmas was around the corner. But during the war, when I heard the first “boom”, I ran home and hid under my bed, while more “booms” went on and on. Because those “booms” were not the sounds of happiness, they were the sounds of war.

During the war, thousands of Salvadorans left the country looking for peace and better opportunities. Many of these Salvadorans traveled to the United States. My mom was the first one in the family who left the country. After many struggles, my father and I left El Salvador in 1985.

I arrived in Los Angeles, California and I had the determination to go to school to become a teacher. Now I am a kindergarten teacher at Fernangeles Elementary School. I am also the author of many children’s books.

In December 2010, Cinco Puntos Press contacted me to participate in a book. They were putting together an anthology about children and war and were wondering if I could consider submitting an essay for the anthology. Of course I said yes! I love Cinco Puntos Press books. I use their bilingual books in my classroom all the time. Participating in this anthology was an honor for me.

The name of the book is That Mad Game; Growing Up in a Warzone: An Anthology of Essays from Around the Globe. The editor of the anthology is J. L. Powers.

Now was the hard part. What to write about? I grew up during the war and I had so many memories. My fourth grade teacher was killed during the war. That morning, the school was closed. Instead of having class, all the students went to a funeral home that was located one block away from school. I also knew friends who were recruited and found dead days later in rubbish dumps.

But I wanted to write all the way from the bottom of my heart. I wanted to write about my family and how the war divided us. But it was hard! Remembering my mom saying good-bye at the airport, visiting my father in jail, listening to the terrible news that archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated and the final chaos at the cathedral during his funeral were all hard memories to put on paper. I must confess that I wrote my essay with tears in my eyes. Also it was a good therapy to write the essay. Yes, the war divided us but it could not destroy our love, faith and family bond.

The name of my essay is Left Behind in El Salvador and it is part of seventeen accounts of children in war around the world. That Mad Game; Growing Up in a Warzone: An Anthology of Essays from Around the Globe is a powerful book. You can hear the voices of the voiceless. In the news, they only talk about names of war leaders, bombings, dead and desolation. But they usually don’t talk about the people who are suffering in the war. Those people that their only “fault” is to live and survive in the middle of a war. This book is bringing light to these forgotten voices. The book will be available this August.

Book Description:

Seventeen writers contribute essays about how they became adults in times of war. Essays focus on modern history but take no sides. Vietnam from both sides. Bosnia. The Gulf War. Rwanda. Juárez. El Salvador. The list goes on and on. There are no winners, just the survivors left behind. Picking up the pieces.

In his review of That Made Game, Charles London, author of One Day The Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War  says “There is heartache in the stories J.L. Powers has assembled here, as well as loss and pain and death. They are about war, after all. But there is humor too, and also love and faith and hope, because they are human stories too, and as each one testifies in its own way, humans are able to heal.”

René Colato Laínez is the Salvadoran award-winning author of many multicultural children’s books including  The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez, From North to South, René Has Two Last Names, I Am René, the Boy, Playing Lotería and My Shoes and I. He is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. René is “the teacher full of stories” at Fernangeles Elementary School. In his books, you can find culture, fun and hope for the future. Visit him at www.renecolatolainez.com and read our 2006 interview with him here.

We are thrilled to have René  join us as PaperTigers’ Global Voices Guest Blogger for the month of July. Part 2 of his series will be posted here on the blog on July 18th and Part 3 on July 25th