Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Other Side of Paradise: Out of the Mouths of Babes

The Other Side of Paradise
Staceyann Chin
2009
Scribner

The Other Side of Paradise written by Staceyann Chin is startling in its clarity, fresh in its narration and the writing is as bold as the young poet, writer, lesbian activist is daily in her tweets or one of her performances. TOSoP is about a young girl who refused to be quiet. She came into the world unexpectedly with lungs much bigger than her premature body should have had.

What I love most about The Other Side of Paradise is the writer’s voice, specifically Staceyann the child’s voice. The voice is authentic. You can’t manufacture this. Some would say the child’s voice is audacious, and it is. In a culture where it is trendy to create in-your-face work, The Other Side of Paradise doesn’t have to scream at you to captivate you. Young Staceyann not knowing how dangerous it is to speak her mind honestly makes you cringe and want to hush the child before she says one more thing that earns her a scolding, a smack and rejection. It’s the cruel reality of being innocent and vulnerable that wallops you upside the head.

This memoir plays out like a daring Indi film. The footage looks like it’s unedited but the rendering is so flawless, you know it’s a carefully crafted work of a real writer. While we get Staceyann as-is there is nothing clumsy or awkward here. This work isn’t burdened with analysis nor is it a sanitized, hindsight-laden trope. Instead we come to know Chin through reliving her experiences and digesting choice reflections of what those experiences mean. Staceyann the child suffers abuse, neglect, abandoment and rejection but she doesn’t carry her victimization around like a child’s tattered blanket. She calls it what it is and does what she can rid herself of it so she can get on with becoming the woman she wants to be.

There are many poignant episodes in this memoir. In all of them, I was so vested that often I was having an internal dialogue with Staceyann: Oh, no, Staceyann, no, not this time. Don’t answer. Don’t tell the truth. Be quiet. Instead of pandering, Chin gives us relief when we need it with organic episodes that say even when life is ugly we find some joy. When the young girl discovers she can pleasure herself, I laughed and ached with her. When her aunt scolds her, when she tells Staceyann that her life is her own fault, and it is Staceyann’s responsibility to avoid being hurt by others, I relived the sting of being shamed and the isolation of knowing there is no one you can cry out to, to protect you, and I know many women who figuratively know the desperation of wrapping yourself tightly in a filthy, disgusting sheet. Ms. Chin’s memoir is a testament that while we may been violated, we do not have to remain victims. We can fight back and win.

I knew little about Ms. Chin’s work or her before reading The Other Side of Paradise. What I discovered was a child I did know. I am glad I took the time to listen, to listen to the child who grew, who dared to not be quiet and who later became the woman who was audacious enough to tell her story. Ms. Chin’s memoir is impressive, provocative, brilliant writing. It is an unflinching look at the other side of Paradise.

12 comments:

Tea said...

Thank you for printing the review.:) Also, thanks for this review. I like to read books that have a "true" child's voice. These books are so moving.

Tere Kirkland said...

Thank you for introducing me to this book. I just put it on my Amazon wishlist. It looks like a wholly satisfying book, and I don't often read memoirs.

Browngirl said...

This is a great review. I love StaceyAnn Chin- her poetry, her politics. she is a beast! I've had this on my tbr for quite awhile. I'm glad someone else has read it because it's not on many folks' radars.

the prisoner's wife said...

Wonderful review.

I love StaceyAnn's work. Her words are brave, honest, unflinching. I can't wait to read this memoir!

evelyn.n.alfred said...

I loved this book and your review. I didn't know much about Staceyann Chin either before reading her memoir. I had seen her on Def Poetry Jam a few times and been to at least one performance, but I didn't feel as if I knew her (or understood). After reading her memoir I have a better perspective and it makes me like her more. When she came to the Baltimore area, I made sure to go and get a copy of my book signed.

I think she would be glad to know that so many people are receptive to her story.

MissAttitude said...

Beautiful review. The memoir definitely sounds like a poignant must-read. I've never heard of StacyAnn Chin, but now I'm curious to learn more about her.

Doret said...

This is such a beautiful review. I've only heard wonderful things about this memoir

Pamala Knight said...

Thank you for the wonderful review of Ms. Chin's book. I'll stop in at Women and Children First this weekend to pick up a copy.

Unika Molden said...

Thanks so much for this review! Your descriptions were excellent. The more I read, the more I was intrigued. This book will definitely be placed on my ever growing TBR list.

Unika Howell-Molden
"The Unique Reviewer"
http://theuniquereviewer.blogspot.com

Tee C. Royal said...

Thanks for sharing your review. I don't normally read memoirs, but you've definitely made me want to add this one to my collection.

-Tee

Tea said...

This is such a powerful review. Hope to read the book.

Color Online said...

If any of you review the book, please let me know.

S