Thursday, 8 July 2021

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Catriona Troth

What We Thought Of It:

From the opening pages, The Other Black Girl presents as a modern-day office comedy – a Black woman’s Working Girl, or The Devil Wears Prada. But all is not quite what it appears.

Yes, this is a take-down of the Whiteness of the publishing industry – an expose of the blunders and gaffes of its narrow demographic of gatekeepers. But there is a surreal element to it too. And that surreal element takes satirical aim at those who choose compliance and adjacency to power over solidarity and the fight for equality.

When Nella first sees that another Black woman has been hired by her exclusive (and very White) publishing house, she is delighted. But almost at once, something starts to feel off. She can’t put her finger on it, but just why is Hazel able to worm her way into everyone’s good graces so quickly? And who is sending Nella anonymous notes? Is she just jealous? Or paranoid? Or is something really wrong here?

And just what is in that special hair grease Hazel is so keen to share?

The Other Black Girl is playful and at times downright hilarious – but much of the fabric of the story is based on Harris’s own experiences in the publishing industry. It’s not difficult to draw parallels between the book launch at the centre of the story and one or two recent high-profile launches where embarrassing gaffes have been blamed on the lack of having any non-cis/het/white/middle-class staff senior enough to speak up. The absence of what Nella terms “For Us, by Us: the Effect of Black Eyes on Black Ideas.”

A clever and sharp-toothed debut with a sting in its tail. And I love the symbolism of the cover - the broken teeth of the black Afro comb, stark against the rich yellow background.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams; The Yield by Tara June Winch; The Hundred Year Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonassen;

Avoid If You Dislike: Wondering off the path of realism

Perfect Accompaniment: A luxury hair treatment

Genre: Comedy, satire, contemporary.

Buy This Book Here

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