Book Review – The End of Chiraq by Javon Johnson (Editor)

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Poetry / Social Issues
Publication Date: May 15th, 2018
Publisher: Northwestern University Press

“Mixing culture for the sake of chaos is a sin. Mixing culture for the sake of love… now, that’s God’s work.” -Demetrius Amparan

Poignant and sobering – simultaneously a love song to the city of Chicago and a desperate cry for it to change, for the rapid and unforgiving cycle of violence to end. I feel unequipped to review this book fully, as I’ve never been to Chicago, so I don’t know what it’s like. I can only imagine from the words of those who have seen it at its best and at its worst.

In these poems and essays lies optimism, faith and hope alongside an overwhelming sense of oppression, aggravated further by factors such as poverty, racism and corruption in law enforcement. There is both criticism and dissection of the term “Chiraq” used to describe the city and its violence. Mariame Kaba warns not to embrace the term, as they feel it leads to negation and “shoving to the side” of serious issues, or worsening them:

“The act of renaming the stolen land upon which they live, considered to be agency by some, perversely seals their fate. […] In ‘Chiraq’, community voices are drowned out. […] ‘Chiraq’ conditions how we think of ourselves and neighbors. It traps us into considering solutions that are steeped in a punishment mindset.”

The End of Chiraq is both a call for action and a call for solace – a thought-provoking anthology with a strong chorus of voices. It is both the songs of pain and beauty, or in the echo of its own words, a flower that is brave enough to rise from the concrete and seek freedom. Powerful, and I recommend to all.

Some essay and poems that stood out to me in particular were “To Live and Die in Chiraq” by Mariame Kaba, “My grandmother tells me…” by Demetrius Amparan, “Concrete Flowers” by Aneko Jackson, “When Asked About Chicago” by Alfonzo Kahlil, and “History as Written by the Victors” by Krista Franklin. I also found the essay by Leah Love on interviewing a female graffiti artist to be fascinating.

 

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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