Snatching liberty seemed compelling. Some of us thrived; some of us died. All of us had a taste. from author Toni Morrison, on friendships.

I don't want to see stores looted or buildings burned; but African- Americans have been living in burning buildings for years, choking on smoke as flames burn closer and closer.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

That’s not a chip on my shoulder. That’s your foot on my neck.  – Malcolm X

"We must never, ever give up. We must be brave. We must be courageous." John Lewis, activist, congressman. 1940-2020 

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. ~ Dalai Lama

"Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public."  Professor Cornel West.

"Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat."  Audre Lorde

"The serious function of racism is distraction". 1995, Toni Morrison; Portland lecture, Playing in The Dark

“If I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.” Nora Ephron

"Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another." author Toni Morrison (1931- 2019)

“If I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me”; Nora Ephron, author/comedian

"Make your story count". Michelle Obama

"Social pain is understood through the lens of racial animus". Researcher/author Sean McElwee writing in Salon, 2016

"We are citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticize government without fear."  Chelsea Manning; activist/whisleblower

“My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I’m going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you, And no fascist minded people, like you, will drive me from it. Is that clear?” Paul Robeson; activist/singer

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent”. from civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?” Frederick Douglass, WHAT TO THE SLAVE IS 4TH JULY? 07.05.1852 (full text in blog)

Senator Elizabeth Warren "We're a country that is built on our differences; that is our strength, not our weakness"

"We are more alike than we are different" ~ Maya Angelou

As a Black writer, I was expected to accept the role of victim. That made it difficult in the beginning to be a writer.      James Baldwin

I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do. That’s the first difficulty. And the second is, what makes you think you’re it?   

         Harry Belafonte, activist and singe


It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble; It's what you know for sure that just ainst so.

Mark Twain


You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.

Mary Tyler Moore


 You can’t defend Christianity by being against refugees and other religions

Pope Francis:


"I don't have to be what you want me to be". Muhammad Ali

"The Secret of Living Well and Longer: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure"  attributed to Tibetan sources

Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.


Select Books

The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan

by Rafia Zakaria
Reviewed by BN Aziz

Good writers are always looking for a new ways to tell a story. It’s not just the plot of a book, or the research; a story must be a seamlessly woven fabric.

Non-fiction writers are as occupied as novelists with the craft of writing. And Rafia Zakaria is such a writer. She has chosen a fairly simple but not customary way to tell the history of her country, Pakistan. It’s part memoir, part journalism, told through a series of specific events where women are central players. (As such, this is a welcome alternative to history as told through men’s achievements or follies.)

“The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan” opens before the author’s birth and far from Pakistan at her grandparents Bombay home prior to the partition of India and Pakistan in 1948, and moves through the founding of Pakistan, on to Bengal, part of which succeeded from Pakistan in the 1971 war to become Bangladesh, then the tumult within the region known today as Pakistan. From its pains and promises, Zakaria extracts political highlights, some of which had modest beginnings, often inspired by women, whether students or the daughters or wives of notable political leaders—from ordinary women to would-be prime-minister Benazir Bhutto.

Rafia’s family history is based on the author’s memory of her household in Karachi. Those passages offer the intimacy of Pakistani life with its marriages, festivals and visitors. The household and the neighborhood grow, fields receding as the city bursts with shops and houses, markets and traffic. This dimension of Pakistan, Zakaria juxtaposes in alternating chapters with events from Pakistan’s often tumultuous political history.

Within the family, Zakaria focuses on her aunt Amina whose carefully arranged marriage is fractured when, unable to bear a child, she is shunted aside to allow her husband to take a second wife. Although Zakaria never engages directly with Amina in this story, we assume the tragedy had a profound impact on the author and she uses it to understand deeper dynamics at work. She sees the fragility of her hapless aunt, relegated to a secondary position in an upstairs apartment, first as an expression of the vulnerability of women, but also as the tenuous process of Pakistan’s nationhood. First Pakistan was split off from India, then East Pakistan succeeded to become independent Bangladesh.

Zakaria’s approach to history is effective, providing both intimacy and momentum. We can see pain and promise in the drama of family life and on the national stage. We are introduced through the book to a cast of determined, talented and successful women.

I refer you my commentary on this book where I highlight the author’s concern with addressing misrepresentations of Asian culture though western media.

Published by Beacon Prsss, 2015

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Book review
Rafia Zakaria's
The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan
reviewed by BN Aziz.

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