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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Tales of Dark-Skinned Women: Race, Gender and Global Culture
Gargi Bhattacharya

(London, University College London Press, 1998)
390pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: ISBN 1-85728-611-1. Pb.: 13.95; ISBN 1-85728-612-X.

Gargi Bhattacharya has written an innovative, and challenging book which deals with the questions of colonialism, the expansion of capitalism, and the violence wreaked in the globe through racism with both panache and pain. Articulating the necesssity for taking embodied labour seriously, it at the same time weaves in issues centred around biological racism, Atlantic slavery, deaths of black people in British prisons, and resistance against racial degradation in its myriad forms. While analysing difference, Gargi Bhattacharya steers clear of nationalist certainties, and provides a sharp critique of racial absolutisms as well as proto-nationalist resolutions.

The writer is a lecturer in Cultural Studies and Sociology at the University of Birmingham, and takes the Tales from One Thousand and One Nights as seriously as she does Das Kapital. While centrally involved with telling stories, and analysing issues of representation, the book is insistent in its call to see through and go beyond representations to the stuff of social experience, lived realities and brutalising existences. In this, it succeeds in bringing together narrative tales, history, social theory and cultural analysis both productively and creatively.

Recalling Scheherazade in the One Thousand and One Nights and her ability to resist the power of a violent tyrant through entertaining him with tales, the book lays bare the power and tyranny of imperialism, the white male gaze, as well as fiction in subordinating women of colour. Herein enter the tales told by dark-skinned women - one a model, second a sportswoman, the third a newsreader and the fourth an entertainer - which comment and tell about embodied labour, flesh-work, the attempted stunting of minds and the possibilities for other kinds of futures. Within this, the body as the violent site of white male fantasy, and the body as impossibly and pleasurably owned by the dark-skinned women themselves, surface as a central tension which demands attention in the reshaping of racial images and myth-making.

Tales of Dark-Skinned Women is an important new book by a self-confident writer who is exploring the grim and mundane realities of racial oppression and racial myth-making through the medium of narrative stories. Here, she articulates the theme of narrativising as truth-telling and narrativisig as healing - healing the wounds of history, of embodied pain, of daily racialised (and gendered) personal and social conflict. It stands as an important marker in the field of race and ethnic studies and cultural theory.

Parita Mukta
University of Warwick

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