Review: The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theatre of Black and White by Aisha Sabatini Sloan

fluency-of-light-cover african american woman in sunglasses and cheetah print shirtThroughout history, individuals have been defined and separated by their differences. Those varying degrees of distinction have led to war, intolerance, and fear of the unknown.

However, what this animosity truly defines is the individual who threw the first stone. Memoirist Aisha Sabatini Sloan, examines such issues in her stirring collection of essays, The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theatre of Black and White (University of Iowa Press, 2013).

As the daughter of an African-American father and Italian-American mother, Sloan divulges and dissects her upbringing. The powerful discourse details her parents’ beautiful love story — a struggle of overcoming judgment from all sides of the fence — in addition to her experiences identifying as a mixed-race woman in American society.

Sloan begins the work navigating back and forth from her memories as a young child growing up in Los Angeles with “Birth of the Cool” and moves to her young adulthood spent in Minnesota with “Fade to White”.  Throughout the work, Sloan pays homage to her past while connecting to present in swift, fluid motion.  While the ever-changing scenes vary greatly throughout each essay, Sloan never manages to lose power behind her words.

As readers move forward, one connective theme remains ever-present: family. It is in these prominent and poignant passages, that readers grow more enamored with Sloan’s descriptive and beautifully rhythmic writing style. Moreover, behind such unforgettable imagery, is a humble voice that matures as Sloan comes to resolve her own issues of identity.

Nearly everyone is responsible for passing judgment at least once in their lives. Looking back on her own childhood, Sloan notes: “When I was young, the only holocaust I’d heard of was stranded in a distant past. I didn’t realize that people were fleeing acts of perverse violence even then. This seems a common trick among the privileged: we teach our children about hatred as though it were a faraway land.  But one day we have to break the news: it never stopped. It never will.”

Of course, this would not prevent Sloan from standing up against bigotry by choosing a stronger path instead. She seems to drive forward that as a progressive society, we should be aware of unjust behavior and identify why we choose to define and separate others by difference, rather than acknowledge and strengthen the connections we share.

While Sloan may discuss the often difficult questions associated with identity, The Fluency of Light renders readers enlightened and affected. Regardless of the road we have traveled, Sloan leaves us with the most important message of all — to continue forth. People who would enjoy this memoir include those with adoration for family, photography, anthropology, history, identity, and last but not least, Thelonious Monk.

Hippocampus Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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