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Ours book by Phillip B. Williams: An Afro-Surreal Masterpiece! Shelf Interest book club review

Several copies of the book "Ours" stacked on each other

"Ours" by Phillip B. Williams was Shelf Interest book club's March read! This whopping debut novel (572 pages) explores a mystical safe haven for freed Black-American slaves that is ran by no government, where each individual has the chance to reinvent themselves. The town, Ours, was set up by a magical person, Saint, who used her powers to free slaves via destroying plantations and their owners. This book is filled with a radical level of liberation and pro-blackness that is so bold, we questioned whether a British publisher would ever allow such! The quote there's "No right way to be free. That's why its called free" rings true throughout the book as we figure out just how free the townspeople of Ours truly are.

The themes heavily explore liberation and the costs of freedom, Ours is only possible to build and maintain through the death of many. Grief, love, afro-surrealism, identity, the relentlessness of racism, healing, spirituality, nature, family and relationships are also predominant themes we explore. When entering Ours, before they build a society, the townspeople are made to cleanse from their traumas and rename themselves - very important steps in reclaiming their humanity.

In our community review, our members really enjoyed the depth of character-development and world-building. There are different dialects spoken and many people's lives to observe, Williams presents this in an easy-to-follow way by sticking to one all-knowing narrator as opposed to focusing on multiple perspectives which could become a struggle to read with that many characters. Each character's personality is imperfect and well-fleshed-out. We follow these people's lives for 4 decades and get to see a lot of evolution of the townspeople. Despite the book being relatively long, we wanted MORE! This book could have possibly been an ongoing series with endless stories of the lives of the inhabitants of "Ours", as it was so enjoyable to learn more about them!

Phillip B. Williams is an award-winning poet, so naturally his style of writing is extremely lyrical which most of our members enjoyed, bar 1 person who isn't generally much of a fan of poetic writing in novels. When speaking to Phillip B. Williams, he shared with us that this book took 16 years to write! This is extremely believable due to the level of detail, intention and thought that went into it. Even just from the way that the society members name themselves: from gender-bending names to the irony in which some members names conflict with their personality, Williams forces us to question the "truths" that are given to us by colonialism and what a truly liberated society looks like; this is also evident in the different measures of time between the general world and Ours. Like Saint, Phillip displayed a laissez-faire approach to his book, wanting the reader to discover their own take away messages rather than imposing his intent.

If you’re into afro-surrealism, speculative literature, magic, historical fiction, intergenerational dynamics, or reading about the African American experience, then “Ours” is a must read! It is also a great book club pick as it leaves a lot to be discussed, it's a book that highlights the beauty of the journey while creating wonder about the destination. It has so many stories and characters within it, that each reader can takeaway a variety of messages and interpretations.

Overall score = 4.2 stars. Readability = 4.1 stars. Storyline = 4.2 stars. Page-turner-icity = 4.2 stars. Recommendation = 4 stars.
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