Carve The Mark Isn’t Racist • Opinion

I finished Carve the Mark last week and I sat down today to write a review on it. I have a normal enough process; finish book, jot down my thoughts, check out other reviews to get a feel of what everyone is saying and then write review. This time around I noticed a huge amount of articles on how Carve the Mark is racist, and although this isn’t a topic I usually like to get involved in, I felt like I needed to give my two cents because of all the misinformation being spread.

First of all, I don’t understand how people can call this book racist, truly. They either haven’t read it carefully enough or they opened it looking for something to come across as racist. If it’s the former, they should have paid more attention, and if it’s the latter, that’s incredibly sad in my opinion. I personally think it’s an unhappy marriage of both, but it’s also because many of the articles I read have the misinformed notion that the book’s Shotet people (known for their barbarity) are dark skinned and the Thuvhesit people (known as a peace loving people) are white. This is not fact.

Most of the articles I’ve read calling out Carve the Mark for its supposed racism (like this popular one by Justina Ireland that I disagree with) base their article on the idea that the Shotet people are dark skinned. Far from being true, there is huge diversity in both the Thuvhesit and Shotet people. The villain of the series, Ryzek, who is a Shotet person and the head of the cruel Noavek family, is constantly described as white, pale, and skeletal. Cyra, on the other hand, who is described as dark skinned like her mother is actually the hero of the story. Akos, who is a white Thuvhesit person kidnapped by Ryzek’s goons, is not the hero and this is obvious to anyone who has read the entire book; he is a main character for sure but he consistently fails in his attempts to escape and would never have done so had Cyra not been as heroic and self-sacrificing as she is.

carve the mark isn't racist
Art of Ryzek Noavek by Gabriel Picolo (@_picolo on Instagram)

Not only does she put herself in danger numerous times to allow Akos to escape, she also puts aside the revenge she wants so that Akos can try to save his brother. Cyra is a completely selfless character constantly trying to help Akos despite the fact that if he left her, she would always have to deal with the excruciating pain her currentgift inflicts on her. She is willing to forever bear her pain so that Akos can be free. She is a hero in every sense of the word. So far we have a dark skinned hero, a white villain and his white slave; how exactly is this a racist book?

Eijeh and Cisi, Akos’ brother and sister, are both described as having brown skin despite being (the supposedly all-white) Thuvhesit, as is the chancellor of Thuvhe, Isae, who has light brown skin. As well as this, Shotet characters Teka, Zosita and Yma are all white characters described as having pale blonde hair. They are Shotet, not Thuvheist, so again, how have people come to think that the Shotet people are all dark skinned? Honestly, readers who claim Carve the Mark is racist are betraying their own deeply rooted prejudice, in my opinion, particularly because many did not finish it. It seems once Cyra was described as being a dark skinned Shotet person (a people known for their barbarity), they assumed the rest of the Shotet were also dark skinned. That says more about the reader than it does about Veronica Roth.

The only thing in this book that came across as remotely problematic to me was the description of Cyra’s mother’s hair, when Roth said it was “so curly it trapped fingers”. Now obviously this is an attempt to describe natural afro hair and although I don’t think Roth did a particularly good job at explaining this, I think it’s a far cry from racism. She’s not inferring her hair is inferior because of how curly it is, she’s simply trying to describe it, though I agree it could’ve been written much better. There is a great website called Writing With Colour that really helped me when writing characters of colour in my own novel, so check it out if you’re having trouble with descriptions as well.

carve the mark isn't racist

I think this book actually has a very important message; that what we don’t understand, we fear. The Shotet and Thuvehesit people do not understand each other at all, and they have created so many rumours and lies about each other over the years that both sides have different versions of the truth; they have opposing origins for who started their feud, who is the hero and who is the villain. This is in parallel with our own real lives where many of us have irrational fear for other cultures we know little to nothing about. It is an expression of reality, and reality is not always pleasant or fair.

The people who allow fear to lead them – and in this case both of Carve the Mark’s cultures fall prey to this – will always be blind. It also shows us that hatred is learned, that prejudice is taught, and that whole cultures and whole groups of people can’t be tarred by the same brush. The Shotet and Thuvhesit are not divided by skin colour, they are divided by culture and prejudice.

You may disagree with me, but I read this book very recently from cover to cover and even went over passages again to check characters’ skin colours and confirm what I’ve said in this article. This isn’t something I thought I’d find myself doing when I first bought the book, but so be it.

Finally, Carve the Mark is not perfect by any means, but by that I mean the overall plot and pacing of the novel. It’s sloppy at times and a little inconsistent, the world building is quite blurry and it’s often plagued by a slow pace, but it’s not racist and it doesn’t encourage damaging, problematic tropes of dark skinned people being aggressors.

Opinion • Diversity in the Man Booker Longlist

The longlist for the Man Booker Prize was recently announced, and although I didn’t post about it immediately, I’ve had time to have a think about a few issues surrounding the books chosen, namely about diversity.

I read an article a few days ago by a journalist called June Eric Udorie at The Guardian who said the longlist was a “disappointment for diversity”. In short, I don’t agree with her.

The first problem in her argument is that her article doesn’t offer any examples of books by non-white authors that should have been included on the list. In fact, she seems to be making the argument that more authors should have been included just for the sake of their skin colour.

Man Booker Longlist diversity

I agree that the publishing world in general in the West does lack diversity, but the Man Booker Prize is ultimately about the book, not the author. It is about quality. If we introduce some kind of quota for diversity, does that not cheapen the award? Does that not do a huge disservice to people of colour who then go on to win because their book was genuinely the best?

The Man Booker Prize is a big deal, as there’s £50,000 pounds up for grabs for the winning book, as well as £2,500 and a specially bound edition for those who reach the shortlist. It’s the highlight of the literary year and represents the cream of the crop of books published in the UK, though it is open to people of all nationalities.

Three writers on the 2016 longlist are people of colour: Madeleine Thien (a Canadian woman of Asian descent), Paul Beatty (an American black man) and Ottessa Moshfegh (a woman of Iranian descent). There are also six women in total on the list, with seven men. That seems fairly diverse to me seeing as the list was dominated exclusively by white men for decades.

Last year, seven women were included on the longlist, with six writers of colour, four of whom made the shortlist and Marlon James went on to win with his fantastic novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, a fictional story of Jamaican history and culture based on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. He is now doing incredibly well, with his book having sold hundreds of thousands of copies and it has just been picked up for a TV series.

Man Booker Longlist diversity

Just because this year’s longlist is not as diverse as last year’s list, does not mean that we’re not progressing. More and more diverse writers are being recognised, and we don’t need to see a constant upwards trajectory for that to be apparent. Did Udorie want to see seven people of colour on the list? Would that have been progress enough? I suspect that if there were five writers of colour, she would still consider that a regression, and I don’t believe that is the case. We are moving forward, slowly but surely, and talented writers of colour who would have gone unnoticed in the past are getting the recognition they deserve.

In 2014, the case could be made that the longlist was not that diverse with two people of colour (an Indian man and a half Irish, half Turkish man) and just three women; this is ironic as the Prize was opened up to all nationalities for the first time. However, in 2013, there were seven women on the list with Indian, Malaysian, Japanese-Canadian and Zimbabwean writers included.

This year’s judges are mostly white, this is true, with two women and three men including one man of colour on the panel. Udorie also criticised this lack of diversity. According to demographics, 92.12% of the UK is white, with 4.39% made up of Asians and 1.95% made up of black people. Taking these kind of figures into account, is the judging panel made up of four white people and one person of colour not to be expected? What if there were four people of colour, one white person and no women? Would that be fine? Or no men but all women? Where do we draw the line with how much diversity is necessary?

When it comes to the publishing world, there is absolutely a problem with books by people of colour not being published as often as books by white people. And colour representation on book covers is a blatant issue as well. However, this is a major problem that we should be looking at and trying to improve, but I don’t see the value in complaining about the Man Booker longlist for not being diverse enough when the past few years are more diverse than it has ever been before.

Man Booker Longlist diversity

To my knowledge, nine people of colour have won the Man Booker Prize since its inception in 1969. In that time, V.S. Naipaul won in 1971 with ‘In a Free State’, ten years later Salman Rushdie won with ‘Midnight’s Children’ in 1981, Kazuo Ishiguro won with ‘Remains of the Day’ in 1989, Ben Okri won with ‘The Famished Road’ in 1991, Arundhati Roy won with ‘God of Small Things’ in 1997, Yann Martel won with ‘Life of Pie’ in 2002, Kiran Desai won with ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ in 2006, Aravind Adiga won with ‘The White Tiger’ in 2008, and Marlon James won with ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ last year in 2015. This shows that more writers of colour are winning more often than they were in the past, and we will only see more of this as time goes on. Progress is happening.

This year’s longlist of 13 books (out of 155 submissions published between October 1st 2015 and September 30th 2016) was selected by a panel of five judges including Amanda Foreman, Jon Day, Abdulrazak Gurnah, David Harsent and Olivia Williams.

 

The 2016 longlist includes:

Paul Beatty (US) – The Sellout (Oneworld)

J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian) – The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker)

A.L. Kennedy (UK) – Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape)

Deborah Levy (UK) – Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton)

Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) – His Bloody Project (Contraband)

Ian McGuire (UK) – The North Water (Scribner UK)

David Means (US) – Hystopia (Faber & Faber)

Wyl Menmuir (UK) -The Many (Salt)

Ottessa Moshfegh (US) – Eileen (Jonathan Cape)

Virginia Reeves (US) – Work Like Any Other (Scribner UK)

Elizabeth Strout (US) – My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking)

David Szalay (Canada-UK) – All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape)

Madeleine Thien (Canada) – Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books)

The shortlist will be announced on September 13th.

What do you think about the diversity of this year’s longlist? Do you disagree with me? Should there be more people of colour on the list? Let me know in the comments!