Review: Danged Black Thing by Eugen Bacon

Danged Black Thing

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Danged Black Thing is an extraordinary collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, patriarchy and womanhood, from a remarkable and original voice.

‘Traversing the West and Africa, they celebrate the author’s hybridity with breathtaking sensuousness and lyricism.

‘Simbiyu wins a scholarship to study in Australia, but cannot leave behind a world of walking barefoot, the orange sun, and his longing for a “once pillow-soft mother.” In his past, darkness rose from the river and something nameless and mystical continues to envelop his life.

‘In A Taste of Unguja, sweet taarab music, full of want, seeps into a mother’s life on the streets of Melbourne as she evokes the powers of her ancestors to seek vengeance on her cursed ex.

‘In the cyberfunk of Unlimited Data, Natukunda, a village woman, gives her all for her family in Old Kampala.

‘Other stories explore what happens when the water runs dry – and who pays, capture the devastating effects on women and children of societies in which men hold all the power, and themes of being, belonging, and otherness.

‘Speculative, realistic, and even mythological, but always imbued with truth, empathy, and Blackness, Danged Black Thing is a literary knockout.’

Danged Black Thing

The 17 stories in Danged Black Thing, by Eugen Bacon, span sci-fi, horror, fantasy and drama. At the same time, they draw on a number of common themes that really made an impression on me.

Other things that pull them together are their evocativeness, and the fact that many of them left me feeling unsettled (in a good way)!

Several stories explore the experience of being an African migrant to Australia or Europe, tying in with the author’s own story. These have an insightful overarching message that you never stop being a migrant – either due to the connections you retain to your old home, or the way people perceive and treat you in your new one.

While some of these connections are more prosaic – staying in touch by phone or online, sending money home, helping relatives follow in your footsteps – others are extraordinary.

We witness characters having a psychic connection with someone still in Africa (The Failing Name), being unable to leave behind a personal curse (Simbuju and the Nameless), or calling on their ancestors’ powers to curse someone in their adopted country (A Taste of Unguja).

As a fan of the spooky and weird, these eerie stories especially compelled me. The collection’s speculative stories about climate change and advances in technology – most notably, The Water Runner, and the title story – were also among my favourites due to my particular interest in the genre.

The burdens placed on Black women specifically is another major theme. For example, one character experiences visions of the unlived life of her stillborn baby, putting me in mind of unconscionable racial differentials in birth outcomes globally (Phantasms of Existence); another is microchipped so she can become a data hotspot for her husband’s work phone, causing her to sicken and die (Unlimited Data).

However, it’s not all doom and gloom - there’s also space for hope, power, joy, and success in some stories, such as Messier 94 and Rain Doesn’t Fall On One Roof.

On the other side of the coin, many of the men in these women’s lives – Black and white – range from merely disappointing to morally reprehensible. The focus turns to African dictators in a couple of stories.

In a few stories, sons are lost or stolen, whether to death (Phantasms of Existence), by a scheming ex (A Taste of Unguja), or by a Norse mother of monsters (A Pod of Mermaids), again putting me in mind of structural racism, including the adultification of Black boys and its tragic consequences.

Danged Black Thing is an inventive, wide-ranging, and often unsettling short story collection.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK