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Summary and book reviews of Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly

by Natasha Brown

Assembly by Natasha Brown X
Assembly by Natasha Brown
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Sep 2021, 112 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Book Summary

A woman confronts the most important question of her life in this blistering, fearless, and unforgettable literary debut from "a stunning new writer" (Bernardine Evaristo).

Come of age in the credit crunch. Be civil in a hostile environment. Go to college, get an education, start a career. Do all the right things. Buy an apartment. Buy art. Buy a sort of happiness. But above all, keep your head down. Keep quiet. And keep going.

The narrator of Assembly is a black British woman. She is preparing to attend a lavish garden party at her boyfriend's family estate, set deep in the English countryside. At the same time, she is considering the carefully assembled pieces of herself. As the minutes tick down and the future beckons, she can't escape the question: is it time to take it all apart?

Assembly is a story about the stories we live within – those of race and class, safety and freedom, winners and losers. And it is about one woman daring to take control of her own story, even at the cost of her life. With a steely, unfaltering gaze, Natasha Brown dismantles the mythology of whiteness, lining up the debris in a neat row and walking away.

Excerpt
Assembly

"Thank you," he says into the sudden silence of the stopped engine. He looks down at the steering wheel. We're parked on the gravel driveway outside his parents' house. Beyond, across the lawn, a few windows glow orange against the night.

He says he's glad I came. With the biopsy, all that stuff—he pauses and turns to me. In the dim light, I see earnestness in his features. His eyes are dark shadows.

"I'm just happy you're okay," he says. Then leans over and kisses my cheek.

Outside, it's quiet and oppressively still. The wrought-iron entry gate has slid back into a closed grimace. Miniature lamp posts cast narrow yellow cones, illuminating a path up towards the house. The parents greet us at the door. Helen and George—first names, as they insist—bundle me inside. A radiator-bench hulks against one wall of their wide entryway. They're all smiles, close and welcoming. The mother, Helen, rubs her son's shoulder.

They take me through to a cosy, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

What makes Brown's story so affective and effective is that she writes lovely passages of her narrator's conflict: her external success and internal doubt. At work, despite her $2,000 office chair and corner window, she is seen as nothing more than a diversity hire, which leaves her feeling powerless despite her achievements. And at home, her privileged white boyfriend diminishes her wounds, suggesting that his wealth is the same as her success. There is no escaping her invisibility. I appreciated the vignette style of Brown's writing more than I expected to. Assembly feels like tiny pieces of light stitched together with a thread that at any moment could break apart. The author is inventive and historical and poetic. She has written a personal story of racial wounds...continued

Full Review Members Only (784 words).

(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Assembly is a smart novel that takes risks with the questions it raises. I look forward to Brown's next work, in which she might try — with the same refreshing conviction — to answer them.

Harper's Bazaar
This slimline novel may be minuscule at just over 100 pages, but it packs an oversized punch. A nuanced, form-redefining exploration on class, work, gender and race, Brown's debut has already garnered mass hype from the industry.

Vogue
The literary debut of the summer.

LitHub (Most Anticipated Books of the Year)
A sharp, experimental novel about a Black British woman who did everything right, and yet still, when faced with her mortality, isn't sure her life is worth hanging on to. Clocking in at a mere 112 pages, this critique of British racism and the 'culture of more' can be read in an afternoon, and should be.

Entertainment Weekly (Best Books of September)
The fall's biggest debut comes from a former banker in London, who delivers a brisk, affecting diary of a young Black woman contemplating an opt-out of capitalism and life entirely. It's Mrs. Dalloway for the burnout generation, the anticapitalism manifesto millennials have been waiting for.

The Guardian (UK)
A modern Mrs. DallowayAssembly is the kind of novel we might have got if Woolf had collaborated with Fanon, except that I don't think either ever reined in their sentences the way Brown does here, atomising language as well as thought…Brown nudges us, with this merging of form and content, towards an expression of the inexpressible – towards feeling rather than thought, as if we are navigating the collapsing boundaries between the narrator's consciousness and our own.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Brown's provocative and lyrical debut follows a young Black British woman's navigation of the racism and sexism at her investment banking job while she contends with a breast cancer diagnosis...References to bell hooks' writing on decolonization and Claudia Rankine's concept of 'historical selves' bolster her fierce insights. This is a stunning achievement of compressed narrative and fearless articulation.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[B]rilliant...This is Brown's first novel, and it has all the jagged clarity of a shard of broken glass. A piercing meditation on identity and race in contemporary Britain."

Author Blurb Diana Evans, author of Ordinary People
Bold and original, with a cool intelligence, and so very truthful about the colonialist structure of British society: how it has poisoned even our language, making its necessary dismantling almost the stuff of dreams. I take hope from Assembly, not just for our literature but also for our slow awakening.

Author Blurb Ali Smith, author of Summer
A quiet, measured call to revolution…[Assembly is] slim in the hand, but its impact is massive; it strikes me as the kind of book that sits on the faultline between a before and an after. I could use words like elegant and brilliantly judged and literary antecedents such as Katherine Mansfield/Toni Morrison/Claudia Rankine. But it's simpler than that. I'm full of hope, on reading it, that this is the kind of book that doesn't just mark the moment things change, but also makes that change possible.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Imposter Syndrome

Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes first identified "imposter phenomenon," popularly known as "imposter syndrome," in 1978. It is characterized by a belief that one's success is accidental. Clance and Imes' research was based on high achieving women who couldn't accept the success they had created and were frightened others would find out they were frauds. Marginalized people can be especially vulnerable to imposter syndrome. Natasha Brown powerfully demonstrates the phenomenon in her debut novel Assembly. The narrator, a British Jamaican woman working in finance in London, questions herself and her success.

Argentine American journalist Marina Peña has published a powerful essay about her imposter syndrome as an ...

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