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Lisa St Aubin de Terán: Books That Changed My Life

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Lisa St Aubin de Terán: Books That Changed My Life
Prize-winning Anglo-Guyanese author Lisa St Aubin de Terán, whose memoir Better Broken Than New is out now, reveals her favourite books

A Woman Named Solitude by Andre Schwarz-Bart

A woman named solitude
This is set in the idyllic, fairytale world of 17th century Senegal, the brutal world of Caribbean slavery and the slave rebellion of Guadaloupe. It starts with, “Once upon a time, on a strange planet, there was a little black girl named Bayangumay…” and then lures you into strange places and even stranger events. As Alan Friedman declared, “This book must be read to be believed.”
"A Woman Named Solitude lures you into strange places and even stranger events"
The little girl is captured, raped and sold, and her yellow-skinned daughter is a lonely misfit until she joins and then leads the slave rebellion that threatened to put an end to slavery on every Caribbean island. Transformed into Solitude, she became a legend. And from the moment I first read it (from a secondhand shop in Bristol), she has inspired me. So too has the author, whose writing taught me more than any other. Tackling practically every emotion, he distils beauty from horror, “to create a word painting” (his description) adding tiny brushstrokes to a passion that builds to a mesmeric climax. In the two worlds, there are two great love affairs. And although it ends in tears, Solitude remains a rebel to the end. Her last words, “It seems one cannot say, from this fountain I shall not drink,” were painted on my bedroom wall in Italy. I’ve re-read her story dozens of times; and Bayangumay lured me to find my own African roots via Mozambique and Benin.

Life of Modigliani

Jeanne Hébuterne. Amedeo Modigliani, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Aged twelve, I filched a booklet from the school library and then kept it with me like a talisman for the rest of my life. It was a very short, illustrated Life of Modigliani. And it was my introduction to love and passion: for Modigliani’s painting, and for Modigliani, the painter, and his life.
"It was my introduction to love and passion"
From the cover, Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne, to the photo of the stunningly handsome artist, to his love of Italy and his belief that “it is our duty to follow our dream”, I became his disciple. It was barely more than a pamphlet, and for 50 years it suffered many indignities inside a string of handbags before finally being consumed by termites in Mozambique. But, after many marriages and affairs, Amedeo Modigliani has always been my one true love. 

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

A people's history of the united states
Last but not least, I’ll pick Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. It was urged on my by Matt Damon when he was filming The Talented Mr Ripley in Rome in 1999 and the director invited me down for a couple of days to meet the actors. I was told that “it should be on the set reading list of every school in America” and that it was a “must read book”.
"It was urged on my by Matt Damon when he was filming The Talented Mr Ripley in Rome in 1999"
So I read it and was so moved and upset by the harrowing and seemingly endless stream of injustices that I fast-forwarded my resolution to give back some of my good fortune to as many African villagers as I could. And by 2003, I was living in a mud hut village in Mozambique, following my dream and running Terán Foundation, a charity that helps rural Mozambican communities to help themselves. 
Better Broken Than New: A Fragmented Memoir by Lisa St Aubin de Terán (Amaurea Press, Hardback, £19.95) is available to buy
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