It might be a commonplace to observe that colonial histories and legacies mediate lived experience, but what Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida evocatively captures with That Hair, her new work of ficto-criticism, is that it is precisely through what is often considered 'commonplace' or familiar that one registers those legacies and histories most consistently ... de Almeida’s text both partakes in and stands outside of larger generic genealogies, as the attempt to come to terms with the existential particularities underpinning the socio-political identity of racialized postcolonial subjects often necessitates an approach that is simultaneously singular and collective in conception. This is where the brilliance of de Almeida-Mila’s loose thematic thread comes in. At the level of concept alone, there is much to appreciate in a series of anecdotes lightly clustered around an Angolan-Portuguese woman’s hair, given that hair, metonymically speaking, is often a crucial site of racial ascription, identification, and distinction. But it is Mila’s voice that truly gives the narrative a life of its own. For That Hair is narrated by an 'I' who understands the implications of the very act of narrating, and seems convinced that all such acts are predestined for failure ... it is a testament to the strength of Mila’s voice and presence, and de Almeida’s hypnotic prowess as a writer that...episodes are so deeply impressive ... In the end, this may be one of the most incredible feats of That Hair: it seems to become more engrossing the less it is grounded in immediate reality.
Even in its English translation...Pereira de Almeida’s semi-autobiographical 'hybrid novel' is a challenging read. It feels less like a novel than a collection of essays linked together by the author’s preoccupation with her hair — or, rather, the hair of her narrator, Mila. But as anyone blessed to be black knows, one’s identity is inextricably wound up in one’s hair. Fact or fiction, that is ultimately what this book is all about ... hough much of Pereira de Almeida’s prose reads like lyrical stream of consciousness, her use of Mila’s hair as a metaphor, the perfect stand-in for all her questions of identity, is universal ... Timely and relevant, That Hair contains themes that will be recognizable to so many readers, regardless of their mother tongue, who are wrestling with their own mixed-race experience today — anyone who is attempting to make sense of hair texture, skin color and family ties that cannot fit into little blue census boxes. Despite the label of fiction, Mila’s struggle in That Hair is all too real.
Unlike a traditional novel, which is driven by narrative, Pereira de Almeida’s tale is driven by potentiality, by its willingness to contradict itself and provide answers or termination points that are only ever provisional ... That Hair takes a fascinating turn toward the end, where we begin to question the reality being created within it. It’s a difficult turn to parse or fully pull apart. The other self comes to the fore ... A reader has the sense that the truth, whatever that is, and to the extent there is such a thing, is incapable of being shaped enough to provide the usual pleasures of fiction: shape, knowledge of characters, drama, foreground, background, closure. Rather, this is a many-angled exploration of self and history, an exploration in which every potential path is pursued with equal intensity ... a beautiful and truthful book in its particulars, but it’s also highly tangled and untamable in structure. Its multiplicity presents readers with a challenge; its multiplicity feels like a distorting mirror.