History Shelves by Sassy Ross

Sassy Ross

a nutshell: this extraordinary poem explores a father-daughter relationship, opening with a frail memory of volumes kept and closing with a frail memory of volumes lost – it’s a poem whose every line is exquisite & complex & powerful

a line: “I, | a junkie for words I could not pronounce”

an image: in the first verse the poet portrays her father skimming hieroglyphic texts, and I loved how she described his thumb as a hummingbird hovering above the page

a thought: I was deeply moved by this poem despite feeling like I was only scraping the surface of its multilayered meanings, then I learned that Ross’s father struggled with addiction – only then did I realise why I relate so strongly with her fears about being cut from the same cloth and her line about how her dad fought demons in his sleep

a fact: born in Castries, St Lucia, Ross grew up speaking a mixture of English and a French patois – she migrated to the US aged 10 and began writing poetry while studying at Pennsylvania State University

want to read ‘History Shelves’? visit here

Journal of a Superfluous Woman by I. R. King

red cover with mandorla, plant in background

a nutshell: prompted by a cancer diagnosis, these introspective essays embody the author’s attempt (‘essai’) to probe the life she has led over four decades

a line: “the Caribbean experience is one of shared kinship amongst a people of varied appearances, but when we laugh, it is with one laughter”

an image: as seen in the image above, the cover features a mandorla (Latin for almond) – an ancient symbol of wholeness, in which the overlapping signifies the healing of the split; this symbol is of importance to King’s self-examination

a thought: King reflects heavily on her lifelong difficulties in knowing what she wants, commenting often on how many people seemed to stay on the heels of a dream that was not ours – the American dream, whether American or not

a fact: born in Curacao, King grew up in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – at one point she mentions how US residents regard her island as a source of domestic help

want to read Journal of a Superfluous Woman? visit here

Lady in a Boat by Merle Collins

a nutshell: both disquieting & loving, this expressive poetry collection spans family history, the Grenadian revolution and Caribbean life more broadly

a line: “It seems the apocalypse | will be televised”

an image: Collins returns to a haunting image of a friend lying in a stinking drain, with a pig nudging at his body, which gave me the horrifying impression that it is one taken from life

a thought: the poet writes of wandering to wrestle with her furies, and the imporance of knowing the arrogance of wandering and seeking the humility of home – something that particularly struck me, as a person living on the very opposite side of the world to where I grew up

a fact: the poet was deeply involved with the Grenadian Revolution and served as a government coordinator for research on Latin America and the Caribbean

want to read Lady in a Boat? visit here

Time and the River by Zee Edgell

time and the river book cover with illustration of young girl in front of bushes

a nutshell: following the life of Leah, who was born a slave in late 18th-century Belize, this is a profoundly moving novel exploring oppression in various forms

a line: “By now she knew from experience that one can often seem to be made of several people”

an image: while forced by the British to fight against the Spanish at sea, Will has a flashback to his terrified younger self aboard the slaving ship from Africa as he watched the crew throw sick and dying slaves overboard

a thought: this felt like a very timely story – a vital reminder that abolishing slavery was insufficient; the entire system of white privilege and exploitative capitalism must be deconstructed

a fact: two characters, Will and Sharper, are based on real-life individuals who are named in history books as heroes of the last known Belizean slave revolt in 1820

want to read Time and the River? visit here

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

a nutshell: bringing to light the life of the ‘madwoman in the attic’ from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, this novella is set between Jamaica and Dominica in the 1830s

a line: “You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that’s obeah too.”

an image: I found Antoinette’s story of waking as a child to see two huge rats then falling back asleep in the moonlight of a full moon fantastically eerie; her da (nurse) was furious the next morning and as a reader it felt strangely moving when, years later, Antoinette asks her husband if he too believes she has slept too long in the moonlight

a thought: I enjoyed reading Francis Wyndham’s introduction to the first edition of  this 1966 novella and am curious about how Wyndham’s evident enthusiasm for Rhys’ work sensationally ‘resurrected’ the writer, who was presumed dead when she vanished for 20 years after Good Morning, Midnight (1939) was unsuccessful

a fact: born in Dominica’s capital (Roseau) in 1890 to a Welsh doctor and a Creole mother, Rhys spent her childhood there before moving to England where she spent the First World War – she wrote many books before coming to this one, and her letters show that she was obsessed by Brontë’s novel and haunted by the need to write about the first Mrs Rochester

want to read Wide Sargasso Sea? visit here

Crick Crack Monkey by Merle Hodge

cover with portait of young girl on front

a nutshell: written from the perspective of Tee, whose mother dies in childbirth & whose father emigrates to England, this short novel explores an upbringing suspended between the worlds of two aunts – aunt Tantie’s informal & exuberant world and Aunt Beatrice’s pretentious & ‘refined’ world

a line: “Books transported you always into Reality and Rightness, which were to be found Abroad” (underlining the oppressively ‘colonial’ nature of education)

an image: the vividly atmospheric descriptions of food & music at Tantie’s conjure such a warmth and richness that contrasts starkly with the coldness of Aunt Beatrice’s

a thought: Tee’s feeling of unnaturalness/alienation at Aunt Beatrice’s is conveyed powerfully in the two scenes in which she observes the sea “offensively” rolling in & out with “no respect” for anything, as if all is right in the world

a fact: published in 1970, when Hodge was in her mid-20s, this novel’s title refers to a Caribbean oral tradition whereby at the start/end of a story the storyteller calls “crick?” and the audience responds “crack”

want to read Crick Crack Monkey? visit here

Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

a nutshell: in this melodious bildungsroman an Antiguan girl, Annie, leads us on a frank journey through her adolescence – beginning in paradise and ending in acrimony

a line: “How to explain to her about the thimble that weighed worlds, and the dark cloud that was like an envelope in which my mother and I were sealed?”

an image: Annie describes her headmistress – Miss Moore from England – as resembling a prune left out of its jar with a voice borrowed from an owl

a thought: reviews of Annie John curiously tend to be just as ‘love/hate’ as Annie’s feelings; many reviewers put their hatred down to their dislike for Annie herself, yet I came away thinking she was one of the more honest, familiar narrators I’ve come across – and liked her for her bluntness

a fact: each chapter was published by the New Yorker separately before being compiled and published as a book – hence its episodic nature

 

want to read Annie John? visit here