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

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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

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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

 

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