Spring Break: Explore Canadian-Caribbean Writing
The good news is that we're all going to get an escape from winter sooner or later, because we're nearly midway through March and spring is just around the corner. But in some parts of this fine country, mid-March is also officially the point at which we-just-cannot-take-this-damn-winter-anymore and some are even fortunate enough to fly away to sunnier climes. For the rest who must opt for armchair travelling, here are some perfect Spring Break reads for tropical literary immersion.
Visit Cuba with...
The Begger's Opera, by Peggy Blair
In beautiful, crumbling Old Havana, Canadian detective Mike Ellis hopes the sun and sand will help save his troubled marriage. He doesn’t yet know that it’s dead in the water—much like the little Cuban boy last seen begging the Canadian couple for a few pesos on the world famous Malecon. For Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police, finding his prime suspect isn’t a problem—Cuban law is. He has only 72 hours to secure an indictment and prevent a vicious killer from leaving the island. But Ramirez also has his own troubles to worry about. He’s dying of the same dementia that killed his grandmother, an incurable disease that makes him see the ghosts of victims of unsolved murders. As he races against time, the dead haunt his every step …
Visit Barbados with...
Love and Sweet Food, by Austin Clarke
From the author of the Giller Prize-winning The Polished Hoe comes a culinary memoir as savoury as his best fiction. In the voice of Austin Clarke the recipes of Barbados comes alive, teeming with delectable, distinctive island tastes, in the inimitable prose of one of the greatest novelists of our generation. From succulent King-Fish and White Rice to well-seasoned Pepperpot to a late-night omelette cooked for Norman Mailer, Clarke welcomes you into his Bajan kitchen for a glass of wine and an island feast as only he can prepare.
Visit Jamaica with...
By Love Possessed, by Lorna Goodison
These beautifully crafted stories will introduce readers to the fiction of one of our literary bright lights—Lorna Goodison, the internationally renowned poet and award-winning author of the memoir From Harvey River. In sensuous language textured with the cadences of Creole speech, these stories vividly evoke a world where pride, injustice, love, and unexpected changes of fortune leave their mark but cannot extinguish the human spirit.
When her past lover returns to Jamaica with his Irish bride, a successful businesswoman must contend with her old flame’s renewed courtship. A well-known chanteuse with humble beginnings tells a young female reporter the tale of her life’s great turnaround. In the Pushcart Prize-winning story “By Love Possessed,” Goodison reveals the melancholy and resilience of a woman whose illusions about her dream man come to a disturbing and abrupt end. With warm humour, empathy, and an unsentimental and perceptive eye for the foibles of human relationships, Goodison immerses us into the lives of an unforgettable community of people as they face challenges both intensely private and universally recognizable.
Visit Haiti with...
The Return, by Dany Laferriere
Dany Laferriere's most celebrated book since How to Make Love to a Negro, The Return is a bestseller in France and Quebec and the winner of many awards, including the prestigious Prix Medicis and the Grand Prix du livre de Montreal.
At age 23, the narrator, Dany, hurriedly left behind the stifling heat of Port-au-Prince for the unending winter of Montreal. It was 1976, and Baby Doc Duvalier's regime had just killed one of his journalist colleagues. Thirty-three years later, a telephone call informs Dany of his father's death in New York. Windsor Laferriere had fled Haiti in the 1960s, fearing persecution for his political activities. After the funeral, Dany plans to return his father to Baraderes, the village in Haiti where he was born. It is not the body he will take, but the spirit.
How does one return from exile? In acutely observed details, Dany reveals his affection for his father and for the land of his birth. Translated by two-time Governor General's Award-winner David Homel, The Return blends the gritty reality of daily life with the lush sensuality and ecstatic mystery that underlie Haitian culture. It is the novel of a great writer.
Visit Trinidad with...
A Perfect Pledge, by Rabindranath Maharaj
The novel begins with the birth of a child to Narpat and Dulari in the village of Lengua in the late 1950s. Geevan, known universally as Jeeves, is the son that Narpat, an irascible cane farmer, has long wished for to add to his three daughters. But, growing up in his father’s shadow, Jeeves develops into a scrawny, quiet, somewhat sickly boy–not helped by Narpat’s unusual dietary pronouncements, including his insistence that Jeeves eat properly purgative foods.
On one level, A Perfect Pledge is a compelling story of the intricacies of family life—of the complex relationships between husband and wife, parents and children—set in a lopsided hut with, when the book begins, no electricity or indoor plumbing. Narpat, the patriarch, is an engrossing character, a self-proclaimed “futurist” with no patience for religious “simi-dimi.” His ideas to improve his family and his village’s lot are sometimes inspired, but sometimes seem crazy; occasionally they fall somewhere in between.
But A Perfect Pledge takes up other subjects too. As well as the story of a family’s struggles, it is a vivid portrayal of Trinidad over the last four decades—a deprived and sometimes mad place lurching into modernization. Rural life on the island is particularly hard in the 1960s; the infrastructure is ramshackle and always on the cusp of being taken back by nature. But the village of Lengua is a cauldron boiling with village politics, Hollywood movies, neighbourly rivalries, ayurvedic healing and much else. And while it is both panoramic and empathic, A Perfect Pledge is also a deeply pleasurable read: its elegant narrative tone is enriched by the astonishing improvisations of a Trinidadian English infused with Indian, British, American and other influences. Not a page passes without some jaw-dropping turn of phrase, from icy hots to scrapegoats, dreamsanhope to couteyahs.
Visit Trinidad with...
Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, by Shani Mootoo
From the author of Cereus Blooms at Night and Valmiki’s Daughter, both nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, comes a haunting and courageous new novel. Written in vibrant, supple prose that vividly conjures both the tropical landscape of Trinidad and the muted winter cityscape of Toronto, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is a passionate eulogy to a beloved parent, and a nuanced, moving tale about the struggle to embrace the complex realities of love and family ties.
Jonathan Lewis-Adey was nine when his parents, who were raising him in a tree-lined Toronto neighbourhood, separated and his mother, Sid, vanished from his life. It was not until he was a grown man, and a promising writer with two books to his name, that Jonathan finally reconnected with his beloved parent—only to find, to his shock and dismay, that the woman he’d known as “Sid” had morphed into an elegant, courtly man named Sydney. In the decade following this discovery, Jonathan made regular pilgrimages from Toronto to visit Sydney, who now lived quietly in a well-appointed retreat in his native Trinidad. And on each visit, Jonathan struggled to overcome his confusion and anger at the choices Sydney had made, trying with increasing desperation to rediscover the parent he’d once adored inside this familiar stranger.
As the novel opens, Jonathan has been summoned urgently to Trinidad where Sydney, now aged and dying, seems at last to offer him the gift he longs for: a winding story that moves forward sideways as it slowly peels away the layers of Sydney’s life. But soon it becomes clear that when and where the story will end is up to Jonathan, and it is he who must decide what to do with Sydney’s haunting legacy of love, loss, and acceptance.
Visit (the fictional island of) St. Chris with....
Red Jacket, by Pamela Mordecai
Growing up on the Caribbean island of St. Chris, Grace Carpenter never feels like she really belongs. Although her large, extended family is black, she is a redibo. Her skin is copper-coloured, her hair is red, and her eyes are grey. A neighbour taunts her, calling her “a little red jacket,” but the reason for the insult is never explained. Only much later does Grace learn the story of her birth mother and decipher the mystery surrounding her true identity.
Visit Antigua with...
Ladies of the Night and Other Stories, by Althea Prince
Ladies of the Night is set in Toronto and Antigua. With women's loves and lives as their focus, the stories contain dramatic twists and turns: some humorous, others shocking and disturbing, all leaving a haunting melody behind. The Toronto stories capture the issues women face as they walk the ground of intimate and family relationships in that city. The Antiguan setting of some of the stories are reflective of Prince's insight into relationships, captured in her novel and essays. The characters reveal their different ways of managing a range of struggle, pain, rage, love and pure unadulterated joy. The humour of some stories complement the plaintive sadness and emotionality of the strings some other stories pluck.
Visit Barbados with...
Sand for Snow: A Caribbean Canadian Chronicle, by Robert Edison Sandiford
Robert Edison Sandiford moved from Canada to his parents' native Barbados in 1996. He went for "wife and work"—his new bride was a Bajan, and he had landed an editor's position at the leading daily newspaper. Yet his journey 'Back Home' also led to a series of insightful and often poignant meditations on relationships, island life, and the decline of his father, diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease twelve years earlier. "Coming out of the Caribbean as these stories did, they could not have been written in any other time or place," says Sandiford in the Preface. Part travelogue, part memoir, Sand for Snow: A Caribbean-Canadian Chronicle is a thoughtful, revealing, and often humorous trip to a most unexpected destination.
Visit Jamaica with...
The Pain Tree, by Olive Senior
From the author of Dancing Lessons, Finalist for the 2012 Amazon.ca First Novel Award and Finalist for the 2012 Commonwealth Writers Prize, comes an unforgettable collection of short stories. Olive Senior's new collection of stories—The Pain Tree—is wide-ranging in scope, time period, theme, locale and voice. Her characteristic "gossipy voice" is present in many of the stories, but as well there is reverence, wit and wisdom, along with satire, humour and even farce. The stories range over almost a hundred years, from around the time of the second world war to the present. Like her earlier stories, Jamaica is the setting but the range of characters presented are universally recognisable as people in crisis or on the cusp of transformation. While most of the stories operate within a realist mode, Senior in this collection is also exploiting traditional motifs, so we have collected here revenge stories ("The Goodness of my Heart"), a bargain with the Devil ("Boxed-in"), a Cinderella story ("The Country Cousin"), a magical realist interpretation of African spiritual beliefs ("Flying") and a narrator's belated acceptance of the healing power of traditional beliefs ("The Pain Tree"). 'Coal' is a realist story set in the war years and depression that followed as folks try to find a new place in the world. Senior's trademark children awakening to self-awareness and to the hypocracy of adults are here too, from the heartbreaking "Moonlight" and "Silent" to the girls in "Lollipop" and "A Father Like That" who learn to confront loneliness and vulnerability with attitude.
Visit (the fictional) Isabella Island with...
When the Bottom Falls Out, by H. Nigel Thomas
These finely crafted stories, set in the Caribbean and in Montreal, are about consequences of decisions made—sometimes for good reasons, sometimes out of hubris, sometimes on impulse, and sometimes because there is no choice. In "Robertson," pushed by the community to take action against his wife and her lover, Robertson creates a situation he's unprepared for. In "Glimpses into the Higginsons' Closet," through young Licia's eyes we witness child exploitation rationalized with racial and religious ideology. In "The Headmaster's Visit," we watch a headmaster clumsily seeking forgiveness from a student he'd wronged several decades before, even as he vaunts and displays his cruelty. In the title story, Rob begins to face the aftermath of his and Henry's arrest for loving each other.
Travel the Caribbean with...
An Embarrassment of Mangos, by Ann Vanderhoof
Who hasn’t fantasized about chucking the job, saying goodbye to the rat race, and escaping to some exotic destination in search of sun, sand, and a different way of life? Canadians Ann Vanderhoof and her husband, Steve did just that.
In the mid 1990s, they were driven, forty-something professionals who were desperate for a break from their deadline-dominated, career-defined lives. So they quit their jobs, rented out their house, moved onto a 42-foot sailboat called Receta (“recipe,” in Spanish), and set sail for the Caribbean on a two-year voyage of culinary and cultural discovery.
In lavish detail that will have you packing your swimsuit and dashing for the airport, Vanderhoof describes the sun-drenched landscapes, enchanting characters and mouthwatering tastes that season their new lifestyle. Come along for the ride and be seduced by Caribbean rhythms as she and Steve sip rum with their island neighbors, hike lush rain forests, pull their supper out of the sea, and adapt to life on “island time.”
Almost as good as making the journey itself, An Embarrassment of Mangoes is an intimate account that conjures all the irresistible beauty and bounty from the Bahamas to Trinidad—and just may compel you to make a rash decision that will land you in paradise.
And something wonderful for the kids....
Malaika's Costume, by Nadia L. Hohn and Irene Luxbacher
It’s Carnival time. The first Carnival since Malaika’s mother moved to Canada to find a good job and provide for Malaika and her grandmother. Her mother promised she would send money for a costume, but when the money doesn’t arrive, will Malaika still be able to dance in the parade?
Disappointed and upset at her grandmother’s hand-me-down costume, Malaika leaves the house, running into Ms. Chin, the tailor, who offers Malaika a bag of scrap fabric. With her grandmother’s help, Malaika creates a patchwork rainbow peacock costume, and dances proudly in the parade.
A heartwarming story about family, community and the celebration of Carnival, Nadia Hohn’s warm and colloquial language and Irene Luxbacher’s vibrant collage-style illustrations make this a strikingly original picture book.