Let me tell you something. Between 9-5 in an office, chasing a toddler, producing literary events, and coordinating volunteers at the Blue Met festival this year, I have barely had enough time to breathe lately, let alone read. Let alone write any words about books that I’m reading.
Yet. Somehow (probably in the time I was supposed to be breathing) I managed to actually finish a few books in May. Let me tell you about them.
First, Janie Chang’s Dragon Springs Road. I read most of this book on the train from Montreal to Toronto and back. And it was a PERFECT train book. The story of a young girl–abandoned by her mother, raised as a sort of servant in her adoptive home, the choices that she has, the choices that she doesn’t–was told in a tone that is both tender and matter-of-fact. Not indulging in sentiment, but not brutally realist either.
Of particular interest is the character of Fox, an animal spirit (mostly hanging out in different human woman forms) who lives on Dragon Springs Road and takes care of her various female companions. This supernatural element, rather than being relegated to the realm of a fictional flourish, is actually a major driving force in the novel’s plot.
Right after the publication of his most recent novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize – not too shabby), Marlon James appeared on the thoroughly superb podcast “A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment,” hosted by writer buddies Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter. It was a great interview – those guys really bring out the best in their guests and Marlon James is one of those people who takes his undeniable genius fairly casually, a pleasure to listen to. (You can catch that here and I absolutely recommend doing so.)
At the end of the interview, James mentioned that he was working on writing a fantasy novel, partially because, as he mentioned somewhat jokingly, “I got tired of arguing about a black Hobbit.” He declared that his next project is to write “a straight up totally geeked out novel based on African mythology and African history.”
First of all, yes. Absolutely do that. James is acquiring quite the fan base, and with good reason. He’s an incredible writer, and I think we would eagerly await his next book even if it were a gardening manual. Of course, an epic fantasy novel is really so much better.
Hi, how are you today? I’m fine, you know, surviving the sudden blizzard, rocking some Boubacar Traoré, and…oh yeah…wait…not fine at all – eating puréed lentils!!!
Why, you ask?
Gentle reader, (is that phrase trademarked? can I use that?) because I lost my mind for about five minutes and decided that lentil soup was fine, but puréed lentil soup would be better. That it would be creamy and soupy and wintery and delightful.
It is freaking baby food, gentle reader. Baby food.
And if you’re into that kind of thing, I have the recipe for you! But the rest of us will be over here, eating a hot, steaming plate of ANYTHING BUT THAT.
If you’re familiar with Guadeloupian writer Maryse Condé, you might also be familiar with the striking similarities between the female protagonists in bothEn attendant le Bonheur (originally published as Heremakhonon,1976) and Histoire de la femme cannibale (2005). Both Véronica of the former title and Rosélie of the latter travel an uprooted Pan-African non-trajectory, originally beginning in Guadeloupe. Both maintain a complicated relationship to their ‘roots‘ – searching for them while simultaneously rejecting any notion of belonging as being essentializing. And both tend to overemphasize their sexual relationships in the making of important decisions. (Girl, please.)
And seemingly superficially but perhaps most importantly, both women like to inwardly scoff at people who could not locate Guadeloupe on a map, while also consistently portraying their homeland as a place that wouldn’t really be worth the effort of finding it on a map. Véronica uses the phrase “poussière d’îles” to describe the Caribbean, but it would appear this phrase is not used ironically (even though it references its own irony), and that they are, as DeGaulle claimed, only a little dusting of islands for her. She finally submits that this dust is the only viable “chez moi” she could hope to find. But she’s not happy about it. And neither Véronica nor Rosélie return to Guadeloupe.