I picked this from my bookshelves (one of the many to-read) to take on a trip to the Bahamas, and ended up reading most of it on the ship. The premiseI picked this from my bookshelves (one of the many to-read) to take on a trip to the Bahamas, and ended up reading most of it on the ship. The premise is interesting - a woman's father dies and as she mourns and hits menopause, her old "finding" abilities start coming back. Items from her childhood start reappearing (often dropping from the sky, but also an entire cashew orchard) and then a little boy washes up on shore.
I liked the setting although the island, Dolorosse, is imagined. The language throughout has a Haitian patois to it, and that alongside the description of the landscape and food makes it feel like a real place. But I liked the place far more than the characters. I sense you are supposed to dislike the main character Calamity but the rest of the people in the novel are a bit unknown to us, leaving me just with the character I didn't much like.
I picked this book to read because it was one of the few I could find set in the Bahamas, and I was headed there on vacation. It is the story of a manI picked this book to read because it was one of the few I could find set in the Bahamas, and I was headed there on vacation. It is the story of a man unhappy in his dead-end life in New Hampshire, who relocates his family to Florida to work for his brother. There is also a more mystical story of a woman leaving Haiti who is bound to intertwine with Bob at some point, but the how was less expected.
After finishing the book, which I took breaks from because it wasn't really grabbing me, I read more about the author and I think this has some major elements from his own life.
His capture of Florida and the Bahamas is pretty spot-on (Nassau in particular), as well as unhappy people and the decisions they make. I would not call this an uplifting novel!
This little bit made me stop and think:
"'I want... I want...' Men do that to women, use them to remake themselves, just as women do it to men. Men and women seek the love of the Other so that the old, cracked and shabby self can be left behind, like a sloughed-off snakeskin, and a new self brought forward, clean, shining, glistening wetly with promise and talents the old self never owned. When you seek to acquire the love of someone who resembles you, in gender, temperament, culture or physical type, you do so for love of those aspects of yourself, gender, temperament, culture, etc; but when you seek the love of someone different from you, you do it to be rid of yourself."...more
"Havana was a woman who had once been renowned for her beauty until hard times had soured her. Her hand had gotten heavy with makeup application; her
"Havana was a woman who had once been renowned for her beauty until hard times had soured her. Her hand had gotten heavy with makeup application; her necklines had crept down; her beauty was tainted with vulgarity. But sometimes, when she was alone, after she'd taken off her makeup, she danced in her garden, bare-faced and barefoot, to an old bolero, and the old elegance appeared, normal as a Tuesday evening."
I came across this book in NetGalley and was able to get an early copy for review, happily since I had yet to read a book from or about Cuba in my around the world reading challenge.
The author tells the story of modern Cuba through the lenses of the younger generation. In 2003, she spent a semester there as a student, and was able to return in 2009 and again in 2011 as a tourist/journalist.
Most chapters focus on one person in order to tell a different perspective of how people actually live. Most are in Havana. Characters range from disillusioned revolutionaries to prostitutes to apprentice Santería priests. Through the author's eyes and the words of her acquaintances, we see a slightly newer Cuba, a country that has three forms of currency yet still has to rely on the black market to have enough food to eat. New Cuba can't offer reliable internet but has loosened the rules about religion and sexuality, and has legalized many professions that people could only do unofficially for a long time.
I feel like I learned a lot and got a better picture of how things are for my generation these days. Is life in the United States that much better?
"In Cuba, her baby would be guaranteed health care in a system that boasted a laudable record; despite the decrepit appearances of most of the country's hospitals, world health organizations cite Cuba's infant mortality rate as better than that of the United States. Her child would learn to read and Sandra would be guaranteed at least some food to get him or her through the first few years."
Some of the greatest conflict for young people in Cuba comes at the decision point of traveling outside the country. To do so may create opportunities, but staying away too long can label you as a traitor. Most of the younger people go through a crisis of identity when they have to choose, and it seemed like the majority of the people Cooke encountered can't separate their identities from that of their homeland....more
When I saw this book on NetGalley (where I did get a copy of this in exchange for an honest review), I was interested in it for a number of reasons. NWhen I saw this book on NetGalley (where I did get a copy of this in exchange for an honest review), I was interested in it for a number of reasons. Number one, I've been participating in an Around the World reading challenge, and it is hard to find books set in the Bahamas beyond crime novels. Number two, I didn't know there were kids raised on sailboats, and found that concept pretty intriguing.
Melanie Neale spent almost all of her childhood on a sailboat with her family, and this is an account of that time. The chapters are very brief, touching on a highlight or two from each year or each location. Melanie started living on a boat at a very young age. Most of her family's time is spent in the Bahamas, but they also spend time in Newport, various ports in Florida and North Carolina, and a few other islands. Weather, pirates, and the drug trade are mentioned in the stories she tells of what happened to her family.
As she ages in the book, so do her challenges. Her father is very concerned with appearances and does not handle her development into a teenager very well. She also struggles to maintain relationships with friends she may only encounter 1-2 times a year, or with boys who are landlocked and can only write letters that she will only see when they check in with their post office box. It is an inside view of an intriguing and isolated lifestyle, and had some similarities to my upbringing in the country where we'd "go to town" once a week in the summers. It felt like a pretty honest look, including details about drudgeries such as the constant diet of less perishable food and the challenge of laundry and homeschooling. ...more
This is a nice story of a family living in Jamaica, but it is to its detriment that I happened to read The White Woman on the Green Bicycle first. NotThis is a nice story of a family living in Jamaica, but it is to its detriment that I happened to read The White Woman on the Green Bicycle first. Nothing could be quite as compelling or vibrant after that! I also wish this had included more information on Lorna's life, because I think that would have put more of her mother's life into a perspective.
As far as culinary inspiration, I need to track down a recipe for a gratto!
"The girls had a particular fondness for the small, buttery loaves called gratto, a word which was probably a corruption of the French "gateau."
"Aunt Fanny was their father David's sister, and she ran the bakery with her husband, a silent man who had traveled to Panama and there learned the art of baking. In his case, he had learned the secret art of baking, for he refused to share his recipes with anyone, including his wife. He insisted on being alone when he prepared the dough for the buttery gratto and French bread, the meltingly delicious cashew and molasses biscuits, and the fancy pastries."...more
Beautifully written stories, featuring women in difficult lives. I particularly enjoyed the epilogue, "Women Like Us," that has a sense of a recited pBeautifully written stories, featuring women in difficult lives. I particularly enjoyed the epilogue, "Women Like Us," that has a sense of a recited poem to it.
I had selected a pile of books set in various Caribbean places to read when I was in the Caribbean, so it was interesting to end up reading Krik? Krak! while I was in the Bahamas. A recurring theme throughout these stories is how Bahamians treat Haitians cruelly. Just a few islands away!
"They treat Haitians like dogs in the Bahamas, a woman says. To them, we are not human. Even though our music sounds like ours. Their people look like ours. Even though we had the same African fathers who probably crossed these same seas together."
"We know people by their stories." This is true. I'd like to read more of Danticat, particularly post-earthquake.
"Are there women who both cook and write? Kitchen poets, they call them. They slip phrases into their stew and wrap meaning around their pork before frying it. They make narrative dumplings and stuff their daughter's mouths so they say nothing more."...more
This book is a good overview of the history of the island of St. Martin/ St. Maarten. Although it is from the 1980s and the photos are slightly out ofThis book is a good overview of the history of the island of St. Martin/ St. Maarten. Although it is from the 1980s and the photos are slightly out of date, the overview is pretty solid, and many of the pieces of information were confirmed when I took a tour around the island.
I loved the stories of the early natives, and how they were killed off, not by westerners, but by the cannibal tribes of the Caribs. There is also a funny story in here about the blond-haired, blue-eyed Norwegian beach tribe that for a time was cut off from the rest of the island. St. Maarten has changed hands multiple times because it was a valuable salt resource in pre-refridgeration times, and even now is run half by the Dutch and half by the French. The common language is English.
After seeing Maho Beach, Simpson Bay, what is left of the salt pond, and both sides of the island, I felt this history really come to life....more
This is a beautiful book. If you only read one book set in the Caribbean, this should be it. The writing transports me to the island of Trinidad, withThis is a beautiful book. If you only read one book set in the Caribbean, this should be it. The writing transports me to the island of Trinidad, with the heat and the vegetation and the turmoil of centuries of different groups of people moving through. I loved how it was written, with the majority of the story happening in the present, and then other sections going back to the beginning and then moving forward to meet up to where it started.
The story is about George and Sabine Harwood, who come to Trinidad in 1956, right after marrying, and right after Trinidad has achieved 'independence.' Throughout the book, Sabine converses with Trinidad as the curvy green woman stealing her man away, while also writing unsent letters to Eric Williams, the new leader of the nation. There are many conflicts that seem to belong to the island, potentially lacking any possibility for resolution. Sabine ends up loathing the island, and you feel it with her. Her children are also Trinidadian through and through, which isolates her further.
The best opening line: "Every afternoon, around four, the iguana fell out of the coconut tree."
On Trinidadians: "Frank stood erect, gazing at the priest, absorbing every word. This was how Trinidadians behaved in church: alert, composed, peering respectfully at the altar, awaiting a miracle. Carnival and Lent. Bacchanal and guilt. Trinidad in a nutshell. This was a nation of sin-loving people who made a point of praying for forgiveness."
"Sabine looked at her daughter, who looked just like George. She was bold like him, clever like him. A Trinidadian, like him."
"Love happens to you... The other person's spirit climbs into you. You feel so much for them. If they get hurt, you hurt. If you hurt them, you hurt yourself."
For culinary inspiration: "But Jennifer only rolled her eyes. She'd dominated the kitchen all day, baking gooey cakes and sweet-breads, stewing chicken with brown sugar. She'd been making pellau for the weekend. On the kitchen table, two halves of Madeira sponge were just out of the oven, cooling on racks."
"'Jennifer is baking cakes in the kitchen.' 'What kind?' 'Banana.' 'The best.' 'I know you like to eat banana cake when it's still warm.'"
"Jennifer brought out a pot of tea and slices of ginger cake."
The market on Charlotte Street, the first time: "Jars and jars of spices: nutmeg, mace, powdered ginger, star anise. Vermilion salted prunes, magenta dried mango. Castles of brown sugared coconut candy behind glass cabinets... breadfruit and jack fruit and sapodilla plums. Guavas and jars of dark unguent which was guava jam. Custard apples. Pawpaws, which were rude and pendulous, somehow still growing. Tamarinds in their rough-smooth suitcases. Choko and okra and bodi and pumpkins. Limes like grapefruit and grapefruit like cannonballs. Bananas still on their stalks, great emerald hands."
About using plants to heal (something our boat captain in the Bahamas talked about too): "When Pascale cut open her knee, Lucy boiled up pomegranate flowers into a tea for her to sip and the cut healed quickly. When the children had diarrhoea, she gave them pomegranate bark to chew. Colds and coughs Lucy cured with a cool beverage of hibiscus petals. Jackfruit, if they were constipated. Spinach leaves for poultices on boils. Ginger for gas, slices of aubergine, melongene, for minor sprains. ...more