Roxane's Reviews > Redemption in Indigo

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
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's review
Feb 19, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: theme-park-book-club
Read from February 19 to 27, 2012

This read was for the 2012 Theme Park book club, February theme: Black Women Writing Speculative Fiction.

Karen Lord's novel relies strongly on both Caribbean and Senegalese folklore, both being inexhaustible resources for speculative fiction writers that are sadly too seldom tapped into. Redemption in Indigo tells the tale of one remarkable and yet ordinary woman, her encounter with djombi, which seem to be halfway between poltergeists and skin walkers, and the choices she is consequently faced with. This short and yet dense novel is written in an uncluttered style. I don't think it holds a word too many. It's subtle, sensible and unexpectedly humorous.

Much as in the oral tradition, the novel is as much about the characters and the plot than it is about the way it is recounted. In fact, the narrator soon becomes a character in his own right. I generally find it difficult to get into written stories when the narrator is too intrusive. For some reason, it feels a bit like I'm getting a glimpse at what's taking place behind the curtain. Note that I don't have that problem with oral stories for some reason but I've not often felt that it transcribed well in the written form. It can easily sound forced and awkward. Not here though, the story is constantly tainted by the narrator, his interruptions and explanations, the unheard comments from his audience who disagree or would like him to expand on certain points. It almost felt like a work in progress, demanding the intervention of the audience. And although the narrator does not necessarily enjoy these interruptions, he does take them into account. It's something that I've previously encountered in other forms, in speculative fiction works written by black women although it's clearly not a process limited to this demographic group. But back to the novel, the process makes the novel engaging, especially because the narrator has dry sense of humor.

I always try to do a bit of research before putting together a review, I read other reviews but most of all I read bit and pieces of the author's blog (if they have one) and also interviews. I feel like they give me a better sense of what tools the author drew upon to write his/her novel, what message they were trying to convey and it's always interesting to compare all this with my own personal impressions. I guess it's my background in research showing there. Anyway, I came upon this wonderful conversation between Karen Lord and Nalo Hopkinson that I found fascinating on many levels. It's about an hour long but at some point, while discussing oral tradition, the authors mention Paul Keens-Douglas whom I hadn't previously heard of but whose performances are hilarious (there are tons on youtube if you're curious). Anyway, Karen Lord quotes him as an influence and I could really see how absolutely amazing it would have been had Keens-Douglas narrated the audio edition of the novel. At any rate, I can see why the novel would make a great audio book anyway.

Despite the importance of the narrator, Paama's character remains central to the story. Her character could easily have been the fourth of Marie N'Diaye's Three Strong Women. Paama is indeed strong and not because of the Chaos Stick. Her strength and power reside in the fact that she's managed to remain true to herself and maintain her identity despite difficult circumstances. The appearance of the Chaos Stick and the Indigo Lord challenge that of course, but it's because of her inner strength and because she keeps on believing in the importance of choosing one's path, even when one has very limited power, that in the end she turns out to be wiser than a thousand year old supernatural creature.

The novel also holds a great many other secondary characters that I'd enjoy learning more about (I believe there was talks of a sequel at some point): the Trickster of course, but also the sisters and Patience. The novel's ending comes almost too soon and I don't want to spoil it but let's just say that when some writers would probably have taken the most evident route and turned the Indigo Lord into Paama's love interest, Karen Lord has other things in mind and it works that much better.

Redemption in Indigo is a delightful little gem filled with humor and colorful characters, that weaves in Caribbean and African folklore. You're never quite sure where Karen Lord is taking you but you'll come to trust her grumpy and sarcastic narrator.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Eugenia (new) - added it

Eugenia O'Neal That's a great review, Roxanne. It's on my TBR list now - the reference to Paul Keens Douglas sold it! I grew up with Tantie Merle and the rest of his characters and love them to this day!

Roxane Thanks Eugenia!

How lucky of you! I certainly wish I had grown up with him. Do you know by any chance if there's anyway to get his stuff online (apart from youtube) I mean. I can't seem to find like a proper DVD. It's something my Dad (who's from Guadeloupe) would really enjoy! Also, I think he's written quite a few books, have you checked them out? Would you recommend one in particular? Sorry for bombarding you with questions!

Here's the link to the Nalo Hopkinson/Karen Lord conversation by the way:

message 3: by Eugenia (new) - added it

Eugenia O'Neal Hi Roxane,

My aunt had a record of his - yep, those big, old-fashioned things. I'm sure there must be a DVD or two floating around but it might be hard to run it to ground. There are a few avenues you could try - if you're in the States or wherever you could look around for a West Indian music or movie rental store, even if they don't have something they might know of who might. Second idea - if you live in a major city, the Trinidad and Tobago Tourist Board might have an office there and you can ask them to help you get a DVD. Third - write to the Director of the T and T Tourist Board directly in Trinidad. You could probably also write to the man, himself, and it would get to him even on such a big island.

I haven't read of his books but his son Richardo Keens-Douglas has a great book for children, Mama God, Papa God, which is one of my favorites.

Thanks for the link. I really liked Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads so I'll definitely check this out.

Roxane Thanks for all those details! I'm in London actually so i'm sure I should be able to find something.

I did my master's dissertation on The Salt Roads! One of my favorites!

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