Literary Fiction by People of Color discussion

Redemption in Indigo
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Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments It's almost June 1, the beginning date for our discussion of Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord. This highly praised book of speculative fiction has received numerous awards, including the 2011 William L. Crawford Award and the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. It was also longlisted for the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Award (Novel).
In addition, Lord has been nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (2012).

Here's a little biographical information:

Karen Lord was born in Barbados. In primary school, a music teacher introduced her class to "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "The Hobbit", sparking her love of fantasy. She attended secondary school at Queen’s College, and later attended the University of Toronto, studying physics and the history of science and technology. She earned a master’s degree in science and technology policy at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, and got her doctorate in the sociology of religion at Bangor University in Wales. She has traveled widely, taught physics in school, trained soldiers, and worked in the foreign service. Redemption in Indigo is her first novel. Her second manuscript, entitled "The Best of All Possible Worlds", won the Frank Collymore Literary Award for 2009 and will be published in 2013.

Rashida will be leading the discussion this month.

Here's a link to an interview with Lord:

http://worldsf.wordpress.com/2011/08/...

More information about Lord can be found through her website:

http://merumsal.wordpress.com/

Happy reading!


Rashida | 264 comments Good morning everyone and Happy June!

I'm going to start off slow to give people a chance to warm up, but this is a pretty slim, fast moving novel, so I don't think we would need anything so rigid as a reading schedule. But let me know how people are progressing.

But first, I want to start with some broader questions. I have three drums I've been consistently beating for awhile. 1) Yes, SFF can be quite literary 2) Yes, SFF can be written by and appeal to people of color 3) We need to be reading and supporting more of the works embodied in points 1 and 2.

So, I love that the group is embarking on this discussion. SFF is commonly used to abbreviation works that are Science Fiction and/or Fantasy. Now, typically science fiction works explore the effects of imagined technologies on the world (aargh Robots! Isn't space travel nifty? The aliens want my body! type of works). Fantasy has traditionally been alternate type realities where magic is prevalent (The dragon put me in the dungeon! Oh ye brave knights! Wizards are the coolest! type of works). But of course, there are subcategories that blend and take off these broader areas. The umbrella term for these categories is speculative fiction. So, while Redemption in Indigo doesn't fall neatly into the stereotypical categorizations of SFF, it is certainly a work that is fantastical in nature, dealing with the world we know through a magical lens. And to me, this pushing of the boundaries and broadening of the arena is something that authors of color are uniquely situated to accomplish in this field.

But how does it work for you, reader? If you are new to this genre, why have you stayed away? Has reading Redemption in Indigo reinforced or dismantled any of your preexisting notions of fantasy works? Has it enticed you to read more in the future? And if you haven't yet finished the book, I think it would be pretty interesting to gauge this at both the beginning and the end. If you are more accustomed to reading works in these categories, how has this work stacked up? Do you think that Lord has brought anything new to the game?


Ruth Very, very early pages for me. But I'm loving the tone, the voice of the narrator. Looking forward to a good read and discussion. Thanks for bringing this book and author to my attention.


Rashida | 264 comments I agree, Ruth. In the early pages the unique, whimsical nature of the narrator's voice delighted me and pulled me in. Looking forward to your thoughts!


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Mistinguette Smith | 191 comments Rashida, I had planned to skip this one. I think of myself as someone who doesn't like opera, asparagus and speculative fiction. But your initial discussion questions are so provocative that I shall have to go download this to my Nook to read on the train this weekend! Nice leadership :-)


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Blue (topazamber) I haven't gotten too far in the book. Trying to read another one beside it.


William (be2lieve) | 1288 comments Mod
Finished the book yesterday and still need to let it ruminate for a minute in order to have a clearer picture of "What It All Means"... Coincidentally this is the second in a row of books I've read by women authors of color that use the "talk to the reader" technique. While I know that every other TV show nowadays talks to the camera, I'm not yet sold on it in literature. I did like that the author was able to play with "big ideas' and "moral quandaries" n a playful manner but the overall story seemed a little choppy and stitched together...but I will allow that may have more to do with my bias towards the Western beginning, middle, end canon than the speculative fable storytelling tradition where this tale belongs. Seems like I'm reading more and more of these great Caribbean and African women writing in this style.


Adrienna (adriennaturner) | 625 comments I will review your questions posed Rashida once I get my copy hopefully tomorrow after work and start reading. I believe your loaded questions would be best after reading the entire book but loved your explanations of the two genres that fits SFF, where this book was listed. I know when we read Octavia Butler, she (the author) even disagreed about some of her works labeled as Science Fiction and reasons why in one of the versions I was reading in the introduction. I cannot wait to tap into this book which would have been my second choice but wasn't my first.


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William (be2lieve) | 1288 comments Mod
How come all the ghosts and magic inherent in works of Shakespeare are lauded but in the works of people of color are denigrated? Is Puck somehow more worthy than Kwame?


Rashida | 264 comments To Williams's two comments: isn't a book so much more personal and interactive than a movie? I wonder why it doesn't seem strange for a character to turn to the screen and address you directly, but we immediately note when a book participates in the conversation with us.

Ah, mainstream vs genre and the effect of the dominant culture on that determination. When we all learned Greek mythology in high school English, I don't think any of our teachers categorized it as speculative fiction. But think about all those stories. What distinguishes them really from this tale with origins in Senegal? I'm sure it isn't age of the culture. Ahem.

Is anyone familiar with the original canon that this is adapted from?


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
I read this book when it first came out. While I am a big reader of of most subgenres of speculative fiction - fable based stories is not one of my fav - mainly because most that get published are European-based fables.
So I was excited for this book which is based on a non-European fable. It was a very refreshing read.


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
Here are two recent blogs/articles that may help contribute to this discussion:

Writing About Race in SciFi & Fantasy
(David Anthony Durham is one of the contributers)
http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2012...

Sexual Violence in The Shadowed Sun from the N.K. Jemisin blog
http://nkjemisin.com/2012/05/sexual-v...


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
Rashida wrote: "Good morning everyone and Happy June!

I'm going to start off slow to give people a chance to warm up, but this is a pretty slim, fast moving novel, so I don't think we would need anything so rigid..."


I have been a big fan of speculative fiction for many many years. And there are some subgenres I like better than others. But I usually hear about new writers of color in speculative fiction sites. I think a lot of times, the non-speculative fiction reader does not hear about these writers of color until their book has been nominated or won awards and is being promoted to a wider audience.

I also think because of the somewhat close-knit nature of the speculative fiction community that writers of color in this genre have a lot of cross-over readers.
I think the speculative fiction community is becoming more known due to the internet & easily access to these groups.

The popularity of some of the subgenres and new subgenres have helped to have a larger reading base.
And of course self-publishing has helped in another avenue for getting work out there.

Here is a link to a blog by N.K. Jemisin - which is a look at an age-old discussion.

Don't Put My Book in the African American Section
http://nkjemisin.com/2010/05/dont-put...


Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
Rashida wrote: "To Williams's two comments: isn't a book so much more personal and interactive than a movie? I wonder why it doesn't seem strange for a character to turn to the screen and address you directly, but..."

I thought that the narrator speaking to us fits in well with the African/African American/Caribeean oral storytelling tradition. That the teller of the story would add a couple of comments, help clarify the story, and to add his own touch to a story that was probably often repeated.


Rashida | 264 comments As everyone joins in, please keep the wider questions in your mind. But getting to the beginning of the book, what did you think of Paama's relationships? Did she handle the Ansige situation correctly? Should she have left sooner or stayed longer? How did you feel about Ansige as a character? What of Paama's other family members? Her sister, mom, dad? And what of Paama herself? Did having a narrator telling her story prevent from feeling that you got a chance to know Paama intimately? Could you connect with her as a protagonist? Could you understand why she, of all humans, was chosen to wield the chaos stick?


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Evelyn I initially thought Paama was chosen to hold on to the chaos stick because she didn't seem like the type to abuse the power. Later in the story, I changed my mind.

****

I typically enjoy reading speculative fiction from people of color, but I don't read a lot in that genre. I love Octavia Butler's works and I've liked all the novels I've read of Nnedi Okorafor.


George | 759 comments I'm very fond of both Butler and Okorafor. Wasn't even aware of Okorafor until she came up as a monthly selection though. I'm about half way through this. It's interesting but I'm not entirely what to make of it or where it's going though.


Rashida | 264 comments What are people making of the Ansige character? Does he seem like a caricature or does he seem grounded in real humanity? Have you ever encountered someone like Ansige in real life? What lessons do you think Lord is trying to impart with Ansige? Or do you think he's just comic relief?

And, let me take a step back and ask a much simpler question: Are you liking the book?


William (be2lieve) | 1288 comments Mod
Ansige is like a mannequin onto which the fable hangs a number of materialistic threads....he obviously represents vanity and arrogance. I didn't think of him as a well developed character even though the first part of the book concerns mostly him. Paarma's relationship with him was even less well defined in that they hardly spent anytime at all together. I did get a nice twist to the straightforward morality play when one of the "djombte's" says that his downfall was not due to his gluttony or vices but because he so enjoyed and reveled in those vices, therefore he wasa beyond help! Nice!


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Cy | 20 comments Rashida wrote: "What are people making of the Ansige character? Does he seem like a caricature or does he seem grounded in real humanity? Have you ever encountered someone like Ansige in real life? What lessons..."

I read Ansige as both... His appetite is the reason I say he is both. On the surface he is a glutton, but that gluttony represents human weakness for not just Ansige, but (I think) for other characters as well.


William (be2lieve) | 1288 comments Mod
Paama was an ok protagonist. Kept waiting for something otherworldly or supernatural to happen or emanate from her though...to no avail. But she was blessed with incredible cooking skills and as one who was struggled in the kitchen I guess that would qualify as a mutant power!
Perhaps it was her rather ordinariness which got her chosen to sheppard the power of the chaos stick?


Ashley | 6 comments I want to start by saying: I'm a big fan of speculative fiction, especially the fable/fairytale subgenera. The Redemption of Indigo has been really high on my to-read since I first learned of it a few months ago.

Ansige's character, in my opinion, is based in reality. We view him as a humorous and outlandish character because his vice is food. Who in real life (with the exception of a few cases) eats to the point of humiliation. But if we replace food with alcohol, Ansige becomes the all too familiar addict. Paama then takes on the role of enabler/codependant, as she tries to appease him with food. Then later she tries to cover up his vice by making up stories and excuses.


Rashida | 264 comments Ashley wrote: "But if we replace food with alcohol, Ansige becomes the all too familiar addict. Paama then takes on the role of enabler/codependant, as she tries to appease him with food. Then later she tries to cover up his vice by making up stories and excuses. "

Ashley, in this interpretation, Paama's character takes on a different cast then the way I read her. How did you feel about her? Do you think that being in such a relationship, taking such actions on her own made her more or less ideal to wield the chaos stick?


Ashley | 6 comments Rashida, over all I like Paama. I feel like she's the strong silent type. While she does attempt to cover up or fix Ansige mess ups, she stopped her own enabler behavior by leaving. She was also very assertive when his servant asked her to go back to Ansige. I respect that.

While I was reading what her no-good husband was up to, I was mentally yelling at her to tell everyone in the village what actually happened so they would throw him out of town. But after consideration, her method avoids unnecessary gossip and drama, even though it's certainly not what I would have done. She's able to stay calm and think on her feet in hectic situations and in the following aftermath. For that reason I think she's very deserving of the chaos stick.


Rashida | 264 comments How do folks feel about the blue skinned djombi? Is he sinister and evil? Simply misunderstood? Does anyone think that Paama was ever in danger from him? What do you think Lord is saying to us, her readers, with the different visitations that the djombi takes Paama on?


Adrienna (adriennaturner) | 625 comments Rashida wrote: "What are people making of the Ansige character? Does he seem like a caricature or does he seem grounded in real humanity? Have you ever encountered someone like Ansige in real life? What lessons..."

Not a fan of the glutton character and Paama had to lie for him like 3 times and finally left him. Not sure if this is a real reason to leave him; marriage. No I have not met anyone like Ansige; however, he reminded me of the same man in the Bible when David and his army came for food and supplies where all he was doing was eating and choked on a bone...sorry cannot think of his name but later his wife called him a fool and became David's wife after her husband's sudden death.

Not really liking this book; first time reading "speculative fiction" but not really a fan of fables either. yet I used to like the Grimm Brothers when I was a kid, not sure if it is similar.


Adrienna (adriennaturner) | 625 comments Rashida wrote: "How do folks feel about the blue skinned djombi? Is he sinister and evil? Simply misunderstood? Does anyone think that Paama was ever in danger from him? What do you think Lord is saying to us, ..."

The blue lord points out about the chaos stick to Paama, but also more importantly points out "freewill" and unable to know or see everything. This let me know that he is differently not a god, or like the true God.


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Mistinguette Smith | 191 comments I haven't been reading comments b/c I have been p-l-o-d-d-i-n-g along with this one. Not loving it so far, and I haven't even gotten to anything any more supernatural than talking insects.

In an analytical sense, I like the idea of bringing orality and Senegambian mythic figures into literature, but Lorde's use of language seems awkward, artlessly florid in the opening pages, then oversimplfied and unsophisticated. I feel constantly always aware that I Am Reading Orality, Isn't That Significant! But I am not feeling the story at all.


George | 759 comments can't say I disagree. too bad. I really wanted to like this. as for speculative fiction I much preferred Okorafor's work. there are bits I like quite a bit here and there but it just never jells for me.


Adrienna (adriennaturner) | 625 comments Mistinguette wrote: "I haven't been reading comments b/c I have been p-l-o-d-d-i-n-g along with this one. Not loving it so far, and I haven't even gotten to anything any more supernatural than talking insects.

In an..."


I agree with "not feeling the story at all"


William (be2lieve) | 1288 comments Mod
Rashida wrote: "How do folks feel about the blue skinned djombi? Is he sinister and evil? Simply misunderstood? Does anyone think that Paama was ever in danger from him? What do you think Lord is saying to us, ..."

I was very much of the mind that the djombi was out to cause tremendous harm to Paama. Especially given all that was leading up to their meeting. The Sisters went to great lengths to try to protect her and I was thinking that Paama better get some experience and skill with that chaos stick if she expects to be any kind of worthy opponent. But the anticipated showdown never materialized..it was a bit of a let down. The mighty djombi turned out to be a paper tiger.


George | 759 comments and not such a bad djombi after all. it did seem like an odd resolution.


Rashida | 264 comments Folks who didn't like it, I'd love to hear more about that. Do you think expectations had anything to do with it? I was thinking the other day about My Soul to Keep. Let me say at the outset that I acknowledge they are wildly different in subject, style, everything. But that book was very well received by this group when we discussed it. And for its differences, it had elements that were just as fantastical. BUT, i don't think anybody labeled it as speculative, fantasy, fable, or anything other than LFPC. I just keep wondering what aspect about Redemption was the bridge too far? I've heard the orality of it. Perhaps reimagining in a more modern setting would have created a sense of connection to the stories and characters that some found lacking? I'd love to hear from you all.


George | 759 comments well, I'll go with William's previous comments. I was expecting this to all lead up to something more fantastical, and certainly more interesting. there wasn't much of a payoff from the exciting denouement. I thought the chaos stick would be more, chaotic.


Adrienna (adriennaturner) | 625 comments I still have to go back and read "My Soul to Keep"! I just started last 6 months to keep up with most of the book reads. Several months beforehand, unable to read due to my schedule as an author, radio host, and reviewer and joined a couple book clubs aside from this one. I may have to let go some other things to get back to those previous reads. @ message 33 question.


message 36: by Mistinguette (new)

Mistinguette Smith | 191 comments I just finished this. I did not like most of it. In need of a good editor, it tells more than it shows. I do not dislike fantasy on the whole; but I do not feel as though I have experienced, questioned ,reflected upon or learned anything from this book.This was just some fantastical jumbie tale, a long bedtime story. Wish I had those hours of my life back.


Adrienna (adriennaturner) | 625 comments That's kind of funny Mistinguette...but I agree, not much I took from this book except the female character wanted out of a marriage because her husband was a glutton (compulsive eater). I guess I will prepare for the next reads in this and other book clubs.


Rashida | 264 comments Mistinguettes- that bedtime tale quality was one of the things that I liked about the novel. I found the narrator's voice lighthearted and charming. And it seemed fresh to me to deal with these subjects in a less serious tone. Because I do think that there was a message to the novel of hope in the face of tragedy, living life to the fullest with those you love, being kind to the world around you, and understanding that life holds surprises. I will admit that there was a point in the middle where the charming nature started to grate. But I felt that Lord brought it together and wrapped up the story economically.

Was the djombe coming back as Paama's son too trite for folks?


Rashida | 264 comments Oh, the other thing I wanted to raise: have folks read Nalo Hopinkson? Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber take a modern/futuristic urban spin on some of traditional Afro Caribbean stories. But the tone is decidedly edgier than this novel. I wonder if folks respond better to that? Sorry I'm on the phone so can't do the link thing.


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Evelyn William wrote: "Paama was an ok protagonist. Kept waiting for something otherworldly or supernatural to happen or emanate from her though...to no avail. But she was blessed with incredible cooking skills and as on..."

LOL! Being able to cook well might as well be a mutant power for me too.


Adrienna (adriennaturner) | 625 comments No. response to message #39. may look into it as a future read.


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Evelyn Rashida wrote: "Oh, the other thing I wanted to raise: have folks read Nalo Hopinkson? Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber take a modern/futuristic urban spin on some of traditional Afro Caribbean stories. ..."

I read two chapters of The Salt Eaters, then I put it down indefinitely...


William (be2lieve) | 1288 comments Mod
I read Hopkinson's New Moons Arms and can see many similarities. The one that most sticks out is the indeterminable sense of time and place.Seems an automatic response by me as a reader to try and peg a locale and time period on a story and I think these authors play with that knowledge. In both stories, characters may be riding a mule in one paragraph and talking on an Iphone the next. There were a couple scenes like this in Redemption although I've forgotten the exact details.


Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I am sorry that I wasn't able to participate in this discussion. Because of family issues, I was unable to finish this book until today. I have enjoyed SFF for many years and have been particularly thrilled to see more authors of color publishing SFF novels. That being said, I found this book to be an enjoyable read, but a light one. Fables are not my favorite type of literature, but Lord is a good storyteller. Because this book is a fable, I was not surprised by the limited character development. It was, to me, entertaining but not all that significant. I will be eager to see what Lord writes next. Many thanks to Rashida and to all who participated in the discussion. Please continue to post any further thoughts you may have about this book - the discussion will, as usual, remain open.


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Literary Fiction by People of Color

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Books mentioned in this topic

My Soul to Keep (other topics)
Redemption in Indigo (other topics)

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Karen Lord (other topics)