Caribbean Beat Magazine

Bookshelf (Sept/Oct 2020) | Book reviews

This month’s reading picks, with reviews by Shivanee Ramlochan of Epiphaneia by Richard Georges; Black Rain Falling by Jacob Ross; and Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud

  • Epiphaneia
  • Love After Love
  • Black Rain Falling

Epiphaneia by Richard Georges

Out-Spoken Press, 90 pp, ISBN 9781916046849

Winner of the 2020 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, Richard Georges’s third poetry collection arrests us in the moment of catastrophe, asking how we might hold terror and fortitude in either cracked palm. Many of these poems witness the immediate aftermath of the physical and emotional devastation Hurricane Irma left across the British Virgin Islands in 2017. If you read what sound like impossible instances, scenes that seem plucked from the tomes of classic magical realism, take a closer look.
Epiphaneia proves almost anything can be uprooted, that even the most seemingly solid bulwark of our collective human resistance holds little power against a storm.

Here are poems that reward several concentrated readings to mine their full, harrowing flavour: in this world, men fly through the air on the demolished doors of their houses, like a nightmarish scene from a game no one wants to play in reality. Children ask questions of adults who ask the same things of the dispassionate heavens. Answers are slow, and hard to read when so much is crumbling or has been swept into the sea. Instructions for survival often read more like stolen bits of catechism, monuments to prayer: “Find your bearings in the darkness / by the light in the channel. / The light in the channel is a warship . . . Use anything you can to collect the rain. / Cup your hands to your ears if you must. / They must clear the mounds of coral from the road first. / The coral are not bones. / They are bright flowers.”

Each poem here is an act of reckoning with an utter futility, an unbridled despair. To do this alone would be enough, but Epiphaneia does not rest there. Each poem, too, does the hard work of finding a path through the darkness: the pitch midnight of no electricity, of diminishing faith. The poems outstretch their bruised arms, asking us to believe. 

Black Rain Falling by Jacob Ross

Sphere, 432 pp, ISBN 9780751574449

Welcome back to Camaho. In this tautly plotted, hyperreal crime fiction offering, the second in a series from Grenada-born, UK-based Jacob Ross, worlds of grisly brutality collide against tableaux of familial tenderness. Sometimes even the top crime fiction bestsellers cast the Caribbean as a hybrid nightmare/paradise: Ross continues to pierce persuasive needles of characterisation and conflict into that tired tapestry, fashioning us something altogether new amid the blood-spatter and cordoned-off police scenes. Michael “Digger” Digson gains amplified depth from his foray as protagonist in The Bone Readers, and again the novel’s scene stealer is the enigmatic Miss Stanislaus, Digger’s colleague who’s decidedly more than the sum of her parts. Reading, you swiftly get the sense that only Ross could serve up a feminist-centred narrative simultaneously attuned to the multiple pulses of sexual violence, pervasive colonialism, and secrets steeped in blood, rum, and time. Move over, Agatha Christie — Jacob Ross is in charge.

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud

Faber & Faber, 416 pp, ISBN 9780571356195

Making a family can be a perilous endeavour. So learn Betty, Solo, and Mr Chetan, when the idyll of their self-made domestic cocoon blooms a misshapen butterfly. Family, Love After Love reminds us, can be an ugly enterprise, no matter how much home-cooked food we bring to its table. Ingrid Persaud steers the world of her novel with a merciless kind of sensitivity, turning the very notion of a tiny existence on its clichéd head, rattling every cupboard in this narrative home for loose change, deep confessions, and dalliances sweeter than Demerara sugar. No one within these pages exists within the confinement of their archetype, either: Betty Ramdin is more than her collection of bruises, Solo is more than a shy only child, and Mr Chetan elides easy pigeonholing reserved for queer Caribbean characters. Fortify yourself: Love After Love is a take-no-prisoners trip into these three hearts.