Bookshelf (Sept/Oct 2018) | Book reviews

This month’s reading picks, with reviews of The Art of White Roses; The Beast of Kukuyo; Home Home; Kitch; and Ricantations

  • The Art of White Roses
  • The Beast of Kukuyo
  • Home Home
  • Kitch
  • Ricantations
  • Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné
  • Doe Songs

The Art of White Roses

by Viviana Prado-Núñez (Papillote Press, 192 pp, ISBN 9781999776824)

It’s 1957 in Havana, and Adela can’t close her eyes to the trail of los desaparecidos. In the crumbling suburb of Marianao, she knows the names of the university students who go missing. She knows the city isn’t a safe place, that more is swept under the rug of complicit silence than can ever be aired aloud. When Adela’s cousin Miguel gets caught up in a bombing, the backlash of fear takes up residence in Adela’s blue-walled home: “If someone had stalked across the lawn and cracked the window open, they would have heard our hearts beating dull and muted, like the echo of someone tapping their fingers on the other side of a wall.” 

This is Viviana Prado-Núñez’s debut, The Art of White Roses, winner of the 2017 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature. The world it reveals to us is beset by suspicions, ravaged by everyday loss on a tragic scale, but the place itself is not immune to beauty. Whether it’s a box of brilliant red shoes, or a sumptuously fat lemon dangling just out of reach, the author shows us how portents of allure and pleasure still linger — even if those very symbols turn sour eventually. It’s this attention to detail that renders this an unforgettable first book, for young adults and adults alike: it lacks nothing of the careful suspense, the searing irony, the heartbreakingly staggered revelations that mark work for older readers. 

Even rarer still, The Art of White Roses is a compassionate novel without being a cloying one. It presents us with characters who are flawed and redeemable, from Adela’s own father Sebastián, full of false starts and half-brewed lies, to Adela’s Tío Rodrigo, the once-burly policeman who shrinks in reverse proportion to the magnitude of his crimes. Prado-Núñez casts white roses into the thicket of this bitter revolution, charging an uncertain age with hard-won hope. This novel is for dreamers and revolutionaries: those who’ve disappeared and those who remember them.

The Beast of Kukuyo

by Kevin Jared Hosein (Blouse & Skirt Books, 240 pp, ISBN 9789768267153)

Looking for a Nancy Drew heroine? Keep looking. In Kevin Jared Hosein’s The Beast of Kukuyo, fifteen-year-old protagonist Rune Mathura is plucky and resourceful — but she has the sense to know there’s darkness in the world that a flashlight and can-do attitude can’t fix. When her classmate Dumpling Heera winds up dead, Rune knows that the baleful secrets stirring in Kukuyo Village can’t stay hidden — not forever. In this second-place winner of the 2017 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature, Hosein delivers a hair-raiser of a tale, replete with small-time gangsters, sad prostitutes swaying to Sundar Popo ballads, and survival of the fittest. It’s tempting to call The Beast of Kukuyo the perfect Stephen King and Sam Selvon mash-up, but Kevin Jared Hosein’s voice is distinctively his own, tinged with dark humour.

Home Home

by Lisa Allen-Agostini (Papillote Press, 100 pp, ISBN 9781999776831)

Where is it safe to lay your head, when it’s your thoughts that turn against you? Home Home, the third-place winner of the 2017 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature, lets us inside the mind of Kayla, a Trinidadian girl diagnosed with depression. Sent to recuperate at the Edmonton home of her lesbian aunt, Kayla’s uncertainty about her place in life is only one of the things that gives her pause. For instance, what does it mean to be LGBT? What does it mean when a cute boy who shares your taste in music also thinks you’re pretty? Home Home pulls no punches about an interior life with mental illness: Kayla is written compellingly, with compassion, sensitivity, and uncommon insight. 

Kitch

by Anthony Joseph (Peepal Tree Press, 296 pp, ISBN 9781845234195)

To tell the story of Lord Kitchener, calypso’s grand master with his navel string buried in Arima, Anthony Joseph harmonises genres. Kitch combines the power of the archive — the tools of biography — with literary fiction’s capacity to colour grand narratives. What might seem like an unlikely marriage of form suits this lyrical homage to Aldwyn Roberts, Empire Windrush pioneer, the pennant-bearer for calypso in the Queen’s Britain. Joseph, a prolific poet and musical performer, brings a laden basket of skills to this neo-novel: the prose does not so much describe as it animates, and everywhere in this story, melody peals forth. Why have there been no substantial biographies of Kitchener till now? Perhaps because a conventional approach to storytelling might tame a remarkable life: Kitch goes liltingly off-script, and the results are visionary. 

Ricantations

by Loretta Collins Klobah (Peepal Tree Press, 128 pp, ISBN 9781845234232)

From the vaults of Puerto Rico’s history, to the horizons of its contemporary life, Loretta Collins Klobah writes potent, spellbinding poems. Collins Klobah, who won the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for her debut collection, The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman, has wrought a second book that captivates while it dismantles complacency. Here are poems that work precisely on the imagination and wonderment of their reader. Steeped in the groundwater of Ricantations are the rising tides of women’s polyglot tongues: curious daughters, confident marketplace gitanas, mami watas with sharply erotic demands. The versatile, majestic energy of the feminine roves and somersaults in these poems, challenging the roots of virginity and harlotry in verse that stares the patriarchy down, Medusa-style.  

 


Bookshelf Q&A

Trinidadian Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné’s debut book of poems, Doe Songs (Peepal Tree Press, 80 pp, ISBN 9781845234188), inhabits an exterior landscape of deep forest and rushing rivers, and explores an interior world of bloodlines and birth. In this Q&A, the author explains the significance of wilderness in her new poems.

Doe Songs is a powerful first collection, one concerned with the relationship between our human world and the wilderness. Did you access an inner wildness to complete this body of poems?

A sense of the inner wildness, the “untameness” that is always beneath the surface of people and places, is what drives many of the poems. In the process of writing and editing Doe Songs, I tried to access that inner wildness and to learn to see it in everything, to acknowledge that the domestic and the wild, the gentle and the feral are bound together so closely in all living things and places.

Tell us something of what animates your mothering poems, which are dense, lush inhabitants of the world between mother and child.

My mothering poems were written during the final trimester of pregnancy and in the first months of my son’s life. This period was so utterly strange and transformative that it allowed me to lift the veil, to see things in that in-between half-light. It gave me access to my mammalian creature self. The mother and child relationship is both so intimate and so fierce, and it completely transforms the way we see ourselves, our capacity for love and pain, the limits of hearts and bodies.  

The doe is a symbol of tenderness, but of surprising resilience too: this complexity in all things shines in your work. How has the doe as motif moved you as artist and writer?

During the process of writing these poems, the doe kept coming back to me, until I could no longer ignore how central it was to the collection. The doe is both vulnerability and resilience. It reminds me of the power there is in tenderness, and of the value of intuition. For me, the doe is also motherhood, magic, and relationship with landscape.