Caribbean Beat Magazine

Bookshelf (Nov/Dec 2021) | Book reviews

This month’s reading picks from the Caribbean, with reviews of This One Sky Day by Leone Ross; Can You Sign My Tentacle by Brandon O’Brien; Testimonies on the History of Jamaica, Volume 1 by Zakiya McKenzie; and Dominoes at the Crossroads by Kaie Kellough

  • This One Sky Day
  • Can You Sign My Tentacle
  • Testimonies on ohe History of Jamaica
  • Dominoes at the Crossroads

This One Sky Day

by Leone Ross (Faber & Faber, 385 pp, ISBN9780571358014)

In Popisho, the fictional setting of Leone Ross’s lavish, sprawling novel, every citizen has a “cors,” a unique gift of magical, otherworldly ability: the power to heal, to prophesy, to intuit the pain or deception of others. Set in this Caribbean-esque archipelago over the course of twenty-four hours, This One Sky Day asks the reader questions steeped in coconut milk, saffron, and star anise, as nourishing and palate-pleasing as the best cook food. What do we do with our own “cors” during our time on earth? Are we bettered or bested by ungovernable love? It’s impossible to approach the kaleidoscopic orbit of the book with anything like stoicism: expect to be wooed by lyrical prose, spellbound by seemingly incalculable events, swept up into the exploits of elemental lovers striving to be their best, most unfettered selves. In a word, Ross’s fictional fare is an opus, demanding satiation.

Can You Sign My Tentacle?

by Brandon O’Brien (Interstellar Flight Press, 82 pp, ISBN 9781953736048)

This debut poetry chapbook is tired of old tropes. Can You Sign My Tentacle? animates our anthropocene’s Black joy and resistance against the ghoulish spectres of racism: a slew of institutional evils is called to account, dragged into the light of confessional verse. In poems as suited to page interpretation as oral performance, Brandon O’Brien populates each realm of the work’s imagined or real multiverse with brave vulnerability: in “the lagahoo speaks for itself”, our title character angrily declaims, “I know the scent of every dead girl’s close male relatives / I could sense the sour of trigger fingers / in the alleys at the edges of hotspots.” As with the best speculative writing, the convergence of the worlds we imagine and the world we inhabit becomes preternaturally real, borders of certainty and illusion blending to create space: and this realm, the poems say, belongs to Blackness.

Testimonies on the History of Jamaica, Volume 1

by Zakiya McKenzie (Rough Trade Books, 45 pp, ISBN 9781914236051)

Zakiya McKenzie’s revisionist pamphlet is the very definition of “small axe chop down big tree.” In less than fifty spare pages, McKenzie contains the violent racism of slaveowner and lord of the plantocracy Edward Long’s 1774 polemic The History of Jamaica. Interweaving historical accounts with creative conjuring, the author-researcher presents us with three testimonies speaking to their own, particular Jamaican truths. In the voices of Izolo, Wande Sheba, and Tansy, we encounter Jamaican history through the minds and hearts of those whose immediate stories register most dimly and scantly in official archives: the Black enslaved and subjugated. Each telling indicts oppressors with scathing certainty, but perhaps even more majestically than this, makes room for the full expression of personhood denied the incarcerated African woman and man. 

Dominoes at the Crossroads

by Kaie Kellough (Véhicule Press, 180 pp, ISBN 9781550655315)

As open to risk as it is to interrogation, Kaie Kellough’s collection of braided short stories summons an alternate Caribbean-Canadian present and future, one in which the lives and expectations of the Black Caribbean diaspora’s citizens gleam with further realised possibilities. The musicality of narrative winds and weaves through almost all these stories: gig-players, buskers, and traffic-consigned listeners each feel the pulse of melody, its historicity and specific yearning, pulling on their lives with insistence and fervour. “Kaie,” the author, is also a character presented in this assemblage. It’s a stylistic choice that might jar in other settings, but Dominoes at the Crossroads wields this experimentation well, scratching at the surface of what we consider to be origin stories, asking: how can we make more of the tales we’ve been told, the tales we wish to tell?