Book buzz | Reviews (Nov/Dec 2023)

This month’s reading picks from the Caribbean, with reviews by Shivanee Ramlochan of Love the Dark Days by Ira Mathur; The Mother Island by Jacinth Howard; Song for My Father by S Brian Samuel; and The God of Good Looks by Breanne Mc Ivor

  • Love the Dark Days
  • The Mother Island
  • Song for My Father
  • The God of Good Looks

Love the Dark Days

by Ira Mathur (Peepal Tree Press, 232 pp, ISBN 9781845235352)

Winner of the 2023 OCM Bocas Non-Fiction Prize, Ira Mathur’s memoir raises its narrative head against the twin forces of shame and silencing, daring a propulsive form of lyrical candour to emerge in this account of family, history, and defiance. Tessellating the author’s girlhood in India with her coming of age in Trinidad, Mathur’s presentations of self are so unstinting that no concealments can survive them. With journalistic thoroughness and poetic urgency, all is laid bare. Love: between intimate partners, between grandmothers and granddaughters, between a distinguished mentor and receptive mentee, between a complex individual and her multichambered heritage — this is the glowing core of Love the Dark Days. States of affection, passion, and the accompanying intemperance of love’s fractures, dominate this landscape. Peer into the stations of ardour Mathur constructs; see them radiate feminist autonomy.

The Mother Island

by Jacinth Howard (Brown Bird Publishing, 108 pp, ISBN 9789769642003)

Reclamatory and full of rejoicing, The Mother Island arrays its poems of womanhood into four quartets: “Hurricane Season”; “Wenchcraft”; “Animal Tales and Outings”; “Paradise”. Vincentian and Grenadian Howard raises streaming flags of female consciousness in her debut collection, conjuring sites of worship, rest, and resistance as the everyday stations at which Caribbean women construct their identities. Meditative and nature-steeped, these deeply personal verses insist on a thoughtful, spatial occupation for those too swiftly discarded by society’s vagaries. Every ritual and ceremony evoked in Howard’s poems is presented with stylistic care, hallmarked by an attentiveness to texture and terrain. In this collection, hair is braided with worship by nimble, expressive hands, matriarchs mourn the loss of children taken from them too soon, and Indigenous voices rise in remembrance, layered with revolt. These manifestos, undaunted, echo in proud chambers.

Song for My Father

by S Brian Samuel (Ian Randle Publishers, 272 pp, ISBN 9789768286819)

Two decades in the making, Song for My Father is a non-fiction examination of fatherhood, failure, and disastrous family ties that balances both extreme levity and crushing heartbreak. Chronicling Samuel’s quest to honour the journey of his father, Darwin Fitzgerald “Gerry” Samuel, the memoir guides its reader from Grenada to Trinidad to England — and that’s only the beginning. Laying bare a psychological armoire’s worth of maternal abandonment and paternal devotion, Samuel disrupts the notion of “dirty laundry” in telling one’s own history. The past herein is ripe for examination: assembling Gerry’s story of Black Caribbean ambition, of nomadic striving, better allows the son and scribe of these true stories to tell his own. Expect to be waylaid by grief, only to be brought high on the crest of a boyhood reminiscence — this is prismatic reading.

The God of Good Looks

by Breanne Mc Ivor (Fig Tree, 384 pp, ISBN 9780241609613)

Bianca Bridge has dreams. How much will Trinidad & Tobago allow her to pursue them? In Breanne Mc Ivor’s novel debut, a precocious aspiring writer steps a pedicured toe into the uncompromising world of high fashion, with results that spark dramatic fire. Ever a storyteller attuned to nuance, Mc Ivor nimbly peels through chemical layers to get to the uncomfortable underside of beauty’s optics in a small, often dangerous scene. The book’s major romantic relationship, between Bianca and make-up magnate Obadiah Cortland, exposes as much class and social difference as it shores up the pair’s connection across boundaries. Nothing, ironically, in The God of Good Looks is only skin-deep: with acute and often biting social commentary, Mc Ivor reveals how willing we all are to scrape and contour our outer masks, for a little lustre.

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
The views expressed on this website are those of the the authors and do not reflect those of the Direct Support Grants Programme.