Book buzz | Reviews (Jul/Aug 2024)

This month’s reading picks from the Caribbean, with reviews by Shivanee Ramlochan of The Ferguson Report: An Erasure by Nicole Sealey; Naniki by Oonya Kempadoo; Black Light Void: Dark Visions of the Caribbean edited by Marsha Pearce; and The Hurricane Book: A Lyrical History by Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones

  • The Ferguson Report: An Erasure
  • Naniki — Oonya Kempadoo
  • Black Light Void: Dark Visions of the Caribbean
  • The Hurricane Book: A Lyric History

The Ferguson Report: An Erasure

by Nicole Sealey (Knopf, 144 pp, ISBN 9780593535998)

Winner of the 2024 OCM Bocas Prize for Poetry, The Ferguson Report is a redaction writ in fire. Taking as its ignition the 2014 killing of (unarmed) Michael Brown by police forces in Ferguson, Missouri, the US Virgin Islands-born Sealey creates an erasure of the official Department of Justice report released in the wake of the murder. The poet rehouses what it states — enacting a lifted poetry from the text that bristles with rage while, in the same breath, reckoning with the uneasy quietude so often attending such man-made horrors. Charging further witness from an original document that already examines brutality, The Ferguson Report is a volume of precision and devastation, calling forth centuries of neighing horses, Black hands raised in protest and defence, deer whose skin stiffens from running hard under pressure. To say that this project in poetry is visionary feels plain, feels intuitive.


by Oonya Kempadoo (Rare Machines, 200 pp, ISBN 9781459751491)

Written in kaleidoscopic, undulating prose, Naniki is a spiritual quest of a novel, charting an archipelagic journey by twinned spirit-beings Amana and Skelele across a Caribbean ravaged by climate catastrophe. Kempadoo, of Guyanese parentage, infuses mythos with magical realism, coming-of-age with compelling eco-fiction, creating a tessellated genre that hums to its own radical frequencies. As the animist pair of protagonists traverses both time and space, they encounter signposts of a ruined Anthropocene — but also the antidotes to such environmental wounds. Afro-Indigenous histories are vital to this shapeshifting narrative, which brings all living souls in its story together in a kind of audacious, glimmering hope. Naniki asks, “How do we stay on this earth we have so bruised?” The novel answers itself, saying that our shared redemption lies in love, ready to be made manifest.

Black Light Void: Dark Visions of the Caribbean

edited by Marsha Pearce (Hansib Publications, 108 pp, ISBN 9781739321109)

“In the black light void you will meet yourself.” So declares the final paragraph of cultural studies scholar and curator Marsha Pearce’s introduction to this grim, grandly imagined anthology. Black Light Void is interdisciplinary, bringing together six writers from Trinidad & Tobago — Kevin Jared Hosein, Barbara Jenkins, Sharon Millar, Amílcar Sanatan, Portia Subran, Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw — to respond to the paintings of contemporary Caribbean artist Edward Bowen. The results — ranging from parasitic rafflesia plants to sexual crimes committed under propriety’s strictures — certainly summon the tenebrosity Pearce’s introduction intends. In dialoguing with Bowen’s large-scale, abstract compositions, this T&T sextet goes deeper than the darkness it is easy to imagine. This is the anthology’s strength, its animus: that we will not only fear the dark within, but embrace the abyss it conjures.

The Hurricane Book: A Lyrical History

by Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones (Rose Metal Press, 160 pp, ISBN 9781941628317)

Puerto Rican Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones’ debut draws on lyrical, anecdotal, and reportage writing in a swirling epicentre of creative non-fiction, tracking six hurricanes that passed through the island from 1928 to 2017. The Hurricane Book is as much a map as it is a family tree, a scrapbook of assembled memories, domestic recollections, and unearthed secrets — a rich and remarkable patina atop the cartography of an entire society governed by US superstructural neglect and environmental crises. As an autobiography bordered by poems and possibilities not always hemmed in by the fundamentally verifiable, this is a work that faces rather than flees authorial unreliability. An archive, too, can be as capricious as a tempest — as difficult to plot with fidelity as the path of a ravaging storm. This hybrid ode to ancestry, sanctuary, and crisis ripples with the undeniable rhythms of the ocean surrounding us all.

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
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