Can you believe 2021 was my third year doing #ReadCaribbean on the Insta? Thanks to Cindy Allman of Book of Cinz, this project has really taken off, encouraging readers all over the world to explore Caribbean literature.
We bookstagrammers and writers highlight what’s on our reading list during June – books about the Caribbean, usually written by Caribbean people living at home or abroad. Many people, particularly Caribbean people, get to discover the length and breadth of the canon, not just the bitter aftertaste they experienced in Lit/English class in secondary school.
This year, I read the following:
Things I have Withheld by Kei Miller (Jamaica)
After reading Augustown, I was curious to read this collection of essays by the Jamaican author. Overall, the writing was excellent and thought-provoking. I especially loved the travel essays. My favorite bits were:
- “Mr. Brown, Mrs. White, and Ms. Black” which looks at how each character is viewed through the prism of class in Jamaican society.
- “The Boys at the Harbor” about the Gully Queens in Kingston.
- “The Buck, the Bacchanal, and Again the Body” about the buck that terrorizes a family in Gasparillo, Trinidad after Carnival 2019.
- “The White Woman and the Language of Bees” about the author’s contradictory feelings towards a white Jamaican author who is offended when a black Jamaican author tells her off for being inauthentic.
- “Sometimes the Only Way Down a Mountain is by Prayer” about the author’s sojourn in Ethiopia, the promised land for Rastafarians.
- “My Brother, My Brother” about the author facing his ancestral past at Elmina Castle.
- “The Old Black Woman Who Sat in the Corner” which reveals a skeleton in the closet of the author’s family.
Antiman by Rajiv Mohabir (Guyana/US)
This is a memoir from Guyanese-American poet Rajiv Mohabir. For me, the best part of it was where Mohabir described his relationship with his grandmother, Aji. I also found that his journey to India to find out more about her Bhojpuri folk songs paralleled Naipaul’s search for ancestry in An Area for Darkness.
Unlike Naipaul however, Mohabir has a distinct passion for India, its culture, and its language and the trip is one that cements his identity rather than splinters it even further.
However, I noticed that when his grandmother dies, the narrative becomes fragmented and difficult to follow with mythologies, imagined conversations, details about his depression and failed relationships, and more songs and poetry.
Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne (Barbados)
I haven’t read any middle grade Caribbean fiction so this was new territory. That being said, Bourne did a fantastic job of sucking me into the protagonist’s world. This novel would also translate well on the screen.
I also like how seamlessly she blended local folklore with the plot. It was also nice to read about bits and pieces of Bajan culture which seems very similar to Trini culture!