By Nadia L. Hohn
This February 2020, we travel to the Caribbean to read books from Canadian authors with roots in this region. With wide influences from oral traditions, tropical landscapes and migration through to diasporas and mixed identities, I present to you a Caribbean literature reading list.
What a wondrous collection of short stories! Kara is a second-generation Jamaican teen living in three of Toronto’s neighbourhoods– Wilson/Bathurst, Eglinton West (little Jamaica), and downtown. This book is about community and so many raw specific incidents. This book had me wondering how much of it was autobiographical since I could relate to so many incidents. Nana reminds me of Jamaican women that I know–working so hard as caregivers for white elderly and sometimes racist clients. Grandpa reminds me of men that I know. Mother Eloise is a fierce surviving single mother, former teen mom who is pursuing grad studies and wants the very best for her daughter. With her fierce love, there is also fear. There are a lot of authentic and lovely moments like the references to eating beef patties and the authentic patois (and its alternate spellings) and references to other communities like Brampton. Congratulations to Zalika on this debut book. I can’t wait to see more work from this new writer.
|Knowing Ian William’s background as a professor of poetry, he applies some of that approach in Giller Prize-winning Reproduction with free verse, sub- and super text lines, and song lyrics spread throughout. This novel reminded me of White Teeth by Zadie Smith meets That Time I Loved You by Carrianne Leung as all books involve a diverse cast and flawed characters. Although this concept of storytelling is not new, Ian Williams makes it fresh as it spans 5 decades and covers different accents as well. The characters evolve, change, mature, and even Felicia’s Caribbean accent changes.|
This book would be the Canadian counterpart to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between You and Me”” and Chimamanda Adichie’s “Dear Ijeawele, or We are All Feminists”. Chariandy pens an endearing letter to his daughter, explaining her mixed heritage— European from David’s wife’s side, Indo- and African-Trinidadian on his. He shares his journey to finding his sense of place and identity in Canada, a place where she can call home.
In The Blue Clerk, award-winning poet Dionne Brand stages a conversation and an argument between the poet and the Blue Clerk, who is the keeper of the poet’s pages. In their dialogues–which take shape as a series of haunting prose poems–the poet and the clerk invoke a host of writers, philosophers, and artists, from Jacob Lawrence, Lola Keipja, and Walter Benjamin to John Coltrane, Josephine Turalba, and Jorge Luis Borges. Through these essay poems, Brand explores memory, language, culture, and time, offering beautiful and jarring juxtapositions (“The Wire is the latest version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn“), and endlessly haunting language (“On a road like this you don’t know where you are. Whether you have arrived or whether you are still on your way. Whether you are still at the beginning or at the end. You are in the middle all the time. What would be the sign?”).