It’s Been a While

First off, apologies for the radio silence. Since then, I have been in the throes of motherhood but now I am finally getting around to reading and writing more. With that said, here’s a quick recap of what I read in 2020:

Three Tigers, One Mountain by Michael Booth

The book is quite an enjoyable read because it takes you through different historical locations in each country where the author chats with local professors, museum staff, and students about controversial issues such as the “comfort women” issue (such a misnomer!), Unit 731 (biological warfare), and the Nanjing massacre. Each nation’s attitude is particularly revealed in how it records its history, whether in its school textbooks or national and local museums.

Malala by Cinelle Barnes

Filipino-American Cinelle Barnes is a writer who reaches into her gut to pick apart her harrowing life experiences and to show how they affected her adult outlook, her relationship to her parents, and her interactions with a country that considered her legally undocumented for several of her formative years. This is a must-read for anyone interested in true-life immigrant stories.

Suncatcher by Romesh Gunesekera

This was my first exposure to Romesh Gunesekera’s writing and boy, was it delicious! From the beginning, I was swept up in the nostalgic world of 1960s Sri Lanka – one filled with Chocolacs, exotic birds, dazzling natural landscapes, and posh mansions. However, Suncatcher’s scenery is not the main draw of this book. Instead, the coming of age story traces the friendship between Kairo and Jay, both trying to maneuver adolescence in postcolonial Sri Lanka. If you like books like A Separate Peace and movies like Stand By Me, then I think you’ll also love Suncatcher. Highly recommended.

Borderline Citizen by Robin Hemley

This is a series of travel essays that tackles contemporary issues such as patriotism and national identity in an age of shifting borders, migrations, and refugee crises. The American now living and working in Singapore himself holds no allegiance to any country and travels the globe to speak to people in borderline areas – exclaves, enclaves, and overseas territories such as Baarles, the Falklands, Kaliningrad, Point Roberts, and the chitmahals along the Indian/Bangladeshi border.

So Many Islands ed. by Nicholas Laughlin

This anthology from Peekash Press has contributing work from island writers across the globe. For me, the standout stories include:

🌟Granny Dead by Melanie Schwapp (Jamaica)
🌟Beached by Angela Barry (Bermuda)
🌟Roses for Mister Thorne by Jacob Ross (Grenada)

New Worlds, Old Ways ed. by Karen Lord

This eclectic collection of speculative fiction was certainly a different cup of tea for me. Usually, when I read Caribbean fiction, it’s heavily realistic or steeped in the past. In spite of this, there were a few interesting stories that offered food for thought.

Standout story:

🌟 Maiden in the Mud by Kevin Jared Hosein

Force Ripe by Cindy McKenzie

This coming of age story is told from the perspective of Lee, a young girl growing up in Grenada. Unfortunately, Lee’s story is a familiar one in the Caribbean where many children are left with grandparents or up to their own devices while Mommy and Daddy seek greener pastures elsewhere. In fact, McKenzie’s novel reminded me of Staceyann Chin’s The Other Side of Paradise. In Lee’s case, her mother seeks a better life through work/another family and her father through Rastafarianism. The reader instantly feels sympathy for Lee who is caught in circumstances beyond her control.

Tea By the Sea by Donna Hemans

This is the sophomore novel of Jamaican-American author Donna Hemans. It opens with a real shocker. While Plum, an exhausted new mom, rests in her hospital bed after a difficult delivery, Lenworth, the baby daddy, kidnaps the newborn and disappears. The plot slowly unfolds how Plum deals with this loss and also explains the why behind Lenworth’s conduct, building to the final confrontation between the two estranged lovers.

One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie

One Year of Ugly is told in the snappy voice of Yola Palacios, a Venezuelan translator/writer and illegal immigrant living a “cockroach fairytale” in Trinidad. The novel starts in the thick of a hostage scene. A flamboyantly dressed stranger called Ugly interrupts the Palacios family BBQ seeking payment for a deal he struck with the now dead Aunt Celia. What follows is the family’s torment at the hands of Ugly and their lack of access to proper help because of their illegal status. Author and freelance translator Caroline Mackenzie mentions that the story is based on several real-life conversations she had with Venezuelans living in her homeland. 

The Whale House by Sharon Millar

Published in 2015, this is the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Winner’s debut collection of short stories. Millar’s prose is like a good Trini black cake: rich and gooey with sensory details. The landscapes featured are often lush but humming with an underlying darkness.

Secrets We Kept by Krystal Sital

In this searing memoir, author Krystal Sital unravels family secrets in the aftermath of her maternal grandfather’s hospitalization. However, the question remains: why was her grandfather, Shiva Singh, the way he was? He was by no means an anomaly in his generation but in general, it would be enlightening to find out why some Indo-Trinidadian patriarchs turn out the way they do.

Coolie Woman by Gaiutra Bahadur

The Guyanese-American author weaves personal memoir and historical details to tell the story of coolie women, emigrants from the Indian subcontinent to far flung parts of the then British empire, chiefly Guyana where the author was born. Highly recommended nonfiction read about the Indo-Caribbean female experience.

The London Dream by Chris Macmillan

This was an interesting read for me, having been a previous resident of the metropolis. It pulled the shiny veneer off the city, claiming that it is essentially still Victorian-era London today with its mass levels of inequality, exploitation, and a surplus of labor for few choice jobs. Great read if you’re a fan of migration studies.

The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

Following a good friend’s recommendation, l read this Amazon bestseller. I definitely enjoyed hearing the story from the protagonist’s perspective but sometimes it came off very soap-operaish. For example, many times, her employer, Big Madam, seemed a caricature of a horrible boss. Or is this just how Adunni, the main character, sees her? 

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud

Sorry to say this but for all the hype this book got on Bookstagram, l found Love After Love extremely depressing. Sure, l thought that the Indo-Trinidadian cultural references and the multiple Trini voices were on point but still…For me, there was only a little redemption at the end but spoiler alert, this book delves into some HEAVY stuff: domestic violence, cutting, attempted suicide, murder, Kali worship, LGBTQ+ issues, just trauma, trauma, trauma.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

What was it about 2020 and traumatic books? We already had that Covid-19 thing to deal with. Although Doshi’s prose sharp and clean like a tack, Burnt Sugar is yet another story of a dysfunctional relationship. This time, it’s mother against daughter and in the end, l was scratching my head about who was crazy/mentally unstable.

The Girl With the Hazel Eyes by Callie Browning

The Girl with the Hazel Eyes is the story of “pretty eye” Susan, a reclusive author originally from Barbados now living in a retirement settlement in Florida. Susan’s story is told against the backdrop of Barbados’ late colonial and early post-independence days. There’s plenty bacchanal and ole time memories in this one.

Musical Youth by Joanne Hillhouse

The plot follows Zahara, a shy girl who lives in the shadow of her flamboyant dead mother. However, things start looking up for her when she joins a drama production for the summer. There, she develops a romance with cast member Shaka and ends up becoming more self-confident in her musical talent. I think I would have really enjoyed this Caribbean YA book as a teenager because Hillhouse makes a lot of references to popular soca, dancehall, and reggae lyrics.

And that’s a wrap! What did you read in 2020?


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