Review: Passport from Here to There

Does the name Grace Nichols ring any bells?

To be honest, before I read Passport from Here to There, I had never heard of this highly rated and accomplished Guyanese born, British-naturalized poetess.

Her latest collection includes love songs to many people and things. In particular, many focus on her childhood growing up in Guyana and her return to her homeland as an adult.

The collection begins with a memory of her childhood self in “Rites of Passage”:

If I were to meet the ghost

of my childhood running

with slipping shoulder-straps

and half-plaited hair

beside a brown expanse

of memorising water…”

I have never been to Guyana but I can just imagine Nichols as a young girl running along the coastline of one of its many rivers or the muddy Atlantic.

Then there are poems dedicated to her life in the UK but with a deep ambivalence from her days growing up in colonial Guyana. In “Tea with Demerara Sugar” she writes:

I know your cost in tears, brown sugar, the bloody sweat

behind each crystal grain – you whose shadow still haunts the sun…”

I can taste her nostalgia and joy as an adult returning to Guyana in “Landing”:

The Liat plane dipping towards the rim of the Atlantic and the beginning of Georgetown sends the wings unfurling from my heart towards the city of my girlhood haunts...

Homing in to my first-time landing at Ogle, nothing can stop my Demerara smile

waxing wide as that sweetening estuary…”

Some of these poems were so good I had to read them twice.

Highly recommended!

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this collection from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Mermaid of Black Conch

It is safe to say that The Mermaid of Black Conch is not Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Some may even say it’s the adult version of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale.

In Roffey’s version, Aycayia the mermaid is caught by Yankees fishing in the waters off St. Constance village. Luckily, she is rescued by a local fisherman, David. While she hides out in his home, she slowly retransforms into the woman she used to be.

Aycayia is really a “red woman,” a Taino who was cursed by her peers because of her latent power to seduce their men.

Long story short: This is the archetypal “stranger comes to town” story where the arrival of the mermaid upsets the natural balance of St. Constance and causes a “sea change” in a host of relationships.

In the story, there is also a lot of talk about “sexing” the mermaid because she symbolizes the exotic, the unattainable, what the fishermen have never had.

Roffey’s writing definitely evokes the vibrant colors and lushness of the Caribbean seascape and landscape. I think it’s the perfect summer read, if you want to be transported to a magical-realist version of a Caribbean island.

* DISCLAIMER: I received the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read The Mermaid of Black Conch? What did you think?

Review: A Kitchen in the Corner

I really didn’t know anything about Ambai before I read A Kitchen in the Corner of the House but now, I am truly enlightened. I have read a lot of literature written in English by Indian writers but Ambai’s work was a first for me to read Indian, specifically Tamil literature, in translation.

Ambai’s work translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom can be considered feminist literature as many of her stories examine what’s it’s like to be a woman in India, particularly regarding how the female body is portrayed and treated in Indian society. In one story, adults regard one woman’s body as one that never “blossomed” because she never bore children even though children see her differently. The author also explores the traditionally female space of the kitchen as one where women think they hold power. She also re-examines the story of Sita, Rama’s wife, whose faithfulness to her husband came into question after she was rescued from her kidnapper.

Sometimes, I found Ambai’s stories difficult to follow because they were peppered with local references but overall, her work carries a somber tone and is sure to resonate with female readers.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital Advance Reader Copy from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Bells of Old Tokyo

As a fairly new expat living in the land of the rising sun, it’s always interesting to hear the perspectives of seasoned expats who have called this place home for several years.

Anna Sherman moved to Asia in 2001 and The Bells of Old Tokyo: Meditations of Time and a City is her first book. In this part-memoir/ part travelogue, Sherman retraces the steps taken by composer Yoshimura Hiroshi in his book, Edo’s Bells of Time, listening for the chime of the old city’s bells in the silent spaces of her loud, 21st century metropolis. Her prose is both lyrical and clipped, as she meditates on seasonal time-keeping in old Edo and contrasts it with digital time-keeping in modern-day Tokyo.

She shows how the traditional Japanese conception of time as non-linear is constantly at odds with Japan’s adoption of progressive, mechanical Western time, a push and pull struggle that mirrors Japan’s juggling between its slick, contemporary image as a postmodern mecca and its ancient Eastern roots. This conflict is also evident in Tokyo’s constant reinvention of itself, forever destroying and rebuilding its spaces so that nothing ever remains permanent, even the author’s beloved coffee shop in the bowels of the enigmatic capital city.

Overall, The Bells of Old Tokyo is a fresh take on a much-admired and much-misunderstood city and highly recommended for anyone who wants to probe into what really makes the Japanese capital tick.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital Advance Reader Copy (ARC) from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Getting nostalgic over Anne of Green Gables

The last time I read Anne of Green Gables, it was 1994. Wet, Wet, Wet’s Love is All Around Me was on heavy rotation and Friends and My So-Called Life debuted on local TV stations in Trinidad and Tobago. You could only imagine my delight when I spotted a battered copy of the exact edition I owned on the library shelf at my local library in Japan. When I spotted the cover, everything just came swimming back to me and I knew that it was due for a reread.

At first, I was amazed that I was able to get through such a dense book. The words were so quaint and tightly packed together on each page. Also, upon rereading I realized that there were a lot of foreign vocabulary words I probably glossed over, particularly when author LM Montgomery described the flora of Prince Edward Island.

But as I continued to read Anne, I chuckled aloud (yes, I really did) at her talkativeness, her flubs, her antics, her hot temper, her predisposition for romanticism, her weakness for puffed sleeves, and her gift for expression in terms like “bosom friend” and “kindred spirit.” She is truly a character, as we like to say in the Caribbean.

Have you ever read Anne of Green Gables? What’s your verdict?