Celebrate Caribbean Heritage Month with Books

Caribbean stack

I have a not-so-secret obsession with everything Edwidge Danticat has ever put on a page. Her words are powerful, lyrical, and envelop you in the world of Haitian Diaspora. Danticat, and other writers I love, use their writing to shed light on life in the Caribbean from foods, to culture, to colonialism, to being caught between the world of the United States and the world of the Islands, not fitting neatly into either. Below are three of my favorites from my stack.

Feast of the Goat

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

Brutal, raw, revealing, hauntingly beautiful…I read this book cover-to-cover in one 5 hour sitting. It unapologetically reveals the terror that Trujillo inflicted on the citizens of the Dominican Republic. The alternating narrators from chapter to chapter leant power to the testimony of Trujillo’s victims. Urania’s story was touching in its attention to detail as we followed her loss of innocence at Trujillo and her own father’s (a trujillista)hands. It was horrific but I couldn’t stop reading every word that Llosa carefully chose to portray her naivite, her shame and her resolve. I cheered alongside De Maza as he and his fellow conspirators plotted and carried out the Trujillo assassination. I was equally grieved as Trujillo’s son captured and tortured the men in brutal fashion for months- they only survived through injections ordered by Ramfis to keep them alive so he could continue his sadism. I even relished the chapters narrated by Trujillo himself. Llosa humanized him through his depiction of shortcomings and fears. Trujillo was not just the dictator who never sweated and showed no remorse. Llosa gives the reader all of Trujillo from his growing up to his battle with prostate cancer, but though it made him believable, his evil permeated and was inescapable.

Farming of the Bones

 

The Farming of the Bones by Edwidge Danticat

Danticat’s voice is haunting in this tale from a turbulent time between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The raw passion between Sebastian and Amabelle as they find solace in each other amidst the struggles of the cane fields and plantation work is palpable. I am still churning over the unfinished ending to the poignant story.

 

The Dew Breaker

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat

The vignette, “The Water Child” especially spoke to me. One of the most telling motifs in the chapter is the lack of voice. First we have the reference Ms. Hinds makes about the basenji. Ms. Hinds explains that it is “A dog that doesn’t bark… [it just] exists.” Later in the chapter, as Ms. Hinds is getting ready to be released, lack of voice is brought up again through Nadine’s internal monologue as she discusses the struggles Ms. Hinds will face, “…the dread of being voiceless…,when she would awake from dreams in which she’d spoken to find that she had no voice, or when she would see something alarming and realize that she couldn’t scream for help, or even when she would realize that she herself was slowly forgetting,…what her own voice used to sound like.” Though Nadine is describing the experience she thinks Ms. Hinds will experience having physically lost her voice, I think this is also a representation of how Danticat sees Haitian emigrants. The Haitian Diaspora have become like the pebble floating in the water on Nadine’s shrine to her aborted baby. They are different from their surroundings and fighting to maintain their original shape as the surrounding water slowly erodes them until they become, “…the unrecognizable woman staring back at [them] from the closed elevator doors.” Each of the chapters has something to offer about the Haitian Diaspora experience but “The Water Child” is the most powerful to me and could stand on its own as a short story. Amazing book when you understand the context of Danticat’s background as a Haitian Emigrant.

 

Book Reviews in honor of Juneteenth

If you are looking to do some reading by authors of color, here are few reviews of some I have loved.

Just Mercy cover Heartbreaking. That was the feeling reading Just Mercy. Yes, there was discussion of the power of hope and the EJL won some historic cases, but the pervasive legacy of racism, racial profiling and discrimination was there on every page. It makes me sad that this is still a reality so many incarcerated deal with, and frustrated that after everything the narrative of oppression and corruption is still spinning in so many communities and their supposed justice systems.

Counting Descent

So glad I chose this collection to share with my students. A beautiful narrative of identity, power, and home weaves through each piece. I especially loved the line from “Meteor Shower,” ‘we bring a part of where we are from/ to every place we go.’” The power of “How to Fight” will resonate long after I put this down as well…”Spelling bees were a battleground/ where teachers trained me/ to wield language as a/ tool & fist & weapon & warning/ to those who would rather/ make an outline of me.” So relevant in these turbulent times as voices of protest keep rising and looking for spaces to be heard

Queenie book cover

This book did not grab me right off, but once it did, I could not put it down. Queenie is such a relatable character- she is imperfect, self-deprecating and fully immersed in problems that just keep building. Many of us suffer from depression, anxiety, low self esteem and Queenie’s journey allows a front row seat to how that all plays out while trying to maintain a job, relationships and just every day living. It is not shy in talking about sex and race so be ready if you pick it up.

American Spy

Loved. This. Book. I have never been a spy novel type, but this book took all of the great things about spy novels- intrigue, suspense, unexpected turns, and brought racial tension and gender politics of the 60s and 70s to the table. I could not stop reading!

The Sellout book cover

Wow. Just Wow. Biting. Hilarious. Honest. Brutal. Relevant. Wow. The Sellout is a satirical masterpiece, but it’s so much more — it’s one of the most incisive, and truthful portrayals of race and identity in America. “That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book — that we can turn the page and move on…But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.” Beatty is not shy with exploring charged topics. His narrator is a black man who owns a slave and the novel opens with him smoking marijuana on the steps of the Supreme Court after being charged with segregating public land and education, and slavery.  Beatty confronts head-on issues of racism, police violence, gangs, political machination, and does so with biting humor. It is a work of fiction, but unfortunately, we are still grappling with our historical amnesia in the United States

While you are at it, order those titles from a black-owned bookstore!

Black-Owned Bookstores by State click here

Or order them to be shipped from these Black-Owned Bookstores, click here

Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses by Isabele Allende

Aphrodite

Hot. That is the only word I can think of to describe this novel. It definitely has the Allende flavor of magical realism and picturesque description. I picked it up thinking it was a food memoir, but it is more of an exploration of the connection between food, sex and love. The recipes are her grandmothers’and you can feel the familial connection in the pages. The chapter describing the advice to her stepson on dating was downright funny, and quite erotic. I liked the book, but it is not my favorite Allende novel. It moves a little slow in parts. It is provocative and entertaining for a fun read, it just takes a little while to get through