This month’s reading picks from the Caribbean, with reviews by Shivanee Ramlochan of Growing up Woodbrook by Dylan Kerrigan; Loverbar by Lizbette Ocasio-Russe; The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord; and All Made of Longing by Ruth Osman Rose
Growing up Woodbrook
by Dylan Kerrigan (The National Trust of Trinidad & Tobago, 200 pp, ISBN 9789768291134)
The history of any place shifts and morphs. Anthropologist Dylan Kerrigan, writing with Ken Jaikaransingh, honours the ineffable mutability of Woodbrook — once a 19th century plantation, now a teeming commercial and cultural hub. Between these two states of being, Growing up Woodbrook amasses a vital history, constructing in photography, anecdote, and analysis an environment that circulates lifeblood into a crucial artery of Trinidadianness. The aliveness of the book is indisputable: open any of its pages and a gleaming remembrance or tribute falls into your hands. Tracing the footsteps of icons and creative pioneers, through streets whose names sustain a preserved legacy, the 12 chapters of this study are as generously inclusive as they are rigorously researched. How better to speak of a place, Kerrigan implicitly understands, than to have all its voices chorus?
by Lizbette Ocasio-Russe (Flashpoint Publications, 136 pp, ISBN 9781619295025)
Where can queer refuge be found in hostile spaces, already ravaged by natural disaster? In Loverbar, a group of Puerto Rican cuirs — members of the LGBTQ+ community — band together to build a bar that shelters, waters and feeds them, free from the dangers of homophobic hatred and transphobia’s ever-growing menace. Hurricane María looms over their efforts: as the collective grapples with structural woes, logistical wrenches thrown into their cash-strapped plans, and political unrest, the ghosts of María’s 2017 devastation still haunt them in both certain and unexpected ways. Ocasio-Russe lovingly and devotedly fictionalises a very real Puerto Rico community with “Own Voices” commitment to telling the truth, wielding prose that both sings and sears. If sites like Loverbar do not exist, these short stories urge us, they must be made real: the survival of Caribbean queer communities depends on them.
The Blue, Beautiful World
by Karen Lord (Del Rey, 256 pp, ISBN 9780593598436)
Time and again, the novels of Barbadian writer Karen Lord prove the limits of empathy and radical envisioning can expand infinitely, to keep pace with the evolution of our human hearts. So it is in The Blue, Beautiful World, a gentle and philosophical space bound drama set in Lord’s Cygnus Beta universe, where humanity prepares itself for the gauntlet of first contact. Expect no grey celluloid forms herein; Lord is a master of arch subversions and tender moral manipulations, and she brings questions of diplomacy, goodness, and postcolonial quarrels to bear in this world of rockstars and tacticians, senators and sporting mavericks. Who will be there to represent us, the human race, when we face our interstellar compatriots from other, stranger lands? Lord reminds us that the strangeness may be foremost resident in ourselves, in glowing intimacies.
All Made of Longing
by Ruth Osman Rose (Bamboo Talk Press, 74 pp, ISBN 9798391924609)
When you learn that Guyanese poet Ruth Osman Rose is also a flautist, the syncopations of All Made of Longing accrue such kinetic energy. Rose’s poems rustle the petticoats of the ordinary, peering deep into the well of Caribbean everydayness. From lilting explorations of domestic eros to exhortations to the divine muses twisting and winding poetry’s spindle, this collection surrenders to a pureness of honesty, a vulnerability tested in turbulent waters. The poems serve up black cake, molasses-infused richness of Black women’s voices raised in song, warm rains gentling verdant mountain ranges — all potent witnesses to the power of being transcendently alive, truly here. The poet transfixes us in melodies so innate to our living, saying, an adhan unfurls / in my chest / flutters up my throat / sits on my tongue / warbling.
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