Sam Selvon – The Lonely Londoners

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You can find other novels like this at the Caribbean Books Foundation  http://www.caribbeanbooks.org/

HAPPY CARIBBEAN LITERATURE DAY!!

Code Burt Award winners book covers

Today is a day for celebrating Caribbean literature! I just came off of a Zoom ‘social distancing party’ for the Inaugural Caribbean Literature Day celebration. How wonderful it was to talk and listen to people who not only love but are passionate about creating and preserving Caribbean literature in all its languages and forms!

When I was in school I was biting my teeth into titles like Green Days By The River, Bite In, and Twice Upon A Time. I love Paul Keens Douglas! To this day his wit and natural ability to turn a limerick and a phrase with the ease of the Trinbagonian dialect still inspires me when writing dialogue.

Now it’s not to say that I never read any international classics as a child. I went through the whole Charles Dickens series in school, and from my previous post on editing, I noted some of my favourite books as a child which included several international titles. But Caribbean Literature played a role in shaping my thoughts as a young person growing up.

At that time I didn’t even know that each book was lighting the spark of writing within me, reading stories by my own people, about my own people. My only regret is that I didn’t have any examples of female Caribbean authors on my list back then.

But let’s get on with today’s review. Well, it’s not actually a review but a remembrance of an iconic piece that truth be told, I have never read before. It’s all good though because one of the reasons why I started this review series was to finally get to know more Caribbean titles, both new and old, that I have never read before. Today’s book review is on…

Yes! The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. The picture above is of the actual copy I borrowed from my sister who has a 1972 edition. A version that is a full 16 years after the first printing that was still alive and well at her house, for better or for worse, 48 years after it was published.

I must say when I started to read it I realised why his other novel, A Brighter Sun, was the piece chosen for CXC’s required reading. I doubt a book about the escapades of grown men living and hustling women and work alike in London would have been fitting reading material for a class taking the national exam. Nonetheless, it was a captivating read, that I’m sure the young people would have just as easily enjoyed outside of the classroom.

Now this novel has been talked about for decades, so I doubt there is much more I can say on it, but since I’m here let me try!

A beautifully woven tale of woe that comes off as nothing more than a good time, The Lonely Londoners has personal meaning for Caribbean people, the tale of the emigrant. I admit I have never cared for the lure of living abroad, but many people at that time painted it as this grand life. And I think Sam Selvon’s novel brought people down to earth about the realities in London for Caribbean immigrants at the time.

It was a fun ride for a few years as they chased women and marveled at the novelties of London, and as Caribbean people, they all tried to look out for each other. However, after ten years Moses was yearning for his first home where life wasn’t so hard day after day to survive, and he wasn’t so, well, lonely. Because even though they got work, it was the worse kind of work for very little pay and the ‘tests’ never really accepted them.

After talking about all his colourful friends and their lives, making their way through the hard winters and merry summers in London, the book ends in deep reflection, with the question of, “Is this all I have to look forward to in life? Working, eating, sleeping, over and over again?” Was it really worth being in the great city of London and walking famous bridges when they were starving for many a season and yearning each long, cold winter for the warmth of their homeland?

It seemed for many of them they came and stayed in London more for the bragging rights of having been there, but their circumstances were dismal or worse than when they were at home.

I really appreciated the Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. It helped me understand a little more about the many people who have returned from the UK who left around that time, and what they went through.

I especially appreciated Sam Selvon more and his work. Like many men in his time, he left school at fifteen to work, and by the time he was a new-adult man was seeking his fortune in jolly ole London. Even after years of writing and publishing and winning awards in Trinidad and Tobago, he still found himself doing janitorial work abroad and was rarely recognised by their literary bodies.

Maybe it was because he wasn’t traditionally educated, but even in that time where you didn’t need a degree to do everything, I believe he would have been looked at as someone who understood how to convey the thoughts and emotions of the disenfranchised. His work spoke for itself, and I thank him for all the contributions he made to the diverse body that is Caribbean literature today.

Sam Selvon, 20 May 1923 – 16 April 1994

If you would like to read this book you can purchase it on Amazon along with his other books, or if you are in the Caribbean just visit a bookstore. Even today, he is still a familiar face on the shelves.

And again, Happy Caribbean Literature Day!

– N. Gomes, Caribbean Books Foundation

If you are a Caribbean author and wish to get your book reviewed by the website please send an email to caribbeanbooksfoundation@gmail.com to get more information. You can send a copy of your book, in either hardcover or digital format. All free copies of Caribbean literature sent to us are not shared or copied in any way. They are used simply for review purposes.

NB: We don’t post reviews of unpublished manuscripts here as this falls under editorial reviews. We also offer editing and proofreading services specifically with Caribbean authors in mind and will give you private feedback.

 

 

Writing Update 11th July 2020

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It’s been a long two months since I’ve blogged, and even this month I find myself struggling with it, and by ‘it’ I mean blogging, not writing.

Writing has been going great! I’ve finished another manuscript since the last one I completed. This one is going to be a series so I’m plotting the 2nd book right now.

I’ve been working on a short story series as well with the intention of turning it into a script of shows.

I also started my work as a developmental and structural editor. Yay! I’m currently wetting my feet with some pro bono work and getting lots of experience.

My writing pace now is probably closer to how it was when I was in my late teens to early twenties. Those were pure passion, no schedule needed, write for weeks, and through the night kind of days. What stamina! Which I no longer have, still, I have definitely built up a stride working on at least two stories on any given day.

And yet, despite all of this, I still feel stuck.

Something is nagging at me in the worst way possible, and I can’t put my finger on it.

Oh, wait. I know what it is. I’m broke.

Doghouse days

Look, I’ve been broke before. It’s not like I don’t know what it’s like. It’s not even so much that I’m hungry. I’m not poor, which I also have been and for the record isn’t the same thing as being broke. I have support, I am taken care of, and I feel very blessed to be able to say that. It’s just that right now, any money I am making is either slow in coming or non-existent.

I have no personal spending money. I can’t make a monetary contribution to my living space which is something I worked my ass off to have the privilege of being able to do for the past decade. Even the year that I stayed home studying I didn’t ask anyone for anything. I depended solely on the savings I had amassed over the years by never going anywhere or having any fun whatsoever.

To have that taken away, to be fully dependant on others when you’ve been dependant on yourself for so long just… really bites.

And it’s also 2020, the year of plagues, and everything that can go wrong with the world will go wrong with the world, so whoopty friggin-doo!

I didn’t plan on talking about this today. I actually came to try to flesh out my next Caribbean Books review (how many months have I missed now? nervous laugh)

This is a really personal topic for me. I actually wasn’t sure if I would post this. I’ve worked very hard not to be broke in my life, and I understand that it’s a psychological thing with me. I just know a lot of people will probably read this and be like, “it’s just money, we’ve all been broke. Whatever, girl.

I was born with high expectations. I CAN’T HELP IT!

But I feel as if I need to take note of this feeling now, so when I get to that time in the future when I’m in a great place I can look back on this post and be like, “see, it all worked out. You were stressing for nothing. Learn from it.” Because as much as you know that ‘this too shall past’, you still have to bear the ‘this’ part, until it passes and you can get to the good bits again.

I just hate to depend on people, especially for money. I don’t mind getting help from someone. Accepting help is fine. That is not a problem. The problem comes when I don’t have a choice not to. I no longer have that choice, and it is a disgusting, gut-wrenching, vulnerable position that I am not used to in any form or fashion. I hate it. I really do. I might not be starving, but this starving artist trope is bugging me!

Pulling my own weight is important to me, and I’m pretty light so it shouldn’t be so hard! Even though I’m getting my writing done, and setting goals for it and meeting them, at the end of every day I don’t really feel completely accomplished.

It’s like I can never win because when I was working fulltime I had the same problem. I would get my paycheck and pay the bills so nobody would have to worry, but I felt empty inside because I never had time to write. I kept wondering if I would ever get to finish my stories or if I was just doomed to work until I died. And that was also a disgusting, horrible, soul-suffocating feeling. 

Now I have the other but lost the first one. Aigoo! Why is life like this? And I know there are a lot of writers in the same situation or possibly worse right now, so you know what?

initiates grounding chi

I’ve vented, and now I am going to tell myself what I would tell myself if I was a friend seeking advice.

*eh-hem*

This state of mind is not serving you. Time to move on, my friend. From now on, every night and every morning meditate and focus on what you can contribute to your situation, and keep working diligently towards your goals until it is in your power to do otherwise.

My Meditation Verses

I am thankful for all the people who take care of me. I will let go of the need to control what is currently not in my ability to control. I will trade frustration with understanding of the situation and my position in it. I will find other ways to contribute. I will keep working diligently. I will not feel guilty, and instead will do the best that I can. I will see my time now as a blessing to make groundwork on my dreams. I open myself up to a balancing, life-changing breakthrough.

– Travesaou

Keep pressing on, loves!

– Travesaou out

Patrice M Foster – Molding My Destiny

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This is a consumer review for the Caribbean Books Foundation  http://www.caribbeanbooks.org/

And I am back with another review!

Despite being in isolation, I can’t say that I’ve found more time to read. I split my days between editing, doing website work, writing, and not much else. But I still need to get my monthly Caribbean book selection out so after browsing through the Caribbean Books Foundation website I chose…

molding destiny p foster

Molding My Destiny by Patrice M. Foster is an autobiography. I believe this is the first time I am reviewing an autobiography off of their site.

The author starts her story in Jamaica where she was born. Growing up poor in the Caribbean is by no means idyllic or a unique situation. Many of us still have happy memories of childhood despite our financial misfortunes. However, living under her father’s tyranny and witnessing the domestic abuse of her mother and brothers made her poverty much uglier and harder to bear.

Her life changes when her mother manages to ‘escape’ to the USA to work. The author and her siblings then find themselves separated into different homes where they are taken advantage of and basically mistreated in every way possible. Like this wasn’t Annie with kiddos singing in between mopping floors. It was just bad for them. Period.

And when their mother finally saves enough to send for them to be with her in the USA, when they think things are going to get better, it just gets worse. Because now they are not only impoverished but impoverished as strangers in a strange land, eventually resorting to living on the street and stealing food to survive.

Now it all eventually turns out well, or rather the author has reached a place where she has a good life and is trying to make peace with her own demons. It is heartening to know that it was not just a story and somewhere Patrice has survived all that she’s been through and is thriving. But then again, it is also disheartening to know that she went through all of that to begin with!

This book is heavy. If you are holed up in quarantine and feeling kinda down it is probably not the best selection to make right now. Or maybe it is. It surely reminded me that instead of being stuck at home I could be stuck out on the street in the middle of a storm with nowhere to go.

Snoopy to lighten the mood.

For me, just the thought that people, no, parents can forget their children like this is horrifying. I know that it happens, every day! Foster homes and orphanages are filled with children like this. But reading the intimate details of it makes you doubt the goodness of humanity. I mean, even animals know to favour and protect their young! The fact that so many people want to be parents but then refuse to be parents after the children are born should be a crime. It is by now, right? Like people are being jailed for this by now, right?

Otherwise, I always like to see the island the author is from represented accurately in the book. In this sense it was through the food. The author migrated to the USA in the 1970’s, and it was nice to hear about the type of food they ate back then, like ‘blue drawers‘ or ‘duckanoon‘. The author recalled eating it during the farewell party given to them by neighbours before they moved.

Looks very similar to paime, a Caribbean dessert. Although the paime base is made with cornmeal, not sweet potato  http://www.healthiersteps.com

I find it so ironic that people in a neighbourhood wouldn’t band together to help support a family/children in need but will put together a huge celebration over them leaving for ‘better tidings’. There would be no reason for them to leave if they had the support of their community. Where was that goodwill when they were starving? Takes minding your own business to a whole other level.

Though the author and her siblings met unfortunate circumstances, Molding My Destiny is very much the story of the Caribbean emigrant parent/child. This is where the parents either lived abroad and supported their children by sending money, or the family moved abroad when the children were at a young age. The latter creates this disjointed perception of identity in the children. When they get older everyone sees them as from their motherland when they are in their adopted country, but when they go ‘home’ everyone there sees them as citizens of their adopted country because their speech and mannerisms are so different.

For the children who stay, they are what we call the ‘barrel generation’, as every few months they receive a box or a ‘barrel’ packed with essentials like clothes and dry food. People either saw them as lucky for getting so many new ‘gifts’ or unlucky for never having their parents around to truly fend for them. These were children that despite their ‘fortunate’ circumstances could be easily taken advantage of as Patrice and her siblings found to be true.

I suppose my parents were apart of Patrice’s parent’s generation as well since my oldest sibling was born in the 1970’s. They did receive the occasional package from friends abroad but somehow they managed to escape the allure of North America!

The American Dream! Surprised they didn’t have a car, dog AND a horse in this picture because they tried to fit everything else

One of the reasons I’ve never considered living anywhere else was simply because I don’t really care for big cities. I’ve tried it. I hate it. I LIKE being in the country. Green is my vibe. Just the description of her first impression of New York made me squirm inwardly and not regret any of the times my mother refused to send me abroad as a child. And there were relatives that wanted me! 

But my mother always insisted, and I understood why as I got older, that no child of hers would be at the mercy of a stranger, or even a family member, to take care of them. Even with the little we had, her children stayed with her. End of story. 

I also loved the sayings at the beginning of each chapter as it really mirrored what the chapter was about. This one started chapter 10:

The book was a vivid retelling of entering a new world for the first time and the struggle of losing and finding oneself again and again.

Do I have any peeves about this book? Editing. It’s always editing! I’m an editor (in-training) I see these things, alright! Still, I don’t like to mention it, especially if it’s minor things because I want you to support the author. However, it is my duty to be as honest as possible. If it entails you spending your money on a purchase, I should be.

That being said, once they got to America the timelines became confusing. Sometimes years were listed but then I didn’t always know exactly what age the author was at the time. She would be 19 (years) on one page then 30 three pages down, then back to 1984 and I would find myself wondering where does 1984 fit between the ages 19 and 30?

Sometimes the author would blow through several years at once in a few pages, then come back to before a problem was resolved. Now nothing is wrong with going back and forth in time to tell a story if it enhances the telling of the story or makes it clearer. But it wasn’t always clear and I had to read over parts and jump back to chapters to get an idea of where in the timeline I was at. So there were pacing problems in the second half of the book and especially coming down to the end. Add to that lots of punctuation errors and missing words, and it was a little confusing to read at times.

Did I regret buying it? Absolutely not. I hope it’s revised soon and the errors are cleaned up because it is a wonderful story that needs to be told, and I thank the author for having the courage to tell it. I mean, I can only imagine, but I always wonder how family members take books like this.

But anyway! Please give Molding My Destiny by Patrice M. Foster a try! It’s an engaging autobiography of a child living in an abusive household, barely surviving foster care, and then having to survive on the streets. It is living proof that things can always get worse before they get better. I was very happy to see that the book ended triumphantly.

You can check the author’s website where you can find more of their work, contact information, social media, and catch up on what they’re doing next! Also, visit their book page on Caribbean Books to purchase it. Thanks for reading and see you next month for another review!

– N. Gomes, Caribbean Books Foundation

If you are a Caribbean author and wish to get your book reviewed by the website please send an email to Reviews@caribbeanbooks.org to get more information. You can send a copy of your book, in either hardcover or digital format. All free copies of Caribbean literature sent to us are not shared or copied in any way. They are used simply for review purposes.

NB: We don’t post reviews of unpublished manuscripts here as this falls under editorial reviews. We also offer editing and proofreading services specifically with Caribbean authors in mind and will give you private feedback.

Give Editing A Chance

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If you’ve been following my writing updates, you would have read that I hit ‘The End’ on my last major project a while ago. Now I’m going to start editing it for the third, maybe the fourth time, in the beginning of May, but after that I’m going to find a professional editor.

I’m not going to put it up on Kindle or publish it on my own in print until another pair of experienced eyes have seen it and given me feedback. I imagine you already know where I’m going with this and you are either interested or rolling your eyes. Well, what can I say?

#GiveAGirlAChance2020

In 2012, the blog The American Editor posted a piece called, “On Language: The Professional Editor and the Hyphen“, which I will be quoting from throughout this post. The author asked readers to consider two simple phrases that all their millennial colleagues saw no problems with. I shall not tell a lie. I gave it a pass too.

But I will say, that something didn’t sit right with me about the phrases. I did what most readers do. I assumed the meaning as the phrases were clearly disjointed and lacked further context. However, because I felt that I could understand them, or convinced myself that I did, I labeled them ‘grammatically correct’ because I couldn’t say why they weren’t.

This assumption of the meaning is what you risk when you let your work out into the world with just your personal editing.

Now, I’m sure that somewhere out there is someone who knows how to perfectly edit their own work. They have never received any negative feedback because their discrepancies are non-existent. I BOW to you!

tony s awe

Now for the rest of us mortals.

What is clear to you, the writer, may not always be clear to others. Of course you’ll think that it made sense. You wrote it! And there is no way that you can see this when you, and the voice in your head who is telling the story, speak the same language. I am more objective and logical than most. I criticise the hell out of my work from multiple viewpoints and I still don’t trust myself to have that kind of clarity where I can say it is devoid of errors.

Doing multiple edits, reading it aloud, passing it onto a friend for critique, are all very good points to consider when self-editing. Honestly, if you don’t have the money for it, I throw you no shade. Do the best that you can.

But I can’t do that. I will deny myself all the pleasures of a fancy life and save like a maniac to pay for good editing because I understand the value. I literally cannot let my book become one for the shelf of ‘it had potential, but there were so many errors.Especially when it is something that is within my grasp to fix!

I find myself thinking about this more and more as I read books every month to review. There are so many good books and promising stories out there, damned to get a 3-star Amazon rating because the editing is absolutely atrocious. Or worse yet a bad Goodreads review because we all know they corner the market on ‘what not to read’. And maybe some might think that I sound like a bigot obsessing over syntax, but I just hate that your clout as an author will all come down to that in the end.

But just to be clear…

I’m not talking about formatting and copy only, even though there are many books with spelling, syntax, and other grammar mistakes, and huge gaps between paragraphs on every page. I’m also concerned about structural errors like glaring plot holes, repetitions, and pacing issues that confuse the reader. These are things that make the story, as riveting as it is, hard to read.

And it’s hard for me as a reviewer to recommend a book that is hard to read!

EVEN IF the story IS GOOD.

loki sigh

It’s semi-frustrating

I want to support the author’s work! But I feel as if I am screwing the reader by telling them, “yeah, go ahead and buy this, pay your money for this book, the story is really great“, and then they get something that is not entirely worth their purchase because they can’t get through the reading. Not everyone is as patient or forgiving and I fear I’m just setting up the author to get another low rating.

Authors, is it worth it though? Worth having your book be possibly down-graded, or not taken seriously? Was it worth getting bad reviews and low sales because you either didn’t get it properly edited or paid a fraction of the cost to someone who does not know how to properly edit? Or maybe they did know, and just gave you your money’s worth.

A professional editor’s primary function is to ensure that clear, consistent communication occurs between author and reader.

It is not enough for an editor to know that compound adjectives are hyphenated; the editor must also know that by hyphenating the compound phrase, the phrase is now crystal clear and not as muddy (or muddier) as before.

This is why an author needs a professional editor. The author already knows the intended meaning and thus reads a phrase as crystal clear. Few authors can distance themselves far enough from their work so as to question the subtleties of language and grammar choices. – The American Editor

Now I am absolutely sure that there are errors in this post. I can’t see them, but I KNOW that they are there. Because trust me, three months from now I’ll come back to this, read it over and find them. That’s why stepping away is a good suggestion. But this is just a blog post for me. It’s just random thoughts and I don’t mind a few errors. However, I won’t take my books so likely.

Because good editing does mean something, even if people in the writing community who can benefit from it don’t think so.

I think about all the books that I read as a child. These were just a few of my favourites off the top of my head.

I still remember learning how to spell ‘naughtiest’ properly from that one book.

What would have happened to my command of the English language if these books weren’t edited properly? Half of what I know is just through consistency. Seeing the same principles being applied over and over I knew what was right usage and what wasn’t. And even when I don’t know the specific rule, I can still tell when it’s off because it doesn’t ‘sound’ right.

I even wonder sometimes when reading the newspaper who the ‘letters to the editor’ section is handled by because I cannot believe that there really is an editor anymore. They can’t exist with all the errors on every other page. And soon they probably won’t. Because it seems nobody thinks an editor’s job is important anymore. I once read an article where it was suggested that there was so much bad grammar in the media anyway that people would soon get used to it and not care if a book was poorly edited or not.

That article was from 10 years ago. And although online platforms have made it easier to publish a book without a publishing house, readers still expect good work, but proper editing is still being sidelined. So newspapers, magazines, headlines, books, all written material are now doomed to the scrutiny of the self-professed grammar nazi, the new authority in all things grammatically correct.

I reiterate that I was top in my class in English because I read a lot. I saw real applications of what my teachers were trying to teach me. When I see the state of grammar and spelling in books now I feel so sorry that this is the context children today have to rely on.

No wonder they keep rotating the same classics in schools over and over again because – usage! How else will they get it with some of the materials being produced today? And again, these are things that can be fixed. I could never understand the aversion to editing. It’s my favourite part!

Most writers I know almost seem to fear it. And I understand, red marks all over your hard work can bring on a flush of emotions. But what’s the alternative? Look, you never know where your book will end up, and who will read it, so make it your best work the first time. Or as close as you can get to it anyway. Because nothing really disappears on the internet. And THAT is even more scary, my friend.

Back in 2012, many in the writing community predicted that editing would become a dying skill. I don’t think it has completely lost all merit. The community did find that they couldn’t do without editing because publications were either lynched by readers for poorly edited content or had to suffice with second-rate work for the meager price they thought good editing was worth.

Either way, as always, technology came to the rescue and since then a host of editing software has come out of the woodwork like Grammarly, AutoCrit, etc, etc, etc. The truth is that the mere existence of these programs has proven that editing is needed, and after using them many have found that nothing can beat a human editor. And here’s why.

The professional editor doesn’t simply ramble through a manuscript and add a hyphen here, delete a hyphen there. The professional editor considers what that addition or deletion does to the clarity of the message, and what subtle meaning changes occur as a result of that addition or deletion. – The American Editor

While an application might be able to follow and apply the rules of grammar programmed into its system, it is unable to properly weigh context. Every editor worth their salt knows that just because something is grammatically correct doesn’t make it logical or sensical.

First case in point!

Second case in point.

I didn’t care for Grammarly for a long time, but I got it last year cause, why not? I’m getting old. But while I was editing this post look at this ‘correction’ it suggested be applied in the last paragraph of this article.

Thank you Grammarly for catching corrections my tired, sleepy eyes may have missed, but I think you’re off on this on. Keep working on that context.

But I suppose that I can only speak for myself and decide what I will do. Do I think editors are expensive? Hell yes! Is it possible that I can pay real money and not be satisfied with the end result? Absolutely. However, it is also more likely that you can get a really good editor who can improve your book in ways that will increase your reviews and subsequently increase your sales, and I am all here for that!

So! Find some editors, vette them, work with a budget if you have to, but don’t deny the necessity for it. Who knows, writers might be next.

This information wasn’t available in 2012, but did you know that there are programs that can write books now? Do you think that they can do a writer’s job better?

– Written By Travesaou

Copyright © Critics May Lie All Rights Reserved

Writing Update 10th April 2020

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Good night friends!!! It’s time for some tea before bed. So while I’ll be delaying mine until I post this, I hope you and your lovely china enjoy yours.

tea-add-milk

As writing goes I am still doing the Caribbean Books quarantine writing challenge. The first challenge was easy enough, the other two… not so much.

The second required you to turn a protagonist in a known story, or from one of your own, into the villain. I chose Cinderella from the Brothers Grimm fairytales and, well! Let me tell you! It actually came out pretty good! I spent two hours of non-stop brainstorming over it so, thank you Caribbean Books because I think I have a story here! A really good one. So I won’t be posting the outline for that unfortunately but I did do it!

The third one didn’t come out the way I expected. You were supposed to write some advice to your younger self. Listen, I was way nicer when I was younger (I think) and more optimistic (well…). But it turned out to be this rueful and almost pathetic piece where I lamented everything that I’d lost from my youth. Not like parties and things, I never cared for those. But I was brilliant then! And so much more energetic. I just hit my 30’s a few years ago and I’m like a quarrelsome, old lady. I read it over and I was like…

83620-chandler-bing-really-gif-frien-n8ip

Like, this that you wrote here, wasn’t the challenge, AT ALL! #InMyFeelings

Am I wiser now? Can’t say. I have no advice for my younger self other than stop beating around the bush and do it, take over the world while you still have the drive for it because you’ve lost it all! I don’t know, maybe I need to think about it a little more but scratch that one for now. 

So on to the fourth one… it started off as a poem and turned into a thoughtful piece, but I like it. So here it is.

WRITING CHALLENGE DAY 4:

We’re posting this one a little bit earlier because today we would like you to spend some time working on a writing project that you came up with on your own.

For some, this means paying attention to a writing project you’ve been neglecting. For others, it means coming up with something new. Try a poem, a song, pretend you are writing a letter to the editor of your favourite magazine or newspaper on current issues. Write a short story or work on an outline for a long one. Just keep writing. We believe in you! You can do it!

Time: 1 hour minimum
Words: 1000 words minimum

Maybe I Need A Mask.

The world is hard to breathe in. I sit here and hold my breath, against contamination.

Yes, I might die from suffocation but at least I won’t have to be infected by man’s insistence to destroy everything around him to make way for – him-self.

For his clothing, decorations and comforts that pollute the earth to make and pollute the earth to dispose of.

For his technology that disturbs the atmosphere and man’s own future and composition in ways that we would never be truthfully told.

For his food that he eventually wastes because even though mankind must eat everything that walks and grows on the earth and in the sea he literally doesn’t have the capacity to digest it all.

For his summer, winter, Caribbean, hidden, favourite city, favourite country, home away from home ‘get-away’ home because even after mankind has changed and molded the world into his own image his spirit still seeks to ‘get away’ from it. To find a place of balance that because of mankind doesn’t exist anymore.

Humanity exhausts any space they are in and consumes all resources until it is depleted. They want it all. Co-existing has long stopped being man’s way. Individualism and narcissism have long been the modus of human truth. It drives humankind to be more concerned about the economy than lives being lost simply because mankind has not only put himself first in the food chain, but even above his fellow human beings, causing a never-ending crab-in-barrel effect where every human needs to be first among mankind and will trample each other to get there.

A survival mechanism they call it. But when all is lost how will one survive alone at the top? Every hu-man needs another hu-man. And it seems that every organism, except mankind, understands the power of working together.

So while man is busy taking up space in the world, a virus is busy working together taking up space inside man, taking over humankind and threatening to make them irrelevant on earth. His clothing, decorations and comforts are halted as borders close and manufacturing shuts down.

Pollution declines and the earth breathes.

He turns to the comfort of his technology but after a week in isolation realises that it could never suffice for the human interaction that he would trade his economy for.

The voice of humankind, no longer the loudest attention-seeking being on earth, is shut up behind their gilded homes and the earth breathes.

Like in the beginning, mankind must now survive with the food on hand, and watch with distaste as 50% of his hoard wastes because of his greed and he is left with as little as his neighbours.

The environment restores and replenishes its houses and the earth breathes.

And mankind finally realises that despite his many homes in many places he has access to nothing but the border he is currently stuck within. Even the streets reject humans as they gaze longingly out from behind their own self-made prisons.

Man finally realises what all other organisms know, that the day they decide to cease co-existing with the rest of the world and her creatures, mother earth will quietly plan their demise. Plan their extinction. Why would the earth assist in its own destruction by one organism who refuses to survive and flourish in tandem with the rest? So is the virus really doing mankind a disservice or doing the planet a favour?

Mankind may need a mask, but the earth can finally breathe.

END

And that’s challenge #4 done! I’ll be posting challenge #5 soon. It’s also finished and I really think I got something there as well. I think I’ll take my time with these challenges since the quarantine where I am has been extended to the 30th of April.

But for now, Travesaou out!

Writing Update 1st April 2020

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I’m tired. It’s almost 10 pm, there’s a sleeping cat on my foot and my head is weighing down my spine. So if this post sounds kind of weird, it’s because, well, I need to do like he’s doing.

sleeping cat blanket

I desperately want to ease the impending cramp in my toes but first, I need to give Gandalf the White the Nobel Peace Prize.

So here’s the thing. I’m home all the time anyway these days but after most of the major cities in the world went under quarantine, people started doing these 14-day challenge things because, well, they’re bored I guess. Either that or they are chronic overachievers who can’t just be satisfied with doing nothing for once and sleep in for a fortnight!

But still, I applaud all the people taking quarantine in their stride by learning a new skill, doing home projects they had always been putting off and also taking the time to get to know their awesome selves better.

So since my I-was-always-at-home-anyway quarantine officially started on Monday 30th March, I decided to do the daily writing challenge with Caribbean Books Foundation because I’m an overachiever too. Yay! More work!

good grief charlie brown

Really, I honestly thought to myself last night, why are you doing this? Can’t you just sleep at night like normal people for once? But I’m committed and I’m in it! I haven’t written anything for a while since I finished my main project in early March – Oh, I forgot to say that!

After months and months of knowing the ending but not knowing how to get to it, book, finally, done!  drops mic  As is the norm I put it down for a while then I’ll come back to edit it AGAIN but MILESTONE COMPLETE!

cheer minions

Thank you, thank you very much!

So before I get even more behind (because it’s Day 3 already on this challenge, damnit!) Let’s work on the first one! ***hypes self up*** Yes, I will be posting all of them here. So feel free to judge. I won’t be bothered.

eh-hem

Day 1 – Write a letter to any fictional character that they have either won the lottery, been set up on a blind date or won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Time: Unlimited.
Words: Unlimited.

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To the One Who held many names while in Middle Earth. The first being Mithrandir, the last being Gandalf the White and who will forever be Olórin, of the Maiar.

It is with great pleasure that we write to you and hope that this letter finds its way to the Undying Lands where you currently reside. For we, the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, have taken account and could find no other more deeply deserving of one of our most auspicious awards.

We would like to thank you with most earnest gratitude for your help throughout our dark past when Sauron sought to overtake our lands with his evil and make us all his slaves. It was through your leadings that the Necromancer was discovered, and even though he was ignored and allowed to gain power your persistence to stop him was never under any reproach.

It was because of you, your foresight and understanding, that allowed Rohan to win at Helm’s Deep, preserving a great city and its people. It was because of your leadership and quick-thinking that guided Gondor when their steward gave up and the city had no one to lead them against the hordes spilling out of Osgiliath to Minas Tirith.

Long before this in the Fellowship, of which you were its leader, that transported the One Ring to be destroyed, there were several who wished to personally thank you for their lives and valued your friendship. However, we are sure it would lighten your heart to know that the descendants of the dwarves in Thorin’s company lead the vote in giving you this award as they see you as one of the key players in helping to restore their homeland.

It is clear that you have impacted Middle Earth much more than any other, fighting alongside us for our freedom and urging on the peace that we have since held. We all believe that if it was not for you remaining with us during such trying times the land of the Free Peoples would have been less so.

As such we humbly offer you the Nobel Peace Prize on this day the 30th of March in this year 2020.

We hope that this letter finds you well and that you are able to accept our award in the manner that you have become known for; with humility, wisdom and humour.

– Middle Earth, Nobel Peace Prize Committee

And that’s it! Challenge one complete. I’ll have to finish the other two challenges tomorrow. Or as many as I can. You can find them on the Caribbean Books Foundation Facebook page and try them yourself. Have a great night. Travesaou still fighting, but it’s time to surrender to sleep.

Travesaou out (literally)!

Motilal Boodoosingh – Kal Kahanis Stories of Yesteryear

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This is an official Caribbean Books Foundation review http://www.caribbeanbooks.org/

I normally write next to a window and of late the sky has been a perfect March blue. It’s a shame that there aren’t any kites in it so I’ll have to go back to the old-time days. Since the savannahs are more or less off-limits to the public due to the pandemic, I’ll have to fly kites the way I used to when I was little. In the backyard.

In those days I would trade flying kites with ‘playing pitch’ or many times crouched in a corner reading a book. If the sun was out, so was I. Heck, if it was raining I was outside too!

While visiting a Writer’s Union meeting last year I heard an excerpt from a book that, like the ones I used to read as a child, was based during the virgin years of Trinidad and Tobago’s independence. I liked the reading so much I bought it on the spot and stored it away for an idle reading day. So this month I’ll be reviewing that book called Kal Kahanis Stories Of Yesteryear

motilal

by Motilal Boodoosingh.

The book is made up of several short stories. More than 20 with some of them having mini sections within it.

All of the stories focus on Indo-Trinidadian society. Before and even during the first years of Trinidad and Tobago’s independence, their culture still remained buried deep in the original customs they had brought with them from India. Caste systems, for instance, were still observed then, and the influence of sadhus was still heavily apparent in communities.

Many of the stories have the same mood or story narrative. For example…

There’s the neighbour or cousin who’s the first to go to a ‘college’, and whose family is many times more financially secure than the narrator or others in the village. This well-off family is looked up to by his poorer neighbours. However, despite their financial progress their children somehow waste all the opportunities their family’s money affords them. While life for the poorer neighbour, who is more sensible and understands the value of the little he has, ends up being a more fulfilling and successful life in the long run without money or education to help him.

It reminded me of that quote…

no-elevator-to-success-you-have-to-take-the-stairs

Many times people think that a good school and family money can make them successful without actually putting in the work themselves to get there. Yet, despite the similarities in the narrative, each story had its own merits and captivating essence.

I felt as if the narrator was looking around capturing the lives of everyone around him in a small village, as characters from one story would appear in another as an uncle or a friend. It truly shows that everyone has a story and I loved making the connections between characters as I read.

Kal Kahanis Stories of Yesteryear is a real gem that has gifted us with so much knowledge of the Indo-trinidadian culture, history and traditions in Trinidad from the 1950’s up to the 80’s. Hindi is splattered about the book and one of the only disappointments I have is that it all wasn’t translated.

Even though I didn’t grow up during that time, this book felt very familiar. The way the stories were told felt like I was sitting down being told a story from home. One that I knew but after many years had forgotten. Stories that although they were new to me were filled with the funny, spirited nuances that I connected with the Caribbean. So despite being mainly about the life and traditions of Indo-Trindadians it was culturally familiar in so many ways.

Like calling old women ‘tantie’ and drinking orange peeled ‘tea’ in the morning and calling every hot drink ‘tea’. Going by the standpipe to get water every morning was a norm for Caribbean children back then and when there was a cultural event the whole village would attend. It felt like the good old days without being stale or outdated. This book was a true delight to read.

caribbean books

David Moore’s Standpipe painting. Can be found at https://ourcaribbean.art/

It should be up there with the tales of other writers from Trinidad and Tobago, like Paul Keens-Douglas and Sam Selvon.

Now despite it being incredibly entertaining, the stories marked a pivotal point in history for the twin-island republic. This was the time of cane fields and lucrative farming. The boom of the sugar industry and the oil refinery. This book proves to be a valuable historical piece as it is filled with details of everyday life back then, like using the savonette vine to brush your teeth before the plastic toothbrushes we use today became the norm. It shows the structure that some communities had as well, like using a panchayat to dissolve disputes among villagers within a community.

You also saw the injustice and sometimes plain idiocy of caste systems which continued for some time after Indians migrated to Trinidad.

It also shows the lifestyle of women back then. It was clear that women who belonged to more well-off families had more choices in that they were able to pursue an education before getting married while poor girls were pulled out of school, if they ever went to begin with, and married off much earlier. But they were all still subject to the systems of society. They were still seen as an extension of their husband and if he was thought well of, so were they. This was seen in one of my favourites, Boysie Kaki.

She was a powerful and revered woman in her community, not because she was intelligent, resourceful and decisive, but because her husband was well respected. Even the way she was referred to meant ‘Boysie’s aunt’, which referred to her husband’s nephew, and the narrator professed to never knowing her real name. And then there were some stories that completely strayed from the norm of women at that time like Came Back, Theresa and Saapin.

I also got the feeling that the narrator was not the same person all the time and changed as the story and perspective changed. But it mostly seemed to be from the perspective of a male child, looking on at his elders and observing the world around him as he grew into a man and made his way into the world. Some stories in this book have been published separately in journals before. The publications are listed on the second page but all in all the collection fits very nicely together.

kalkahanis

I really liked this book and would definitely recommend it especially if you want a little history about Indo-Trinidadian culture but told in a wonderfully engaging way.

So please give Motilal Boodoosingh’s Kal Kahanis Stories of Yesteryear that takes you on a journey to another time a try! You can check the author’s Facebook page where you can find more of their work, contact information and catch up on what they’re doing next! Also, visit their book page on Caribbean Books. Thanks for reading and see you next month for another review!

– N. Gomes, Caribbean Books Foundation

If you are a Caribbean author and wish to get your book reviewed by the website please send an email to Reviews@caribbeanbooks.org to get more information. You can send a copy of your book, in either hardcover or digital format. All free copies of Caribbean literature sent to us are not shared or copied in any way. They are used simply for review purposes.

NB: We don’t post reviews of unpublished manuscripts here unless you want us to as this falls under editorial reviews. We also offer proofreading services specifically with Caribbean authors in mind and will give you private feedback.

Thoughts – Of Death

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Currently listening to…

hyo shin enya

Hello loves. This has been my music mood lately. Either soothing baritone ballads or calming, angelic Celtic vocals. Maybe it’s the mass quarantine of the majority of the world’s cities due to the spread of COVID-19, and the loss of so many of our elders who are an irreplaceable link to our past. Or maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t been able to write for a fortnight. That alone always leaves me feeling out of balance and in a ‘mood’. But music to the rescue, and now I feel like writing again.

I’m trying not to take too hard the impending wave of sadness coming our way because the first thing I wanted to do was hug my mother when I heard that my country had recorded its first deaths from the virus a few days ago. Two may seem insignificant compared to the thousands recorded by other countries, but we’ve officially been scarred by SARS CoV-2 and there’s no turning back.

But I also went out to get groceries this week so in the back of my mind I’m also thinking, ‘should I hug her? What if I picked something up I don’t know about? I don’t want to put her at risk.

good grief charlie brown

This is what happens. This is the state of mind that has slowly crept its way into our lives, and I hate it. My mother was seriously ill and hospitalized late last year. So other than being the single most heartbreaking time of my life having to walk around a house and not feel her presence there, I also don’t want her to have to experience something like that so soon again.

So sitting here, I decided to scrap what I was originally going to write about and talk about death instead, for obvious reasons, and because I need the therapy, and maybe you do too.

Because I have thought about it. Losing the people I love over this. And the current situation the world has found itself in means many people will be pondering this as well. But I found myself wondering when was the first time I had to seriously think about death and how I felt about it, and this phrase came to mind.

I do not believe that any man fears to be dead but only the stroke of death.

I remember these words vividly from my childhood. Back then, we didn’t have all the niceties and technologies of today, or even for that time when I think about it.

I believe I was maybe seven or eight. My mother had gotten a huge sheet, and allotted me and my sisters a portion each to create anything we wanted on it. We could paint, draw, do embroidery work, anything from pictures to words. It is one of my most memorable memories, a very Little Women type moment as our mother strived to keep us busy with the little we had.

little women and mother 1994

Our mother helped and encouraged us to finish it. And when it was, she hung it up in the drawing-room.

Now the sheet had another purpose, as I later realised. It was actually a curtain to block off a red brick wall that to my mother was an eyesore against all the other walls in the house, and apparently could not be fixed at that time.

One of my older sisters embroidered that phrase I mentioned before on her section, and I pondered over it for many years after until the sheet came down. I didn’t know who said it at the time, but it stuck with me after all these decades. And by the time I thought to ask my sister she couldn’t remember where she’d heard it from either. So given the wonders of the internet, I just typed the words in one day and there it was. Francis Bacon, Of Death, an essay on death.

Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Francis Bacon 1561-1626

So I found myself reading his essay and it occurred to me that even at that age I understood what he meant, or rather what the single phrase meant, because his stuff is heavy, I won’t lie.

In any religion or non-religion, and whether you believe in heaven, ‘a far green country’ or a cycle of rebirth, life after death is depicted as not so bad. Unless you’re a serial killer or something, then your time after you depart probably won’t be as carefree as the rest of us. However death in itself isn’t really the issue in any culture or religion, as apparently, it’s all going to be a big ‘afterlife-party’ at the end.

The problem, like Francis Bacon mused, is the ‘stroke‘ of death, the how you will die, the moment of impact, the suffering and pain of it before ‘lights out‘ is what really troubles humankind.

And at eight, I got that and had an ‘aha‘ moment! It goes to show that children really are able to grasp deep, philosophical ideas – without parents staging it and putting it up on Facebook like, ‘look at how woke my kid is!

just stop

But you know… off-topic.

But yes, I still remember looking at my hands at that age and being in awe at what I was, this living, breathing flesh and blood being. I was very much acutely aware of my physical presence in the moment and the wonder of it, a feeling that I can sometimes get back fleetingly as an adult but have never fully felt again.

The thought of not being physically here was fascinating to me. What would it feel like to not physically be me? To not exist as I was in this time. How would it feel to look out from someone else’s eyes or just not be conscious anymore?

Most adults are too occupied with their own thoughts to appreciate the realness of their physical existence anymore. And partly, Francis Bacon’s essay on death is his own return to that quiet childlike awareness that requires your mind to be clear and less occupied with the world’s folly so you can really feel the realness of being alive. But the fact is that people only really pay attention to life until they’re faced with death, whether their own death or the death of a loved one.

loss a. schopenhauer

The spread of COVID-19 around the world has put people between a cold rock and a very uncomfortable, hard place called isolation and quarantine. And this has nothing to do with not being able to go to parties, movies and having beach days. This is about being separated from their loved ones. Sometimes even while they live in the same house.

And what about people who have the virus or have loved ones in hospitals? Even normal patients are allowed visitors; are allowed to have family by their side comforting them should they slip away. But this virus has forced us to be cut-off from sick loved ones while dreading the news of their death or being isolated from your family dreading the news of your own death.

And this is the real brutality of this virus. It makes death that much harder to take because you must step over the threshold without saying any goodbyes. When I think of all the people in the last two weeks who have died alone in a hospital bed not having seen their family in weeks, who were probably completely unaware that they would never see them again, maybe regretting that they didn’t give them that last hug but still happy that they didn’t for their own sake, it is truly heartbreaking.

I don’t really care about conspiracy theories or the stock market. Let’s keep it human, please. It doesn’t matter where this virus came from. Economies can be rebuilt, but lives lost can’t return to us. What matters is the response to save as many lives as possible. I also don’t assume I can offer any comfort to those who are waiting to not hear the worst or already have. I am just here to wonder, like Francis Bacon, about death. And to hope that I can move towards whatever lies ahead with acceptance of it, not fear.

For we die daily; and as others have given place to us, so we must in the end give way to others – Francis Bacon

I will end this by making a simple request. Okay, a few.

This virus has given us many gifts as well.

Like the time we never thought we needed to spend with family.

The long-overdue rest we’ve needed from our jobs because we haven’t had a day off in years.

With less travel and fewer crowded cities, the air will definitely be cleaner after this.

People are finding new and innovative ways to make a human connection. Meeting people who were right under their noses all along but they only noticed now because of the quarantine. Creating meaningful interactions without physically touching, and the results have been so lovely.

Also, don’t underestimate your children. Give them the chance to read the big words. Teach them not to be intimidated by it. They understand a lot more than you give them credit for. Leave the teaching to teachers. This is time as parents to help build their philosophical, physical and creative intellects which is just as important.

I was in tune with Francis Bacon’s words at a young age. I understood it because my mother gave me the freedom to sit and ponder about it, and to seek the answers to questions she couldn’t answer. My ideas about life and death have stayed with me to this day, helping to contribute to my balance, to keep me level-headed in this crisis.

And though I battle between wondering whether I should hug my mother in case I may not have the chance to later, and knowing that not giving her that hug may just give her a chance later should I have anything – at least I’m not losing my mind over toilet paper.

toiletpaper fight

O_o  O_o  O_o

Now, whenever I think of the first phrase by Francis Bacon I also think of another one that was embroidered with it.

Far happier are the dead, than those who look for death and fear it every day.

I assumed they were both by the same author but I can’t find this one in Francis Bacon’s work. So if it rings a bell… Shakespeare, the Bible, even, let me know. I would love to know where it came from.

Please wash your hands. Write letters to the loved ones you can’t see even if you never get to give it to them and stay safe loves.

– Written By Travesaou

Copyright © Critics May Lie All Rights Reserved

Catherine Dorsette – Aunty Kate’s Short Stories

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This is an official Caribbean Books Foundation review http://www.caribbeanbooks.org/

It’s a leap year, baby! Honestly, this post has been ready for a while. I just waited to post it today because I have to wait four years to do anything on this day again! Happy Leap Day all! Health and prosperity to you always!

leap day 29 Feb 2020

And now to the book review! This month I thought I might read something different. As a matter of fact, I think I might return to a few classics this year and review how relevant they still are to society.

But looking at the titles available this time around, I realised that I haven’t explored any books for children, specifically in the under 10 age bracket. So this month I will be reviewing…

akate sstories

Aunty Kate’s Short Stories by Catherine Dorsette.

And let me just put a disclaimer now. Yes, I am an adult reading literature not intended for me so take all my criticisms with a pinch of salt. I’m sure an actual under 10 reader would love this book and not particularly care about any of my little nitpicks! That being said, let’s begin.

The book has eleven (11) short stories ranging from bedtime tale types to funny or serious more thought-provoking shorts that would probably also reach a wider young adult audience.

Several of the stories felt nostalgic as it reminded me of the kinds of stories I read when I was younger. Very straight forward, no serious plot complications. Enid Blyton-esque stuff. Where all the children are good even when they aren’t, and right, fairness, and good always wins, like in The Boy’s Story, The Shy CaribCloudburst or Benjie’s Revenge.

The Boy’s Story was a nice way to start off the collection. Just the right amount of intrigue and mischievousness I would have liked as a child. Kristelle in The Shy Carib honestly reminded me of myself a little when I was at school. Like her, I had a quiet surety about everything I did, but a sharp wit if you did get me talking which threw everyone off. I suspect she did think the others weren’t worth her time that’s why she ignored them. Or maybe she was just secretly a Ravenclaw.

And Cloudburst was filled with so many wonderful metaphors and descriptions that I really enjoyed the story.

Like most children’s stories, some of these left you with a moral or a lesson at the end in the form of a saying or a Bible verse. Stating the obvious moral always kinda frets me. As an adult, I prefer to say what I have to say and let people figure it out on their own but that’s just because I don’t want to come off as being pretentious. That doesn’t mean there is actually anything wrong with saying clearly, ‘this is what can be learned from that.’

And I do understand why writers of children’s stories do this because sometimes that’s the only way some children will understand the message without an adult present to explain or answer their questions. You need to spell it out for them.

Little Red is told by her mother to stay on the path and not talk to strangers.

Little Red almost gets eaten by a wolf when she doesn’t listen to her mother and goes off the path and talks to strangers.

Little Red listens to her mother now and stays on the path and walks with pepper spray. Lesson equals growth!

The author also included some stories written from writing prompts. I really liked ‘Why Am I Digging That Hole?’ and ‘Secrets On A Plane’. I was interested to see where the author would take it and it turned out really pleasant and funny. Another Chance was also one that stood out to me because the tone of the story was so different from the others. It was good, but I almost felt like it didn’t belong in the collection.

The stories were all engaging overall. I was never bored. They were smart and funny but, with the exception of the first story, unlike other books that I’ve read these stories weren’t really reminiscent of anything specific to the author’s original country, Dominica, or Montserrat where she currently resides. The stories could have been from anywhere. Though, in this case, it doesn’t feel like a loss. I can’t tell you what country the bedtime stories that I read when I was a child were based in either, and I still liked them!

The good thing about a collection of short stories from one author is that you can really see their range. But you run the risk, which unfortunately happened here, of having stories that are grouped together that don’t target a specific audience because they are so different. I want to recommend it for 10 and under readers but… it’s not completely for them either.

It felt more like the author had a bunch of random short stories they wanted to publish and they were ‘filling space’, without considering if the stories went together or fit under a certain theme. Which would have helped market the book better!

However, the main problems I had with this book were editorial. I try not to list editorial problems because this is a consumer review. If I feel someway about a book I’ll say so, but we actually want you to support the author and editorial mishaps tend to throw people off. So if it isn’t affecting the readability of the story, I won’t list it.

Other than this, I can’t really say I disliked any of the stories in this book. Though Benjie’s Revenge did make me cringe. Like many of the stories I read when I was younger, it just didn’t reflect real-world consequences, even in a schoolyard setting where problems generally are much simpler.

I kept thinking of all the ways his plan could have realistically backfired on him. Assumptions are very dangerous where trust is concerned. Friends are lost and enemies created every day just because someone made an assumption and acted on it without verifying what really happened first. I see it happen on social media ALL the time.

#ThisTweetAintAboutYou #CalmDown

Benjie never heard the conversation but assumed it was about him and hurt his friend because of it. Now, he was right because children can be mean, thoughtless little scamps, but what if he had been wrong? And what if Danielle had told Sally his whole plan and turned it around to humiliate him instead? Cause – real life! And this is actually how it works.

And the moral of the story was ‘don’t look for revenge‘?? I don’t follow how that fits. From the story, other than losing his friend, Benjamin gained more by his revenge. He stood up to people who constantly teased him and finally got some respect on the schoolyard.

Now if the story had continued on and found him regretting disowning his one friend despite her actions and living out his school days as a lonely young lad, well then, yes, the moral would have hit home. But as it is, let’s just say I would skip this one if I was reading it to my child, or rework it somehow.

I just don’t like how I feel about it as it doesn’t really teach what it says it does. And I feel like there were so many chances to tell another equally important lesson. Like showing children how to better handle their emotions when they are hurt, or how to deal with bullies vs friends who make mistakes but still really care about you. Or the consequences of jumping to conclusions.

 

But all that aside, my final recommendation is, I honestly feel this book would be good for younger precocious children, 11 years and over, to read on their own. Younger than that and you may have to help them. Some of the concepts will need to be explained.

So please give Catherine Dorsette’s lovely children’s book a try! You can check the author’s website where you can find more of their work, contact information and links for their social media accounts to catch up on what they’re doing now! Also, visit the Aunty Kate’s Short Stories book page on Caribbean Books where you can find purchase links. Please help support the author and the foundation by buying the book there. Thanks for reading and see you next month for another review!

– N. Gomes, Caribbean Books Foundation

If you are a Caribbean author and wish to get your book reviewed by the website please send an email to Reviews@caribbeanbooks.org to get more information. You can send a copy of your book, in either hardcover or digital format. All free copies of Caribbean literature sent to us are not shared or copied in any way. They are used simply for review purposes.

NB: We don’t post reviews of unpublished manuscripts here unless you want us to as this falls under editorial reviews. We also offer proofreading services specifically with Caribbean authors in mind and will give you private feedback.

Elizabeth J Jones – A Dark Iris

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This is an official Caribbean Books Foundation review http://www.caribbeanbooks.org/

First post for the year, and it’s a review! If you noticed, there was no December Caribbean Books review. Apologies, but December of 2019 was seriously hectic and needed to chill.

But we are here once again reading Caribbean books and letting the world know what’s what about them. This month I’ll be reviewing A Dark Iris by Elizabeth J. Jones.

dark iris e-j-j

We’re visiting the isle of Bermuda this session, but not in recent times. Well, it kinda is recent. The story is based in 1972, it’s not like we’re talking 1872 here. That’s still pretty recent, right? Although when you consider that 1972 is just two years shy of fifty years ago… geez, it does kinda make me feel old.

Anyway. The story follows our young girl Rebekah, living on the island of Bermuda. Like any girl child of that age and time with parents who are high achievers themselves, she’s worried about getting into the prestigious Meridian Institute that her parents also attended.

She’s stressed out further by the fact that her home life has turned upside down. Her parents have very different ideas as to what constitutes success. Her father’s insistence to leave his white-collar job to pursue his passion in the fields causes her parents to separate as her mother believes no respectability can come from being a farmer.

All of this causes Rebekah to have a double mind over what she wants in life as well. Like her father she wants to follow her passion, her painting which she is brilliant at and her father encourages her to do so. But she also wants to please her mother by doing well in school and achieving what her mother wants for her, which does not include her art.

And in the midst of all of this, there are the visions she suddenly starts to see of people who lived centuries before her.

Her compulsions to paint or draw what she sees whenever and wherever she is at the moment often lands her in trouble at school and at home. The visions are poignant and sometimes disturbing, but she eventually realises through the help of one of her teachers how important they are as they reveal the truth about an event in Bermuda’s history.

Now, this book is mainly fiction. I believe I got it at the Bocas Lit Festival last year and it’s been stuck in my bookshelf ever since. It was a Code Burt Award finalist in 2018, and I can see why. When I started reading the book I honestly was mildly interested. I don’t hold to the belief that a book should hook you at the first page anyway and any reader who discards a book because the first chapter didn’t make them go ‘wooooooooooow’ needs a slap on the wrist. I mean, come on, you can’t be a real reader if you are dismissing books so quickly.

In the 25 or more books that I read last year only ONE book had me completely at hello and still, even after that wonderful beginning I would only give it 4 out of 5 stars overall. But several of the books that started ‘mildly interesting’, I mean they weren’t bad beginnings I just wouldn’t fall off my seat over it, a lot of those books I actually gave 5 stars. Because by the 3rd or 4th chapter things became clear that they were going somewhere far more interesting than the book that had a great first opening chapter!

This book was like that. The story started off like an ordinary day. Very unassuming, bound to end up like all the rest until you’re tumbling down the rabbit hole of racism, century-old ‘murder mysteries’, gender prejudices and assassinations of public officials all being seen through the eyes of a teenaged girl. I learned a lot about Bermuda’s history in a way that struck me more acutely had I heard a random snippet about ‘Sally Bassett’ on some coached tourist tour through Hamilton.

Again, the author makes it very clear that this is a reimagining of history, but it brings to light the atrocities that would have been faced by slaves during the course of the slave trade and to their descendants a long time after. The story was very vivid and very well-paced, but honestly, my favourite parts were reading about Rebekah’s paintings.

Just the discussions she had about capturing light and shadow with her tutor and the descriptions of her painting were engaging. I like learning random little things from books. So for instance, now I know that when painting, white isn’t just white. Light reflects all kinds of different colours in white itself and blending and layering them can give you the right effect.

For eg. this painting @MujercitaArt  Also @ MeBeingImpressed .com 😀

I also loved to read the feelings Rebekah had about her art and the thought that encompassed her work while she brought it to life was very well illustrated. Even without any actual illustrations. This was my only real disappointment about the book I think. It really was a shame that no paintings were included. I hope that if there ever is an updated edition that one or two of Rebekah’s paintings can be rendered by an artist and added as I would love to see them. Not because I don’t trust my robust imagination, but because art is pretty and I want to see it!

I honestly liked all the characters. None of them felt out of place or overly cliché. Rebekah’s mother irked me the most. I guess you could say she was the antagonist, but the story was not that simple. There were several people who created obstacles for the main character. I just really had a particular angst towards her more than any other antagonist. She wanted her daughter to be the best she could be and essentially tried to open her eyes to the reality of the world at that time. A good education would open doors for her.

But you see, looking down on people who do ‘certain’ kinds of jobs is a pet peeve of mine. I grew up with proud, working-class parents and some of the most successful people I have known in my life have been farmers or people with non-white collar jobs. Her mother’s ideas were severely outdated, but then again it was 1972, and it did create interesting conflict when needed, which I assume was the idea. A good book to help show the smallies that everyone has their own story and their own goals in life and it doesn’t do to frown on someone’s choices just because you’ve chosen a different path.

So please give Elizabeth J. Jones’ gripping semi-historical fiction a try and visit the author’s website where you can find more of their work, contact information and links for their social media accounts to catch up on what they’re doing next! Also, visit The Dark Iris book page on Caribbean Books where you can find purchase links. Please help support the author and the foundation by buying the book there. Thanks for reading and see you next month for another review!

– N. Gomes, Caribbean Books Foundation

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