This is an official Caribbean Books Foundation review http://www.caribbeanbooks.org/
Longevity is a good thing. It’s something every relationship, business, and organization strives towards. To be enshrined in society and successful for a long time. And not just for the sake of saying ‘we’re here’, but to create a real presence that can be remembered with good stories of your journey to tell.
After ten years of publishing monthly issues of Sweet TNT magazine, the Culturama Publishing Company has reached a milestone that many businesses only dream to get to. They are celebrating their tenth anniversary this year!
To commemorate this event, they’ve released two books packed with the type of content that Sweet TNT magazine has become known for. One book was featured in our October Caribbean book review and this month we’ll review the other.
Sweet TNT Short Stories…
I love the cover. Although I’ve never been to a river lime it is quintessential of Trinbagonian living. Several of the stories were only one page long, and they were grouped together into three sections, Lifestyle, Superstition, and Fauna. I thought it was nice to have similarly themed stories put together as it made it easier to go back and find my favourites.
Overall this section really does feel like the lifestyle of the people in Trinidad and Tobago. There was something for everybody to relate to. From the everyday antics of annoying family members and the vibes found at well-known business establishments like doubles men and the barbershop, to the hard life choices some of us have to make to earn a living.
Most of these stories were light-hearted and funny and just gave you a slice of Trinbago life. Then there were some that took me down memory lane. White Christmas by Omilla Mungroo was one. So nostalgic! If you’ve never had the pleasure of making your own Christmas tree, of foraging for the perfect leafless branch to spray or paint white, you’ve probably never been poor!
Helping to make the tree was one of the most magical and proudest moments of my life as a child.
Double Period by Joyanne James was another one that took me back to my secondary school days and all the antics that would incur during a free period at school.
Anita’s Paradise by Marissa Armoogam-Ranghel was also one that got me in my feels. It brought back a distant feeling of being a child and marveling at everything around you that I thought I had forgotten. I also love the way the earth smells after it rains and how the glassy beads of water hang over everything magically. It put me in a mood that started with remembering the joys of being little and appreciating the magic in everything, and ended with missing someone dear that I knew then.
I also liked After-Work Lime by Joyce James-Pitman and Carnival Monday by Joyanne James, but overall I would have to say that Omilla Mungroo took this section. I loved most of her stories in this group. Like Playing Target and Decisions, for instance, which were two others that stuck in my mind because of their realness and relevance to society today. Those two were also one of the few stories that spun the book away from its overall light-heartedness.
You can’t have a short story collection from the islands without a story on superstition. This book has a whole section!
The good thing about superstitious stories or stories about jumbies and folk creatures in Trinidad and Tobago, is that most times it is comical and light-hearted even though it might be at the expense of someone’s pride as they are being tricked or made fun of. Or worst-case scenario, them having to give up the ghost from being scared to death over thinking something was after them when really it was just their superstition getting the better of them… or at least we hope it was.
These stories hit all these notes. The Lord is My Shepherd by Omilla Mungroo could have been in the Lifestyle Section! It was just so sweet and wonderful and showed how despite varying religions and beliefs, Caribbean people are still the best in the world at getting along and bonding over common experiences rather than seeing how we are all different. It felt like a beautiful, slice of life story to me.
The Converter by Joyanne James cracked me up. I don’t know what I would do if I had a cousin like that! And it’s always the educated ones, ent? Woman in White by Jevan Soyer had me rolling with laughter. I could not have imagined that that would have been the outcome! It was such an obvious solution, that it was unbelievable. But, ay, what happens in Santa Cruz, stays in Santa Cruz!
But in this section, The Silk Cotton Tree by Ian Boodoo took the whole damn cake. This, I believe, was the only story that went into worst-case scenario territory and was terrifying like a good jumbie story needs to be sometimes. You know the whole point of these ‘superstitions’ in the Caribbean is not just to scare you from going off in the bush on your own, but to teach right from wrong and the consequences that the universe will send to you in the form of a vengeful spirit if you don’t do the right thing!
Ian Boodoo, why don’t you have more stories in this book??!! Your story was absolutely terrifying. The pacing of the plot was built up beautifully. I loved it! You all know, I’ve said in my writing updates that short stories are not my strength. It’s either my stories are long, or, well – they’re loooong. But I aim to write short stories this well. That is talent. Take a bow and shake some hands, sir.
I rebuke this section for trying to make me like dogs. I will not. I refuse.
It was so appropriate to start this section with Duck Thief by Omilla Mungroo. Either poultry thieves, bird watching, or sea animals would have sufficed. Clear staples of interacting with fauna in Caribbean life. Trust me, if you live in the countryside you would have at least ONCE in your life heard of or experienced a duck espionage and the outlandish plans the owner would have gone through to make the duck thief feel their wrath.
The Great Julie Mango Battle by Jamie Gangoo and The One That Got Away by Omilla Mungroo were equally fun to read. Though I must admit, I grew up with a ‘mango police’. No way in heaven would I be leaving a bag of mangoes OUTSIDE after picking them. Madness! Me doh trust dem bud at all!
The Messenger by Marc Algernon was chilling and frankly would have sat well in the Superstition Section. For me, it was the most memorable in this group. I cannot believe that damn bird went off to haunt somebody else afterward! I was like, ‘no, girl, kill it!’
I did like how the same way The Messenger started is essentially how it ended. The play of words to start the new cycle was the same I mean, and it blended to the new person without you even knowing that it did. That was quite clever.
And yes, long sigh cause dogs I also really liked Pot Hound on a Leash by Joyanne James, okay. Look, I’m not a dog person, alright. But I did appreciate this story. It was one of the memorable ones. I really felt the old lady’s frustration and animals on leashes, while necessary at times, does break my heart. But don’t quote me on it.
Do I have any critiques for this collection?
Honestly just one, and it’s only because it hit on a pet peeve of mine. I didn’t really like the introduction. I didn’t mention it at first because I couldn’t really put my finger on why it just felt out of place.
For me, to give a preview of what the country is like before we even start reading the stories is like telling the reader what we want them to think about the stories before they actually read them.
The stories should inform us about what life is like in the country.
If people want to know what the country looks like or feels like, they will through the stories.
They will experience the place through the eyes of people who live there and call it home.
But if we give a social exposition about the countries beforehand, we’re already telling the reader what it’s like. We defeat the purpose of what the stories are meant to accomplish, and we may even create a bias towards the narrative before people even bite into the book.
It does go back to the basic writing principles (but you know, it’s fine if you break them sometimes). What I mean is, the stories should be able to stand on their own and pull the reader in without a ‘Trinidad and Tobago 101’ before it. The stories are the ‘101’ on the islands! The introduction was unnecessary.
And I feel as if a lot of Caribbean books tend to do this. They give long expositions explaining things because the authors or editors think, ‘oh, they won’t get us, or our humour, or our customs, we have to explain things before we start.’ But most short story collections that I’ve read from other countries just starts with the first story! Right off the bat! Because they trust that the stories will be enough to inform and engage the reader.
I would have liked to see an introduction that briefly talked about the work of the Culturama Publishing company and any achievements or milestones they’ve had in the last decade. I doubt readers would have minded if they drove a little market to their work as it is their tenth anniversary. throws confetti
There were also a few bland stories in there. Just one or two. Nothing to discourage buying the book. Very good publication, I do recommend!
Visit the Sweet TNT Short Stories book page on Caribbean Books where you can find purchase links. Thanks for reading and see you next month for another review!
– N. Gomes, Caribbean Books Foundation
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