The pandemic and the slow down in travel have certainly increased my readings of books over the last two years. Reading 📖 transports you to different places, virtually, and it’s one of the best activities to reduce stress.
I would like to share with you my reviews of five books which I read recently. Some of them were the Book of The Month for the Caribbean Book Club.
1. THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER
Author: Junot Diaz
Setting: Dominican Republic and New Jersey, USA.
It is everything Dominican and Caribbean to a great extent.
“This Is How You Lose Her” comprises 9 vignettes, told in a non-linear fashion, about a Dominican family’s emigration to New Jersey in the USA.
There is a also side story; “otra vida”, “otra vez” about another Dominican immigrant. Yasmin, who is in a relationship with a married man. Ramon has a whole family back in the Dominican Republic.
The protagonist in the novel, is Yunior and the vignettes detail his family’s arrival to, and their struggles in the United States; typical of the Anglo-Caribbean experience as well.
The chronicle, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”, ends with another of Yunior’s “Lost Loves”, whilst attending a university in Boston.
Yunior’s father arranged for his family to migrate from the Dominican Republic to the US and whilst he takes care of them materially, he is not there for them emotionally and mentally. He is physically and verbally abusive to Yunior and his brother, Rafa, who succumbs to cancer as an adult. The father is unfaithful and verbally abusive to his wife who he doesn’t think is capable of learning English. He can’t stand Yunior’s “pelomalo”and has his head shaved.
Yunior becomes a serial cheater but at the same time he has a weak character as he is unable to deal with each episode of “Losing Her”. He becomes emotionally unstable when his lovers/sex partners leave. He doesn’t seem to discriminate in his conquests. He has an affair with a high school teacher who also happens to be his neighbor. She is Lora and the affair happened whilst he was a teenager.
Overall, this is an easy read if you are not offended by raw strong language, and narratives which can be deemed to be misogynistic, sacrilegious and downright bombastic.
2. THIS ONE SKY DAY aka POPISHO
Author: Leone Ross
Genre: Magical Realism
Setting: Fictional Caribbean archipelago
This was a laborious read. I felt that I expended too many hours on a book which could have been a collection of short stories set on the same archipelago. It would have been more digestible that way at least for me.
The book was supposed to be magical realism with too little realism. Admittedly, MR is not one of my favorite genres and this book did nothing to change my mindset.
Narrated in a non-linear fashion, it is set in a fictional Caribbean archipelago. All characters were born with a “cors”, which is the ability to perform some type of magic or super natural act. They were not only “cors blessed”, but for the most part, each had unique a physical attribute, such as five hearts, lungs outside of their bodies, wings on their backs and so on to the point of being grotesque and ghoulish. Their names were just as exaggerated. Too many characters, too many names, too little mental capacity to remember all of them. The book certainly gives life to the essence of “pappyshow”.
The book meandered so much I couldn’t really discern what was the central theme or who was the central figure, but I will go out on a limb, excuse the pun, and say it was Xavier, a macaenus, a former moth addict (yes as opposed to “meth”), an artisan chef, owner of Torn Poem, who was supposed to cater for the wedding of the daughter of the corrupt governor of one of the island. From here the story lines took long zigzagging journeys into territories, sacred and profane. It took too long for everything to dovetail.
I must give Leone props for having such a fertile imagination and to capture it in writing. Yes, there were some pleasant magical moments. I would also give her credit for her gastronomical descriptions.
Wasn’t there anything I found enjoyable in the book? Yes. I liked the Ms. Pretty Contest, but alas that was toward the end of the book. Had to suffer through more than 300 pages to reach there.
I tried, I really tried but I have concluded that this book was not for me, but I stuck with it because it received rave reviews otherwise, and I hoped as I turned the pages the light bulb would have been lit. It thought I would have received an epiphany after the Caribbean Club Book’s discussion but I did not.
Whilst I wouldn’t recommend the book, I will not discourage anyone from reading it. You may just find it entertaining and hilarious.
3. THE BOOK OF LOST SAINTS
Author: Jose Daniel Older
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Cuba and New Jersey, USA
The Book of Lost Saints is the saga of a multigenerational family, told, through the voice of the spirit of Marisol. The spirit, Marisol, attaches herself to her nephew, Ramon, who lives in New Jersey and is a security guard at a hospital by day and part time DJ at night.
Marisol disappeared in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. She became a counter revolutionary. As a ghost she doesn’t remember what happened to her, so she plants dreams into her nephew to compel him to find out what was her fate. He travels to Cuba to find out more.
This is a story of love, pain, loss, betrayal, heartbreak, regret, forgiveness, denial, displacement, family division, guilty, uncovering deep family secrets and coming to terms with same, identity, in the backdrop of a Revolution and emigration.
Older’s usual genre is magical realism, sci fi, fantasy, so it’s interesting to see how he weaves some of these themes into a such a profound historical event.
“Revolution asks that its children put not only their own lives on the line, but the lives of all their friends and loved ones as well. It’s a wide, sweeping trap, an ever-yawning crevice in the earth.”
4. HOW THE ONE-ARMED SISTER SWEEPS HER HOUSE
Author: Cherie Jones
This is Caribbean noir fiction with almost all of characters tragically flawed.
I kept picking up and putting aside the novel because of its deep dark themes:
📚 Cyclical domestic violence
📚 Poverty, Class, Race
📚 Rape, incest
📚 Misogyny, Toxic Masculinity, Subjugated
📚 Twisted Love
The author is raw, open and very descriptive in her writing so nothing is left to the imagination or left open to interpretation. It seems that she wants us to confront the above themes head on, as it is claimed that it is the reality of life in the Caribbean. The novel is set in Barbados.
The main character, Lala who grows up with her grandmother, Wilma (Lala’s mother was chopped to death by her husband) feels compelled to leave that domestic situation and to marry Adan, after her second pregnancy. Adan is a gangster and a murderer.
Two parallel, but yet interwoven events, by sheer coincidences of the characters involved, form the main story line of the book; the murder of an Englishman, married to a local and the death of Lala’s baby under strange circumstances.
The storyline flowed and the chapters were short making the book an “easy” read albeit with heavy themes.
As a side note or more than a side note, I felt a deep empathy or is it sympathy? for Lala (I got phantom pains every time she was pummeled to a pulp by Adan), even though I found that her story ended awkwardly. Perhaps a sequel is in the making? If so I’ll pass.
5. DYING ON THE VINE
Author: Peter King
Setting: South of France
It’s a murder mystery set in the Provence Region, Southern France. The Gourmet Detective (“TGD”) is sent by Sir Charles, and Englishman, to investigate why his relatively large vineyard, Willesford, is the buyout target for a smaller winery, Peregrine.
Before TGD can even commence his investigation properly, on the very first day, he encounters a dead body in the vineyard, and the gendarme investigating this murder, ascribes it to mutilation by sangliers (wild boars). This was not the only murder in this novel. TGD himself is a target, having been pushed from a high cat walk, into a vat of wine, luckily he was rescued by a fake gendarme, before he drowned in the red wine. What a bloody mess!
Aside from the murders, I am enjoyed the book, especially the wine and food descriptions and even the vivid descriptions of the region, it makes me want to travel to the Mediterranean.
If you are interested in Provencal cuisine (I don’t know how the French remain so slim) and wine, this would be a light and entertaining read.
My next read is The Truce, by Mario Beneditti and this gives you an indication of my next travel destination.