Sailor Dance by Eleanor Joye Donaldson

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Twenty’s selection soars with the tribute song of a deeply lived, culturally ingrained life of a quintessentially Trinidadian son of the soil, recounted faithfully and with fond, insightful accuracy by his daughter: Sailor Dance: John Stanley Donaldson – The Story, by Eleanor Joye Donaldson.

It has always been easy enough to play party card politics, yet even in the zenith of his service to the People’s National Movement, John Donaldson distinguished himself in his inclusive calls for service to country. This was one of the qualities for which the multiply-laurelled diplomat and former government minister most made his name known: in the consistent application of selfless integrity to his portfolio of achievements. A formidable athlete; prominent statesman; and perhaps most touchingly, a man whose committment to his family life is handsomely detailed in this biography, Donaldson epitomized an existence of patriotic, passionate investment.

These truths of one man’s extraordinary accomplishments and tenderly domestic particulars are brought lovingly to life in Eleanor Joye Donaldson’s uncluttered, affectionate writing style. With equal parts clarity and clear-eyed reminiscence, the daughter reflects on her father’s humble beginnings, tracing a trajectory that is every inch an upwardly mobile success story.

We recommend it for: readers of Reginald Dumas’ The First Thirty Years and Anthony Sabga’s A Will and A Way; biography aficionados who like civically-grounded and culturally accomplished subjects; longtime PNM adherents interested in delving deeper into the origins and successes of one of its historically key figureheads.

Difficult Fruit by Lauren K. Alleyne

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! The poems in our Day Nineteen selection brim and burst with a life that’s as curious about its next conquests as it is careful in the cataloguing of its girlhood, scraped-knee woes: Lauren K. Alleyne’s Difficult Fruit.

There is no one, conclusive way to map womanhood in the world’s fraught and scar-leavened sphere, but Alleyne’s verses strip their gloves off, plunging lyrical, sensual wrists deep into the business of navigating space as black, female, both bold and wary. Refusing to shy away from the horrors of trauma, the poetess’ subject is woman’s body, woman’s heart: her canvas is a map made for intrepid explorers — for readers who understand that so much of the daily fight is in the reclamation of small, earthen victories. Bravery manifests in the footsteps of a woman who reassembles her life in the aftermath of a rape, and a no less imperative fortitude, differently marshalled, resides in the triumph of a narrator, exulting in her body’s amplitude:

“In my dreams I am free of you –
I wear bikinis, do back flips, touch my toes;
but then I wake up wanting
to cram the world into my mouth
and let it fill you to bursting.
O, proud belly, you are the life-basket,
bearer of the thousand possible births.”
(from “Ode to the Belly”)

Trading from a full basket of free verse and conventionally metred forms, this first collection speaks candidly and courageously about endurance in courtrooms, cloisters and beneath cavernous skies. The accusers in these poems are a powder-wigged prosecution, rigging charges against hooded youths, or the indifferent and empyrean cosmos, staring down at each of us on our least defended, existential nights. Alleyne’s defense is vigorous, exultant living in the face of every despair.

We recommend it for: poetry devotees of Loretta Collins Klobah, Sharon Olds and Nikky Finney; fans of fiercely feminist verse that navigates both Trinidadian and international space; defenders of the downtrodden, social activists and freedom fighters of every stripe.

Closure: Contemporary Black British Short Stories

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! On Day Eighteen, we take our first official #paperbasedadvent trip outside the Caribbean libraries in which we’ve been lingering, and travel across the Atlantic, where a wealth of short fiction in black literary voices is being produced, addressing concerns and investigating cares that resonate with marginalized, diasporic voices everywhere: Closure: Contemporary Black British Short Stories, edited by Jacob Ross.

Released fifteen years after IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain, Closure resumes the mantle of exclusively black British writing that that first title ingrained, but with a newer, differently interrogative focus. Black and South Asian voices in the short fiction of the United Kingdom are not a niche-genre amusement; they are part of the bedrock, of Albion’s very foundational garments. If IC3 fostered an understanding of this essential truth by its publication in 2000, then this innovative, quandary-battling anthology deepens the well of such storymaking possibilities.

In these short fictions, the environment — the boroughs and enclaves that demarcate London and beyond — seeps into the casual glances and sharper cognizances of its dwellers. Each of these characters is as much a product of their own versions of England as their clandestine closets of desires, their evil or enviable deeds. Monica Ali’s “Contrary Motion” traces the steps of a focused musician’s ambitious progress through her pupils’ lives, seeing its protagonist striding along streets that form the heartbeat-echoing backdrop of a diverse neighbourhood. Her perception of her Tapham environs tells us volumes about her litany of judgements, cleverly tucked into the author’s bird’s eye view:

“She caught the bus back from Halting Village, the genteel ghetto where most of her pupils lived, to Tapham, a fifteen minute ride and a world away. Here Somali and Kurdish refugees clogged the tower blocks, and the artistically or socially enriched but financially challenged restored their subdivided Georgian properties and wore organic clothing.”

Housing previously unreleased work from Leone Ross; Koye Oyedeji; Desiree Reynolds and a chorus of other bright fiction writers who are both veterans and nascent talents, Closure is a clever countermanding of the restrictive values its title suggests. These stories are migrant’s tales; from parents, physicians, and patriots of many flags — each of them inventing ways to breathe as members of a nation filled with contrasting lights.

We recommend it for: fans of Bernardine Evaristo’s Mr. Loverman and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane; readers of IC3 who’d like to see how such stories have evolved and deepened from one focused anthology to the next; enthusiastic viewers of Andrea Levy’s ITV-adapted Small Island, starring Naomie Harris and Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Haunted Tropics: Caribbean Ghost Stories

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Say a shivering hello to our Day Seventeen selection: an anthology that’s been a long time coming, brined as it is in the folklore, superstitions and spectral happenings of these multiple-tongued islands — a collection of ghost stories that’s eminently, bloodcurdlingly Caribbean: The Haunted Tropics, edited by Martin Munro.

We, Antillean and archipelagic island-dwellers, are no strangers to our own ghosts. The fifteen offerings in this anthology, spread across the English, French and Spanish-speaking countries of our region, are at their best when they show how closely the living lace fingers with the dead. Whether summoning the vestiges of plantocracy’s permanently bitter legacy, or breaking open classic hairraising fables to flood them with new significances, Munro’s chosen his writers well. Each of them absorbs the haunted consciousness of the islands into their narratives, and presents a grim, sometimes-jocular, often-terrorizing portrait of the monsters living under our beds, beneath our silk cotton trees.

From Guadeloupean Maryse Condé’s “The Obeahman, Obeahed”, which opens the collection, to Trinidadian Keith Jardim’s “The Country of Green Mansions”, which closes it, every story confronts not only otherworldly fear, but perhaps more pressingly, the monsters and mayhems we curate in our own secret hearts. Jardim’s story delves deep into Guyanese river country, tangling erotic explorations with the phantoms of a history-steeped past:

“And suddenly something was there, in the room with him, other than Arianna, who continued sleeping. He could see nothing of it, but felt a weight in the room. The floorboards creaked in the corner behind the mirror, not of a presence moving from one place to another, but stationary, shifting its weight, as if, he imagined, dutifully considering something — maybe him.”

Shani Mootoo’s smart-talking jumbies; Fred D’Aguiar’s reimagined trickster Anansi; Lawrence Scott’s sepia-tinged photographs containing hidden truths: all the ghosts and graveyards in The Haunted Tropics are wearing their best obeah-suited apparel, and they’re looking forward to meeting you.

We recommend it for: those who’ve been longing to greet some duppies and douens, rather than white-sheeted Hallowe’en shriekers in their fiction reading; fans of Madison Smartt Bell; Earl Lovelace, and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw’s full length-works; adherents and acolytes of the Caribbean literary gothic.

Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Sixteen’s selection is a love story between young people that isn’t fixated on Romeo and Juliet-esque raging hormones, instead infusing a passion for melodies, lyrics and true connections between two teens deep in the first bloom of self-discovery: Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Musical Youth.

Second place winner of the inaugural CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, this budding romance wins points for not layering its developments waist-deep in uncontrollable pheromones and cloying body spray. While not negating the effects of blossoming attraction, Musical Youth sets its conductor’s baton higher — focusing on true musicianship and motivation in the lives of its young protagonists: shy, self-conscious Zahara and street-smart yet similarly introspective Shaka.

The bonds that develop between this fledgling duo are also rooted in the traditional concerns of their Antiguan society. Stern grandmothers and admonishing grandfathers are present here, as are the persistent skin-colour biases which shape one troubling arm of our regional interactions. This novel’s strength proclaims itself in never shying away from the truth about our problems, while simultaneously celebrating the hard-won historical joys of our freedom — as citizens and music makers alike.

Zahara and Shaka’s affinity is chorded and constructed in the sweet rhythms of soca, of soul, rhythm & blues and Bob Marley’s reggae itself. Hillhouse writes some of her most luminous passages in describing the musical nature of the young virtuosos’ ardour:

“She thought he was magnificent, and it had nothing to do with his colour. It was his eyes that always seemed to have a smile in them and the way his features were arranged in a uniquely impish way so that he always seemed like he was pulling her leg. It was the way he moved his long, lean body, as if to the beat of an internal rhythm.”

Brimful with resonant notes on first-time courtships; adolescent discovery; tightly-knit friendships and the rewards of discipline, Musical Youth deserves multiple encores — this is one young adult pick you’ll want to savour several times over.

We recommend it for: teen readers seeking an antidote to Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight movement; fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful YA catalogue; adults who appreciate colourful, credible storytelling that lilts with sonic appreciation.

The First Thirty Years by Reginald Dumas

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Reginald Dumas, 2015.

Reginald Dumas, 2015.

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Fifteen brings us an autobiography with a singularly lived life at its focus — a life which, through the keen and assiduous sharing of its first significant stages, offers its readers platforms to better governance, smarter reforms, and clearer ways to realize our vast civic and individual potential: Reginald Dumas’ The First Thirty Years.

Proving that good diplomacy and policymaking involve far more than an endless series of handshakes and summit convenings, the author takes us through his postings, and the range of his professional duties right up until age 30, where he departs for Ethiopia to establish the Addis Ababa T & T Embassy.

Sharing candidly and with calm reflection on his boyhood beginnings in Chaguanas, Dumas shows the reader not only the ambit of his family hearth, but the socioeconomic structure of the times that cradled and fostered his development. He treats every segment of his retrospective in this manner, so that early QRC musings are also illustrations of a bygone mode of public transit:

“The train was the popular means of transport — in that colonial period they usually ran on time — and the journey each way, with stops, took about one hour. My mother felt that two hours of train travel each day, plus travel from the Port of Spain railway station to the college and back, would adversely affect my academic performance. And nothing, if she could help it, was to be allowed to stand in the way of that.”

Whether ruminating on the thwarted potential of the West Indian Federation ideal, or sharing from the trove of his experiences in the diplomatic service, Dumas defines through experiential example, not lofty posturing, what it means to be of good use — to one’s country, to one’s family, to one’s own personal litmus tests of what integrity and its best practice constitutes.

We recommend it for: prospective or serving diplomats, ambassadors and stateswomen and men everywhere; holders of public and private office who are keen on reading true leadership stories; readers of Ian McDonald and Lloyd Best’s columns.

Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Fourteen bestows on us a historical and literary fiction blending that stirs family tree mysteries; magical goings-on, and savage, serene portrayals of womanhood – all in one triumphant maiden voyage of a first novel: Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning.

In this world of both preserved memory and factual reconstruction, the language mesmerizes and entrances, with all the skill evident in Yanique’s OCM Bocas fiction prizewinning debut, How to Escape From a Leper Colony. The Bradshaw family is the focus of this new book, and the author gifts us sixty years of their astonishing highs and devastating lows, stitching the spaces between conflicting and tumultuous generations with a brand of magical realism uniquely informed by her Virgin Islands setting.

Some of the story’s most luminous and illuminating sections arrive when the narrative switches between the book’s fortune-seeking, disparate yet deeply bonded sisters, Eona and Anette, products of a union as spangled by secrets and star-crossings as the romances these siblings go on to themselves conduct. Witness Anette, gazing out at sea, reflecting on a love that, in the novel’s penchant for well-layered confessionals, carries more than its own fair share of dark buried treasure:

“The sun was reddening the sky. The sea air was filling her. This moving and big and overwhelming blue sea. This active and passionate and relenting blue sea. And she thought of the first man she had really loved. The way they knew each other’s bodies, even in the dark — like they were aboriginal to each other.”

Laying claim unpretentiously to the standard of an epic story, Land of Love and Drowning takes us fathoms deep, past shipwrecks and secrets into the heart of an island, discovering itself.

We recommend it for: Devotees of magical realism, from García Márquez to Allende to newer voices in the genre; lovers of domestic sagas peppered with high drama; those looking for a kindred read to Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light.