Tell No-One About This by Jacob Ross

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

We cannot know the fixed compass point of anyone’s heart, no matter our intimacies. Jacob Ross’ stories understand this. What’s more, they can tell you about all the secrets a human heart can hold. They activate the short story form to the heights of its power to captivate imagination, command language, and court-martial the gamut of human emotion.

Tell No-One About This loosely yet symbolically gathers its stories in four sections: Dark, Dust, Oceans, Flight. The stakes in Ross’ worlds are as immediate and omnipresent as this quartet-convergence, in which nature defies, thwarts and occasionally soothes the ambitions of man. In “De Laughin Tree”, a precocious youngster and her vigilant grandmother fend off the land grabbing claims of a foreign interloper, by paying attention to the small patch of land they inhabit, hearkening to its deep-rooted portents. “Rum An Coke” provides “the great, starless emptiness” of night as a veil for one mother’s dangerous solitary mission, en route to her son’s sleeping drug dealer. Sienna, the intrepid girl-diver of “A Different Ocean”, is as wise as an elder when it comes to the unforgiving truth of the sea:

“…each time she turned her heels up at the sky there was nothing that said she would ever see the day again. The ocean might simply embrace her and not release her. That did not frighten her. It was not the same thing. Missa Mosan told her once that no one could predict when the sea would take a life. What was certain, though, it never wasted it.”

It is no exaggeration to say that while you read Tell No-One About This, you will be in the hands of an expert craftsman, an alert and intuitive observer of what makes us all human. In stories that sweep wide, showing the interwoven, often contradictory truths of a Grenada and its people, Ross reels his reader in. When you’re released, you will not be the same as you were when you began reading: this is the crucible of all outstanding fiction. You will hum, wail and sing to these stories’ lives.

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Dreams Beyond the Shore by Tamika Gibson

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Dreams Beyond the Shore is the first place winner of the 2016 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s challenging to find #YALit that has its finger on the pulse of contemporary teen life in T&T, but Tamika Gibson’s debut novel serves up a true-to-reality coming of age tale in the 868.

Focusing on precocious yet dutiful Chelsea Marchand, and her nascent romance with star football schoolboy Kyron Grant, Dreams Beyond the Shore examines the grey space between first crushes and family obligations, in prose that’s clever, crisp and on the mark. You can hear the saucy picong fresh from the football field, as Kyron sidles up to greet Chelsea, just like you can taste the sweet-hand flavouring the meals made in Chelsea’s grandmother’s perpetually-bubbling pot. Gibson doesn’t train her sights on an easy emulation of American tropes in YA writing. Instead, she shoots – and scores – in her depiction of the red, white and black: whether she’s talking about food, fetes, or funny business in high office. 

Chelsea and Kyron are relatable protagonists, both as individuals and as a couple coming under fire from authority figures. Their fathers — an aspiring Prime Ministerial candidate, and a shadily prosperous businessman — aren’t spared their children’s scrutiny, with the trajectory of the novel making judicious statements on the price of blind obedience and generational discord. Gibson illustrates this in lucid, compelling streams of consciousnesses that pepper and peer into the storytelling: 

“But even as I practiced in front the mirror, got into character and finessed my cadence and pauses, I promised myself that this was the last time. I would do my father’s bidding this one last time. Then I would no longer be used as a pawn. As for tonight though, I’d give them the best show they’d ever seen, issuing the clarion call on behalf of this bloody impostor.”

Breaths of fresh air in publishing are elusive, but that’s just what Dreams Beyond the Shore is: vibrant, energetic fiction for young adults that’s realistic and romantic, funny and fresh, full of promise, playfulness and perception. I can’t wait to see what Tamika Gibson writes next. 

The Yard by Aliyyah Eniath

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Family secrets and feverish passions clash in this lushly envisioned debut novel from Eniath, one that creates a microcosm of Trinidadian Indo-Muslim compound life that rings true in every feud, wedding and ritual. The star-crossed lovers of the tale, Maya and Behrooz, must contend with the expectations of their family; the obligations of their separate social standings, and the hungry desires of their hearts. Here’s a first novel that promises a longstanding career from its author -– the prose is by turns playful, poignant and persuasive, illuminating an enclave of T&T society not frequently found in contemporary fiction.

Love, though embittered and beleaguered by its own woes, retains the capacity to save even those swimmers who struggle the most — this is a truth that Eniath’s novel makes plain. Several of her characters’ impassioned speeches impart this, using language that soars and rejoices in love’s sovereignty:

“Behrooz and I… we don’t come pre-packaged. Apart, we’re damaged. But together, he and I, we know every tree, rock and blade in that orchard. We remember every blackbird that nested there. We’ve chased the frogs and the crickets, and grabbed lizards by their tails… You should see their faces when we disrupt the daily prayer or steal the children’s shoes as they congregate.”

Not only romantic love is afforded such attention in the novel: at its core, The Yard is about the bonds that we strengthen, or weaken, with time and the weight of our human decisions. Whether she’s investigating the constancy of devotion that a mother shows her daughters over decades, or revealing the innermost yearnings between besieged suitors, Eniath signals to the reader that it is our connections, for better or worse, that hew us.

The Yard was one of Paper Based’s Twelve Books of Christmas 2016 selections! We paired it with Sabrina Ramnanan’s Nothing Like Love, because both novels are brimful with a curious, consummate exploration of what goes on behind closed doors. Both novels also show that the best-kept secrets often simmer in the smallest spaces!

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.